Category Archives: that of God

“That of God”: Letting Go of Fear

Most of the time I spend at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs is spent interacting not with people, but with cats. My main function is what’s called “socializing”; that is, I give cats attention—pet them, pick them up, hold them, and so on. The goal of this is often said to be making the cats more adoptable. And I do hope that my interactions with the cats ends up with them being more adoptable.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do, exactly. My goal, what is behind how I interact with the cats, is to let the cats grow into who they truly are. What this means in particular for many cats is that I try to encourage them to be comfortable enough around people that they enjoy affection instead of fear it. This depends on trust and respect. The cat has to learn to trust me (and hopefully once they learn to trust me, they’ll extend that idea to other people), and to get the cat to trust me, I have to respect its limits. Respecting a cat’s limits doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes do something that pushes its limits (otherwise a shy cat would never learn to be petted, for example), but that when I do push its limits, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing and I let the cat dictate how long this uncomfortable interaction continues. And when the cat has learned that he or she can trust me, then the transformation begins: she or he starts relaxing into interactions instead of tensing. Purring happens. Greeting me when I walk into the adoption center begins to happen.

Ultimately, it’s about teaching the cat how not to be afraid. I don’t believe there are any “mean” cats; I believe that when cats aren’t afraid, they’re loving and affectionate. But this isn’t a natural state for cats when they interact with people. It’s something they have to learn or be taught. And the older the cat is when this learning begins, the more fear there is to overcome.

In short, what I’m doing is seeing and answering “that of God” in these cats. And they appreciate it.

And I’ve been thinking that this is how I’d like to interact with people, too; to interact with other people in such a way that they know they have nothing to fear from me, so they can become who they truly are. Because people, like cats, aren’t born learning how to interact with people. It’s something we have to learn. And sometimes that process of learning gets tainted with fear and we forget who we are, at our core.

We’re like cats, I think: when we’re afraid, we lash out. And when we’re with someone who knows us—truly knows us—we blossom. Can we learn to see each other how God sees us? Can I learn how to answer “that of God” in people as well as cats?

I hope so.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under cats, daily life, God, inspirations, love, practice, quakerism, speak and listen with love, that of God

Poems

“A Just Being”

Being as just
Being
Sitting to sit
Writing to write
Writing to right
Wrongs left
From
Unseeing
Unfeeling
Believing non-being
Instead of
Just
Being


“Holy Differences”

Wholly different perspectives
Stand their ground
Trip me up
Put motes in my eyes and
Cotton in my ears.

Where is the common ground?
Where is the shift we need to
See the same?

Yet in the differences rests
Diversity, the
Holy harmony of humanity,
That which turns the
Wholly different into
Holy differences.

Leave a comment

Filed under human rights, inspirations, leadings, oppression, poetry, racism, speak and listen with love, that of God

Bi-religious Duality

There’s often an underlying tension when one professes to be a member of two religions. There’s the constant challenge of “Well, how can you be both X and Y?” And often one avoids answering the question by either outright ignoring it or starting a long convoluted explanation about how even though these two religions seem to have differences, they’re really not all that different when all is said and done.

Except sure they are, or you wouldn’t find it necessary to be part of both. You would be satisfied with one religion and wouldn’t feel the need to have two.

I am both Quaker and Buddhist. These two religions do have some similar beliefs—Quaker’s “that of God” is comparable to Buddhism’s bodhichitta or the idea that anyone can find enlightenment, not just monks—and some similar practices—when I sit in Meeting for Worship or for meditation, physically I am doing the same thing—but Quakerism is not Buddhism and Buddhism is not Quakerism. Nor should they be!

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the most important theological differences I find between Buddhism and Quakerism. Now given the wide diversity of beliefs in both Buddhism and Quakerism, this post is going to involve lots of generalities and is just my understanding of what are the foundations of both religions, regardless of whether all Buddhists and all Quakers currently believe in these foundations or not.

