Bake Cookies!

That’s what Maida Heatter yelled at her TV. A doctor was talking about the ways you could reduce stress. He started listing ways: Exercise. Diet. Yoga. Take a walk. “I yelled, ‘Bake cookies.’ ” “Baking cookies is a great escape,” she added. “It’s fun. It’s happiness. It’s creative. It’s good for your health. It reduces stress.” Amen, I say. For me, baking is a spiritual practice.

Maida Heatter

Maida Heatter enriched my life. She died about a week ago at age 102. Who says desserts will shorten your life?

It was a Maida Heatter recipe that first got me seriously interested in baking, a recipe for a Chocolate Mousse Torte that appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine in May, 1972. (I was in graduate school.) The recipe had just a few ingredients: 8 eggs, 8 ounces of chocolate, sugar, salt, vanilla, some espresso, and some cream for whipping. You separate the eggs and make an mousse from these, divide what you’ve made into two two halves, chill one and bake the other, then fill the chilled stuff into the baked layer. Frost with whipped cream.

How could this be? The same stuff chilled and baked and this makes something good. This I have to try, I said to myself. I did (learned to separate eggs that day), and voila, I’m still baking, several times a week. The daily feed of NYTimes Cooking, now a morning must-read, leads with a shout-out to Maida Heatter and this recipe.

I love her cookies, but I also love her cakes, especially her Queen Mother Cake. (Both the Chocolate Mousse Torte and the Queen Mother Cake are mentioned in the NYTimes obituary I’m delighted to see.)

All Hail Maida Heatter, Queen of Cakes! Also, Chairperson of the Board of the Chocolate Lovers Association of the World, as she styled herself.

Advertisements
Posted in Beliefs, Family and Friends | Tagged | Leave a comment

Androscoggin River, May 2019

Processed with VSCO with kp3 preset

photo by Robbie Bennett

Posted in Image | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Learning to Drive

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, May 19, 2019

We celebrated my Dad’s 100th birthday two weeks ago.  He wasn’t with us; he died in 1990.  But I made him a cake and we celebrated his good life.

He taught me a lot of things.  More things than I learned: I should have paid better attention.  One thing he taught me was how to drive.  I wanted to get my license so I did pay attention to that, and so I learned.

He was a pretty tough, demanding driving instructor.  Good enough wasn’t good enough for him, so he made sure I knew how to handle difficult situations of all kinds.  For example, this was in Rochester, New York, and he wanted to be sure I could handle icy roads.  So there was a Sunday we went down to a supermarket parking lot.  There weren’t any cars because supermarkets weren’t open on Sunday when I was a teen.  And for an hour and a half he had me get up to speed in our family sedan, slam on the brakes, and then deal with the resulting skid.  Over and over again, skid after skid.  He wanted me to be comfortable behind the wheel with the car out of control.  He wanted me to have that experience. 

We also had a little Renault that he drove to work.   It had a five speed manual transmission.  Evening after evening, after dinner, he’d take me to a dirt road on a nearby county park and make me practice with that manual gearshift. Often the road was muddy so starting up was harder.  And after I sort of got the hang of it, he had me start the car in second gear.  When I got the hang of that, he’d find a little hill and have me start the car moving in second gear on that little hill.  It all felt a little severe at the time, but I’m glad he made sure I learned to drive well. 

Learning to drive has been on my mind because now Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.  He’s had his learner’s permit for several months, and his first times behind the wheel, at least legally, came in his driver’s education course.  But since he’s had his permit he drives every chance that comes his way. 

I just said “Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.”  Now I know that isn’t quite right.  It’s rather: “we’re helping him learn to drive.”  There’s a big difference. 

What gets done, what gets learned, he has to do.  We’ve introduced him to a succession of challenges and he’s figured out how to handle them.  Instead of a Renault Dauphin, he’s learned to drive a stick shift in our 1987 Jetta, which has sadly just failed a basic safety check so he can’t take his driving test in that.  I’ve had him start the car up in second.  I’ve looked for muddy dirt tracks up at the Topsham Fairgrounds.  He’s dealt with starting up a stick shift on hills.    He’s handled a few skids – though no icy supermarket parking lots. 

