One Second of Silence

We, the people of the USA, are in a state of grief and confusion — even those of us who are not gay, transgender, Latina, or Muslim, even those who don’t live in Florida and haven’t lost a family member to gun violence.  The tragedy in Orlando affects us all. The news reports and social media are full of opinions about what happened and why.  I hesitate to enter the conversation, but a phrase has repeated itself in my mind: “One second of silence.”  I feel drawn to look more deeply, and to reflect on causes.  And I feel called to enter into the vulnerable openness to God which is ultimately the only place of safety.

I first heard news of the tragedy last Sunday morning at Meeting when someone requested prayers.  Afterwards, my husband, Terry, and I bought newspapers, went online, listened to the radio.  Each day we learned more about the horrible murders in an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  We also attended local gatherings, to grieve and pray.

Orlando vigil prayer a

On the day after the shooting, my husband, Terry, along with many members of my Quaker Meeting, attended an interfaith service held in a local church.  It included singing, prayers, and readings from the Bible and the Koran about being peaceable.  There was a time of silence. He and the man sitting beside him were moved to tears.

The next night we attended a meeting for prayer and worship held at Pendle Hill retreat center, convened in response to a request from Orlando Friends Meeting.  They had asked Quakers everywhere to gather that night and join in prayer for them and for everyone in Orlando needing strength and solace.  At that meeting, we heard expressions of grief and broken-heartedness.  Someone told about five decades of struggle for gay rights and mourned that the killer could find no better way to deal with confusion about his own sexuality.  We heard the voice of a Muslim woman, also broken-hearted, who said that true Islam is a religion of peace and love, not of violence.

I remembered visiting Florida Friends in Orlando meetinghouse, and in the silence of our gathering, I sensed that we were woven together spiritually in a large network of Quakers and others who were praying.  I felt how the tragedy had opened a wound in the collective heart of our nation, or even our planet.  This wound made us feel vulnerable, and at the same time it was an inner place of connection.

On the third day, Terry and I participated in a vigil held outside the courthouse in Media, Pennsylvania.  Many people attended.  We were gay, straight, and transgender.  Forty-nine volunteers lay down on the grass to symbolize the bodies of the forty-nine people killed at Pulse nightclub on Sunday.  It was a sobering sight.  The names and ages of the dead were read aloud; some were still in their teens.  A rabbi, along with many others, recited a Jewish prayer, in Hebrew.  It felt sacred.  A Methodist minister offered another prayer, then raised a large rainbow-colored kite, as a symbol of hope.  We were invited to join in forty-nine seconds of silence, one second for each of the victims.  I felt a holy hush.  Afterwards, the forty-nine volunteers stood up and a local group advocating for sensible gun control addressed the crowd.  Coming together in public with others and sharing our grief and prayer had a healing effect, bonding strangers into community.

Orlando vigil at Media court house 49 bodies b

“Fifty people died that night,” my husband said as we walked away.

It’s worth devoting at least one second of silence for the killer.  First, because he, too, was a child of God, as everybody is.  Next, because looking closely at his life could lead to some insight about the causes of this particular tragedy.  What was tormenting him, and what encouraged his violent tendencies?  Omar Mateen was an American citizen, born in this country to parents from Afghanistan.  He was troubled from childhood.  He abused his first wife, who left the marriage after a short time.  Wanting to be a police officer, he entered a training program in the Florida Department of Corrections.  He was dismissed, however, after making a joke about bringing a gun to class.  He took a job as an armed guard and was known to become enraged when he felt disrespected.  How often do Muslims in this country feel threatened and disrespected?  At various times, Mateen expressed allegiance to different Islamic groups that are in opposition to each other.  This suggests he knew little about them, but nonetheless he felt a kinship.  Although twice investigated by the F.B.I., he had no trouble buying a semi-automatic assault-style rifle and a huge quantity of bullets.  What prompts a young man to the path of terrorism, at the cost of his own life?

I feel called into the silence, to look more deeply at the causes of the violence in Orlando.

We live in a human world of gross inequities. Some people control far more than their fair share of the world’s resources, while many others have less than they need, an injustice that leads to conflict among individuals, classes, groups, and nations.  Those who are different from the mainstream are often demonized, their beliefs and cultures denigrated.

Human beings have a natural aversion to murdering one another. In all past U.S. wars, a large percentage of soldiers never fired a single bullet.  Today the United States as a whole craves dominance and glorifies violence and weaponry.  Television programs and movies acclimate viewers to watching numerous murders, at high speeds.  Certain video games were designed by the U.S. military to train soldiers to overcome their innate resistance to murdering another human being.  Today many children are addicted to this kind of video games in which they shoot and kill as fast as possible.   Hitting targets, whether on videos or on the shooting range, is a way to cope with insecurity and fear; it gives a temporary illusion of being in control, of being safe.  But ultimately watching images of violence and practicing murdering others strengthens the fear that enemies are out to get us.

Orlando vigil Gun Sense America

The root cause of violence among us goes even deeper.  We are so focused on the material world that we do not trust in non-material realities.  We fear death because we are ignorant of the spiritual nature of our true being.  Changing a culture that perpetuates fear, discrimination, and injustice requires us to look more steadily at the Great Love that holds us all.  At the deepest level of our being, we are all one, united in God in ways that are not visible to the outer eye.  To increase consciousness of this underlying unity, we need to look at all the things within us that block our awareness.  We must open our hearts in ways that make us feel vulnerable. Only by entering into undefended open­ness can we feel our connection with everything and everybody, and know our place in the Eternal Reality that is our ultimate and only true safety.

