Tag Archives: Quakers

A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

As societies, we are asking what is an essential service? I am grateful to all the people who are continuing to provide essential services so we can live. We are having to look at how we have structured our lives, our businesses and organizations, our communities, our societies. We are learning how inter-connected we all are with each other and all things.

My sense is our lives have been interrupted so that we might create a new life, one that is simpler, more balanced, and more in harmony with nature and others. My guess is that, deep down, we have all known our old ways could not go on.

I have always found the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to be helpful when I consider what is truly essential in my life.

Simplicity

(This is the seventh in a series of 12 monthly queries developed by Pacific Yearly Meeting. All monthly queries are on this website under the All About Quakers tab in the main menu.)

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center . . . a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but occupies all our time. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

Elise Boulding writes in My Part in the Quaker Adventure, “Simplicity, beauty, and happiness go together if they are a by-product of a concern for something more important than ourselves.”

Do I center my life in an awareness of God’s presence so that all things take their rightful place?

Do I live simply and promote right sharing of the world’s bounty?

Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?

How do I maintain simplicity, moderation, and honesty in my speech, my manner of living, and my daily work?

Do I recognize when I have enough?

Is the life of the Meeting so organized that it helps us to simplify our lives?

Friends, I’m holding us all in the Light as we move through this challenging passage into new ways of being with each other and in the world. We all have Light within us and gifts to give, and we all need the gifts others have to share. May you shine your Light and encourage others, as your equals, to shine theirs. May you receive with gratitude and graciousness. May you take time to nourish yourself and your family, to play, to exercise, and to rest.  Envision what can be possible, and then put feet and hands to it! Your life is your example, your greatest testimony.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

New Year’s Resolutions for the Spirit

I love the fresh opportunity the New Year brings, but this January I’m going to try something different when it comes to resolutions. Instead of worrying about my appearance (especially losing those last pesky pounds), I’m going to focus on resolutions for my spirit.

To be honest, my spirit could use a tune-up. Like most of us, I’m often overwhelmed trying to balance work, family and community, sometimes taking on more responsibilities than I have energy for and ending up disappointed in myself. As we age, we may need to re-evaluate this calculus, revisit our values around work and commitment, and find more time to sit quietly and listen for guidance from God. The question I’m asking this January is: how can I move forward in the New Year with a more solid foundation for my spirit so that I can bring my best self to the world?

Here’s a list of ten spiritual resolutions I am considering. Perhaps some will resonate for you:

1.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reconsider my choices around work and commitments.  Which things are most important? Am I being realistic in the projects I take on? Can I still contribute while doing a bit less and giving myself more time to regroup and refresh?

2.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reassess my energy and my gifts. Am I honoring my strengths by taking on commitments that line up with what I can do competently and happily? Can I give in these ways without depleting myself?

3.  I will spend time with people who lift me up. I will intentionally seek them out and connect with them.

4.  If a new commitment arises, I will give myself permission to sit with it and ask for spiritual guidance before jumping in. I will respond to my spirit and heart, rather than to the chorus of “shoulds” in my head.

5.  I will give myself time for a hobby or activity that makes me happy and relaxed. The goal is to do something I’m interested in, and to do it without judgement.

6.  I will take time to sit in silence and listen to God, especially when things turn difficult.  If a bad day is unfolding, I will retreat for a half hour to calm my heart and listen to what arises. I will practice lifting problems into the Light so I can understand them better.

7.  I will make things simpler. When given a choice, I’ll try the doable way and learn to accept help gracefully. I will save my energy for the most important things.

8.  I will take an occasional retreat day: Every now and then (maybe once a week), I will give myself a day off without deadlines or engagements, to read, relax and do easy chores. This will give me time to reconnect with my happy self.

9.  I will take time to consider my faith journey and deepen my connection with Spirit through readings or retreats or gatherings that expand my faith experience.

10.  I will take advantage of the Silence to ask myself: what would I do if I were not afraid?  I will think of new ways to deal with recurrent problems, and try to imagine a life lived fearlessly.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Lying Fallow in this Season

The idea of “lying fallow” comes from agriculture. It is an ancient practice used by farmers to rest and restore soil. The idea is to take a field out of production, plow it under and let it lie fallow for a year or two. During this time, nutrients in the soil are renewed so the next crop planted will thrive. As I’ve observed nature, I’ve noticed lying fallow is not just for soil.

