Category Archives: meeting for worship

Light from Disability

This was written for Friends Journal’s March 2016 issue; unfortunately, they chose not to publish it.


June, 2005. I’m sitting at my computer, taking an online quiz about what religion best matches my personal beliefs. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I had left the church 7 years prior due to theological disagreements (particularly the importance of the Pope, the discrimination against women, and the church’s stance on abortion and LGBT rights). Since then, I had been searching for a new religious home. Taking this quiz was a last ditch effort. I’d attended other Christian churches, but none of them felt like communities I could be part of. The results of the quiz came back as 100% Liberal Quaker. I’m excited and eager to find out more about this religion, so I search for a Meeting… only to find the nearest one is half an hour away, which is further away than I can drive.

I’ve had juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (jRA) in all of my joints since I was an infant. Growing up with jRA, the disease made me an automatic “other”. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as “juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis”) is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system targets part of the body. JRA is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and pain primarily in the joints and musculoskeletal system; left untreated, this disease can result in permanent joint deformities and often, as in my case, can lead to disability. When I was growing up, the primary treatments available were large doses of aspirin and physical/occupational therapy. In elementary school, I took the special ed bus and often needed the assistance of an aide. In middle school, I often had physical therapy during and instead of recess.

While I never hesitated to tell people about my jRA—it was impossible to hide it from people I would be spending a lot of time with—I always felt like it was something I had to “overcome”. Not only as an obstacle to my education, but as an obstacle to friendship and relationships. My jRA was something I had to make up for.

Except for 6 days every summer, when I went to Arthritis Camp. Camp Dartmouth-Hitchcock was a summer camp in New England only for kids with arthritis or similar autoimmune conditions like lupus. For those 6 days, my jRA wasn’t something to overcome; it was something that united us. It made me a part of the group instead of apart from the group.

At Arthritis Camp, each evening before heading off to bed, we would sit in a circle in silence. We met in a big, old, drafty barn. The smell of wood and age became as soothing as the people around me, my friends and family for those 6 days. And out of that silence, sometimes, we would speak. Though camp wasn’t explicitly religious, I had never felt Spirit’s presence, love, and acceptance more powerfully than in those nightly circles.

Every year at camp, an award was given out to the camper that best exemplified the spirit of Dr. Joshua Burnett, who founded Arthritis Camp. Every year, I dreamed of winning that award; up until my last year at camp, when I gave up on winning the award and focused instead on being truly present with my fellow campers and for each of my last moments at camp. It was August, 1999; I was 17 years old. My right wrist, which would be my first joint surgery just the next summer, was starting to fail. I had just finished my junior year of high school, which had been one of the most painful years of my life up to that point.

The award was given out at a formal dinner the last night of camp. My last year at camp, the director stood and read the award:

“Dr. Joshua Burnett, a family physician with an ear for the need of his patients, became the first Rheumatologist in the state after hearing of a need. He willingly returned to school to learn to provide this specialized care for this patients. As a Staff Rheumatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center he saw the need for a camp for children with arthritis. A place they could go and enjoy camping as any other child their age. It was his unselfish gift of caring for others that we honor with this award.

“Each year one camper is voted on by their peers as the camper that exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Burnett. This camper is caring and unselfish in his or her interaction with their fellow campers.”

And then, she said my name, and I became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I felt that being given that award showed me the best person I could be. It showed me how the power of true community could support and change a life.

That night, as we gathered one last time in the circle, a fire gently lighting the otherwise dark barn, I was filled with joy and despair. How could I leave this place? Would I ever find such a community again? One by one, we lit our candles from the flame of the fireplace, passing our light from one to the other. We spoke our truths. We cried together. And I knew that the strength I was given at Arthritis Camp would empower me for the rest of my life.

It was September of 2005 before I was finally able to convince my husband to drive me to the nearest Friends Meeting—Third Haven Friends Meeting in Easton, Maryland. We drove through their driveway, surrounded by pine trees, sunlight sparkling through the needles. We parked and followed the small stream of people into their old Meeting House. And when I saw the old Meeting House, my breath was taken away.

Walking into that building, that 300+ year old wooden building where sunlight streamed through open windows and doors, felt like returning to Arthritis Camp. That building felt just like the barn at camp. It smelled like home. I felt like I was home.