Let’s enter more deeply into the silence.

For more than one second.

All of us.

Orlando vigil crop rainbow flag

One Second of Silence: How do you experience the conflict between love and fear, peace and violence within  yourself?  Do you make time in silence to look within?  Have you found the peace of the divine Presence?

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Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

 © 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Facing Life with Faith, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Vistas From Inner Stillness

When is it fruitful to share our deepest spiritual experiences, and when is it better to keep them close, to ponder them only in our hearts?  Vistas From Inner Stillness raises the question.  In it, author Richard L.  Walker describes encountering God in some awesome natural settings, when his mind was in deep stillness.  These experiences transformed his faith in the presence of God to an experience of that divine reality. In this 1991 Pendle Hill pamphlet he took the risk to share his unusual experiences in order to encourage others “seeking answers to their life’s quest.”  His accounts reveal, however, the tender and deeply personal nature of such experiences.  Only those who have been reached in similar ways can comprehend; to others is may seem mere imagination.  Clear discernment about one’s own spiritual experiences, or the experiences of others, also comes from a deep place of inner stillness.

Richard L.  Walker was a Quaker naturalist, astronomer, and novelist, the author of articles on binary stars and satellites of the outer planets.  Starting in early childhood, he had some remarkable experiences in the natural world.   From periods alone in nature and from Quaker meeting for worship, he learned to still his mind and “listen” to what he variously refers to as God, Spirit, Light, and Light of Christ.  He found it was not easy to communicate to others the sense of the divine presence he sometimes encountered.  Few could understand.  One friend, however, offered a helpful analogy to describe the ability to perceive the divine presence: it is like finding a particular point on a radio dial that picks up a very subtle vibration:

The signal is always there, but you have to block out all external sensations to hear it.  The signal is so faint, but distinct, it seems to come from a depth inside us.  …and that’s what the Light is like too, a far distant, signal that only seems weak; yet, it is so clear and distinct when we listen with all we have. (5)

In the American Astronomical Society’s obituary for Walker, fellow astronomers noted that he was “a studious and very careful observer.” He made many thousands of measures of particular pairs of double stars.  Over the course of his career, Walker became adept at three different successive systems of astronomical technology.  In our culture, many people would readily accept the knowledge Walker acquired about distant stars and galaxies through powerful telescopes, yet some will question the cosmic awareness he gained through his spiritual perception.  In one experience, for example, high on a mountainside, he encounters an enormous cloud that seems to have a very personal presence.  Another exploration began when he obeyed a compelling inner call to drive up a particular mountain at night and fly a kite.  Under a dark, starry sky, he experienced a sweet, peaceful reassurance and a cosmic power that was in relationship with him. Was his experience that night mere imagination, or was it a gentle encounter with God?

Possibly the most remarkable mystical experience Walker recounts took place in the remote Havasu canyon at the western end of the Grand Canyon.  Walker and two Quaker friends trekked through desolate desert landscape and then six miles down into a narrow canyon.  At the bottom, they walked three more miles, past awesome waterfalls, and finally pitched a camp.  The three Quakers then sat on nearby rocks to hold a meeting for worship under the stars.  Walker describes the thunderous sound of the waterfall, the towering walls of the canyon, the cool air, the rising moon.  In the silence of the worship, in gentle “quantum steps,” he became aware of the presence of an awesome force:

As my wonderment increased, I felt I was being touched, caressed, warmed with the brush of an essence that was about me, which came from an infinite source of power and strength.  I was flooded in light, granting me an awareness that in this setting of explicit beauty, I was surrounded by a facet of the infinite force of the universe, and it was contacting me with comfort, but most of all it was contacting me with an assurance that God was there.  God is everywhere in our lives. (24)

Another person’s spiritual experiences or insight can never be convincing proof of the reality, presence, and power of God.  Everyone must open to their own direct experience.  Reading accounts such as Walker’s, however, can encourage us to trust the moments and ways when we ourselves connect with divine Reality, when we find the spot on the dial of our own perception that allows us to tune into the ever-present presence of God.

Many of Walker’s most profound spiritual experiences took place in remote natural locations.  However, he writes that a Quaker meeting for worship can likewise help people find the doorway not only to perception of God, but to receiving the divine love that wants to flow into the world through us:

In our silent meetings, Friends can tap a tremendous source, a vantage point for an extra view of the universe.  When we hold and nurture it, a mental respite brings fullness and purpose to our lives. …  Our inner silence is like a gate through which the good of the universe flows through us.  It is a good amplified in our lives that flows back leaving us reborn each time with greater love. (26-27)

Vistas From Inner Stillness: Have you ever experienced the presence of God while immersed in nature?  While engaged in a meeting for worship?

dusk sky

My new book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  It was designed to be a resource for individuals and groups to explore ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The End of Life and After

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2 (KJV)

Years before his death, I began grieving the slow disappearance of the father I grew up with.  As his cognitive functions slowed down, he still maintained great physical health and strength, riding his bicycle ten to fifty miles every day, carrying heavy objects, and mowing the lawn with a hand mower.  Shortly after being diagnosed with dementia, however, he was hit by a car and suffered several broken ribs and a concussion.  For a week he didn’t recognize my mother.  Recovery was slow and partial; he lost many functions.  After a year struggling to care for him at home, my family placed him in a nursing home where he could receive the care he needed and be visited every day.  His mind and interests became more childlike; he liked to wear funny hats and hold stuffed animals.  It took him ninety minutes to eat a meal, even when someone spooned the food into his mouth.  His words became few; then he stopped speaking.