This foundational difference is the concept of God. In Buddhism, there is no God, at least not in the personal, creative (as in, creator of the Universe) sense. The universe and all its inhabitants are, ultimately, ruled by karma, the law of cause and effect. In this sense, Buddhism is very scientific: because this happened, this then came to be, and so on. Pema Chödröm has this to say about the belief in a personal God, the kind of God who actually cares about you as an individual and interacts in the world:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”

Quakerism, on the other hand, has a foundational belief in the existence of a personal God. We sit in Meeting for Worship waiting to be Moved by Him (or Her or It or Whatever), and if we are so Moved, we stand and share the message. We believe that one can be Led. We have clearness committees to test Leadings. Now whether all Quakers today would agree that a personal God exists, we clearly believe that there is Something that has the ability to lead us. We believe in Something that can call us to an action or an inaction. We believe all can have a personal relationship with this Something without the need of a priest or outward sacraments.

Now whether Quakers today would name this Something God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, Allah, Nature, or Our Inner Goodness, this belief is not one that is found—as far as I know—within Buddhism.

The belief that I can be led—personally—by the Something seems at odds with the Buddhist belief in karma. How does a Something that can interact with me personally fit in with the Buddhist understanding of the universe as a mechanism of karma? How does that work?

It doesn’t seem to work, to be honest. Buddhist and Quaker dogma aren’t the same. They are inherently different. They come from different foundations: Quakerism is founded upon the idea of a Creator God, specifically the God of Jesus, that is accessible to all people; while Buddhism is founded upon the idea that anyone, despite current caste and past karma, can become enlightened and free from this world of suffering by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Quakerism in a sense encourages the individual—one has a personal relationship with God, one can be led—while Buddhism discourages the individual—the idea of a Self is ultimately a delusion. And if that is true, then how can something that doesn’t truly exist be led?

Wow, I am really over-simplifying and generalizing, aren’t I?

But what it comes down to is that practicing Quakerism and practicing Buddhism works for me—experimentally—as George Fox would say. The Buddhist practice of meditation—the maitri/metta I talked about in my last post; the mindfulness of breathing, of pain, of sound, of Being—works for me. The Quaker practice of waiting upon the Light works for me. How can I deny that I have been Led? Can I look back upon the ministry I’ve given in Meetings for Worship and dismiss the heart-pounding, body trembling that inspired me to stand and speak?

And yet, I can’t deny that there are serious differences between the two religions, and that these differences in some cases seem to be contradictory.

And so I am forced to stand in the Center, between what seems to be two choices, and wait in the tension.

Because what it comes down is that I believe more in experience than in notions. And that is something that both Buddha and George Fox would agree with.

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, different faiths, discernment, faith, leadings, practice, quakerism, statement of faith, that of God, universalism

The Return

It’s funny: I’ve had this blog title floating around in my head for months now. I thought the title was going to be referring to my return to Meeting for Worship after my hip surgery.

It’s not, though: it’s about my return to Jesus.

Five years ago, I began an annual tradition of reading the New Testament, starting on Christmas and finishing by the end of Lent. Two years ago, after I finished my annual reading, I felt that I was being called to take a break. I didn’t seem to get anything from that reading—I’d become too familiar with the text and had read it too frequently. So, last year come Christmas, I didn’t start reading the New Testament. Actually, I don’t think I’d even picked up my favorite translation (Richmond Lattimore’s) for over a year.

Today I had lunch with a dear friend of mine—I’ll call her R—who I hadn’t really gotten to visit with for several months. During lunch, she mentioned this worship meeting she attends every Tuesday night. She’d mentioned this a few times before. They read a section of the Bible, talk about the word or phrase that pops out at them, and then pray together. It sounded a lot like a modified lectio divina group.