We sat, and I struggled to contain my joy. Words rose out of the silence, just like words rising at those evening gatherings at camp. These words were powerful. They were authentic. They struck that inner chord in my soul that knows Truth. The hour passed quickly, and I knew that finally, I had found my religious home.
But on the ride home, it become obvious that my husband had not had the same experience. While I found the silence liberating, he found it boring. He agreed to drive me to Meeting for Worship again, but he would not be attending with me. I was disappointed. I wanted to become a part of this Meeting, to once again participate in that communion of Spirit.

I managed to convince my husband to drive me to Meeting one more time. And at that Meeting for Worship, two Friends—two strangers—offered to drive me when they heard about my need for a ride. These Friends became friends, and they drove me to Meeting for several years. It was their willingness to offer assistance that allowed me to join Third Haven Friends Meeting as an official member in August, 2006. Though these f/Friends have since moved away, my husband has seen how important attending Meeting is to me and is more willing to drive me than he once was. Being a member of Third Haven has challenged me to live up to the Quaker testimonies, to question, to believe, and to be part of a community that is not always perfect, but one in which the Light is yet present.

Though it’s been many years since I last attended Arthritis Camp, the person I was during that final week of camp showed me the best person I can be. Each day, I try to live up to that award. Not doing so would mean I am not honoring the camp that showed me what true community, love, and caring could be like.

For myself, I have that award to strive towards. For my Meeting community, I have the loving, accepting, and caring camp community to work toward. It is the combination of these two elements, the divine and the active, that I most wish to share with my Meeting community.

And it is my disability that made this possible.

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Filed under arthritis camp, belief, meeting for worship, quakerism, third haven, worship

Outreach: A Monthly Query Post

Queries taken from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “Faith & Practice”. The current month’s Query can be read in full here.

  • How do I ground myself in the understandings of my faith? Am I clear about my beliefs? How do I prepare myself to share my faith and beliefs with others?

    There are many ways I try to ground myself in the understandings of my faith. I try to constantly be mindful of my motivations behind actions and alert to any leadings I may be given. I attempt to allow love and compassion to be my primary motivation behind all actions and always question whether the way in which I behaved lived up to that motivation, and if not, then what got in the way.

    I’m not certain that I’m clear about my beliefs, not in the theological, dogmatic sense. I’m in general no longer very interested in arguing about dogma, or “notions”, as George Fox would say. My faith is what it is, and limiting it to words that may serve to divide me from others doesn’t interest me. So… I suppose that yes, I am clear about my beliefs.

    The primary way I try to share my faith and beliefs with others is through my behavior. If I’m not acting from a grounding in love and compassion; if my behavior towards another violates my Testiomonies of Simplicity, Integrity, Peace, and Equality, or violates their Testimonies; if I’m more closed than open, then I am not living up to my faith. I’m always open and available to talk about my faith with any who ask, and I don’t avoid discussing it in conversation if the subject comes up. I don’t really prepare to share my faith in any different way than I prepare to live it.

  • Does my manner of life as a Friend attract others to our religious society?

    I hope so, but I can’t be sure.

  • Do I seize opportunities to tell others about the Religious Society of Friends and invite them to worship with us?

    Yes. If way opens in a conversation, I don’t hesitate to talk about my Meeting and why I love our way of worship.

  • Is my manner with visitors and attenders to our Meeting one of welcome?

    … Probably not. I often feel rushed during Hospitality to leave as quickly as possible, because my husband drives me to Meeting for Worship and is often waiting in the car to drive me home. I don’t like ending conversations prematurely, so I often avoid starting them.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, to worship with them, and to work with them on common concerns?

    I don’t limit myself to only working or being around those like me. If I feel led and way opens, I will worship with someone whose faith is different from mine.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know, to work, and to worship with Friends outside of my own Meeting?

    Other than online, I haven’t had many opportunities to worship with Friends outside of my Monthly Meeting. But I do communicate with Friends on facebook and find their virtual friendship helpful. I enjoy reading about how their faith shapes their lives and love being challenged by them.