Our family grieved the departure of the father we had known.  At the same time, we loved the person he still was, glad that he smiled when he saw us, looked into our eyes, and held our hands. His losses clarified his essentially sweet, loving nature.

When my father’s health took another precipitous decline in March, however, we faced new territory.  We had been looking into the past to remember the wise, loving, funny father we had known.  Now we needed to look forward and face the mysteries of dying and life after death.  My family members and I had different experiences, ideas, and beliefs about these things.  In the week before Dad began his active dying process, when my mother and I said good-bye to him for the night, we prayed aloud together, one of us on either side of his bed.  At the end of our prayers, Mom told Dad he could go anytime he was ready.  Every day, however, I was telling him that my brother Chris would be driving up from Florida soon.  My three sisters, who lived closer, had been visiting frequently in the winter and spring months, but Chris had not seen Dad since the fall.

My mother and parishonners from St. John Bosco Roman Catholic church often prayed at Dad’s bedside.  One afternoon I was with him when a visitor sang to him the entire Divine Mercy Chaplet, using the beads on her rosary to know how many times to repeat, “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  On the day the Pope had declared to be Divine Mercy Sunday, my mother and two of her friends came straight from church to recite that Chaplet at Dad’s bedside.

My own prayers during the days sitting with my father were mostly silent and spontaneous.  In my heart and mind, without words, I lifted him up to the Light of God’s endless love.  I thanked God for my father’s good life.  Aloud, I told him that I loved him, that everybody loved him.  I thanked him repeatedly for being a wonderful father, for taking good care of us all, for being kind to so many people, and for his courage to be different from the norm.  At moments I felt sadness; tears welled in my eyes.  One afternoon I told him that I regretted not accepting a particular gift he had tried to give me.  Then I thought about things my father might regret and told him he could let go of his mistakes, that God forgives everything, and that his essential nature is pure love.

At some moments, I felt inwardly nudged to stop trying to do something, even with my thoughts and prayers.  Be totally present.  When I did that, especially during his moments of wakefulness, I became more aware of how present Dad was, looking at me and everyone who came into the room.  Eating, drinking, coughing, breathing.  He was present.  In paying attention to my father’s quality of presence and his clear gaze, I became more aware of the presence of God with us.

My Quaker faith has helped me find a way to be with the living and the dying, but has not offered clear teaching about what comes after death.  Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s book of Faith and Practice advises all Friends to attend to end-of-life matters in advance, including Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, and wishes for the disposal of the body.  It also contains helpful guidance for conducting memorial services, something Quakers do in a powerfully moving, beautiful way. The Quotations sections of Faith and Practice include four passages related to dying and death.  First, a prayer for help in letting go into God when one’s death approaches, then a moving account of being with a dying child, then some advice about meeting old age with courage, and death with thankfulness.  One passage says we can learn to recognize death as “another movement of growth into the fullness of the knowledge of God.” (143)  Back issues of Friends Journal and several Pendle Hill pamphlets offer Friends’ personal experiences with approaching the end of life, being companions to the dying, and grieving the death of loved ones.

Mostly Friends have emphasized helping God to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven here, on Earth.  In A Living Faith, a contemporary Quaker theology, Wilmer Cooper describes a range of beliefs and attitudes held by Friends about life after death.  In the section entitled “Facing the Final Frontier,” he writes that rather than speculate much about death, most Friends focus on, “living, at this very moment, in the presence and power of God so that we will be sustained in whatever death brings.” (153)

Early Friends had a clear sense that there is life after death, and that salvation is available to all who turn to the Light of Christ within.  In a vision, George Fox had been taken to see into the Paradise of God.  Others described entering into eternal Reality while still walking on earth.  While being marched to the gallows in Boston, condemned to death by Puritan magistrates, Mary Dyer told onlookers she had been in Paradise for several days already, and that she was receiving indescribably wonderful “sweet incomes of the refreshing Spirit of the Lord.”  Her two companions, Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson, wrote letters before their deaths describing how they had already become joined with the divine Fountain of Love.

Another early Friend, Mary Penington, wrote to her children during the grave illness toward the end of her life, telling how glad she was that she had already put her affairs in order.  She described how she prayed during episodes of deep physical pain, and said she hoped and trusted in God’s mercy, guidance, and support throughout all she must yet endure.  In a Testimony she wrote after the death of her husband, she gave a remarkable account of her experience at the moment of his death, saying that she accompanied his spirit a little way into the heavenly realm:

[S]uch was the great kindness the Lord shewed me in that hour, that my spirit ascended with him in that very moment that his spirit left his body; and I saw him safe in his own mansion, and rejoiced with him, and was at that instant gladder of it, than ever I was of enjoying him in the body….  (qtd. in Gwyn, Seekers Found, 294)

Having read about the experiences of Mary Penington and many others, I wanted to be present when my father died, not only to accompany him, but also, perhaps, to glimpse into the next life.  However, after a week in Virginia, I needed to go home.  My sister from New York had already arrived, and my brother would arrive soon, after selling the car that had broken down along the way.  My mother and siblings kept vigil with Dad for the next four days, sending me news via text message and photographs.  Dad stayed alert long enough to  gaze lovingly at my brother when he arrived.  Then he turned inward as he slowly traveled out of this life.