Coincidentally, I just finished a book called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” a few weeks ago that spoke about lectio devina, as well as centering prayer. (Centering prayer deserves its own entry, but I will chime in briefly that apparently centering prayer is what I’ve been doing at Meeting for Worship for years and just didn’t know what to call it. If you want to read a book that really, really explains just what we’re trying to do at Meeting for Worship in concrete, practical steps, this is THE book. And surprisingly, it’s written not by a Quaker, but a contemplative Episcopalian.) Lectio divina is a practice I’ve read about in quite a few books now, but never felt motivated to really try. I found the idea interesting, but just didn’t feel an urge to try it then and there.

After lunch today, I suddenly found myself interested in attending R’s worship meeting with her. But I didn’t know when my husband would be getting home tonight (he’s often out doing service calls at locations over half an hour away, so when we eat dinner is not predictable), so I told her I’d have to let her know later if I could come.

Shortly after I got home from lunch, my husband calls to let me know he’s coming home early.

Way opened!

Tonight’s focus was on two selections from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, lines 6-8 and 19-28. We read three translations: the NIV (1:6-8, 1:19-28), the King James (1:6-8, 1:19-28), and the Message (1:6-8, 1:19-28), in that order. For the first reading, we were encouraged to focus on a word that drew our attention and then share our thoughts about it.

The word that jumped out at me was “light” in lines 6-8:

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

This term has particular meaning to Quakers—we talk a lot about the “inner Light”, the “Light within”, etc.—but the source of our history with that term is biblical. I happen to be reading J. Brent Bill’s book “Mind the Light”, so the word “Light” really popped out of the page.

But that was the… somewhat predictable response. Looking at the same text a second time as seen through a different translation encouraged me to move beyond the predictable and the practiced responses and find something new.

The second word that called out to me was the word “through”:

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him believe.

What struck me was the idea of coming to believe in something through another being. “Through him, all men believe.” It almost felt like the “through” was the verb in that clause, not a preposition. It is often “through” other people that we come to have faith; and Light works through us… We can be conduits to that Light and catalysts to the Light in those we meet.

The third reading revealed to me a pairing of phrases: “completely honest” and “plain truth”, from lines 19-20 in the Message translation:

19-20When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

These phrases sound synonymous, but they’re not always. Sometimes when I’m focused on being “completely honest”, I speak too much and too long. I’m speaking honestly, but my overabundance of words obscures the truth. So there’s a difference between being “completely honest” and living “plain truth”.

What struck me the most, though, about the entire experience tonight was how different an experience it was to read the New Testament in this way. Hearing what words or phrases struck others—hearing the Spirit behind those words—made this text that I’ve now read or heard over a dozen times feel new. I was able to see the text with new eyes.

And what also struck me at the end, as we were praying out loud in a circle,one after another—which is a new experience for me!—was how centered I felt, how centered the entire group felt. It was the same sense that I’ve experienced at Meeting for Worship… but with people whose theological beliefs and practices are different than mine. Yet the Spirit was there, just as it is at Meeting for Worship.

I was called to put myself in an uncomfortable position, to be around people whose beliefs I believe to be different than mine, and to be open and vulnerable with them just the same. I expected to find it challenging—it was. I didn’t expect the experience to be so enjoyable and spiritually refreshing.

Friends, we are called not just to the Light, but to the Light through discomfort. Only by being uncomfortable can we be given the opportunities to respond to the Light within others who reflect the Light differently than we do.

But it is the same Light, Friends.

4 Comments

Filed under bible, christianity, christians, different faiths, discernment, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadings, light, ministry, practice, speak and listen with love, that of God, the bible

Egypt and Peace

We pacifists have been told we’re living in a dreamworld.
We’ve been told we’re idealistic, that nonviolence isn’t powerful enough to really exhibit change.
We’ve been told that violence and oppression are more powerful than peace.

To the doubters I say:
How many nonviolent revolutions have to occur until the world realizes that “There is no way to Peace, Peace is the way”?

The Egyptian people have done what the United States military has, in many cases, failed to do: they pulled down an oppressive government. And they did it without violence. They did it with dignity, with their hearts yearning for peace and freedom. They did it with integrity, and with equality: men, women, children, Muslims, Christians, all standing together.

