Friday, March 21, 2014

"A fire grows simply because the space is there..."

John Bill tending fire
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
require attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Judy Brown
Source: Teaching With Fire edited by Intrator and Scribner

From inward/outward

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don't think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

"VII." by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010.  (buy now)

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Planting for Spiritual Renewal: Post 5

[Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  (Matthew 13)

That's a good parable and it holds a lot of spiritual truth.  But, this prairie farmer is not going out scattering seed the way Jesus' farmer did.  Nosirree.  Not when that seed costs $100 an acre and is coming out of his "hobby" pocket.  When Woody and I planted the prairie we wanted to make certain that every expensive seed made contact with the soil in such a way that germination and growth would be optimized.  To that end we hooked up my John Deere tractor to a Great Plains seed drill with a native seed box and designed to open a shallow furrow, drop the warm season grass and wildflower seeds, and cover and slightly compact the furrow, pressing the seed into the soil.  We seeded the field and hillside (as the picture above show) going one lengthwise.  Then we went widthwise.  And then we drove across at angles.  

It was intensive work.  A little tractor pulling a big seeder that weighed as much as it did.  We had to be careful to go the right speed to get the seed into the ground.  Woody drove.  I helped by riding on the back and keeping the seed stirred and jumping off the seed drill to make sure seed was dropping freely and at the right amount.  

All of this serves as a good parable for Quaker revitalization and renewal, I think.  While Jesus is promiscuous in his seed of life sowing, even he recognized that the the seed grows best in ground that's ready to receive it -- good soil.  We have good soil in many of our meetings.  Soil that is ready to receive the Seed. 

To maximize growth, we would do well to use a spiritual seed drill -- to open up furrows, place the seed carefully, cover it over, tamp it down and allow the Spirit to water it and bring it to life.  I referred to some of the seeds in my post immediately previous to this one.  The difference between a prairie and our spiritual life is, though, that careful, intentional seeding is constant for the spiritual life.  We need to be intentional -- individually and corporately -- about getting the Seed in contact with the soil of our souls.  Our seed drills may vary -- spiritual deepening classes, spiritual story telling, outward practices, inward practices, adult religious education opportunities.  We may use a variety (or all!) of these things over and over as we move across the fields of faith.

Intention and frequency are the key words here, I think.  We need, as the Religious Society of Friends to be offering intentional and frequent spiritual seedings in our meetings.  Just as there is no one prairie management plan, so to is there no one plan for spiritual seeding in a meeting.  We need to find what works for our soil -- our souls.  And then get to it. With care, prayer, and intention.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Seeds and Spiritual Renewal: Post 4

When Woody and I planted the prairie we used special seeds.  Because we wanted to plant a prairie and not a lawn or pasture, we started with warm season grass seeds and wildflowers seeds.  “Well, doh?!”  you say.  “Of course you did.” 

While our choice of specialized seeds for the prairie seems obvious, why are we so easy to use generic seed (or no seed plan at all) when it to renewing our spiritual fields?  If we want our fields to flourish, I propose the following seed mix (based on Diana Butler Bass’s recommendations in Christianity after Religion and intentional conversations Beth Collea and I have led on “Friends in a Time of Spiritual Awakening.")

Reconnection with our prime texts
            Friends need to connect deeply with the Bible.  This is true for both liberal and more conservative Friends.  The Bible was the foundational text for the early Friends.  In addition to their personal experience with God, they were well versed in scripture, studied it carefully, and quoted it often.  If we would understand the faith and practice of our movement, we need to reconnect with serious study of the Bible.  Some liberal Friends will need to lay down their resistances that spring from a number of understandable sources (misuse of scripture by others, woundedness, intellectual disagreement, etc) and look at what it says and examine how it informed Friends through the years.  Many programmed Friends will need to lay down their assumption that they “KNOW” what it says and read it again with careful eyes.  It is not enough for them to quote verses memorized as children or stories told so often that we have stopped really reading them.
            Friends need to connect with Quaker texts.  For many years Friends families often had, in addition to the Bible, core Quaker texts in their home libraries.  Fox’s and Woolman’s journals, Barclay’s Apology, Penn’s maxims, Faith and Practice, and so on.  Friends today know occasional favorite Friendly quotations, but have rarely studied these (and other) hallmarks of Quaker faith to find the essence, the life of the Spirit that empowered these Friends.  Of course, there are other Quaker texts that we could study.  We need to use these good seeds that we have – for they abound.

Sharing our spiritual stories
            We need to provide opportunities to share our spiritual stories with each other in community.  What possibilities are there in our meetings for us to share our spiritual journeys and beliefs with each other?  We may be worshiping next to someone we’ve known for years but not have any idea what brought them to Friends or any of the significant, formative spiritual experiences in their lives.  We need to create seeds of such opportunities – based on what will work for our community.  A seed of weekday evening sharing groups?  A five week adult religious education class on First day?

An Inward spiritual practice
            One seed is to enhance our spiritual life through a daily practice.  We might do a gratitude practice.  Or a daily prayer practice.  Or a meditation practice.  Intentional.  Regular.  Deep.  The strength of a regular practice is that it becomes a part of us while helping us deepen.  When regularly practiced, it becomes so valuable to our souls that we miss it and long for it when we aren’t able to do it that day.
            Think of the power of a meeting community doing this together – finding a practice for everyone to do for a month.  And then a different one the next month.  There would be personal and communal deepening from which The Seed could spring.

An Outward spiritual practice
            Another seed is putting our faith into practice in the larger word.  As William Penn said, “True godliness does not turn us out of the world, but helps us better live in it.” (Brent Revised Version).  What outward practices could we do that would connect our inner lives with our outer world?  Both as individuals and as a meeting?  What fits our spiritual life and our passion?  Work in a homeless shelter.  Work for peace?  Till up some of our lawn for a community garden? 

In the same way that a good seed mix makes all the difference in the establish of the kind of prairie Woody and I wanted to see spring forth, so will the above seed mix (with maybe a few local “wildflower seeds” that fit your community thrown in) help the establishment or reestablishment of a thriving Friendly faith community.