Thursday, August 16, 2012


In Part 1 of my Open Letter, I feel that I made two important errors, and I need to own them here.

The first was a lack of clarity on when I was asking that Christian Friends should take pains to discern the will of Spirit in sharing based on the Bible or Christianity.  I was not as clear as I meant to be that I was not talking about when Christians speak among themselves, or when established friends within a spiritual community are speaking to one another.  My caution applies to cases where Christian Friends--within liberal meetings, where it is relevant, as it is not in the other branches of Friends--speak in meeting for worship, or on behalf of their meetings or one-on-one with non-Christians they don't know.  In those situations, the dangers from outrunning our Guide is great, and a good way to avoid hurting one another unnecessarily is to stay low to Spirit while speaking boldly and confidently what Spirit gives us to share.

Some took my words to mean that every mention of the Bible and Christianity needed to be subject to a discernment process, and that wasn't my intention at all.

The second error was more serious, because it wasn't just a place where my writing was unclear, but one where I lost my own ability to do exactly what it was I was asking others to do: I did not stay low myself, and I outran my Guide. 

My Bible scholarship is also questionable, but that's really almost beside the point; if it had been solid as steel, it was still not mine to say, and I regret posting it.

I've changed the copy of Part One to strike the two paragraphs where I feel that I did this, but because so many people saw the original, it feels wrong not to acknowledge my error, so I'm doing that with a hyperlink to this post.  You can see the bit that I cut, with its context around it, below.
As I am obligated to stay low and faithful in my listening to you, you are equally obligated to stay low and faithful listening to me.

Your Jesus didn't choose his company based on their theological purity.  Do you really think that the non-Jews he cared for were mere charity cases and hangers-on?  Did he never listen to their words, consider their perspectives on the world?

Try not to be more arrogant than your god, when non-Christians speak.  You never know--we might be how That Spirit is talking to you today.

Some of you--most of you--understand this very deeply.  For that especially, I am grateful.  You did not only let me through the door--you sat at the table with me, and we have shared that particular spiritual communion.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peter asks, what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the Gods?

Last month, I went to the annual gathering of Friends General Conference, one of the large umbrella organizations that many of the Yearly Meetings belong to.  While there, I met several other Friends who also identify as Pagan.  One of them wrote to me afterwards, asking himself questions about the compatibility of Quaker and Pagan religious paths.  What follows is based on my response to him: 

What Quakerism and Paganism share most profoundly is that both are experiential religions.  Neither one demands that you believe a doctrine or recite a creed, but both lead you through experiences by which you come to experience the Divine directly.

Those experiences often happen on a level that is wordless.  The Gods transcend language, but human beings live by words.  The Gods break us open, changing us at our deepest levels; words knit us together again in our new forms.  All of the Quaker testimonies, and all of the Pagan myths, are afterthoughts, and subject to change.

Not random change.  Not change at our whim.  It is a common misconception about Quakers and Pagans that both religions allow you to believe whatever you want.  The truth is that both religions ask you to undertake discernment.  As a Pagan, you do not choose your patron deity; your Deity chooses you.  As a Quaker, you do not (or should not—though many do)  argue you point in a business meeting with logic and powerful rhetoric; you listen for the movement of Spirit within the meeting, and when the gathered body comes to unity, it is not consensus with each other, it is Unity with the Discerned Will of God.

There is a saying among Quakers, something along the lines of “Be faithful to the Light thou hast been given, and more will be given unto thee.”  I don’t remember who said it, or even whether it was something from the eighteenth century or the twenty-first, but it expresses the idea of faithfulness as the grounding for continuing revelation.  I haven’t heard Pagans express the same idea, but the same thing clearly happens if you look at Pagan practice over time, both of individuals and of communities.  Each generation of Wiccan leaders since Gerald Gardner has become more grounded and more spiritually centered, and it feels like it is the Gods who have been leading us in that direction.

Paganism has had much less time to evolve than has Quakerism (70-some-odd years vs. 350 or so) and I think there are tools in the Quaker toolkit that could benefit Pagans greatly, especially our practice of corporate discernment.  There also seem to be a lot of Quakers who hunger for some Pagan insights, like our explicit recognition of the sacredness of the Earth, and our flexibility in how we conceptualize and talk about the Divine.  The two traditions don’t match up perfectly, but they complement one another in some powerful ways.

In framing his questions, the “Quagan” I met at FGC was defining Paganism by quoting from a variety of Pagan writings, and he looked to Faith and Practice to try to find equivalent Testimonies to what several writers had identified as defining characteristics of Paganism.  In the end, I paraphrased George Fox:  

You say Diana Paxton said this, and Margaret Fell said that: but what canst thou say?  Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the Gods?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Stewards of Joy

I am blessed by some remarkable friendships.

One friendship that has grown over time into something extraordinary is the one I share with my Quaker friend Kathleen.  Kathleen loves to tell the story of how she and I met at a Woolman Hill retreat a few years back: she had found herself, a deeply committed Christian, feeling at loose ends among the liberal Quakers she knew then, as few of them spoke much or often about the Christian aspects of their Quaker practice--and, indeed, many did not consider themselves to be Christian at all.

So, being Kathleen, she prayed about it.  She asked to find someone she could connect with deeply about her spiritual journey, someone with as deep and important a reliance on Jesus as she had.

What she got was me.