As a Quaker, today I stand with Egyptians. I stand with Tunisians. I stand with everyone everywhere who is working for the true meaning of peace: not the cessation of conflict, but the sense that everyone everywhere has rights, that these rights must be respected…

That there is that of God in everyone, though those exact words may not be the ones used.

Leave a comment

Filed under peace, politics, quakerism, testimonies, that of God

Inherent Goodness

One of my favorite aspects of both of my religions is the belief in inherent goodness. This is the opposite of what I was taught as a Catholic growing up, which was the belief in Original Sin, man’s tendency towards wrongdoing and separation from God. I never really believed in the concept of original sin. After all, if God made us, then how could we be naturally bad?

As Quakers, we tend to believe that the “Kingdom of God” is available to us, right here, right now. It’s an internal, personal event, instead of the worldwide, external, apocalyptic event that many Christians view it as. We tend to believe that because everyone is a creation of God, we all have access to the Divine within, the “that of God within”. This is the theological foundation for our method of silent, waiting worship. We believe that everyone and anyone can commune directly with God*, no intermediary necessary. We believe that God can lead us; that if we pay attention, we can follow God’s will for us.

*(When I speak of God here, I am speaking of the Divine in general, no matter what name you may give it.)

This is a huge deal, and, in my mind, one of the most important aspects of Quakerism, if not the outright foundation. Other Christian denominations make the claim to be welcoming, but this Quaker faith in inherent goodness, in our innate ability to commune directly with God, in our ability to access that Seed within, makes us utterly unique and uniquely welcoming. “Come worship with us and commune with God!”

In Buddhism, too, there’s a belief in inherent goodness of people. This is usually named as our “inherent Buddha-nature” or “bodhichitta”. Any and all people have the potential to become Buddhas, or enlightened ones. We are encouraged to treat anyone we meet as a potential Buddha. By meditation and mindfulness, we can encourage the seed of bodhichitta to grow within us.

We are not inherently bad. We all have innate goodness within us. We just need to

“dig deep… carefully cast forth the loose Matter, and get down to the Rock, the sure Foundation, and there hearken to that Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain Sound.” (John Woolman)

Or come to realize that:

“Whatever good or useful things you want for yourself, others want them just as much. So just as you work hard at bringing about your own happiness and comfort, always work hard to others’ happiness and comfort, too. Just as you would try to avoid even the slightest suffering for yourself, strive too to prevent others having to suffer even the slightest harm. Just as you would feel pleased about our own well being and prosperity, rejoice from your heart when others are well and prosperous, too. In short, seeing no distinction between yourself and all living creatures of the three worlds, make it your sole mission to find ways of making every one of them happy, now and for all time.” – Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Notice that in both practices, there is an aspect of letting go of the primacy of self. What I mean here is that we need to let go of the idea that we are the most important person, the center of the universe. We need to let go of our self-centeredness. In Quakerism, we strive to let go of our self-centeredness so that God can become our center, so we can discern between our ego speaking and the “still, small voice” of the Divine. In Buddhism, we recognize that the foundation of compassion comes in the letting go of our attachment to our ego, to our self, because true compassion can only grow when we are no longer the center of our own universe.

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, buddhism, compassion, emptiness, quakerism, that of God

John Woolman on Common Humanity

As a brief continuation of my last post, I’d like to share this passage from the Journals of John Woolman:

When we remember that all nations are of one blood, that in this world we are but sojourners, that we are subject to the like afflictions and infirmities of body, the like disorders and frailties in mind, the like temptations, the same death, and the same judgment, and that the all-wise Being is Judge and Lord over us all, it seems to raise an idea of general brotherhood, and a disposition easy to be touched with a feeling of each other’s afflictions…

Leave a comment

Filed under compassion, quakerism, that of God

Gifts from Unexpected People (Again)

Three weeks ago, my husband told me I’d be getting a surprise from my college friends. “What college friends?” I asked and added, “I can only think of a handful or so.”

