The intersection of meaningful work, personal integrity, livable income and healthy community fascinates me. In my first job, selling popcorn in a movie theater, my manager called me into the office to tell me that my aura was grey. To him that meant I wasn’t working out at the job. He didn’t fire me, but I was never comfortable at the job after that. I did however develop a lifelong love of movies and popcorn. I was a little traumatized by that observation. Unsure how to improve my aura I worked harder at being cheerful and providing great customer service. That was never good enough for him. Many years later I learned the grey aura was a color of emerging intuition and was the color of monks and mystics I better understood the dilemma in those early days of work. I brought a different vibration to work. I had a different resonant frequency from what was expected. I almost lost my resonance but learned to treasure my essential self and brought my self to work more every day.
Decades later a client assured me I was working too hard and just needed to be myself, “be a catalyst for change for those who wish to make a change for themselves and for their organizations” Well, he meant a chemical reaction kind of catalyst. I was not sure if that was a good thing. Again, I noticed feeling mildly traumatized but this time it was from being told that I could be paid for simply bringing the best of me to work. Imagine that, being paid to bring my best self to work!!
It was, and it is, a good thing to bring all our Self to our lives. Risking exposing our thoughts and feelings, being vulnerable, as Brene Brown talks about in Daring Greatly, opens the way for a sense of belonging. When we are being real and really being present then authentic relationships have the breathing space to develop. This being present includes being our imperfect selves as well as our best selves. The best gift any one can share at home and work is a listening presence. Sustained listening enables sustained being, in good times and in challenging times. Self-acceptance is grounded in the courage to show up.
Learning to show up happens when you feel the ground beneath your feet and experience a watershed change in spirit and mind. Watershed Ways offers ways for you to be listened to and to foster this change in your life. I will show up for work with you and we can enjoy the journey of your watershed change.
I heard your voice as I sat inside my loneliness. You reminded me I was not alone. From being divided from my courage, I found my own powerful voice. You are not a green leaf blown by the slightest breeze. You are the untamed wind itself. In finding my original wildness, I reunited with the One.(Dwight Wilson, Modern Psalms: In Search of Peace and Justice, p 130, 2017, Friends United Press)
The winds here in North Carolin are quite impressive, which we were reminded of as we all took stock of the ways the winds shook the trees the last week of October. Some trees moved with the winds with no difficulty, others like our great pin oak outside the Meeting House shed branches and limbs that were ready to go, still others, like one outside my Friend, Ellen’s, home, were brought to the ground. We are thankful that Ellen suffered no damage to herself, her home, or car.
Thankfulness is like that isn’t it? Some folks have a habit of being thankful for avoiding disaster, others are thankful at times when gifts are given at birthdays or holidays. What about the thankfulness for the times when we experience the mystery of love, the presence of God? Is God’s presence a thunderbolt for you? For me God’s presence is a felt love, and my gratitude, my thankfulness, is a learned practice.
I give thanks for this day. Over the past weeks I have had the opportunity to visit with elder Friends in a retirement home. A warm moment has been to visit with Eugenia, aged 106 and her granddaughter Jenny during a compassionate care call. Eugenia was so delighted to visit with her granddaughter, beaming she declared that it had been an age since she had a face to face visit.
We know that the beauty of visiting with one another face to face has been a joy. We also know that we are taking special care of one another and keeping our distance. Many are finding ways to plan holiday visits that are safe and connected, even if less than ideal.
I found myself wondering again about the nature of gratitude. Gratitude has been a focus of world religions. The root of this word is ‘gratus,’ meaning pleasing or thankful. It has a sense of relationship between the giver and receiver. There is a mutuality, there is a relationship. Gratitude is one of the most powerful prayer practices in our tradition. In gratitude we reunite with wonder and awe.
In 2018, a Friends Committee on National Legislation article, written by Anna McCormally, offered this: What would our society look like if we embraced gratitude? Not just privately, in journals or personal prayers… but as a civic practice?
What if we held community forums to share our thanks with essential workers? How about offering public acts of gratitude? What if our public policy was based in gratitude rather than scarcity? What if we held conversations about the nature of our economy and how we might foster a different index of prosperity, one based on sharing rather than accumulation? McCormally wondered if we might be able to build a society in which the values are expressly radically compassionate.
What would our society look like if we embraced gratitude?
Mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart has been a voice for embracing the indwelling God and for expressing gratitude. He wrote an oft quoted statement, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” As Friends/Quakers, we recognize that seeing that God within each of us is a part of our tradition. This has often been seen as suspect by those who want to judge others, who refuse to acknowledge the presence of the Divine in all persons. It is the mindset of judgement to take a narrow view. It is the mindset of judgement to neglect gratitude.