As the leaves fall, days shorten and temperatures cool, I find myself craving rest and quiet time at home. I long for spacious hours to draw inward and restore my energy after the exuberant activities of summer. I’m not the only one. The cat spends more hours curled in his baskets, preferably in the sun or on the heated bathroom floor. The bunnies and squirrels in the park appear less often, spending most of their time underground, only coming out when it is warm and sunny.

Yet, this seems to be the busiest time of year for social gatherings and community events. Our calendars fill up with holiday parties, get-togethers, lunches, dinners, coffee dates, shopping, and travel to be with family. Our mailboxes fill with annual holiday greetings and we have a list of our own to get out.

Something in me rails against this busyness which appears at the exact time that I want to be lazy, stay home and rest! In recent years, I’ve become more mindful of how I do this season. I examine every request that comes my way and ask myself if it is an absolute YES; if it isn’t, I politely decline. At times I make exceptions – sometimes what someone else needs is more important than my preferences. I strive to balance my energy, my Light, as Friends like to say.

This year I’m trying something new, a Retreat Day once a week. On this day, I keep my schedule free so I can stay at home and float through my day, doing that which restores me and allows me to settle deeply into myself. I’m an introvert, meaning that I need alone time to restore my energy after I’ve been out and about in our extroverted and busy world.

Here’s what I am noticing about my experiment: I am calmer, slower, more peaceful and thoughtful this season. Knowing I have a Retreat Day to look forward to every week helps me be more present to others, as well as to myself. The bucket I’m giving out of is fuller, so my giving is fluid and easy. I don’t feel drained, over-obligated and resentful. I know I will have the time I need to rest and recharge. I wonder what took me so long to give myself this gift of a day of rest! Like the fields, lying fallow restores me so I can nourish others with joy, and isn’t that what this season is all about?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

(The views expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting)

Peace in these Times

To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?

This may be one of the single most difficult challenges before us. As Quaker minister J. Brent Bill has said, “I forget to wear the grace of God when I am mad… or on the spiritual war-path.” We all struggle to remember to wear the grace of God, especially in such tumultuous times. But does that mean we should acquiesce, stay silent or – heaven forbid – just forgive and forget?

No. Because being a Quaker does not mean being passive. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Quaker founder George Fox: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Does Fox suggest we sit at home and just play nice with the people we already like? Hardly. He says we must get out into the world, live by our values, and find a way to answer that of God in everyone. This is an active command. It means putting ourselves into uncomfortable places, sometimes pushing where it is hard, sometimes finding another way. When society seems divided into warring camps, Fox is saying we need to leave the safety of our compatriots and venture into foreign terrain, because that is where the solutions live.

There are so many divisive issues these days, and most of them are complex, with thorny details that make it hard to decide on best solutions. Should we support peace-keeping in foreign lands or bring our troops home? Should we open our borders or put kids in cages? All of these questions require careful consideration, and sometimes it is tough – amid all the commentary and political noise – to determine what parts have the Light in them.

Fox said the Light is there in everyone, even those with whom we disagree. Few people are evil; most want the best for society, and long to live in a place where they feel supported, safe and appreciated. Many are spontaneously generous, and help others in times of disaster and need, without asking which camp they are from. If we can do that in the face of hurricanes or wildfires, we should be able to sit down together and try to find common ground.

Most negotiators and diplomats know that it helps to start by defining what both sides can agree on, and then working forward from there. The Quaker way would suggest we set aside our own opinions, and instead listen instead to the voice of God in each person. This can be challenging when someone is condemning someone else, or ranting about unfairness, but sometimes we need to listen beyond the words that present and search deeper for the Light inside us all.

Conflict-resolution strategies that can help when you are faced with someone angry or hateful include: staying calm; managing your own response (which means thinking before you react); setting limits so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or threatened; and responding to challenging questions with an open heart. It won’t always work, but sometimes just the effort can make a difference.

In Meeting last week, one of our attenders talked about the Peace testimony and how therapists know that what we resist, or stand against, often grows stronger. Instead, she suggested, we should consider how to create something different rather than just resisting, and to do that by discussing alternatives and searching for fresh solutions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we should resist; there are.  But with real listening and an effort to understand those who are different from us, we have a better chance at discerning which approach is most likely to create the best outcome for all involved.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.