I’m not downplaying the role of teachers when I say what we learn we have to learn ourselves.  Teachers can play a big role, but the learning is something you have to do yourself.  The learning can’t be injected with a needle or poured down your throat.  Whatever it is: learning to drive, learning geometry, learning to bake a cake – learning what’s important in life. 

Teachers can encourage, they can coach, they can challenge, they can pose tasks or problems, but they can’t do the learning for you.

As I’ve been sitting next to Robbie in the passenger seat, he’s in control and I’m not.  It’s his hands on the steering wheel; his feet on the pedals.  I make suggestions and comments. I call attention to hazards and situations.  I talk to him about other drivers; how you can’t be responsible for what they’ll do and you’d better be prepared for the worst.  I talk to him about speed limits, about conditions when even going the speed limit isn’t safe. 

I quickly realized – I already knew this, but the realization really hit me – that I can’t tell him things fast enough, even when I’m sitting right next to him.  His learning to drive has to be a matter of his having fully taken in what he needs to know to drive well.  I can’t be some voice in his head he’ll hear every time he turns on the ignition.  (“What would my Dad say about that?”) 

I can still hear my dad talking to me about driving if I really put my mind to it, but that’s not how I drive. 

Nevertheless, there are lots of occasions when I wish I could hear from my Dad.  There are lots of matters I’d love to talk over with him.  There are so many questions I never asked him, and so many others I where didn’t listen carefully the one time or two I did ask him.  Wherever I’ve gone, he’s been there before me: being a teen, falling in love, having children, working, retiring from work

All this about learning to drive and wishing I still had my Dad sitting next to me helping me learn to drive has gotten me thinking about how we learn from God – how we might learn things from God: about living the good life, about fixing the things that aren’t right in this world, about what’s worth celebrating and what’s worth mourning.  Those sorts of things.  Here I am in the driver’s seat.  Is God there next to me?  I think God is.  I think that’s something we Quakers know and maybe can teach others.

Learning life is tougher than learning to drive.  None of us ever quite learns everything we need to know.  It’s like we do need our dad, or better, our mom sitting next to us, giving us the occasional suggestion, pointing out a difficult situation ahead.  And here’s the deal, the wonderful deal.  There she is sitting beside us.  She doesn’t say much most of the time, and we don’t expect her to say much most of the time.  But she’s there sitting next to us.  She’s ready to offer advice, or simply tell us it’s all OK.  When we ask.  When we’re prepared to listen. 

Of course that’s not exactly what George Fox meant we he said “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.”  He didn’t mean Jesus would be literally sitting next to us when we’re driving.  He meant something stranger and yet more wonderful. 

He meant Jesus, or the Inward Teacher, or the Seed, or the Light was always with us, always inside us — as well as all around us.  When we need guidance, we have to be sure to ask.  We have to be ready to still ourselves and listen.  That takes some learning: how to seek, how to ask, how to still myself, how to listen.

And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28.  What an amazing, reassuring promise. 

Today I don’t have my Dad with me in the way that I’d like.  So it’s a great comfort to me to know that I have the Inward Teacher wherever I go. 

crossposted on Durham Friends Meeting website

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Language for the Inward Landscape

Message at Durham Friends Meeting          May 5, 2019

I’ve been reading a remarkable recent book.  It’s by Brian Drayton and William Taber, and published in 2015.  Its title is a little forbidding: A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom for the Quaker Movement.  Let me explain a little how this book came to be and what it’s about.

Bill Taber was a remarkable Quaker, an Ohio Conservative Friend who had deep spiritual gifts.  (If you don’t know what it means to be a Conservative Friend, let’s talk about that during social hour.)  I came to know Bill Taber when he was a member of ESR’s Board of Advisors.  He taught at Pendle Hill for many years.  He did many, many workshops and wrote a number of books and pamphlets. 

He had a concern that we modern Quakers had lost touch with the meaning of many Quaker phrases that we have inherited from the first generation of Quakers.  He meant phrases like “hold in the Light” or “the measure of Truth given to each of us.”  He wanted Friends to understand those terms as they were first used because he thought they were important, essential even, to understanding Quaker spirituality.  He did a number of workshops on these old Quaker phrases, which he called “A Language for the Inward Landscape.”  He imagined writing a book, but he died before he could write it.