“I think you’ll be surprised at how many you have,” he said. And he was right.

I’ve had a huge lesson in gratitude and thankfulness and appreciation for people I hadn’t been appreciating enough. I am so overwhelmed with emotion that I honestly do not know what to say.

Yesterday, I was given a Kindle from 18 friends of mine from college with the following note:

Cassie had the great idea for all of us to team up and give you a Kindle for your birthday this year. We’re all Johnnies and we love reading, so we wanted to make sure you had a way to read even when your hands are hurting.

Most of these friends I see once a year or less. A few of them I haven’t seen for over 2 years. And I was, frankly, unaware of the depths of the care all of them have for me.

Yesterday, when I opened my surprise present, I was moved but didn’t really understand what this means for me. Now that I’ve been using the Kindle and have downloaded so many books that I can’t remember even half of them, it has become clear to me what this means for me.

I can read without hurting my hands. For the first time in my life, I can read without hurting my hands.

The depth of this is hard to explain. As soon as I learned how to read, I’ve loved reading. But it’s always hurt my hands to hold the book. And book holders, of which I’ve had several, help, but just are cumbersome to use… and it’s just not possible to curl up with a book holder. I’ve always just continued reading, sometimes way past the point where my hands needed me to stop. I had long ago come to accept that reading was worth the pain.

I don’t have to accept that anymore.

I’ve been friends with these people for years now. And I’ve been taking them for granted and not appreciating them enough.

Sometimes, we have friends that we dismiss undeservedly. Sometimes, we have people who care about us more than we know. Sometimes, we’re shown love from unexpected people.

And I am so, so grateful.

2 Comments

Filed under friends, gratitude, health, inspirations, love, that of God

Mirrors

I’ve been wondering whether to post this or not, but this post has given me the final nudge I needed to write this post.

A few months ago, I had a Clearness Committee. (Some of you may recall why, but that doesn’t matter for this post.) During the Clearness Committee, one of the members said that he “wanted to be a mirror” for me. Intellectually, I knew what he meant: that he wanted to reflect myself back at me so I could see. But I didn’t really know what he meant until last Sunday.

At last Sunday’s Meeting for Worship, a unifying theme arose: what do we mean when we say we believe each person has “that of God” within them? How do we know? How do we nurture “that of God” within us?

Suddenly, I remembered the mirror image. The image and understanding that came to me is actually quite difficult to explain, as it is so visual, so please bear with me as I try… I imagined each of us as mirrors, specifically mirrors of the Divine. And depending on how well we’ve nurtured that Divine spark or seed is shown in the mirror by how dirty or clear it is.

And we can’t see our own mirrors except through the reflections of others. If we’re looking into a mirror owned by someone who’s really nurtured that Divine spark, we’re able to see how we haven’t. And this is what we actually do: by being with someone grounded in God, we’re able to see how we could do better. By being grounded in God, we’re able to inspire others to do better.

This is why we need community, to see where, as Buddhists would say, we’re stuck. We are all mirrors. And we need each other.

(And if this sounds familiar to you and something similar has been posted before, please let me know, as it felt like a story I’d read before…)

1 Comment

Filed under meeting for worship, ministry, quakerism, that of God

Compassion for Enemies

The acronym SPICE was brought up in today’s Meeting for Worship, with each letter explained: S for Simplicity, P for Peace, I for Integrity, C for Community, and E for Equality. I wondered, why couldn’t the C stand for Compassion instead? And my thoughts swam backwards towards a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while: the Armenian Genocide and the role of Ottomon Turkey in the genocide (and modern-day Turkey in its denial).

