*Afterthought #60 – Snow Day

The next-to-the-last day of this month, snow fell once again on Lopez Island. It was 36° outside, yet the morning rain gradually turned to soggy flakes, then to sleet. Most of it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but for a place that typically sees snow only once a winter, this fourth round of snowfall stunned me.

In honor of our unusual weather, I’m ending this month with a link to a YouTube video from Moses Brown School­—a Quaker school in Providence, RI. Just as they did a year ago, they’ve made a new video, Can’t Stop the Feeling – School is Closed! The parody of Justin Timberlake’s hit song to announce a snow day will make you grin—and maybe wish for some flurries.

 

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

Suffering – What It Takes, What It Gives

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Image – NY Times
 “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, then the entire world would be wise since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”         ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1973

The couch’s middle cushion dipped as I settled into it at Quaker Meeting. It was the first Sunday of the month, so I anticipated just ten minutes of silence before we’d be directed into worship-sharing. This practice is much like silent meeting for worship, except that the leader poses queries, or questions, for participants to respond to. Out of the quiet, we speak from our own experience, listen deeply and lovingly without commenting, and allow silence between sharings. That day, the worship-sharing leader invited us to respond to any or all of the following queries:

  • How and when do we differentiate between alleviating suffering of others and/or empowering them to find their own way?
  • Is being present or bearing witness enough?
  • What is your experience with suffering? What has it taken from you and what has it given you?

I closed my eyes, resumed my centering breaths, and focused on suffering. As typically happens when I ponder such themes, my thoughts bounced like kernels in a popcorn popper. I quieted them as others spoke, nearly every message resonating. I nodded as someone talked of the importance of being present to those who are suffering, and another suggested we can’t take others’ suffering away. One spoke of awareness that her lifestyle, even as simple as she tries to keep it, contributes to the suffering of other people. More sharing rang true to my own experience: there are ways to give physical help that will ease the suffering of others; our thoughts also affect suffering; recognition of suffering among other species; and the burden of thinking we’re responsible for others’ suffering.

I thought of my own experience with suffering, reflecting on the premature deaths of my father, stepfather, and several close friends. I thought back to other losses, times of uncertainty about my work, and feelings of failure. Those memories led me to explore the questions about what suffering has taken from me and what it has given me. I breathed in, cleared my throat, and spoke of how suffering crumbled my naiveté and eroded my trust that everything would be okay. And once I became aware that my choices about where I live, how I spend, and what I eat often bring suffering to other people, species, and the planet, I couldn’t return to denying my privilege or my complicity.

And there have been gifts. My own hardships, plus awareness of others’ distress, have fostered compassion. When compassion arises, I can open myself to Spirit and to what it is I’m to do. I strive to eliminate the goal of doing “enough.” I know I can never do enough, that I can’t bring an end to the suffering I witness. Instead, I seek clarity about what it is I can bring to a situanorwegian-angel-abstract-digital-art-fractal-circletion or a person and then endeavor to be faithful to that, rather than to an outcome.

As I shared these thoughts, I recognized that these experiences of adversity create a circle—when I act with compassion, I enter into others’ suffering, which in turn fosters compassion. I’m grateful for that, even though many days I wish this cycle didn’t work this way.

But it seems to be the way it is. And it’s why I value my spiritual community, because none of us can do this alone.

 

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*Afterthought #57 – Hopeful Resources

Earlier this month in my post, Doing Hope, I described how “The Work That Reconnects” workshop transformed my despair about climate change and the outcome of the 2016 election. As a follow-up, the workshop sponsors sent information about organizations and activities that support active hope; I’ve added a few others that I turn to, as well as a QuakerSpeak video about some of the roots of activism among Friends. These are all good companions on the journey.

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“We Were Made for This Moment” – http://eileenflanagan.com/we-were-made-for-this-moment/, an online course by author, teacher, and activist Eileen Flanagan to help participants work for a more just and loving world. The course will blend three types of teaching—social change theory, spiritual discernment, and personal empowerment. Classes meet online the five Mondays of January (January 2 to January 30) from 7:30 until 9:00 pm EST. Registration: $50 for five weeks, $30 if you register by December 6 or if you recruit a friend to take the course with you.

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On Being –  http://www.onbeing.org, is a public radio conversation and podcast, a website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?

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YES! Magazine – http://www.yesmagazine.org, reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.

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Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) – https://www.fcnl.org, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) that follows values of integrity, simplicity, and peace to build relationships across political divides that will move policies forward.

 

25760-copy-qvs-banner2Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) – www.Quakervoluntaryservice.org, fosters dynamic relationships of service, witness, and worship in a living Quaker faith. In a world oppressed by the powers of violence, domination, exclusion and fear, QVS empowers transformative partnerships in the work of liberation and justice.