Brian Drayton is a member of New England Yearly Meeting, a member of Weare Friends in New Hampshire, and another person of deep spiritual gifts.  After Bill Taber’s death, he drew on Taber’s notes and his own understanding to write the book Bill Taber might have written. 

Our Meeting library has a copy and that’s how I came to read it.  There’s an inscription on the cover page, signed by Brian Drayton, which reads “for dear Clarabel, friend and fellow worker in the gospel.” So this is a special book for us here at Durham Friends. 

Why do Drayton and Taber speak of the inward landscape?  Because for many, especially Quakers, our spiritual life unfolds within us, not ‘out there.’  Look around this Meetinghouse: no pictures, no statues, no stained glass, no soaring arches, no incense.  No one dressed up in robes, no kneeling, very little performance.  There may be people for whom a spiritual life requires that external sensory pageant.  But for Quakers (and not only Quakers) the life spiritual unfolds within us as we seek a still small voice: the teacher within, or “the Light.”

Today, let me just say a little about what Taber and Drayton tell us about what early Quakers meant by “the Light”  — what we’re looking for in this inward landscape. 

For starters, of course there is the remarkable opening of the Gospel of John. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

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

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

About this, Drayton and Taber say  “It must be emphasized that the first Friends did not start with this and other “Light” passages in the Bible, and then set out to make them part of living experience.  Nor was it that these seekers read the scriptures, and found the answers to their questions, ending their search.  The “light and life” passages had power for Friends because they expressed the way in which these spiritual pilgrims encountered Christ among them.” 

In short: the experience of “the Light” came first:  the felt experience.  That helped them make sense of what it says in the Gospel of John. 

Drayton and Taber quote something written by Isaac Penington, an important early Quaker.  Penington imagines having a conversation with a person first learning about God and Jesus. 

Hearing of the Savior, the learner asks “But hath not this Saviour a name? What is his name?

And Penington answers “It were better for thee to learn his name by feeling his virtue and power in thy heart than by rote.  Yet if thou canst receive it, this is his name: the Light, the Light of the World.”

So Penington is sating we should strive to know The Light (whatever we call it) by our own experience, not from doctrines or creeds nor even, first, from the Bible.

Drayton and Taber quote Rufus Jones, a much more modern Quaker saying much the same thing.  Here is Jones:

“The Light Within, which is the central Quaker idea, is no abstract phrase.  It is an experience.  It is a type of religion that turns away from arid theological notions and that insists instead upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons in their own souls, in their own personal lives….

“We no more need to go somewhere to find God than the fish needs to soar to find the ocean or the eagle needs to plunge to find the air…

The Pioneer Quakers believed with all their minds and strength that something like that was true, that they had discovered it, tested it, and were themselves a demonstration of it.”

For these early Friends, “The Light” was a powerful metaphor, a way of referring to something so powerful that it was difficult, maybe impossible, to capture in words.  They didn’t want us to know it through words; they wanted us to know it through direct experience. 

For these early Friends, The Light was a illumination, it was the source of Truth, it was an antidote to sin, and it was a basis of unity. 

That’s a lot, but they didn’t want us to take their word for it.  They wanted us to seek to experience it inwardly, for ourselves.

+++

Drayton and Taber want us to be careful, even self-conscious, when we use the term “Light.”  So I want to read an important paragraph that ends with a few queries. 

“In areas of Quakerdom in which the language about ‘the Light within’ has come to be used in the context of a great deal of theological diversity or uncertainty, it is important to ask, ‘What do we mean when we say “I will hold you in the light?”’  When the Light is identified, as traditionally, with the inward presence and work of Christ, this identification implies some expectation of spiritual experience. The Light is interpreted by what we learn of Christ in the Gospels and New Testament Letters; at the same time, the scriptural record is also interpreted by our encounter with the living Christ in ourselves and others.

“If the Light is not linked with the Spirit of Christ, then we must seek other ways to understand what in our experience is in harmony with the Light that we know, and what is not. So it is good to take some time in our meetings to ask each other with real interest such concrete questions as:

“(1) What do you mean by the Light, and is that an important way you experience God’s presence and action?