In the weeks since his death, my prayers for my father have continued.  Perhaps his soul ascended directly into Heaven.  I believe, however, that after death souls continue to grow and to journey ever more deeply into God’s love.  For some, parts of the journey after death may be difficult.  In the first weeks, I thought that perhaps my prayers might assist Dad in his journey.  Now, a few weeks later, I have a more peaceful sense that he has been released into divine Love.  When I sit to pray or meditate, when I focus on the Inward Light, I imagine him to be joyfully merged with it, liberated in fullness.

The End of Life and After: Have you been a companion to a loved one who was dying?  How has your faith supported you in this?  What is your understanding of what happens after death?

bright Shenandoah sunrise crop*     *     *     *     *

My new book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  It’s designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their experiences of the spiritual journey.  QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Facing Life with Faith, Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Shifting to the Heart

“Meeting for worship is a Quaker technology for shifting levels of consciousness,” Bill Taber sometimes explained.  A highly respected teacher of Quakerism, he would have a twinkle in his eye when he said this.  As a Conservative Friend, he often used explicitly Christian terms to describe the profound transformation that can happen in a gathered meeting for worship.  But when addressing liberal Friends, he found metaphors that spoke to the condition of his listeners.  

I first began attending morning meetings for worship at Pendle Hill retreat center while Bill was still the Quaker Studies teacher there.  As the group settled together into the silence and turned inward, the shift seemed subtle. On a few occasions when I arrived a bit late, however, I experienced the shift in consciousness as soon as I walked into the worship room.  When Friends were already gathered into the presence of the Holy Spirit, held in a palpable silence, I felt as though I were stepping into a holy light that permeated everything.  In his pamphlet “Four Doors to Meeting for Worship,” Taber writes:

I once thought worship was something I do, but for many years now it has seemed as if worship is actually a state of consciousness which I enter, so that I am immersed into a living, invisible stream of reality which has always been present throughout all history.

It was rare to experience the group being gathered that way at the Quaker meeting I attended on Sunday mornings.  Friends told me about the awesome spiritual power experienced by the first Quakers in the seventeenth century.  Many were satisfied just to recount the facts of a celebrated history.  Some Friends, however, conveyed a deep longing to know that same spiritual power in our time.  Some had dipped many times into the Eternal Stream themselves and were yearning for a faith community more on fire with divine Love and Truth.  I began to study the writing of early Friends, hoping to discover how and why the first Quakers had been blessed with such a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them. 

I found many descriptions of awe-filled gathered meetings for worship experienced in the first years, including accounts by Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough, a pair who had traveled from the rural north of England to bring the Quaker message to the sophisticated city of London.  Spiritual seekers and skeptics alike flocked to hear these two men speak about the Light of Christ within.  Many returned and learned how to be gathered in worship in a way that radically changed them, empowering them to live their lives with God at the center.  While reading Howgill’s description of those gathered meetings, I’ve sought for clues about how they opened themselves to the transforming experience of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven day after day.  Howgill wrote:

The Lord of Heaven and earth we found to be near at hand, and, as we waited upon him in pure silence, our minds out of all things, his heavenly presence appeared in our assemblies, when there was no language, tongue, nor speech from any creature. The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in; and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said one unto another with great joy of heart: “What, is the Kingdom of God come to be with men?

They learned “a place to stand in and what to wait in.”  They stood in their ardent faith, and waited in the expectation that the living presence of God and the Light of Christ within would become manifest among them.

It is key that they waited in “pure silence,” sometimes for hours.  This was an outward silence, with “no language, tongue nor speech” from anyone.  Equally or more important, it was also an inward silence: their minds were “out of all things.”  In his “Epistle To All People Upon The Earth,” George Fox advised everyone to be “still from your own thoughts and imaginations, and desires and counsels of your own hearts, and motions, and will.” In this inward stillness they waited to experience the indwelling presence of God. 

Patient, expectant waiting can open to a direct awareness of that divine Presence.  When that happens to a person, Fox says, “that of God manifested in him, leads his mind up to God, [and] he comes to the quiet and peaceable life and comes to retain God in his knowledge….”  In the silence, the inward Light reveals or “shows” the individual and the group their true condition.  They are led to a higher kind of knowing, another level of consciousness.  According to Fox, those who patiently practice this silent waiting, “such shall find mercy of God, when their minds are guided up unto God, and … in one half hour have more peace and satisfaction, than they have had from all other teachers of the world all their life time.” 

Such experiences, whether they occur in solitude or in a gathered meeting for worship, can have a lasting and transforming effect.  According to Fox, they show people how to “find and feel the way of peace,” and lead them “to grow up in that life the scriptures were given forth from, and the life the saints lived in.” 

In beautiful advice for finding and entering into the inward divine Presence, Isaac Penington instructs people to, “Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing.”  When the mind and will become silent, no longer grasping for anything, then one can, “sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee….” 