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http://songsforthegreatturning.net – Gretchen Sleicher is a singer, songpasser, songwriter and facilitator of The Work That Reconnects. She created the Songs For the Great Turning website to help spread songs that bring us together and sing us into a new life-sustaining society.

 

 

A Quaker Vision for Political Activism

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

Doing Hope

This October, I once again became a Chicago Cubs fan. I like to think I’d always been one, starting in childhood in Chicago when I’d listen to Cubs games on the radio. After my family moved to Southern Illinois, my dad and I still cheered for the Cubs, watched their games on TV, read the sports pages, and every year hoped for a chance at the World Series—or at least a few wins.

bosse-fieldIn my mid-twenties, my dad died. By then I was living in Southern Indiana and occasionally went to minor league Evansville Triplets games at Bosse Field (third oldest ballpark after Wrigley Field and Fenway Park). A few years later, newly married, I moved to Seattle. Without my Cubs-cheering dad and so many miles from my birthplace, I turned my fading baseball interest to the Seattle Mariners. That eventually disappeared as I became disillusioned with professional sports’ shift from, well, sport to entertainment.

At dawn on an April morning this year, my husband and I helped move our son and daughter-in-law from Washington, DC to Chicago. We loaded their possessions into a rented truck and their compact car and took turns driving on the 700-mile trip. We pulled into their north side neighborhood around 8 pm. Once again I had family in Cubs territory.

winThroughout the spring, I noted the return of my hope about the Cubs – this might be the year, the first time since 1908, that they’d go to the World Series. My interest, and hope, grew all summer and into the fall, the playoffs, and finally the World Series. Call me a fair-weather fan, but the Cubs’ historic win restored my appreciation for baseball and my loyalty to my hometown team.

A World Series title for Chicago wasn’t the only thing I hoped for this fall. I had similar feelings about the 2016 election – hope for a more progressive agenda, hope for the first woman president, hope for a shift in Congress. Sadly, shockingly, by the time I went to bed on November 8, the only shift that seemed likely was toward environmental destruction, health care dismantling, violations of human rights, and military escalation. As the reality that my country had elected Donald Trump began to sink in, distress replaced hope. Right on its heels was the question, “What am I to do?”

work-that-reconnects-pngThis wasn’t the first time I’d felt despair or had questions about my role. I’d sat with anguish about climate change for months, and finally registered for a workshop created by Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology. Two of her students were offering “The Work That Reconnects,” November 11-12. The timing couldn’t have been better.

hopeTo prepare for the workshop, I’d started reading one of Macy’s books, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. The “mess” I was focused on was climate change, but the book’s introduction made it clear that Active Hope can apply to any situation.

The word hope has two different meanings. The first involves hopefulness, where our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen. If we require this kind of hope before we commit ourselves to an action, our response gets blocked in areas where we don’t rate our chances too high.

Kind of like how I’d come to think about the Cubs, and, I have to admit, efforts to save the planet. For some time, my hope—in both cases—fluctuated based on how I rated the chances of “winning.” Macy describes the second meaning of hope as about desire—knowing what we hope for or would like to happen—and becoming an active participant in bringing about those desires.

Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have… Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.

During the workshop, we sang, we grieved, we raged, sang some more, and listened. One of the most transformative exercises for me was sitting in a circle for the Truth Mandala. The leader presented symbolic objects that we could take turns holding: a stone to express fear, dry leaves to represent sorrow, a stick for our anger, and an empty bowl to symbolize our hunger for what’s missing—our emptiness. And where was hope? The leader explained that the very ground of the mandala is hope.

I gripped the stick and spoke of my love for the power and beauty of words and my anger about ways they’re being misused to foster hate and distrust. Then I lifted the heavy rock and acknowledged my fear of speaking truth to power, of being misunderstood, of unwittingly hurting others, or of being perceived as naïve.

After each of us spoke, the rest of the group acknowledged us with the words, “We hear you.” At the end, the leader honored the truth each of us shared and pointed out that each object in the mandala was like a coin with two sides: the courage to speak our fear is evidence of trust; our sorrow is for those things we deeply care for; the anger springs from passion for justice; and to be empty means there’s space to be filled.

By the end of the day, I felt clarity about my question of what I’m to do. Rather than weighing my chances and proceeding only when I feel hopeful—like I did with the Cubs—now, my intention is to DO hope by listening and writing my truth. I don’t know yet what form that will take, but I intend for my words to come from a place of love, grounded in what my Quaker faith has shown me: there is something of the Light in everyone. No exceptions. And every time I feel afraid that I’ll be misunderstood, or viewed as gullible, I’ll remind myself that the other side of that coin is trust; that my anger springs from my passion for justice; my tears come from deep love; and my emptiness offers space for my words.

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