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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*Afterthought #56 Clearness Committee How-To

In my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I write about how my husband and I requested a clearness committee  from our Quaker meeting to help us find clarity on a major decision about work and home. In Afterthought #53, I posted a recent QuakerSpeak video about what’s involved with being a member of a clearness committee. This month, QuakerSpeak presented a how-to for being a “focus person” of a clearness committee – that is, what this process is like for the individual (or couple) seeking clarity about a question. These Friends express well the strength and comfort I’ve received from participation in clearness committees.

 

 

*“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.

Nudged

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Now that I’ve let my nursing license expire, and I’m finishing up two major writing projects (BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community and my memoir, Hiking Naked), I’ve been reflecting on what I’m being led to next. I yearn for the kind of certainty I felt forty years ago when I sensed a clear calling (though I didn’t use that term at the time) to enter nursing school. Or the flash of insight I experienced at a writing workshop over fifteen years ago.

In October of 2000, instead of attending the annual fall public health conference as I usually did, I enrolled in a weeklong writing course by Tom Mullen at Pendle Hill Quaker Center. Tom was a former Quaker pastor and former Dean of Earlham School of Religion (ESR). He was the inspiration behind the ESR Ministry of Writing Program, as he himself was a writer who ministered through the written word. That’s what Tom did for me during that workshop and as he critiqued my writing.

During a group discussion about how to fit writing into our lives, I realized that a number of my nursing consultation contracts would be completed by the end of the year. I saw an opening then to try a new schedule. Why not fit consulting work around writing instead of the other way around?   I announced to my fifteen workshop classmates that in January 2001 I would start a new job—writer. Ever since then, I’ve treated writing as my work, or at least part of my work, and have made time for it nearly every weekday.

languageSo far, though, such clarity about future work has been elusive. As so often happens when I acknowledge my seeking and uncertainty, I learned about a book that intrigued me—A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr. Both authors had studied old Quaker journals in which early Friends described their inward states and their experience of faithful life. They talked of how some of the words and phrases these journalers used were “both puzzling and full of implication” and provided a rich vocabulary to describe those experiences. Taber was especially drawn to the range and complexity of Quaker spirituality conveyed in these writings and called it “a language for the inward landscape.” A couple of years after Taber died, Drayton agreed to delve into Taber’s “the Language” materials and ultimately wrote this book drawing on Taber’s notes and his own study and understanding.

I’m part of the book’s audience of modern seekers who continue to wrestle with putting our spiritual experiences into words, and this book—a combination of history, biography, and dictionary—has broadened my vocabulary to describe my inward journey. Though I don’t feel a clear leading about my next steps, I’ve had some inklings, or wonderings, about what might call to me. A Language for the Inward Landscape offers a term that describes how I feel guided right now:

Nudge – “… though it is mostly synonymous with ‘leading,’ nudge lays emphasis upon the often very small and tentative beginnings of some spiritual development. A nudge is gentle, and often doesn’t convey its ultimate meaning clearly; meaning may unfold as the path unfolds.”

Quaker Charlotte Lyman Fardelmann identified some key signs of authenticity of a nudge:

  • it leads to love and light
  • it comes with clarity, or grows in clarity as it is lived with
  • it resonates with deep desires
  • it leads into service to others
  • it requires rest
  • it leads to more love and joy.

My nudges are definitely small and tentative right now, with the strongest urge being to conserve my energy to complete the projects I’m involved in; there’s still plenty to do to bring my two books into the world. But thanks to A Language for the Inward Landscape, I draw strength and hope from the wisdom of others that my path will unfold.

Journaling as Meditation

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Wisps of steam rose from my tea cup as I set it on my desk next to my laptop. Instead of lifting the laptop lid, I reached for a handbound journal, closed my eyes, and slowly took a breath in, then let my breath out. Breath in. Breath out. And again. Breath in. Breath out. I opened to a blank page, numbered it, and wrote the date. For the next ten minutes or so, I wrote in response to the query, “How did you meet Spirit in the past 24 hours?”

When I’m at my best, this is how I center myself before starting my work for the day. I must admit, though, I haven’t been at my best for some months, having convinced myself that I’m too busy, have too many deadlines, can’t afford to “waste” valuable minutes in this practice.

I’ve felt the effects of abandoning the meditative journaling discipline that nourished me for many years. Thanks to the Ben Lomond Quaker Center, which accepted my proposal to lead a workshop about this practice, I’m once again starting most days journaling in a contemplative way.

For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know. For the past twenty years, I’ve recognized writing as a Spirit-led creative process through which I come to know God and to understand God’s presence in my life.   I’ve also viewed writing as a way to minister to others, an idea that was validated in 2000 when I attended a Pendle Hill Quaker Center workshop, Writing as Ministry, led by Tom Mullen. Since then, writing has become both my work and a spiritual discipline.

I also learned the craft of bookbinding, and I’ve been making hand-bound journals, for myself and for sale, for nearly fifteen years. Through this skill, I’ve come to believe that the journal itself can be an important part of the expression of what it contains.

quaker-journals-157x245Journaling has always been a part of Quaker practice. In 1972, Howard Brinton published Quaker Journals following his study of the 300 journals in his own library; he estimated there were probably about 1000 Quaker journals, including those not in print (I suspect there are thousands more now). Brinton found all the journals had several things in common: simplicity and truth in writing; personal experiences, experiences in early childhood, and dreams were only written about if the writer believed they had religious significance; and humility. He also found they recorded similar stages of development: divine revelations in childhood, then a period of youthful playfulness (usually looked back upon as a waste of time), an experience of a divided self, and finally, following the leadings of the Light.

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Mary Morrison, a writer and former Pendle Hill teacher, has this to say about journaling in her pamphlet, Live the Questions: Write into the Answers: “A journal is an instrument of awareness, through which we can watch what we do so we can find out who we are.”

That finding out who I am has led me back to my journal. It’s no surprise that questions about calling have risen again, as I’m completing two major projects. For nearly three years I’ve been focused on BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, a book to be released in mid-October. At the same time (and for nearly two decades), I’ve worked on a memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, that’s in production with Homebound Publications for a September 2017 release. Now, I’m living the question, “What next?”

2016-journaling-as-meditation-flyer-draft-v3-2Maybe it’s not wise to admit my lapse in contemplative journaling as I’m preparing to lead a workshop to support others in this practice. Then again, readying myself to teach when I’ve been humbled by my own struggle likely will make me more sensitive to those who have resisted a journaling practice or have, as I’ve heard from many participants in past workshops, tried and “failed” at filling blank pages. The calm and centeredness I’ve felt as I’ve returned to journaling as meditation only strengthens my appreciation of this valuable tool.

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So. Tomorrow, I’ll again set my mug on the desk, plant my feet on the floor, reach for my journal, breathe in and out, in and out, in and out, and pick up my pen.