Penington, Fox, and many other early Friends speak of the presence of God experienced in the heart.  In his descriptions of the powerful gathered meetings at the beginning of Quakerism, Francis Howgill tells of a spiritual fire being kindled in the heart, and of the hearts of those present becoming united with others and with God:

[H]oly resolutions were kindled in our hearts as a fire which the Life kindled in us to serve the Lord while we had a being…. And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love, in the covenant of Life with God…

Shifting to the Heart: Have you experienced your mind becoming still and your awareness shifting to another level of consciousness?  Has a stillness of mind helped open your heart to divine love and passion? 

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Barn at dusk tall crop

You can order Marcelle Martin’s new book, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, from Inner Light Books. It’s available in hardback, paperback, and ebook.  The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

On the weekend of April 8-10, 2016, Pendle Hill is hosting a workshop on Our Life is Love to explore how the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey manifest in our own experience.  Together participants will practice opening more fully to the presence and teaching of God within, and encourage each other to live the truth of Love more passionately.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Learning from Early Friends, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Fruit of Long Labor

At the age of five I wrote my first story, on the back of used computer paper my father brought home. By the time I was six, I felt certain I had been born to write books. In the fifty years since then, I’ve been frustrated and impatient with myself for not having published a book yet. The novel I finished just after I finished graduate school was returned by many agents and publishers with the words, “If you write something more mainstream, send it to us.”

By age twenty-seven, I knew I wasn’t born to write books that conformed to society’s norms and notions; I was ambitious to write something that would make the world a better place. I’d had a powerful spiritual awakening that made me understand life in a whole new way. I passionately wanted to share the truth I’d discovered about the divine reality within us all, present here and now. In love with this amazing truth, I no longer wanted to write fiction. Instead, I wrote hundreds of pages about my own experience. I didn’t feel my story was ready for publication, however.  I did not understand exactly what was happening to me or why, and I also sensed that the real story wasn’t just about me.  I knew others were awakening to a powerful, sacred dimension of life, and I wondered what we were collectively being called to.  I sensed that the growing crises of our time, especially environmental destruction, would require something new of humanity.

I had been reading the Bible and searching the libraries for accounts of other people’s spiritual experiences throughout history, direct experiences of God and Christ and the Light within. Stories have always been more compelling to me than ideas and doctrines. I needed to know about people’s actual experience and the lives they lived as a result. I discovered that, in the past, most women with the kinds of experiences I’d been given had been sent to convents or monasteries, at least those about whom books were available. However, it was clear to me that the God I had encountered was sending me into the world, not out of it. In face, I was led to move from the beautiful rolling hills of Western Massachusetts to the inner city of Philadelphia.

I visited different churches and spiritual groups, needing a community that could support people seeking to be faithful to a call from God. The first time I attended a local Quaker Meeting, I found a biography of George Fox in the library. I read about his spiritual experience, his radical message about the Light of Christ within, and about the passionate Quaker community that formed in his time and witnessed for a different way of life. I became a regular attender at Lansdowne Meeting. Friends there welcomed me, and I was nurtured by many of the meeting’s elders. I took classes and workshops at nearby Pendle Hill retreat center, and I learned by experience how the corporate spiritual practices of Quakerism can support a life dedicated to faithfulness.

Some of the elders I respected lamented that Quakerism today did not have the same vibrant power known by the first Quakers. Starting with the Journal of George Fox, I began reading seventeenth-century Quakers’ accounts of their Spirit-filled movement, wondering what it was about their spiritual journey that was so transforming and empowering. For seven years I lived alone for two months every summer in an old stone farmhouse beside Amish neighbors, months dedicated to research and writing. The house had been lived in by generations of history teachers, and the walls on every floor were covered with history books. I read about the turbulent times and fervent climate of religious seeking out of which Quakerism arose in England. In meeting libraries, college collections, and anthologies of early Quaker writing, I sought out their stories, seeking especially to learn about important Friends who are not well known in our time.

I was deeply moved by the willingness of some early Friends to travel for long periods away from home. Many suffered and some died to bring their liberating message to those who were spiritually hungry. I was amazed to discover how quickly the first Quakers began traveling to the colonies. I learned how their courageous and prophetic witness laid a foundation for religious freedom in colony after colony. In high school I had been a passionate student of American history, but had never been told about the important contribution made by early Friends.

For years I worked on my own account of the beginnings of Quakerism, telling the story of a network of bold, inspired people supporting one another in courageous faithfulness. Before that book was finished, however, another, shorter book was born from it, a book about ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey, as experienced by early Friends and by Quakers in our time. Early in 2013 I began sharing first drafts of some of my writing about these elements in this blog, A Whole Heart. After writing about early Friends, I researched how Friends in our time have been inspired and empowered by God, Christ, the inward Light, and communal Quaker faith and practice.  

I spent three years living in Richmond, Indiana researching and writing my book about the Quaker spiritual journey. As the Mullen Writing Fellow at Earlham School of Religion in 2013, I received helpful and encouraging support and feedback from professors and students. Shortly before I returned to the Philadelphia area, a Quaker publisher in San Francisco, Charles Martin of Inner Light Books, expressed interest in publishing my book. We have been working together, mostly via email, since last July.