This makes us both laugh--and laugh with joy.  Because we can both see that Spirit gave her (and me) exactly what we needed, even if it was not exactly what either of us had been looking for.  For, while she has gone on to make many committed Christian friends among Quakers, for some weird reason she and I have just always, from the first conversation we had, gotten one another.  I understand her humor, her angst, her passionate commitment to her faith... and, though it is freaky enough to be the punch line of a joke, she gets me right back, in all my Witchy glory.

We'll be in the middle of an anecdote, Kathleen talking about an experience she had recently in worship, and I'll jump in with an exclamation that might equally well be about my experience among Friends at Mt. Toby, or about my coven life in years past.

She will laugh richly.  "I can't believe we are talking about trance journeys!" she'll say.  And she'll grin, and I'll grin, and we'll go on.She doesn't know why my weird Witchy perspective on Quaker matters make sense to her, and I certainly can't explain why her Christian language and understandings make sense to me. (Well, I admit: I have a theory, having to do with Spirit being a helluva translator). But work they do. In a world of people talking at one another, she and I are lucky enough to hear one another. Which is very cool.

What Kathleen and I mainly do, when we get together, is talk. We talk about her daughter, my woods, good diner food, movies we like... but most of all, what we talk about is our lives in Spirit. Because what we both share most, what connects us on a scary-wonderful level, is how stone in love with the Spirit we encounter in worship both of us are. And how strange, and strangely wonderful is it that we two, who see and understand that Spirit so differently can nevertheless see and understand that we are talking about experiences of the same Spirit?

I remember the first time I wept in meeting; I remember the first time I trembled in meeting--the literal quaking that Quakers got their name from; I remember how it felt the first time Spirit pushed me to my feet with a message: a big WHOOSH of Life and Power.  And these experiences are deep and profound and mind-blowing and exhausting and intimate in a way that is very hard to explain to someone you don't trust to hear you right.  It takes a measure of courage to tell people that you not only talk to God, but that He (She/It/They/We) talks back.

I have stood in a place where my whole life has seemed to tremble with the intensity of nearness to Spirit; Kathleen (especially lately, poor/lucky thing) stands there a lot.  When a person stands in the bright Light of Spirit often, it gets overwhelming, sometimes. And you want to talk about it, but you don't want people to think you're crazy, or grand-standing, or self-important, or simply carried away.  You actually sort of need someone who has looked into the Eyes of the Universe and fallen in to sit with you, hear you out, and say, "Oh, yeah!  That is some kind of crazy shit, isn't it?  And wonderful, too."

You need to be listened to matter-of-factly, but also with appreciation for how strange, how very strange and outside consumer-consensus reality this stuff is.

At least, I need that.  And Kathleen needs it, too.  And we're really lucky that we can give this thing to one another.

There are a lot of labels you could give to what we do.  "Spiritual Friendship," is a good one.  And there is an element of deliberate cultivation of our friendship for each of us.  We recognize that we are helps to one another's spiritual development, and we arrange times to meet and to talk to take advantage of that.  And we'll talk about daily life--we are both teachers, and parents--and take a walk or go out for french fries or ice cream.  But we'll also unpack our spiritual challenges and journeys together, and even set aside time for what the old-timey Quakers called "Opportunities," when we will worship together in silence, or pray.

We do that a lot, actually. Before the end of most of our visits together, we'll sit still, me in my rocking chair and she on the couch next to it, and it will get very, very quiet. It's rare for us to have words for each other from the Silence--though not unheard of. It isn't rare at all to feel something in the intimacy of that silence that is deeper and truer than all the words, and that holds them together.

We both have a knack for irreverent reverence that works very well... despite, or maybe even partly because of, the ways we are alien to one another.  Our conversations are a deep well of gladness for me, whether we are talking about her spiritual journey or mine, her Work or mine. I'm pretty grateful for that friendship, and I can hear God* laughing a deep, rolling, belly laugh over setting it up for us.  It is a good thing, and it works.

And a few weeks ago, Kathleen came over for a visit.

Summer is a busy time for Quakers.  All these "Yearly Meetings," plus gatherings, conferences, workshops... not to mention it being a good time for teachers to travel in general, and visiting individual Friends and meetings when traveling is a time-honored custom among Quakers.  Kathleen in particular is drawn to this part of Quaker life, and a good deal of our conversation revolves around what that is like for her--not so much what different meetings or individuals are like, for she is not a gossip, but what it is like to be her, in her skin, encountering Spirit in so many different places.  She is often led to visit a meeting or to seek out an individual person, and we have spent a lot of time this past year discussing what her sense of a leading is like.  (Short answer: Strong.  Urgent. A little bit breathtaking.)

We talk about eldering and ministry and how we test what we think we know from the world of Spirit.  And we have a helluva good time, which is what we were doing that day. (Plus, she let me finish the onion rings!)

And in the course of discussing her travels, she talked about how another of her friends had inquired whether she might be overdoing her Quaker work just now. (She has been very active this summer.)

She felt clear that she was not. Her gauge? Joy.

And I agree. Deeply, passionately, clearly I feel sure of it: while following a leading may not always be easy, may involve struggle and hardship at times, it also always involves joy. No matter how difficult the Work, when it is faithful, there will be underneath it a powerful current of joy--like an underground river at one time, or like a river in flood at another.

As somebody once put it in Some Book Or Other, when our talents are harnessed correctly, "The yoke is easy and the burden is light."
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