We can feel so very alone, with changes in an already fraught environment pushing us to protect our feelings, perhaps to make small boxes in our minds.
We hear Dwight Wilson naming the Holy One as the untamed wind itself. How might we find the ground of our being.
I give thanks for the image brought by the reading today from Dwight Wilson. As we sit in this time of extreme loneliness, we may have difficulty hearing God’s voice and may even have a sense we are not experiencing our own voice. Eugenia is a wonder to me. On the day of our visit we thought we would find this Friend, aged 106, and who dearly loves this Meeting, in physical distress. Instead, she was getting ready to get up and take a walk. Her hair freshly groomed and her dress carefully chosen, Eugenia told us that she had felt so lonely and so cut off since the start of the pandemic. She said she felt the lack of face to face contact had her feeling divorced from all of us. We have exchanged letters and held window visits, but the aching loneliness was profound. When we asked how she has managed through these many months she said she was so grateful for her life in God, grateful that the Friends Homes care givers were attentive. Her resilience is grounded in her faith and love of God. Now those of you who know this Friend would agree that she is pragmatic, but her lived experience of gratitude serves her, and preserves her.
Gratitude can be contagious. When we offer thanks, genuine thanks not the thoughtless tossing off casual use of the word, we feel differently. Those near by to that giving of thanks often offer a thank you right back, those mirror neurons in our brains respond- like calls to like, Light calls to Light, Deep calls to Deep. We are made this way. When Jen Perkins and I left our visit with her grandmother we felt blessed, we felt deep gratitude for a moment which seemed deeply sacred and very precious.
This is no cheap grace, not an insincere air kiss or platitude I’m talking about. This is a reality that some call Grace. This form of gratitude allows us to hold one another accountable for meaningful forms of sharing our energy, resources, time and talent. This is a radical root of our Christian faith. Jesus showed us that gratitude, service, and forgiveness are the foundation of the kingdom. This is an entirely different organization design. It is not a pyramid with a top dog or top God pushing or manipulating those below. Rather, the better image is a flat table, a common table where all gather, with up-front, honest speaking and compassionate listening. This is a vast spiritual plane where Grace is freely given, and no repayment expected. Grace invites us all to the table where we are reminded that we are not alone. We are not divorced from courage, nor are we asked to squelch own powerful voice. We are invited to join in the untamed wind of the Holy Spirit, wild and united in the One to, and here I quote that wild Friend George Fox,
“Sing and rejoice you children of the day and of the light; for the Lord is at work on this thick night of darkness that may be felt. And truth flourishes as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play. And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the seed Christ is over all and reigns.” Collections of many select Epistles to Friends… Letters of George Fox, Vol 1, 227
Take a moment to still your mind, to sit quietly and listen to your inner wisdom. If you wish, ponder these two questions in the stillness:
In what ways do we practice forms of gratitude?
In what ways do we, as a community, ensure a regular practice of gratitude?
“…may there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:26-27
A Friend has been working with her community on the very challenging question of how they are dealing with diversity and differences. This community has been expanding their hospitality for years and found that they had varieties of people in proximity but little real connections between them. They want connection and they want to be God’s hands and feet in the world, but they keep getting tripped up on the small differences that happen when you put any group of people together.
Our bodies have different bits and parts, varying functions and abilities but the whole body works together so we can get around to be and do. Borrowing upon the image of the body to describe the life of our inward Light in action can sometimes be difficult. There are times when the body has a problem like the moment on my 42nd birthday when I woke up to my first and rather serious gout attack. At that moment I was not sure my body was on my side. I’m sure some of you know how that feels. Although we think we know all the parts of the body there really are bits and pieces that we might not have met or may have changed over time. But our life lessons are often most powerfully met within the body. Gouty joints are teaching me about limitations, stretching, flexibility and resilience.
Our ideas and hopes about bodies, as well as of being in relationship with others, are forged in our youth. We learn to speak and interact with one another early in our lives. For some us, there was the experience in living within the bosom of extended family, for others it was a nuclear family, others had dislocation and lived in other situations usually not by choice. Imagine what the children living in the detention camps must be experiencing now. Most of us were living in some sort of neighborhood or situation with neighbors. Maybe we also had a church family, and maybe, for some it was all the above, living in close contact with a broader community. I recall my own home on the street where I was a young girl in a community right outside of Philadelphia. We knew everything about everyone on the street. Adults knew adult things about each other and us kids knew who gave cookies and a cool lemonade after school or on sweltering mid-summer afternoons.