In the past six months my dream of publishing a book that would nurture the spiritual life of others has felt so close to fruition–and at the same time still so far from reality. My husband, Terry, is my first editor, best proofreader, and the biggest source of support and encouragement. Nonetheless, he became tired of hearing me say, “The book is almost finished!”

“I’ll believe it when I’m holding it in my hands,” he said.

Months were spent getting permissions, checking citations at the Swarthmore Friends Historical Library, revising endnotes, working with a copyeditor, revising the endnotes again, proofreading, waiting. When Charles sent me a pdf of the front and back cover, I knew what the book would look like. But it was still felt like just a dream.

Tuesday afternoon this week I came home with my friend Angi. We were both surprised to see a stack of boxes on my doorstep. I couldn’t remember having ordered anything. The return label said, “Inner Light Books.”

Inside the boxes, I found the fruit of long labor. Now I could finally hold the book whose cover I had seen months before, Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey. I’m glad Angi was with me and eager to read the book. Fruit becomes fruitful when people are nourished by it. It was wonderful to put a copy into her hands.  

The book arrived the day the cherry tree bloomed.


You can order Our Life is Love from Inner Light Books. It’s available in hardback, paperback, and ebook.

The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. QuakerBooks provides discounts for books ordered in quantity.

On the weekend of April 8-10, 2016, Pendle Hill is hosting a workshop on Our Life is Love. We will explore how the ten elements relate to our own spiritual journeys and encourage one another to go for passion in our relationship to God, Christ, and the Light within.

© 2016 Marcelle Martin

So happy the book is finally here!

So happy the book is finally here!



Posted in Contemplative spirituality, Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Spirituality of Wholeness: Heresy or Prophecy?

A review of Matthew Fox’s Confessions: the Making of a Post-Denominational Priest

The revised and updated version of Matthew Fox’s autobiography, Confessions, tells the story of a courageous and creative theologian, a Roman Catholic priest who articulated a life-affirming theology about the sacredness of all creation. He was silenced by the Vatican, however, and expelled from his order. Like early Quaker George Fox, Matthew Fox has asked deep questions about the nature of God and life, and he found answers he was able to put into fresh language. Both taught about the life of the Spirit in ways that were liberating and spiritually energizing for many people. Both men also found themselves in the midst of great controversy, accused of heresy.

When Confessions: the Making of a Post-Denominational Priest first came out in 1996, I hurried to buy a copy. I had been making my own long, expansive journey from the theology of my childhood church, and I was eager to read the story of the priest who wrote books with provocative titles such as Original Blessing and The Return of the Cosmic Christ. Matthew Fox was known for something called Creation Spirituality, a theology that affirms the sacredness and wholeness of all creation. Creation Spirituality is not the same thing as pantheism, which worships creation as God. Instead, it sees that God is in everything, and everything is in God. What God is is greater than creation, but infuses all created things. This is called panentheism. Matthew Fox sees traces of this theology in the Scriptures and in the teachings of some celebrated Christian mystics. He teaches that the world has been suffering from an outdated theology that has shaped the West in ways that are devastating to the planet’s people, creatures, and ecology. He insists that this destructive theology, perpetuated through institutional Christianity, does not spring from the teachings of Jesus.

Matthew Fox attended seminary during the reign of Pope John XXIII, and he felt the fresh winds of the Spirit that were ushered in at that time. The Second Vatican Council opened the Roman Catholic Church to the modern day and to ecumenical dialogue. In the late sixties, the Dominican order sent Fox to Europe to get a Ph.D. in theology. On the advice of Thomas Merton, the young priest chose to study in Paris. He went with a burning question: “What is the relationship between prayer and social justice?” His mentor at the Catholic Institute in Paris, the esteemed scholar Père (Father) M. D. Chenu, gave his theology students permission to be poets and artists as well as scholars.   He taught them to distinguish between a dualistic fall/redemption theology that denigrated the earth, women, and all things feminine, and a creation-centered spirituality that emphasized wholeness. It was a time of cultural turmoil, the era of the Civil Rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War.   Many of Fox’s fellow theology students were priests from Latin America interested in liberation theology. In Paris in the late sixties, he found himself in the midst of student riots and worker strikes. Père Chenu encouraged his students to bring their theology alive by engaging in the streets.

Ever afterwards, Matthew Fox sought to articulate a relevant Catholic theology for our time, one that sees the earth and all beings as worthy of reverence. At Mundelein College in Chicago and later at Holy Names College in California, he created and headed a graduate program called the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS). His goal was to encourage a spirituality of wholeness, integrating body, mind, and spirit. Mysticism, prophecy, social justice, and culture were all part of the curriculum. Academic study was combined with poetry, art, and movement. Fox invited gifted teachers from other spiritual traditions, and also from science, to join the noteworthy faculty. This caused controversy among conservative Catholics.

After the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963, the Roman Catholic Church began lurching away from the innovations of the Second Vatican, contracting back into an old conservative stance. Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed head of the department of the Vatican once called the Roman Inquisition. His mission was to weed out liberal progressives in the church. According to Confessions, the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), “silenced, denounced, expelled, and often drove into poverty or early death over 105 theologians for doing exactly what theologians need to do: think.” (424) Matthew Fox was one of them. Cardinal Ratzinger found fault with several things in Fox’s teaching and writing. First was that he sometimes referred to God as Mother. He also focused on the Original Blessing of life, rather than on the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin. In his interfaith work, Fox joined in practices with Native Americans and people of other religions.

