Joy in the Midst of Trouble in the Midst of Joy

Autographing books on Lopez Island

Spotlights made my silvery hair glisten, but apparently didn’t reveal the perspiration on my brow when I stood before audiences in Stehekin and on Lopez Island, two remote communities in Washington State. The smiling faces before me calmed my jitters as I introduced my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, to friends and supporters. The butterflies flitted away as I read and noticed heads nodding; while signing books, I heard stories of similar experiences of seeking clarity about calling.

Hiking Naked Final CoverThese past two weeks have been especially joyous for me. After nearly two decades grappling at my writing desk, trying to make sense of my disillusionment with work I’d felt led to, I now have in my hands the story of an intense time of seeking. As I place it in others’ hands, I discover the commonality of this experience, complete with its despair and revelation.

Quaker author & activist, Eileen Flanagan

Yet, in the midst of celebration, I’m aware of the difficult times around me—both within my inner circle and around the globe. And once again, Quaker friend Eileen Flanagan recently offered wisdom about how to maintain spiritual footing in the midst of trouble. I commend her blog post, Spirituality for Troubled Times, when any of us feel off-kilter in the swirl of disasters, violence, disease, and threat. Here are seven practices Eileen expands upon in her essay:

  1. Recognize both oneness and difference.
  2. Cultivate compassion.
  3. Know thyself.
  4. Be faithful to a grounding practice.
  5. Don’t assume that your grounding practice is all you’re called to do.
  6. Don’t go it alone.
  7. Don’t forget about goodness, beauty, and joy.

Sound advice, no matter the times.

To learn more from Eileen’s expertise and roundedness, consider her online course, We Were Made for This Moment.  While a new class has already started, she repeats them  regularly.

To Cherish the Silence

In my last post, I confessed to not knowing enough about history. But one historical event I learned a fair bit about returned to me as I watched “Profound Silence”— a recent episode of QuakerSpeak—featuring Jane Fernandes, President of Guilford College. Guilford, in Greensboro, NC, is a liberal arts college guided by Quaker testimonies. FernandesWhen Jane, who is deaf, became Guilford’s ninth president in 2014, she had the distinction of being the first woman to hold the post. She also was the first deaf woman to lead an American college or university.

In the interview, Jane speaks and signs about her introduction to Quakerism. Although she was raised a Catholic, when she attended an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for the first time, she loved it. “For me, as a deaf person,” Jane says, “it’s rare when a group of people wants to cherish silence. It is rare.”

Jane was born deaf, to a mother who was also deaf, so she knows a great deal about silence. But her encounters with Quaker worship led to new awareness about her experience of being silent with others. “I’ve not been in a group of people that understands that, and a group of hearing people who strive to be in that state that I was born in.”

There’s a great deal that hearing people don’t understand about deafness, and that’s where Jane’s story and my history lesson intersect.

My husband is a sign language interpreter and has worked for over twenty years with children and adults who are deaf. He first started in the field at Seattle Central Community College’s Interpreter Training Program in 1981. Between his studies and work, he became friends with many people in Seattle’s large deaf community. I tagged along to social gatherings, fumbling with limited signing skills and relying on him to interpret. Along the way, I learned about some of the civil rights struggles of people who are deaf. One of them centered on a renowned school for deaf students, Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.Gallaudet

In March 1988, when the University’s Board of Trustees announced that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet’s seventh president, many Gallaudet students, alumni, staff, and faculty organized a protest. Their “Deaf President Now” campaign shut down the campus and raised awareness about the injustice of selecting the lone hearing candidate, Elisabeth A. Zinser, from a field of three finalists, two of whom were deaf. The protesters also presented four demands to the Board of Trustees:

  1. Elisabeth Zinser must resign and a deaf person selected president;
  2. Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board; and
  4. There would no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

By the end of the week, the students ended their protest; all their demands had been met, Dr. I. King Jordan was named Gallaudet’s eighth- and first-deaf president, and Philip Bravin was selected at the Board of Trustees’ first deaf chairperson. Since Jordan’s selection, all subsequent presidents have been deaf. Incidentally, prior to her appointment at Guilford, Jane Fernandes was found to be “not deaf enough” to serve at Gallaudet. She was raised orally and didn’t learn sign language until she was in graduate school.

And here’s another interesting twist in history’s cycle. Gallaudet’s current president, Roberta J. Cordano, assumed her position January 1, 2016, making her Gallaudet’s first deaf woman president—and likely the second deaf woman (after Jane Fernandes) to lead an American university or college.

I’m grateful that I can hear and that I haven’t suffered the same effects of being silenced that deaf folks have (though I know something of the ways women continue to be muted). But when I quiet myself and sit with others doing the same, I’m most open to the Divine. Along with Jane, I cherish the silence.

*Afterthought #63: Quakers in Politics

As a newly-elected public official, I’m reflecting on the long history of Quakers involved in politics. As Marge Abbott explains in a recent QuakerSpeak episode,

Friends have always been very active in addressing our government and its rule. They had started out in the earliest days having to try and change laws that were affecting them directly. As time went by a century later they were among the most active lobbyists to end slavery, active in women’s suffrage, in temperance movements… many, many places where they were lobbying over the centuries.”

Quakers in the World is another source about Friends’ “long tradition of being active in, and seeking to make a difference to, the world in which they find themselves. In their actions they seek to put Quaker testimonies such as equality, peace and integrity into practice, as best they can.” The site’s overview of Quakers in Politics is good grounding for me as I serve my community as a commissioner for our new Public Hospital District.

alice paul

Suffragist Alice Paul is one of those Quakers who worked diligently for equal rights for women. I don’t expect my entry into politics to be anywhere as demanding as Alice Paul’s efforts, but I look to her as an example of service.



*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, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

*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.