We thought we knew the Fire chief who lived across the street, he was stern, he always planned every detail for our 4th of July parade, carnival and firework display at the high school a few blocks away. It was considered wise to befriend him in case your house was on fire, so everyone always gave donations to support these summer events. One year around July 4th a house down the street really did go up in flames. All the neighbors went out into the street to watch the fire chief and his crew struggle to save the people and the house. The Chief worked for hours, grim and grimy he kept everyone working together and did the save the people and the house. A lot of stuff was destroyed or damaged.
That family had just moved into their home. They were from Greece, which seemed very foreign to us and they had a different religion. Most of us did not know their names, and we could not communicate with them as only the Dad spoke English. But, within a day we knew what that family needed, and we brought them clothes, bedding, food and cooking supplies. We did not need to be told how to go about the task of supporting them, we all knew what a family body needed.
Through this experience, I learned that community is a place where we are connected by being seen and heard, and where we can witness others and be there for them…or not. Our human traits and habits that resist or break connections become known to us too. Paul brings the metaphor of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, where Christ is both the unified body of all of humanity, and Christ is also within each individual and unique human part, joined with others as one Body. Paul himself was a spiritual director of these emerging bodies of faith.
In our various expressions of faith, most of us want to feel that we belong and that we are part of a healthy community. Quaker pastor, and author, Doug Gwyn notes that “equality and community were the warp and weft of a spirit led grassroots movement.” Our Quaker message to the world about belonging makes it clear that we offer spiritual kinship. We are kin; we belong to one another in ways that go deeper than skin and bone.
Connection is a deep human need that is filled and satisfied through relationships, both with the Holy and within community. Most times we come at these relationships as if we are singular beings, yet we are one in Spirit. Paul wrote to a quarrelsome, if prosperous community, in Corinth. Teaching the fundamentals of being in community-union (communion), he was asking people to look more deeply, to understand that different parts of the body serve the whole being, we rely on the very differences to be serving the whole body. To do this, we are asked to understand that the immediate, the essence of who we are both transcends the basic mechanics of physical bodies and, paradoxically, is expressed through the body
Job Scott, a Quaker from the 18th century, a respected and well-beloved minister among Quakers in North America, was known for his total dependence upon the immediate moving and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and his unwillingness to minister without a clear sense of the Lord’s will. He said “The I that came, the me the body was prepared for, is he who says, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’” “This simile allows us to do deep dive, so that “God Becomes all in all.”
Paul is teaching about people who surrender to the I AM, to God. Through this surrender people see their sisters and brothers, all people with appreciation. The Christian is called into a community whose boundaries include all of earth and heaven.
We are gathered as one community, into the one Body, and in this everyone plays their own role in enacting their God given gifts and purpose. This vision of individuated unity reflects the core Quaker theological tenet, which states that there is “that of God within everyone.” God is within everyone, with everyone within God,
I can’t ignore that the Divine speaks through the others, including others whose roots and “belongings” speak to visions of the Divine which may challenge my understanding of God. The Light searches the hearts of all and speaks through many people and in many ways. The question for us is, do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? Will we live in such a way that we acknowledge and embrace the body that we are, all one within God?
I offer you some questions for reflection:
What might our community we live within be like if we lift our eyes beyond our own close circles and realize that we ourselves as one in the Spirit?
How might we extend this to our witness for human dignity during this US crisis at the border?
Moving into this season of preparation, for the beautiful winter season, for the coming of our Christ child, we have been exploring a series on fostering an intimate relationship with the Light. Advent is the season of preparing for the Light. But last night as I made the final turn toward preparing to speak at my Quaker Meeting, I experienced a rising message. The Light asked me to bring something different. It was late in the evening and, with a sigh, I sat down to re-write this message. Dan gave me a kiss on top of my head and reminded me to rest; I outlasted my daughter Samantha who is visiting with us this morning…she reminded me to rest. But in preparing this message I had opened my heart to listen to the Holy and to accept the guidance that comes. Thomas Kelly taught us how to center our lives and discover the Inward Light. He wrote that “Guidance of life by the Light within is not so exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings towards particular tasks.” (Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941, p19) My awareness of the inward Light has prompted this message. As Kelly promises “when we worship in the Light, we become new…there are specific instructions from the Light within…paradoxically, this instruction proceeds from two opposing directions at once. We are torn loose from earthly attachments and ambitions [or carefully prepared messages], and we are quickened to a divine but painful concern for the world.” ( Kelly, p19)
Thursday morning, 3 mornings ago, a child, Brendon Clegg, died by gunshot in the stairwell on the second floor of the middle school, a block away from our home in Richmond. His mother called 911 to alert police and the school that her son was imminent danger and a threat. Police were at the school in a matter of minutes, and they chased him into the school. The school which had locked down, following what are now routine procedures, ensured the safety of the students, teachers, and staff there. We are all relieved that no one else was injured.