Fox was defended by the Dominican board that examined him and cleared him of heresy. Nonetheless, in 1988 Fox was silenced by the Vatican, forbidden to speak in public, teach, or publish any new books for a year. In obedience, he took a sabbatical. During that time he traveled to South America, where he visited with another silenced Catholic priest and theologian, Brazilian Leonardo Boff, a Franciscan known for his work on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Later, however, when Fox refused to close ICCS, he was expelled by his order, the Dominicans. He had to find a new home for his school, so he started the Institute of Creation Spirituality (ICS), in Oakland, California. These events brought greater public attention to Creation Spirituality.

The 1996 edition of Confessions ended shortly after his expulsion, which felt to Fox like being hit by a train. Soon afterwards, he became ordained in the Episcopal Church, where his theological thinking, exploring, and teaching were welcome. The newly expanded edition of Confessions includes the story of the twenty years since then. These have been years of greater freedom. Fox has continued to be a popular speaker and a prolific writer. He has continued to champion radical kinds of education, and he has been led to experiment with fresh forms of liturgy that appeal to young people. His Cosmic Mass shows multi-media images from around the planet and the universe; it also involves a great deal of lively music and dancing.  Each Cosmic Mass includes both celebration and mourning; each has a different theme, highlighting the suffering of oppressed people and the earth as well as the courageous work of prophetic people. Without his former institutional backing, however, Fox has struggled financially to make his innovations in education and liturgy available.

The new sections of Confessions contain some harsh criticisms of the two previous Catholic popes and the socially and theologically conservative hierarchy appointed by them. Speaking of “thirty-four dark years in recent Catholic history,” he condemns the church not only for expelling more than one hundred of its theologians, but also for protecting pedophile priests, and for opposing feminism and movements to support workers, the poor, and native peoples. He cites the huge decline in numbers of Catholics attending church services on a regular basis during those decades, especially the young people. In his anguish over the backward movement in the church since the Second Vatican Council, he has asked himself why God would allow this. His conclusion is that the Holy Spirit wants to, “end the structure of the church as we know it and to push the restart button on Christianity so that it more readily expresses the person and teachings of Jesus.” (424) He is glad that Pope Francis is attempting to bring the focus of the Roman Catholic church back to those teachings. He applauds Francis for daring to “speak of climate change and eco-devastation as a terrible sin.” (437) However, Fox does not see the future of religion in institutional churches. He believes that on the whole, the young people of the world are looking elsewhere, and that, “The Holy Spirit seeks a deep spirituality of action rather than a propping up of religious institutions.” (438)

For Quakers who know the story of George Fox, there is much about Matthew Fox’s biography that is familiar. In some discoveries, George was ahead of Matthew by 350 years. George Fox is included in a list made by Matthew Fox of Christian mystics who have espoused some of the tenets of Creation Spirituality in the past. He gives George Fox 3.5 stars out of 4. Matthew Fox has worked to resurrect such teachings from past Christian history. At the same time, he has made a fresh, earnest attempt to receive continuing revelation.  He believes ecumenical and interfaith dialogue are imperative; the insights of all religions can work together to “inspire our species to undergo the transformations required of our souls and societies and institutions.” (426) His recent work also helps bring together the insights of mysticism with those of science. Along with other important theologians such as Thomas Berry, Fox has been working to help create a New Story for our time that helps human beings to understand and embrace our true place in the sacred order of God’s creation. It is necessary and life-affirming work needed to help humanity turn away from the ecological destruction which has resulted from the disrespectful and unsustainable way we have treated the earth. The God that Matthew Fox celebrates is a Creator who endows everyone with sacred creativity meant for wholeness and for the healing of each other and the planet.


The Revised and Updated Confessions is available at:

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I will be facilitating the year-end retreat at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, Dec 27 – Jan 1 (Sunday – Friday) in Ben Lomond, California. The topic is In the Life and Power of God. Elaine Emily is serving as elder for the weekend. For more information, click HERE.

I will also be facilitating a weekend retreat January 22-24, 2016 at Powell House Retreat Center in Old Chatham, NY, on the subject of Transformation and the New Birth.  For more information, click HERE.

 © 2015  Marcelle Martin

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We Work Through Prayer

For more than two and a half decades, I’ve held the intention of following God’s purpose–or will–for my life. And all of that time, I’ve struggled with a strong desire to do things my own way. When confronted with the need to make a decision or confront a problem, my first instincts are usually to worry, plan, and act on my own. I’ll listen for guidance for a short while, but if it doesn’t come immediately, my spinning mind puts itself in charge of the task. So many of the spiritual lessons I’ve received have been about learning to trust and listen patiently for guidance, then allowing the Spirit to work in and through me and others. Possibly the most important thing I’ve learned by carefully studying the writing of early Friends is how they distinguished between doing things in “one’s own will”–even things that seemed very good or wise–and allowing the Spirit of Christ within to be the initiator of their actions.

I receive lessons about this in every area of my life. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to unlearn.

For me, every opportunity to write or teach about the spiritual life, or to facilitate a meeting for healing or a weekend retreat, is always an occasion for more noticing about how fearful and willful I still am, how much I like to be in control and meet the expectations of others, and how difficult it is for me to deep-down trust God to guide and lead me into action.