“(2) Have you experienced the Light visually? Do you know someone who has or unusually does?

“(3) What are the ways you distinguish between some prompting or teaching of the Light, and a prompting or urging from some other source? 

“(4) What is the relation between the Light you experience and that which I experience?”

Many have found we experience the Light in waiting worship.  So let us settle into worshipful seeking together. 

_____________________________

  • Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom from the Quaker Movement (Tract Association of Friends, 2015), chapter 2, pp. 15-38. 
  • Isaac Penington, “Short Catechism for the Sake of the Simple-Hearted,” in The Works of Isac Penington, a Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends, volume 1, pp 123-4.

cross-posted on Durham Friends Meeting website

Posted in Beliefs | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Message or Miracle? Awakening to the Light

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, April 7, 2019

Here we are, gathered as a community whose beginnings lie about 2000 years back, “a long time ago in a place far, far away from here.”  I want us to imagine ourselves back there.  It is a time of beginnings or endings – or really both.

Imagine yourself someone who has come to awareness of an itinerant preacher named Jesus.  Perhaps you are a follower, perhaps not, you’re not quite sure.  You’re drawn to his message.  And you’ve seen – or at least heard – that he has performed miracles.  He has been out on the road two or three years, and he has a growing following. 

But he has also upset the established authorities, especially the leaders of his religious community.  Several times they have tried to trap him into saying something wrong, and each time he has escaped, making them look a little foolish.  The crowds around Jesus are growing, but the tensions are also growing.  That’s odd because here is a man who is teaching that we should “turn the other check” when attacked. The pressure on him, on everyone, is mounting.  Where will all this end?

Passover is coming in about two weeks.  Thousands of people will gather in Jerusalem.  Jesus and his followers will be part of the crowd. That can only ramp up the tension. 

Two or three weeks go by in a confusing blur.  Jesus does go to Jerusalem. Huge crowds greet him.  And then one night, as he prays with and for his followers, he is arrested by the authorities. He is questioned, tried before a hastily assembled law court, and sentenced to die.  This master teacher makes no apparent defense.  Where you have known him as a charismatic leader, now he appears resigned.  He is dragged away, vilified, and executed in the most terrible way possible.  Then buried in a tomb.  Suddenly it’s all over.  Strangely his body disappears – more desecration. 

Think how confusing that must have been.  How can you not feel let down, deflated; puzzled, sure; but also depressed. 

You all know this story.  We tell it every year at this time, but we tell it not as the tragic end of the story but as a bright beginning.  Because just as suddenly, it seems, it’s not all over.  In the weeks that follow you hear people saying this man Jesus didn’t die.  They’ve seen him.  He is still preaching, still encouraging.  You wonder if you will see him?  Feel his encouragement again?

Months or years – or centuries — later, what do you make of this story?  Still a little confused? I know I find it hard to grasp. 

For some, Jesus’s message is what you take to heart.  What he preached, what he taught, was so very different from what anyone else was teaching.  Not just turn the other cheek.  The last shall be first. Be not proud but be humble.  Ask for forgiveness.  Help the poor in possession, body or spirit.  He taught a new way of life that turned upside down the common sense of the world, and you find it oddly compelling even if very, very challenging to follow.  

For others, it’s the miracles.  There were miracles he performed while he was alive.  Water to wine, lepers cleansed of their affliction, the sick healed, a multitude fed on a few loaves and fishes, even one raised from the dead.  Like a master magician, he saved his most stunning miracle for the end by coming back from his own death. 

Message or miracle? Miracle or message?  Speaking for myself, I’ve been more drawn to the message, the challenging message, than to the miracle.  I’ve not been sure what to make of the miracle story.  This spring season presses us to think about the miracle. 

I grew up in a church that recited the Apostles Creed nearly every Sunday.  It wasn’t really written by the Apostles, but it is old, probably from the 4th century.  Quakers are suspicious of creeds.  George Fox, our founder, said, “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?”  But just today I want to read the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

       and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

I am struck by how much that 115-word summary stresses the miracle.  It hardly says a word about the message – maybe nothing at all.  Where is the Sermon on the Mount in that Creed?  The Good Samaritan? Where is the tenderness to the poor or broken-hearted? Where is the call to peace and justice?

