As we drove to Ohio for Katharine Jacobsen’s memorial service, my husband and I remembered her loving friendship and the radiant, welcoming smile with which she greeted us when we came to visit. Katharine and her husband, Ken, had invited many Friends to a time of Poustinia at their home in Wisconsin. The traditional Russian Poustinia is a small cabin or shack in which a person takes a time of silence and prayer. The Jacobsens did not have a shack in their yard; instead the room on the second floor of their home was a place where visitors could come for retreat, prayer, and rest. Poustinia at the Jacobsens’ home involved joining them for a period of silent worship in the morning, and then again in the evening. In between were meals, spaces of silence, and walks on a wooded path to the shore of Lake Delavan, usually accompanied by a golden retriever eager to fetch tennis balls.
I got to know the Jacobsens when they were interim co-directors of Pendle Hill Retreat Center. They arrived at Pendle Hill in a time of difficulty and pain for the community. Through their spirit of loving hospitality to everyone, their integrity, and their humble, prayerful approach to leadership, they brought healing to the staff, nurture to visitors, and clarity to the finances. Previously they had brought similar leadership to Olney School in Barnesville, Ohio during a similarly difficult time of change.
During my first year as resident Quaker Studies teacher at Pendle Hill, Katharine volunteered to serve as the elder (or spiritual nurturer) for my Quakerism course, which I was teaching solo for the first time. She sat in the back of the room, silhouetted against the wide windows, praying for me and the class members, smiling her lovely smile. After class she would tell me what parts of the class had seemed most graced. She delighted when shy people spoke up, including those for whom English was a second or third language. She noted keenly the moments when the Inner Teacher appeared and unexpected learning emerged in the group, as guided by the Spirit.
When several Friends offered a nine-month program at Pendle Hill entitled “The Way of Ministry,” under the care of the School of the Spirit, Katharine served as elder for the program, along with her dear friend, Barbarajene Williams. Both of them were recognized elders among Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, and they modeled and taught a form of eldering that helped the teachers and participants grow in faith and faithfulness. They maintained a deep stream of prayer before, during, and after the program’s four residencies. They noted and sometimes named aloud how the Spirit was moving in the group. They offered counsel and spiritual nurture to the teaching team as well as to individual participants. When the program faced challenges, they helped maintain a loving and hopeful spirit.
During their time at Pendle Hill and afterwards, Katharine and Ken facilitated a number of retreats. Whatever the specific topic, they always taught how to attend to the subtle movements of God’s Love. A five-day workshop that was repeated was called “Communitas: Quaker Practices for Becoming a Healed and Healing Community.” They defined Communitas as “the human community in the presence of the Sacred—infused, healed, and led into service by the energy of divine Love.”
Both in teaching and in leadership of the Pendle Hill community, Katharine and Ken worked closely together as a team. In their long relationship, they had witnessed the ongoing teaching of Christ as the presence of Love, accompanying and guiding them forward, especially when they had the most difficulty seeing the way ahead.
When Terry and I visited their home for the first time, they welcomed him as a friend, although Katharine had never met him before and Ken had talked with him only once. Before and after the periods of worship, and during meals, they had gentle questions, questions that showed a true interest and care, and a desire to learn from each person.
Katharine remained as active as possible after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She used ski poles to help steady herself while taking walks. One August afternoon during the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I met with the Jacobsen’s next to their tent, where they were camping on the grounds of Stillwater Meeting.
“This illness is deepening our love for each other,” Ken said.
“How wonderful!” I remarked.
“We think so,” Katharine responded.
In her last years, Parkinson’s disease increasingly weakened her voice, but she maintained a strong presence in every conversation.
“Tell them about that,” she would say to Ken, mentioning something when it seemed that a particular story was the right contribution to the conversation. During our visits, her voice was always strong enough for cogent remarks and incisive, caring questions. In gentle ways, the Jacobsens helped us gradually turn more fully and trustingly to the same divine Love that guided them. When we left, Katharine stood in the driveway smiling lovingly, radiantly, just as when we arrived.
This winter we received news that Katharine was leaving the hospital to receive hospice care in their home, where she could rest near the fire and look out the windows at the trees and snow.
“Pray for us,” Ken asked their many friends.
When Terry and I took time to pray for Katharine and Ken, we experienced something unexpected. Praying for them seemed unusually easy. When I prayed, I did not feel so much that I was giving something, as receiving. Receiving from that divine Love that circulated so abundantly around them.
A couple days before Katharine died, a hospice nurse greeted her and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“In love,” Katharine answered.
Her love drew many friends from long distances to Stillwater Meeting for her memorial service in Ohio. Near the beginning, Ken sang a version of “The Water is Wide” that he had written for their marriage. He had warned us that his voice might falter as he sang, but it came out strong and clear. Then he read a poem about the blessed gift of their 10,000 days of marriage: 10,000 days begun and ended in prayer together. After we settled in silence, one person after another rose to tell how Katharine had encouraged them, named their gifts, and made them welcome in the circle of community, and encouraged them to be teachable and faithful.
I had known from the weather report that storms were expected that morning, but the big rain held off until after people entered the meetinghouse. Then there was thunder and lightening, a torrential downfall, and big winds. The earthly turbulence subsided by the end of the memorial service. We walked out into the clean air with the sense that our faithful Friend had not really left us. She was still present in the great Love for which she had been such a graceful channel.
Faithful Friend: Are there friends who have nurtured you into a closer awareness of the presence and activity of divine Love in your life?
A few spaces have opened up in Pendle Hill’s first Quaker Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, Paulette Meier and Marcelle Martin, May 14-19. 2017.
New England Yearly Meeting and Woolman Hill Retreat Center are co-sponsoring a nine-month spiritual renewal and leadership development program entitled Nurturing Worship, Faith, and Faithfulness. It begins with a residency at Woolman Hill over Labor Day weekend 2017. An information webinar will be held Wednesday evening, May 10 at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time.
Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It’s also available from QuakerBooks, which provides free shipping on orders of six or more books.