This struggle has continued as I’ve approached facilitating another fall weekend at Friends Center in Barnesville, Ohio. In 2013 and 2014 I led weekends there based on the material I’ve collected about ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey. During the November 2013 weekend, we ran through all ten elements both as experienced by early Friends and as we have been aware of them in our own lives. It was an interesting weekend, but pretty intense. The Friends Center Committee thought that it would be fruitful for Friends to take more time and explore just a few elements in one weekend, in more depth. They invited me to return the next fall.

So last year we explored the three elements of Openings, the Refiner’s Fire, and Community. It was a better pace. We had more time to receive the profound teachings that are transmitted when we sit with certain very potent passages by early Friends and tell each other what we receive. We also took time to share the wonderful, painful, healing, challenging, and joyful ways that the Light of Christ has been at work within us and our lives.

In January of this year, Katharine Jacobsen, on behalf for the Friends Center Committee, asked if I was feeling a leading to facilitate another weekend in fall 2015. They had more possible offerings this coming year than usual, she added. At the time she asked, I knew my life was going to be busy this year. Perhaps I didn’t need to travel to Friends Center in fall 2015. And besides, I told myself, maybe Friends wouldn’t be interested in coming back for more so soon. I communicated my thoughts on this.

Katharine is an elder among Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting. She has been a friend, mentor, and elder for me. She responded with a brief statement, so mildly phrased that the gentle rebuke could easily have been missed:

“The Friends Center Committee, working as it does through prayer, would like to know more about how you are led in regard to a theme for FC in 2015-2016.”

Ah…. They work through prayer. They weren’t asking for my first thoughts or my worries about coming back so soon. She asked me how I was led.

I took time to pray about it. When I did, I sensed a focus on being faithful. A question came to me with a lot of energy. So much energy it was almost intimidating, because of what it might ask of me and what God might bring forth.

What does faithfulness require?

I felt something stirring in me, like a bright light in my heart and belly. I felt the presence of the Light of Christ, ready to teach me something more about what faithfulness requires. I felt that this Light connected me with the planning committee at Friends Center.

So I wrote back to Katharine about what I experienced when I prayed about it. After they prayed some more, the committee scheduled a weekend on the topic of Faithfulness for the middle of November 2015.

As the time gets closer, I find myself called to deeper and deeper listening, as the most important form of preparation.

When I speak or write about the importance of worship, prayer, and discernment, I am always reminded of my own difficulties with taking the time to truly listen and wait upon guidance, especially when I’m impatient or anxious to get something done. Friends who feel a strong call to social action sometimes see waiting and listening as avoidance of the risks inherent in action. I was very glad recently, therefore, to read a 2013 Pendle Hill pamphlet entitled Nonviolent Direct Action as Spiritual Path, by long-time Quaker activist Richard K. Taylor, in which he shows that his faith and continuing prayer were essential to him as he participated in sometimes dangerous acts of witness and protest during the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War.

One of Taylor’s many remarkable stories stays with me. He writes that a number of the large, peaceful demonstrations in Washington, D.C. against U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam War were marred by what happened after most of the protesters went home. Many times fringe groups stayed behind and expressed their anger about the war through acts of violence in the streets.

After one large demonstration, there were reports of people throwing rocks near the White House, breaking glass, and of policemen firing tear gas. A few hundred Quakers gathered at the Friends Meeting of Washington, where they sought inwardly for guidance about how to be a peaceful presence in the midst of chaotic violence. They felt led to walk peacefully toward the White House and to keep listening for the still, small voice of God. As they neared the commotion, they saw running figures illuminated by police searchlights and clouds of tear gas. They began to cough.

A policeman stopped them at a corner near the White House and ordered them to turn back. He said that if they stepped off the sidewalk, he would club them or use tear gas. The Quakers decided it was time to listen for more guidance, Taylor wrote:

We gulped, but replied as calmly as we could manage, “We’re Quakers. We’re trying to follow God’s Spirit. We’re going to sit here on the sidewalk in silent prayer and consult with God about what to do.” (18)

They had an impromptu meeting for worship on the sidewalk, a “deep, deep silent worship.” A few people heard the quiet inner voice of the divine presence and offered messages aloud. Some felt called to continue forward and others to turn back. One voice said that each should follow the call they felt, without judging the choices of the others.

Feeling called to go forward, Robert Taylor and his wife Phyllis stood with the group who remained on the corner. They told the policeman they knew he’d been having a difficult night, but they felt they had received God’s guidance to keep going. The policeman said he would club them or use tear gas if they stepped into the street. They felt shaky, but an inner peace enabled them to step off the curb. The policeman surprised them by waving them on. These Friends spent the rest of the night quietly circling the White House. Some of the violent protesters joined them. During this walking vigil, a young man pulled a gun out of his pocket and showed it to Taylor, saying, “I planned to use this tonight, but I’m glad I ran into you all and found an alternative.” (19)

We Do Things By Prayer: Have you, too, struggled with quieting your thoughts, reactions, fears, and worries long enough to listen for how God is really leading you? Have you discovered that you are being led in surprising ways?

Stillwater Meetinghouse

Stillwater Meetinghouse

© 2015 Marcelle Martin

Posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today, Radical Christianity | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments