Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Sin and the Arrow

When I was in college, I had the great fortune to take a class on the Old Testament from a rabbi. It gave me a different perspective on these texts that I had been raised with and on life in general.

One thing that really stayed with me was his explanation of sin. He told us that in Hebrew, the word “sin” comes from archery, where it means “missing the mark.” I like that much better – it implies that our mistakes are not heavy, hopelessly immutable objects, but can teach us where we need to improve our aim, focus, and strength so that in time we may hit a bulls-eye, or at least the target.

If you’ve ever tried archery, you know that at first, there is little consistency. The arrow may hit the target, but more likely, we undershoot, overshoot, or the arrow goes wildly to the left or right, hopefully not hurting anyone in the process. And sometimes as we release the string, it will smack us on the arm or even the cheek. There are things we can do to improve our aim; for example, stand closer to the target, use the right weight bow, and be mindful of what we are doing. But what makes the most difference is practice – not giving up just because we only hit the hay bale once that day. If we persevere, our results become more consistent and increasingly close to the mark.

For me, this is one of the key differences between “sin” and “missing the mark.” The surest way not to repeat a sin is to avoid that action again and stay as far away as possible from the situation that caused it. “Missing the mark,” instead, suggests that we learn what we can from the mistake, put it behind us, and if appropriate, be prepared to try again in the future.

In order to improve, we have to be honest with ourselves. Sure, there are things outside our control that can cause an arrow to go off course – an errant gust of wind, for example. But we have to recognize that the most likely cause was the archer, not the equipment or the environment. To make progress, we need to assess what happened, where we went wrong. Was our stance correct? How was our technique? Were we focused? And if it does turn out that our form was good, but something out of our control occurred, what could we have done to anticipate or circumvent that problem?

The Japanese martial art Kyudo, the Way of the Bow, sees archery as a deep, almost mystical practice, teaching calm, patience, focus, gracefulness, and respect. The goal is to be mindful as you go through the steps to release the arrow.  And once the arrow has been launched, you are not finished yet – there is a last step of being present until the flight of the arrow ends. The archers hold their position and attempt to send their spirit out, even after the arrow has hit. Immersion in the task is meditation through action. Master archers concentrate so purely that they exude an aura of serenity. Most of us don’t have the purity of mind it takes to do this perfectly, but all we are responsible for is to set up the shot and perform the steps from our center and in the Light. Kyudo teaches that if an arrow is launched in truth, goodness, and beauty, it will hit its mark.

Edie Uber, RFM Blog Contributor

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

The Genesis of Embodying the Light

I teach a Qigong/Tai Chi/Yoga class for Reno Friends three times a month and was recently asked how I came to this practice and what it means to me. I thought a blog post would be the perfect way to answer that question.

I have been practicing yoga since 2008 and Qigong/Tai Chi since 2014. I came to these practices after injuries and during rehabilitation. You might say I discovered them after breaking myself repeatedly. In Western culture, we are programmed to push ourselves to attain physical goals and fitness. Like many people, I was able to do this in my youth, but as I aged, this strategy was no longer working!

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Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

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Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

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Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

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Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

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Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

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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?

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Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

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Release the Fear of Suffering

I woke up this morning with a very clear message, “Release the fear of suffering.” I snuggled in with my beloved partner, Scott, and shared it with him. He then told me he was restless all night, convinced he was having a recurrence of chronic wrist pain. After work with a skilled physical therapist and healer recently, it had completely stopped, with only occasional twinges and some soreness if he used his hands a lot during the day. Finally, he got up and went to get his wrist brace. “As I was walking over to get it, I realized my wrist didn’t hurt. I must have been dreaming, afraid of the pain coming back.”

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