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Practice

Choosing to stop attending the Bible listening/study group with my friend was one of the harder choices I’ve had to make recently. I miss having the opportunity to see her, but I don’t miss the group as much as I thought I would. The truth is that I never really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And as Easter approached, I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to attend.

For Christians, Easter is supposed to be a celebration. “Jesus is Risen!” For me, Easter has become a time of discomfort. It was at an Easter service several years ago that I was finally able to name that discomfort: that I don’t believe in the Resurrection or Jesus’s divinity. It was that Easter service that made me realize I wasn’t yet in the right spiritual home, that as awesome as the Episcopal religion is, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Shortly after is when I (re)discovered Quakerism and knew this was where God had led me.

The truth is that attending that Bible listening/study group made me acutely aware of how distant I often feel from my Meeting. Since my Meeting is half an hour away, it’s all I can do to attend Meeting for Worship once or twice a month and the occasional library committee meeting. Being more involved with my Meeting, such as joining a discussion group, is not a possibility. And I miss my Meeting. I wish I could be more involved.

Another truth that surfaced after I realized I was no longer led to attend that group is that I need to be more faithful to my religions: both to Quakerism, and to Buddhism. I’d let my daily formal meditation fall to the wayside, with the excuse that since I was constantly trying to practice mindfulness, the formal sitting meditation “wasn’t necessary”. But I realized that I missed my meditation practice. So, I’ve started practicing sitting meditation again, and it has been good.

Tomorrow, I will be attending Meeting for Worship and then Meeting for Business. And I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know yet how to reconcile my longing to attend more Meetings for Worship with my physical inability to do so, but I’m hoping way will open. And in the meantime, on Sundays when I’m unable to attend Meeting for Worship, I’ll practice Centering Prayer meditation. It won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.

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Filed under belief, buddhism, daily life, discernment, faith, Jesus, leadings, meditation, meeting for worship, third haven, worship

Abandon All Hope, Question Motivation

Today’s slogan is:

“Abandon any hope of fruition.”

This slogan always seems almost unnecessarily morbid to me, very reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And I always have difficulty with this slogan.

The explanations I’ve read about this slogan speak about being in the present, instead of always looking for some future outcome. I’ve read about how this slogan encourages one to meditate for the sake of meditating instead of, say, meditating to achieve enlightenment.

Rationally, I can accept that; but I’ve had difficulty accepting it on that deeper level where Truth rests.

Last night, I came across this passage from “Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings of John Cassian”:

“There is a great difference between those who put out the fire of sin within themselves by fear of hell or hope of future reward and those who from the feeling of divine love have a horror of sin itself and of uncleanness and keep hold of the virtue of purity simply from the love and longing for purity. They look for no reward from a promise for the future, but delighted with the knowledge of good things present, do everything not from regard to punishment but from delight in virtue. “

This I understand. When I was young and certain “pious” adults tried to instill in me a fear of hell and longing for heaven, I rejected it. What is the point of doing the right thing if I’m only doing it for a reward or for fear of being punished? Shouldn’t I do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing? I decided then that I would do the right thing, as I best understood it, even if doing the right thing would lead to eternal punishment instead of eternal reward.

This offers me a new understanding of today’s slogan: that it’s not about abandoning hope, but challenging motivations.

Am I meditating because I want to become enlightened or because meditating is worth doing for its own sake?
Am I attempting to practice Right Speech because of some reward or because it’s the right thing to do?
Am I attending Meeting for Worship because I want to give ministry or because I want to open myself to Spirit, whether or not ministry through me will occur?
Am I praying because I want God to do something for me or because praying is a worthwhile activity, even if there’s no discernible end result?

Am I living because life is worth living or because I want to accomplish something?
Do I love because the object of my love is worthy or because love in and of itself is worthy?

Am I listening because I want to know what best to say to change you or because you deserve to be listened to, just as you are?

Will I have the courage to accept things just as they are or will I continue to see the present as just a step towards the future?

(The discomfort these questions are giving me is a good sign.)

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Filed under buddhism, catholicism, daily life, jamie, love, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, prayer, slogans

Pondering Tattoos and Jesus

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about a weighty topic, such as Integrity or Solitude, but what’s been going through my mind recently is, on the surface, more superficial: I’ve been pondering getting two tattoos when I turn 30 next May–one of a sun on my left inner forearm, one of a lotus flower on my right inner forearm.

The imagery should be obvious to readers of this blog: Light and Lotus, visual representations of my faith.

Yesterday, I began wondering if perhaps instead of two tattoos, I could merge them into one by placing the lotus flower in the bottom of the sun. Doing this, however, would leave an open space above that would seem too empty. The question then arose as to what would I fill it with? My first thought was a silhouette of a person meditating in the lotus position, but I ruled this out for two reasons: 1. I’m unable to meditate in that position, so this image simply wouldn’t be meaningful enough to me to warrant being marked permanently on my skin; and 2. I want balance between my two religions and this would make Buddhism be overly-represented.

The second thought was of a cross, just a simple black-line cross, not a crucifix.

This has led me to rather thorny questions about what I believe about Jesus, or, more aptly, how unconventional my relationship with Jesus is. Getting a tattoo of a cross–even a simple one–would send a message to all who saw it that, look, I’m a Christian.

And yet I’ve been wrestling with that question for years and had, until this thorny tattoo question popped up, been just… well, ignoring it. Placating myself with phrases like, “Labels aren’t important. Faith is.” What makes someone a Christian? My in-laws would give a narrow definition and use words like “Bible-believing” and “Jesus as savior”. In their eyes, I don’t think I count as a Christian. The church I grew up in, the Catholic church, wouldn’t count me as a Christian either, as the Nicene Creed, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection–all these I doubt. In fact, I’m fairly certain most people who call themselves Christians would have a hard time with me counting myself amongst them.

I am, after all, a Buddhist. That by and of itself would disqualify me as a Christian for a whole lot of self-identified Christians.

And yet, I used the phrase “relationship with Jesus” when talking to my husband about this tattoo idea last night. Granted, the context was something like “I don’t know if I’d want to get a tattoo of a cross given how uncertain my relationship with Jesus is”, but that phrase is indicative in and of itself.

And here’s where I’m becoming uncomfortable.

You don’t have a relationship with a dead man. (Let’s not think of exceptions to this, please.) Would I talk about my “relationship with Buddha” or my “relationship with George Fox” or my “relationship with Chenrezig (the bodhisattva of compassion)”? It’s hard for me to imagine actually using those phrases.

The truth is that I’ve been having an ongoing relationship with Jesus since I was a kid. He’s been my main inspiration for how to live morally and ethically. That cliched question “What would Jesus do?” is one I’ve used as my internal moral compass even before I ran into that question in middle school. I haven’t reread the New Testament some half-dozen times out of scholarly interest, but because I want to know Jesus better: who was he? what did he really say? what did he really do? what did he really mean?

But another truth is that I don’t pray to Jesus. I pray to God, and addressing a prayer to Jesus has always made me feel uncomfortable, like I’m trying to be someone I’m not. I don’t believe in the Virgin Birth. I seriously doubt the tale of the Resurrection as told in the Gospels.

But Pentecost I can accept. That the Holy Spirit could settle in a group of worshipers and draw them closer to God. I believe this because I’ve experienced it for myself at Meeting for Worship. Not every Meeting for Worship, of course, but enough.

To me, the cross has always been a symbol first and foremost of the cost of following God, a visual reminder that doing what is right can have deadly consequences. This is an important symbol for me and one I still have around my house to remind me that following God isn’t always easy.

But as I’ve been writing this post, what has occurred to me is that the Light–represented by the sun in my possible tattoo–is also a symbol of Jesus and one that I’ve always felt a strong attachment to. So I return to my original plan (two simple, small tattoos done in black ink on each forearm, one of a sun, one of a lotus), with new knowledge about my connection with the image of the sun.

If I am a Christian, this is how: because the Inner Light, that Inner Christ, has always been guiding me, nudging me toward God.

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Filed under belief, discernment, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, meeting for worship

Thoughts on Dually-Affiliated Friends

I’ve always felt a certain discomfort about Nontheist Friends and other dually-affiliated Friends. (But, you protest, aren’t you a dually-affiliated Friend?? Yes, but I don’t identify as a Buddhist Quaker or a Quaker Buddhist: I am both a Buddhist and a Quaker.) Some of this discomfort about Nontheist Friends stemmed from preconceptions I, as a theist* (more on that later), had. A few weeks ago, I joined a Nontheist Friends Google group. At the time, I was questioning my belief in God. I’d recently come across several passages in Buddhist books that described theism as, basically, the adult version of a blankie: the belief in a supernatural being that could, at a moment’s notice, if one prayed hard enough, fix all of your problems. This was not my kind of theism, so I began to wonder if I might actually be one of those “nontheist Friends” I actually mocked with another Friend a few years ago:

“Here’s what I don’t get about nontheist Friends. What, exactly, are they DOING in Meeting for Worship? Who do they think is leading them?”

We had a good laugh and moved on.

And, thankfully, I’ve moved on, too. I now feel that ANY one, regardless of faith or belief, should be welcomed into Meeting for Worship. As I’ve said previously on here, if the person sitting next to me calls that which moves him or her to speak “God”, “Jesus”, “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit”, “Gaia”, “Allah”, “innate humanity”, “connection to the universe”, “bodhichitta”, etc., that doesn’t change that we are being moved by the same One.

The conversations I’ve had via email with nontheist Friends over the past few weeks have been helpful to me. They, overall, appear to be a thoughtful, kind, open group. Nontheism is not just made up of the “Angry Atheist” (i.e., the person who lost his or her faith in God because of a traumatic event and is angry about it) or the “Overly Rationalist”, as I have thought in the past, but a wide variety of beliefs about the world, people, the universe, etc. There’s currently an engaging discussion going on about “supernatural events”, e.g., ghosts. My time spent interacting with this group has been helpful not only in dispelling preconceptions I’ve had (and I likely still have some that need to be dispelled, so I am planning on remaining on this email list for a while), but also in helping me narrow down what, exactly, it is that I believe.

And what became apparent to me in reading these emails is that I am not a nontheist. It’s just not what I believe. Panentheism–the belief in God as universe and more (similar to the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts)–is closest to where I am right now.

So, while I’m comfortable with worshiping with those who would describe their worship experience differently than I would, I’ve come to realize what I am not comfortable with in our Religious Society. This realization was brought about by a comment a Friend made on facebook about his experience at this year’s FGC:

“I heard no references to Jesus from ordinary participants, and remarkably few to God. I heard, multiple times, that Quakers can believe anything and have no rituals. There was evangelizing by “nontheist Friends” who had a table offering tracts (albeit tucked away out of the flow of the crowd) and one of whom buttonholed me, unsought, in a hallway. There was no sign I could find of evangelizing either by mystics of the Jonesite sort or by Quaker traditionalists within FGC.”

Here’s the thing: while I am a Buddhist, I don’t expect my Quaker Meeting to be Buddhist. I don’t expect messages delivered in Meeting for Worship to be given in Buddhist terms. I don’t–and wouldn’t, unless I had a very, very clear sense of being Led–give ministry in Meeting for Worship using Buddhist terms.

Quakerism, while it is a faith where anyone can join us in worship, no matter what they do or not believe, is a religion rooted in Christian mysticism. Historically, those are our roots. And what concerns me about this Friend’s comment is I worry that some dually-affiliated Friends may be trying to deny those roots. Again, I do not believe that one needs to be Christian to be a Quaker. (I do not identify as a Christian.) But I do feel that one needs to understand and respect Quakerism’s Christian roots. Quaker language and tradition have evolved from these roots, to be sure, but the roots are there.

I want to make clear that I do not believe all dually-affiliated Friends are trying to deny Quakerism’s roots and change Quakerism into some kind of “melting pot” religion. I know I’m not the only dually-affiliated Friend who wholly respects Quakerism for what it is.

But for those dually-affiliated Friends who may be trying to disentangle Quakerism from its Christian roots and reform it into a religion that matches their particular faith, I would ask these Friends to reconsider their actions. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of nontheist Friends? I would say yes. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of dually-affiliated Friends (pagans, Buddhists, Jews, etc.)? I would say yes.

But should Quakerism as a religion become Nontheist, Buddhist, pagan, or Jewish, etc.? I answer no.

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Filed under convergence, convergent Friends, different faiths, meeting for worship, Quaker Quaker, quakerism, universalism

Practice: A Slogan Post

I pulled this slogan a few days ago and am only now getting around to writing this post, which is appropriate given what I’m planning on writing:

“If you can practice even when distracted, you are well-trained.”

I could delve into the teacher/guru-student structure that’s so central to Tibetan Buddhism, which is the tradition from which I get these slogans, but I think that’s not the real message to be had here.

I’ve received this slogan many, many times over the past few years, and I’ve always discounted it as one of the “boring, inapplicable” ones, like the ones that seem to be pontificating on what I usually discount as Buddhist dogma and philosophy that really doesn’t matter.

(Okay, let me explain that last part a bit: I graduated from a college that spends an awful lot of time and energy on philosophizing everything. By the end of it, I started wondering what, exactly, the point was of being able to define everything. Just because maybe the exact definition of, say, a table can’t be known–what’s the eidos of a table, for those of you schooled in Greek-geek-speak–doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize a table when we see it. So, a lot of Buddhist philosophizing about perception or the 51 mental states, etc., I have difficulty finding ways to apply to my life, probably because I’m coming at it from this particular lens. … This may be something I need to work on.)

Back to the slogan at hand. I always thought this slogan was about the ability to meditate through distractions, that, say, if I can meditate even though two kitties are wrestling on the bed behind me, then I’m “well-trained”.

Right, because the whole purpose of Buddhism is to learn how to meditate well.

Let me say that more clearly: the purpose of Buddhism is not to teach people how to meditate well. While meditation can be both a means and an end, it is not THE end of Buddhism. It’s only a means.

What is the end?

I realize I’m still relatively new to Buddhism, but the purpose of Buddhism seems pretty clear to me: to alleviate suffering. The path that Buddhism recommends to do so is meditation, which allows one to develop right understanding so that one’s actions can truly alleviate suffering. (How many times have we tried to do the right thing and found out later that we had a critical flaw in our understanding of what the problem was?)

There is what I’ll call a Quaker fable that relates to this slogan:

A first-time attender is sitting in Meeting for Worship, waiting for the service to begin. As the silence stretches into many minutes, the attender whispers to his neighbor, “When does the service begin?” The Quaker replies, “When the worship ends.”

The point of this slogan is that it’s not easy to practice Buddhism, to be alert and aware enough all of the time to skillfully act in ways that alleviate suffering. I often find myself feeling very compassionate and loving during meditation sessions. I’ll resolve that the next time my sister calls, even if she calls for no reason and more than once a day, I’m going to be truly present for her and give her whatever it is she’s needing from me. But how long does that resolve last?

I think you all can relate to my answer. It lasts until I hear her ring-tone on my cellphone, when annoyance and irritation replaces my intention of love and compassion.

Or when I sit in Meeting for Worship, steeping in that Divine Love that centers us as Quakers and enlivens us, thinking about all the ways I’m going to be better at following Him. I’m going to be more alert to leadings and less fearful. I’m going to be more trusting. I’m going to be more loving and compassionate (that is the main common thread for me between Quakerism and Buddhism: the desire to be loving and compassionate).

So, this slogan is not about becoming an expert in meditation after all. It’s about, as Quakers would say, “letting my life speak”. It’s about maintaining that feeling of love, compassion, and mindfulness after the meditation session is over. It’s about maintaining that connection to God outside of Meeting for Worship.

It’s about practicing.

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Filed under buddhism, compassion, daily life, jamie, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, obedience, quakerism, slogans, submission

The Importance of Friends

A couple of months ago, my husband and I traveled to Lewes, Delaware, to visit two f/Friends of mine who live in a Quaker retirement-to-nursing home community there (let’s call them A and J). We’ve visited them during our anniversary vacations for the last couple of years, and every year I think the same thoughts before going: What will we talk about? What do we really have in common? This year, in fact, I was considering not visiting them as usual, but my husband, who is often good about not letting me slack off spiritually, insisted that we should.