That Creed with its focus on the miracle side gives us guidance about how we are to understand the miracle.  “Resurrection of the body”: that would be a miracle. “Ditto “Life everlasting” – the door to heaven swung open to believers.  “Forgiveness of sins”: some theologians speak of “substitutionary atonement:” Christ died for our sins so we can be forgiven, a dramatic ‘paying it forward.’ 

But let’s note.  People don’t write creeds to sum up what everyone believes.  They write creeds to forge agreement, maybe even force agreement.  Among early Christians there was disagreement about what the miracle of Jesus’s last days was about.  Serious disagreement.  The Apostles Creed was put together to insist on orthodoxy.  If you didn’t subscribe to that you were a heretic.  Hence the Quaker reluctance about creeds.  “What canst thou say?”

What we know of those extraordinary, puzzling events 2000 years ago we largely know from four accounts of the life of Jesus in the Bible: the Gospels. 

The Gospel of John, the one I’m most drawn to — and the one Quakers have been most drawn to – has the following astonishing opening: 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2   He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And a few verses later,

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

Miracle or Message?  I’m struck by how powerfully this Gospel writer opens the story of Jesus by telling us, in five sentences, that the story is Message and Miracle. Both. 

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

What the writer of the Gospel of John is telling us is that what Jesus taught was a Truth from the very beginning of the cosmos.  What’s more, Jesus was that Truth.  He was a Truth made flesh, a message baked into existence itself. 

He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”   

Having introduced us to The Word, the Gospel writer John pivots to introduce us to the Light. 

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

The Gospel writer is taking us back to the very beginning, to Genesis, where God says, “Let there be Light.”  But he’s suggesting the Light is not just a physical thing, not just something for our eyes.  It is the message, but it is also now the miracle. 

The Light is within each and everyone of us.  It is what can give us guidance if we seek it.  Whatever else we believe, Quakers see this as the miracle: 

Jesus did not die.  He is still the Light of the world.  The miracle is that he is within each of us, still teaching, still guiding.  The Light was not extinguished 2000 years ago.  It shines still. 

The miracle is that the message, the Word, the Light, shines still, and for all eternity.  Quakers speak today of the Inward Light.  It is for that we are seeking. 

Let me close by taking you back to that George Fox quotation. 

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?” 

There is more to that quotation.  Fox continues:

Art thou a child of Light

and hast thou walked in the Light,

and what thou speakest,

is it inwardly from God?

So let us celebrate Message and Miracle. Word and Light.  In the beginning.  And in the life everlasting. 

And let us ask ourselves in this season:  Are we awakening to the Light? 

Posted in Beliefs, Quaker Identity | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Hearing Leadings

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, February 3, 2019

What is God asking of me today?  Where is God leading me?

These days, such questions are very much on my mind.  Especially these days, because it seems we live in such troubling times, where so much is not right.  So much seems to need our attention.  What should I be doing?  What should we be doing together? 

We have endless war. Even the shape of it seems hard to understand, let alone what could bring it to an end. 

We have deep partisan anger, and distrust.  Deceit.  Dishonesty. 

We have inequalities of wealth and of income that seem to be exploding.  Too many ordinary people don’t seem to have reasonable opportunities for making a living or for caring for their families. 

We have persistent discrimination and harm on the basis of race and sex and gender orientation. 

And we humans have dramatically altered the climate of planet earth largely through burning coal and oil, with harmful consequences for all living things.  We know this, and yet we are struggling to take even simple steps to reverse the damage.  

I worry about these things – and I bet you do, too.  What is God asking us to do about these?  Where is God leading me?  Where is God leading us? 

Sometimes I feel a little passive, a little helpless waiting for something that feels right for me to do, some way to put my shoulder to the wheel. 

All this has been making me think of the story of Samuel – or at least the beginning of his story.  It’s on my mind because Samuel is one of the people in the Bible who does hear directly and unmistakably from God.  (Like Adam and Eve, like Noah, like Moses.  Like Paul.  Like Jesus.  A few others.)