Since some of you don’t know me personally and don’t read my livejournal, you may not know that my dad’s family is ethnically Armenian. They lived in Lebanon for a number of years before relocating to America in 1965. We are proud to be Armenian. I’m proud to be Armenian. But part of being Armenian is knowing about what’s been called the “first modern genocide”, that of the Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, where over a million Armenians, including pregnant mothers, elderly men and women, infants, children… everyone, were killed by various horrific ways. But it didn’t start then, not really. The first massacres started in 1896, when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed.

Turkey has denied that the slaughter of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide, calling it “civil unrest”, etc. No one except Turks and those paid off by Turkey believes this. But because modern-day Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide, there’s a lot of anger between modern-day Armenians and modern-day Turks. It’s part of being Armenian today, knowing that you’ve lost relatives in the Genocide and knowing that there’s a possibility Turkey will never accept it as genocide, much less apologize.

I’m reading a book now that gives me hope. It’s called “A Shameful Act”, and it’s written by a Turk (who is now barred from Turkey, of course). Most books about the Armenian Genocide focus on the slaughter, the brutality, the sadness, and the official decisions that led to them. This book focuses on the history that made the Genocide possible, what was actually going on in the Ottoman Empire such that the conditions were there for a genocide to happen.

And reading about how scared the Ottoman Turkish government was of losing everything: country, identity, religion, I’ve come to understand that it was fear, not hate, that led to the genocide. And as I was sitting in Meeting for Worship this morning, a wave of compassion swept over me and I found myself thinking, “I forgive you. I forgive you for what you did to my ancestors and what you are still doing by denial. I forgive you.”

Even more than that, I found myself imagining how soul-destroying it must be to be so consumed by fear that one thinks genocide is the only way. Can any of you imagine what that must feel like? To be so afraid of something, of your identity being swallowed by Others, that killing those Others is the only solution?

I can’t imagine that kind of fear.

And then, an uncomfortable thought rose in me, spurned by a message in Meeting: what if we Armenians hadn’t been so Other? I’m not in any way blaming the Armenian Genocide on Armenians. The Ottomon Turks were responsible for how they reacted to their fear, not the Armenians. But I do wonder: if we hadn’t been so intent on maintaining our ethnic and cultural integrity, if we had intermingled more with the Muslims and the Turks, maybe we wouldn’t have been so Other.

There’s no way to know, of course. And intermingling would have required the cooperation of the Muslims and Turks of the time as well: it’s a two-way street, not a one-way.

But what about those of us today? Not just Armenians, but all of us in our cultural or ethnic groups, who worry about losing our integrity by intermingling with the dominant culture? What about Quakers, who worry about losing our cultural integrity if we stop numbering the days of the week instead of using their normal names? What about LGBTQ folks who stick together in one big group where anyone S is made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome? What about ethnic groups in the US who refuse to learn English to any degree past “Thank you”, etc., and instead go on speaking their native language? (And I’m not talking here about people in ethnic groups who speak their native language when they’re gathered together at family functions, but those who speak their native language all the time.)

Let’s go back to Quakers. What about our Quakerese? What about our sacred peculiarities?

There’s value in cultural integrity. I love being with my Armenian family at parties, hearing four languages (French, Arabic, Armenian, English), the music, the food, the dancing! I’m not in any way saying those things should be less valued or diminished.

What I am saying is that we need to reach out to each other. We need to reach out to people who consider us Other and invite them in, not by forcing them to learn our language, but by showing them our own culture in ways they can understand: why these things are important to us, what we love about our language and our customs.

Most of all, we need compassion for those who consider us Other and whose lives are ruled by fear. We need a great deal of compassion for those who persecute us because they are afraid. And we need to recognize that we have a responsibility to those people, that it is just as much our job to make them unafraid of us as it is theirs. And, of course, we need to be aware of those Others we are afraid of, and reach out to them as well.

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

He wasn’t kidding.

(x-posted to Friends of Color and Quaker Queeries.)

2 Comments

Filed under armenian genocide, compassion, cultural integrity, daily life, humanity, leadings, love, meeting for worship, ministry, obedience, quakerism, speak and listen with love, submission, that of God, worship