When I first began attending Third Haven Friends Meeting, I felt both at home and out of place. Mostly, I felt at home, but I also felt out of place because I was unable to drive myself to and from and knew that my husband would not often be willing to drive me, as he found Meeting for Worship “boring”. So, while I felt I’d finally found my spiritual home, I also worried that the distance would be an impediment to my actually becoming involved with the community. Then, after attending my second Meeting for Worship, I was introduced to two Friends who lived nearby. A & J were a good 60 years older than me, had never met me before, but immediately offered to drive me to and from Meeting whenever I wanted.

I was, frankly, completely shocked at their willingness. It took me months to get up the courage to call them and ask for a ride.

But once I did, they faithfully drove me to and from Meeting for Worship for over a year. During that year, we became quite close. When they decided to move to Lewes, Delaware, to their final home, I knew that I would not only miss the rides, but their friendship.

Since they’ve left, my husband has taken up the responsibility of driving me to and from Meeting for Worship, but there are often weekends I don’t make it because he is too tired and needs the extra sleep.

Anyways, what is particularly interesting about A & J is that their marriage is similar to my own in one important way.

Without going into too much detail, there was a conflict at Third Haven many years ago over same-sex marriage. Most members wanted the Meeting to perform same-sex marriages, but a few did not. A lot of feelings were hurt, people felt they weren’t listened to, and the conflict ended in a compromise that many members could not feel settled with. This conflict happened a few years before I joined Third Haven.

Shortly after I joined, I felt a Disquiet about what had happened and felt led to encourage the Meeting to begin talking about same-sex marriage again. As many of you can imagine, this leading was not always welcomed by all members of my Meeting. In any event, the seeds I planted eventually blossomed, and a committee to discuss Same-Sex Marriage was developed last June (see this entry ).

In December, Third Haven finally found unity to perform Same-Sex Spiritual Union Ceremonies, but the word “marriage” was not used in the approved minute. I, and several others, were led to stand aside.

The similarity between A & J’s marriage and my own is a religious one. A was in favor of same-sex marriage when it was first discussed at Third Haven while J was not. In my own marriage, I am strongly in favor of same-sex marriage (at Third Haven and anywhere else!) while my husband is not. A and I are very open to the idea of Quakers having multiple faiths (she is supportive of my Buddhist faith and understands how it can complement my Quaker faith) while J is a bit more Christocentric. My husband is also a Christian.

Over our last meal before my husband and I left A & J’s home, we discussed what had happened at Third Haven over the last year. I mentioned how I’d sometimes felt like my ministry was not listened to as much as Friends who are older, even if we were saying the same thing. In particular, I was slightly hurt that it took an older Friend speaking in Meeting for Worship to get the Meeting to start discussing Same-Sex Marriage when I’d often offered similar ministry many times before. I do enjoy that Third Haven is a very well-grounded Meeting with older Friends very grounded in Spirit, but I do sometimes feel that the voices of younger Friends who may also be grounded in Spirit sometimes go unheeded.

It came to my mind that a Meeting functions best when there’s a strong segment of older Friends and a strong segment of younger Friends as well. Meetings are like a body of water: we need the depth of older Friends to keep us grounded in Spirit and the current of younger Friends to prevent stagnancy.

In spite of the complaint I voiced above, I do feel lucky to have Third Haven as my Monthly Meeting. We have a wide variety of beliefs, from conservative Christians to Buddhists to agnostics to Universalists. We have a wide variety of ages, too; I’ve noticed an influx of people in their mid20s to mid30s in recent years. Most of all, though, I love how gathered our Meetings for Worship are. I love our old Meetinghouse, even when it’s hot and I yearn for the convenience of air conditioning (built in the 1600s, it has no electricity). I love our “new” Meetinghouse, built in the 1800s, with its tall white walls and large windows. I love the grounds, the trees, the squirrels and birds that serenade us during Meeting for Worship. Most of all, though, I love the Spirit that flows through us as we sit in Meeting for Worship.

