October 31, 2008


My sweetie and I went to Florida this past week to see family, and I viewed it as an opportunity for retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word:

Friends have known since our beginning that times of retirement from outward activity nourish the soul and allow us to sink deeper into an awareness of God's work in our lives.
--Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting

Times of retirement are the times when we pull back from the chatter and busyness of our outward lives, enter that amazing sanctuary, and allow our inner wisdom, the Inward Teacher, to rise up in us... We have to pause, let the static quiet, so that we can hear.
--Pat McBee's article on Quaker disciplines
I was glad to be away from the day-to-day responsibilities that have been weighing on me back home, but spiritual retirement to me is more than that.

It involves intentionally reflecting on the condition of my soul and my heart.

Where in my life is the sense of the Presence strong or abundant? Where in my life is the Spirit lacking and what can I do to give more attention the Spirit in those places? What brings me joy; what diminishes it? Where do I feel I am being faithful to what I've been given, and where do I feel I could be more faithful?

It's this last question that has worked on me while I've been away.

A while ago, maybe two or even three years now, I was encouraged by a few Friends to write more extensively about Quaker identity, what it is, how it's shaped, how it's sustained. I've had a number of false starts, but the sense of feeling "required" to pull something together, something more substantial than individual blogposts, has been consistent and compelling.

I've taken some time--on the plane ride home, during the layover, before turning out my light and pulling the covers over my head (in my own bed!)--to look at what I can do to hold myself more accountable to this writing project.

Two months ago I began work with a writing coach who specializes in spiritual and faith-based writing. While this has been an important step in a much larger process, my recent time of retirement illuminated for me that it is not enough. I have a few other "next steps" to do:

1. Discipline myself to avoid looking at email until the afternoons, so I can focus on blog writing, blog reading, and the more intensive writing for me to do on Quaker identity.

2. Write daily, even if a writing session is only one hour or less. I'm hoping this will be like priming the pump, so that I get in a groove and won't have to "start cold" every time I feel ready to write a segment.

3. Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. Just like I continue to go to meeting for worship even when I don't feel like it, I push myself to go anyway, so I don't fall into acedia: not caring that I don't care.

Retirement can certainly provide refreshment at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. And in my case, it has provided protected time and an interior personal space for me to be shown the Way forward, and to be given understanding as to what has been in the way of being faithful.


October 17, 2008


You will go out in joy
And be led forth in peace
The mountains and hills
Will burst into song before you,
And all the trees of the field
Will clap their hands.

--Isaiah 55:12

I don't know if cherishment is actually a word, but I like the sound of it. It's like love with a bit of merriment thrown in.

I'm in a peculiar situation with my grandmother. She turns 103 tomorrow (18th Tenth Month), and for the past year or more, as her dementia has worsened, so has our relationship.

Granted, I freely acknowledge that I've never really liked my grandmother. She's been miserable for most of her 100+ years and she likes to share her misery freely with others. And of course, those of us closest to her--geographically and geneologically--get the biggest dose of her misery, which in turn often tempts us to steer clear, avoid, don't call, don't visit.

But at my mother's request, I and my brothers began calling Grandma weekly sometime in 2007 or earlier in 2008, to ease the burden my mother had been carrying at the time when she herself couldn't handle her own mother's complaints. Somewhere during that time, my grandmother began telling me she wouldn't talk to me anymore, "after what I had said."

My mother eventually learned what it was that Grandma meant: it seems Grandma had attributed to me a cutting remark that my mother actually had made, and no insistence on the truth of that displaced accusation would move Grandma to forgive me.

It's been about three or four months since I last called my grandmother.

Instead, I started holding the situation lightly in my heart and occasionally I would hold it up to God and say, "Here. I don't know what to do with it. Help Grandma open to your Love, however it is that she might understand that..."

In that time, over the weeks and months, I have felt my own heart soften. It's easier for me to feel warmth to a woman like my grandmother when I don't have to force myself upon her, or her upon me.

And now, because of a suggestion my mother made to honor my grandmother's birthday at a time when she herself doesn't wish to acknowledge me, I am looking into "planting a tree" in Israel.

Though I no longer practice the Judaism in which my mother and grandmother were raised, I understand at a deep level the importance of finding a symbolic act that also is meaningful to everyone involved.

But even more important than the symbol or the meaningful gesture is the sense of cherishment for my grandmother in these very late years that has been blooming quietly, miraculously, in my own heart.


October 13, 2008


My days are busier than ever. A certain someone in the household--not me!--was put on a concussion watch briefly last week. Our indoor cat got out of the house on a rainy night (she made her way back about 45 minutes later). And a certain someone--again, not me!--broke a bone in her foot in just the right way that it required an ambulance ride to the hospital because she couldn't walk to the car. I've been thinking that if I can get a paragraph onto The Good Raised Up, I'll be pleased. --Liz
There are a number of categories of service.