Samuel, the Bible tells us, was born to Hannah and her husband Elkannah.  They had been a barren couple for many years.  Hannah prayed that if she was gave birth to a boy, she would give him back to God.  She prayed and prayed.  And, in kind of a miracle, she did give birth.  And when the boy, Samuel, was very young, she took him to a holy place called Shiloh, and gave him in care to the old priest Eli.  Samuel, I guess we might say, became apprenticed to Eli. 

Eli was a decent man and a good servant of God though he didn’t hear much of anything from God.  His father had been the priest at Shiloh before him, and his grandfather before that, and so on: all the priests had been from this one favored family. 

So one of Eli’s sons would be the next priest, right?  But (and this is harsh) the Bible tells us “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt. They did not know the Lord.”  They did all kinds of bad things, and Eli knew this. But he didn’t do anything about it.  He didn’t know what to do.  Sound familiar?  So here’s the part I’ve been thinking about, from 1 Samuel 3:1-10. 

3 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

After that, Samuel became a great prophet.  God spoke to him regularly, and He was listening. He did what God asked him to do, even if it sometimes puzzled him.  Samuel heard directly from God.  What Samuel heard were “Leadings.”  (And we’re focusing a bit on leadings these first few months of 2019 here in Durham Friends Meeting.)

Who hears the voice of God?  In this story, Eli did not.  Samuel did.  The story is presented to us in a way that says God spoke to Samuel. God did not speak to Eli.  But I’m not sure that’s how we should hear it.

Leap ahead a few thousand years to another story.  The times are troubling.  There’s war, there is inequality, there is corruption and deceit.  Sound familiar?  A confused young man, let’s call him George, is trying to understand how to be a good person, how to know what God hopes he knows and how to do what God expects him to do.  He asks a lot of wise people (let’s call them the Elis of this world) to help him figure this out, but they don’t prove much help. 

Then one day George is out for a walk, a long walk, wondering, thinking, praying, and he hears a voice say to him “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”  That George, of course, was George Fox.  The year was 1647; Fox was 23.  And so begins the movement, the spiritual revival we call Quakerism.  We gather here today and every first day inspired by that Leading. 

What Fox hears that day, what Fox realizes, is that God will speak to each and every one of us, if we still ourselves and listen. 

This suggests a different slant on the Samuel story, I’m thinking.  It is not that God spoke to Samuel and not to Eli and not to Eli’s wicked sons.  It’s rather that Samuel heard what God was saying, and Eli and his sons did not.  God is talking to all of us all the time.  That is what George Fox realized.  

We gather here each Sunday in that confidence, that God will speak to us if we still ourselves and listen.  The question is, will we listen? Can we hear what God is saying?

How do we hear God’s call to us?  It is clear we can miss it.  That’s the main burden of the Samuel story.  Samuel was in the best place, right there at Shiloh, but he was still confused at first. How do we prepare ourselves to hear God calling?  Eli helped Samuel hear what God was saying. 

Perhaps we can help one another. 

My friend and mentor Paul Lacey wrote a wonderful Pendle Hill pamphlet on “Leading and Being Led.”  He uses another example to understand leadings: the example of John Woolman.  Woolman was an 18th century Quaker who was among the first to call attention to the evils of slavery and to press his fellow Quakers to renounce it as well.  And Woolman made striking efforts to befriend the indigenous peoples of North America.   

But after discussing Woolman’s efforts, Paul Lacey says “his example is instructive and inspiring, but ‘be like Woolman’ may not be helpful advice to those of us still struggling to be ourselves with integrity.”

That speaks to my condition.  I am still struggling to “be myself with integrity.”

And then Lacey adds: “Perhaps more apposite advice is to be “like members of Woolman’s meeting:”

“Help each other to be faithful to leadings;

“Learn with and from one another how to listen and probe and wait ;

“Bear with one another’s confusions and shortcomings;

“Persist in expecting the best from one another;

“Practice speaking the truth in love.”

Posted in Bible, Quaker Practices | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Androscoggin River in Rumford, Maine

One of several major waterfalls on the Androscoggin River flows through downtown Rumford on Monday afternoon, January 28, 2019. Photo by Russ Dillingham for the Sun Journal.

The bridge in the background is the Morse Bridge, a steel through arch bridge built in 1935 and rehabilitated in 2001.

Posted in Image | Tagged | Leave a comment