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Filed under friends, gay love, GLBT rights, lgbt issues, meeting for worship, quakerism, third haven

Christ and the Way of Non-Self

As often happens to me during Meeting for Worship, this morning I found my thoughts turning to Jesus. In particular, I found myself reflecting on Jesus’s statement that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it:

“Then summoning the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life shall lose it; and he who loses his life for the sake of me and the gospel shall save it. For what does it advantage a man to gain the whole world and pay for it with his life? What can a man give that is worth as much as his life? He who is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of him will the son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”

(Gospel of Mark, 8:34-38)

And again in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it. For what will it advantage a man if he gains the whole world but must pay with his life? Or what will a man give that is worth as much as his life? The son of man is to come in the glory of his father among his angels…”

(Gospel of Matthew, 16:24-27)

The first ministry that was offered in Meeting for Worship today was about how Third Haven encouraged this Friend to love God with all his being:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together, and one of them who was versed in the law questioned him, making trial of him: Master, in the law, which is the great commandment? He said: That you shall love the Lord your God in all your heart and all your spirit and all your mind. That is the great commandment, and the first. There is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the law and the prophets depend.”

(Gospel of Matthew, 22:34-40)

Here’s the point: one cannot worship God if one is too busy worshiping oneself. If one is too caught up in ego, in the life one wants and feels one deserves, one cannot love the Lord with all one’s heart, one’s spirit, and one’s mind, because one is too caught up in one’s self.

But what does losing one’s life and one’s love of self have to do with the second commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Buddhism has two core teachings (in addition to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path), that of emptiness and compassion. Here is how the logic works in Buddhism: when one finally realizes that the Self is merely an illusion of the mind and does not have an independent, permanent existence, the distinction between Self and Other vanishes. Thus, one can literally love your neighbor as yourself, because there is no longer a difference between the two.

To be able to love God as He deserves–with all your heart, mind, and spirit–one must give up one’s life and one’s attachment to one’s self. (As Jesus says in many of the Gospels, “No one can serve two Masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”) And in the process of losing one’s life and sense of individual self, one can come to another realization: that we are, all of us, children of God, equally worthy of His love, and as worthy of our own love as we ourselves are.

The first step, though, in both Buddhism and Christianity is to give up the idea of one’s individual self. And this I struggle with. I’m very attached to Me. I have such a tendency to turn my spiritual growth into accomplishments that bolster my ego: “Look how many times I’ve read the Bible! Look at how I’ve taken my Vows at such an early age! Look how spiritual I am!”

I want to love others as myself, to follow where God leads me, to truly KNOW the way of emptiness and compassion as taught in Buddhism, but the truth is that I am too bound up in love and pride of my own Self.

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Notions

There’s been a lot of discussion recently and not so recently within Quaker circles, both online and off, about whether Quakerism is a Christian faith or not, who should or shouldn’t be allowed to be a Quaker, and as many variations of these two as one can think of.

What it boils down to, Friends, is a discussion about notions. And I feel that we are missing the point.

When I was growing up, I called God by names that were familiar to me: God, Lord, Dieu, Father, Mon Père. I would hear my father, who spoke Arabic as well as French and English, occasionally launch into a long prayer in Arabic whenever he was feeling overwhelmed by emotions. I always assumed that the word Allah pointed to a different god; that when one prayed to Allah, one was literally praying to a different god than my God. I believed this until I asked my father one day what the word “Allah” meant.

It was just another name for God, he said.

Now, to be fair, his intention probably wasn’t for me to equate the God Christians worship with the God Muslims worship, as there is a very strong anti-Islam sentiment in his family. But when I learned that God could be called by many different names by different people all over the world, it changed my perspective.

Friends, I ask us to challenge ourselves. Here is what I know: I know what it feels like to be held under a leading, with the weight constantly resting on my soul until I’ve fulfilled what I am being called to do; I know what it feels like to have my heart start pounding during Meeting for Worship, the vivid sense of being truly alive as I give the message, the relaxation as my body returns to normal.

If I call the One who gives me messages and leadings God and the person sitting next to me in Meeting for Worship calls the One buddha-heart or our internal humanity or Jesus Christ or Allah or Yahweh or Buddha, are we not still following the same One?

There is One (or Many, if you prefer) who moves us, Friends. But the One’s existence is not dependent on the names we use or the specific theologies we cling to.

I apologize if this post is upsetting to some, but I am really confused over what exactly we are arguing about. For it seems to me, Friends, that what we are arguing about are just notions, notions we should be willing to use when they are helpful and let go of when we have been led to a better way.

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