Service to self. Service to strangers. Service to friends and family. Service to community. Service to God.

Service to God looks a lot like being faithful to how God leads me, paying careful attention to doing things I would not consider doing, just because God asks me.

Service to community sometimes looks like doing something not because God asks me but because the community needs something done and I'm available and willing to do it. (Think "semi-annual work day at the meetinghouse.")

Service to friends and family is a different sort of extending myself to be available to them, like answering all the becks-and-calls because someone's laid up with a broken foot. It just comes with the territory.

Service to strangers is my weakest suit. I need a lot of support--or maybe a lot of faith?--to approach people I don't know or work in a community center that's unfamiliar to me. I've still got room to grow and work to do in this area.

Service to myself is a paradox: The more I serve others, the more I feel like I receive. When I take myself out of the center of my own life and put God or community or family there, and when I make myself genuinely available to them as a support or as a spiritual servant, I am often lifted from my own ennui, despair, or worry, at least for awhile.

Well, I've got to go. Someone's calling me, asking for help.


October 1, 2008

Distracted from God

For the first time in about five or six weeks, I attended the midweek evening worship at the monthly meeting. It felt like the first time in about that long since I actually had some time to myself and wasn't doing committee work or rushing to get out of town on a trip or returning someone's phone call.

During worship, I found myself reflecting on just where the month of September went:

I hadn't done much blogging--reading or writing.

I hadn't done much gardening.

I hadn't done much socializing.

I hadn't been at worship regularly, either at monthly meeting or at the worship group.

So what had I been doing? ...A camping trip in late August. ...Helping prepare and host a large barbecue for 40 people. ...A trip to Massachusetts in early September.

But why was I feeling so drained? Some of those things were fun and even restful.

The answer came easily unfortunately: I've been drained because the events of the day have taken my focus off of God. I have instead been sucked in by news stories about the U.S. economic downturn and the craziness of this year's presidential election. I had lost my Center bit by bit.

Many Quakers--but not all!--caution one another about distractions, diversions, and temptations, but historically that's often meant gambling and drinking. More recently, it's included tobacco and even caffeine among some Friends.

Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative raises this sort of caution in its Advice and Query on personal responsibility. North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative does so too, in its query on our manner of living.


ADVICE: (excerpt) ...Joining secret organizations, gambling and using addictive and/or consciousness‑altering substances were recognized as practices which diverted resources from useful purposes, distracted attention from the Inner Light, and placed obstacles in the way of Friends seeking to lead lives of integrity. We recognize the spirit of these testimonies and endeavor to apply the same principles in our lives today. ...We need to free ourselves from distractions that interfere with our search for inner peace, and accept with thanksgiving all that promotes fullness and aids in service to the divine Center.

QUERY: (excerpt) How do we center our lives in the awareness of God the' Spirit, so that all things may take their rightful places? How do we structure our individual lives in order to keep them uncluttered with things and activities? How does Meeting help us examine our personal lives for simplicity?..."
North Carolina:
"QUERY: (excerpt) Do we choose those activities which will strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual life; and do we avoid those harmful to ourselves and others? Are we mindful of Friends testimonies against alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other harmful drugs; and do we refrain from using them or dealing in them, realizing that abstinence is the clearest witness against overindulgence? Do we seek to avoid all kinds of gambling and places of diversion that tend to be demoralizing?..."

So in worship tonight, I recalled my time at NCYMC this past summer, when their query was read and we heard responses and then spoke out of the silence. Some of us spoke about how investing in the stock market may be a form of gambling. Others spoke about the use of computers, television, and video games as being modern forms of addiction or diversion.

And that's what I discovered about myself and these past few weeks: Television and the media became distractions for me. God was no longer at my Center, but the drama of politics and money were.

So tonight in worship, I lay before God my confession of my actions and I began to feel the slightest bit lighter. In that seed of being transformed, I began to consider what my patterns are like when I am focused on God and when God is at the core of my life.

Ultimately, three words were given to me:




When I feel my life is more attuned with Gospel Order, I am doing more to serve the Spirit, or others or both, than I am to serve myself.

When I feel my life is more aligned with God's desire, I find it is easier for me to cherish those around me, even during difficulty.

When I have been faithful in service and loving towards others, I find I am more easily refreshed when I also give myself time to retire.

And retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word, doesn't mean sitting in front of the television for three or four hours straight, watching CNN.

It's time for me to get back to God. It's time for me to tune in again.