The news has traveled across the country, this was the 89th school shooting incident in 2018. According to a CDC report released yesterday nearly 40,000 people died by guns last year- in one year. Of these, 23,854, over half, died by suicide using a gun. The immediate narrative from leaders is that we are ensuring our children are safe- we have lock down routines, we have highly trained law enforcement who, as Greg Pence said, “monitor the situation to keep our children safe.” Media coverage has been swift, energetic and full of the human drama we have come to expect from the media…distraught parents and grandparents were featured saying they were frightened and so glad the children are ok. These families gathered swiftly in crowds not seen before at the school (parental involvement we know is at an all-time low in our schools). We know there is immense pressure on the teachers and staff in our schools. They are among the ones who face the front lines as our social glue unravels at ever increasing speed.
Few words have been said about this child, little has been said about his loss, his mother’s loss. This child was known to friends of ours. Just a few years ago he was a “nice kid”. Perhaps he was different, but he was a child.
On social media and in conversations in the places where the locals gather there are whispers of the culture of bullying that is pervasive in the schools, the community and our society at large. Some have called for change. Gun control tops the list of controversial topics of conversation; thoughtful people might even include a comment about the need for improved mental health services. But few people speak to the culture of violence that has overtaken us. No one has mentioned that we might want to examine the context within which this tragedy has unfolded. Perhaps this story will show up in a piece of writing or film, but for now, the silence is deafening.
This tragedy played out next to a jewel of a park, the grass is green at this park today, the funny, red-headed pileated wood pecker calls and pounds on old ash trees. There are soft woodchips that surround the yellow, orange and blue slides and play area. There are spaces to play, to hold a barbeque, to sit amongst groves of evergreen trees. The preschool next door (which also had gone on lock down) has whimsical figure cutouts on the front lawn. Thomas Kelly’s house, empty now and up for sale, is directly across the street from the little park and adjacent to the stately middle school. This simple white clapboard home sits empty, although someone has left lighted candles in the upper room windows. Dan and I went to an open house last month to walk through this home. Small rooms look out to trees and to the little park. The house is now a silent witness to the unfolding of our larger society through the lens of this little Hoosier city. In the house is a little study with built-in bookshelves, now empty, and it prompts me to wonder if perhaps this was the place where Kelly wrote these words:
“Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately the outer pageant of history….the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wiser Shepherd. His is a shepherd’s heart, and he is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal drawing the prodigal home unto himself, where there is bread enough to spare.” (Kelly, p25)
I ask you, do we have bread enough to spare for this child and for his mother and family? Will we ask our communities, the leaders in our schools, in mental health, law enforcement, our city, and state leaders if we can name the root cause of this mass madness? Do we have the moral courage to name the way forward? And when we hear or see bullying, to witness against it? Let’s call for an examination of the real roots of violence in our country. This needs to happen at the national level, but let’s talk about this in real and meaningful ways beginning here, in our Meetings, our churches, and communities. The issues are complex, ranging from mental illness to hate to despair.
The first step is to enter into communion, as Friends, and listen to what Spirit may ask of us.
Isaiah 1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
As we come to another autumn and approach the U.S holiday of Veterans day, I find myself reflecting on how we in the U.S. advocate for peace when more than half, 54%, of our federal budget, is allocated for war.
Veteran’s Day was once known as Armistice Day, a word that means “truce.” The holiday was as much to honor the soldiers of that time as to honor lessons learned through World War I, known at the time as the “War to End all Wars”. When that war ended, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief, and there was a shared, fervent wish at the time that a global conflict would never occur again. Armistice Day was designated to ensure we remembered the lesson: Never again!
The Vietnam war, I had thought, might have re-taught us the lesson that war does not solve conflicts. But today, a budget of war drives our economy. Does this economy reflect our values? What are the costs of these choices?
I come from a military family that is also very diverse and deeply faithful. Maybe most everyone’s families were in the military if you go back far enough in our country’s history? All four grandparents were in the army in WWI, (my grandmothers were nurses) My parents were both in WWII. They were in the Army (my mom was a nurse and lieutenant, my father a medic- their romance was a scandal). I worked with veterans with PTSD in the VA Hospital in my community. Recently I have been concerned about the evolving understanding of soul repair in the occurrence of moral injury. Today we see evidence that there is a high suicide rate of our veterans. As I came to understand moral injury I felt a bone deep resonance as I learned more about soul repair after moral injury. This resonance seems to have deep roots.
When I was a young child we lived in an old, old house, built by a sea captain, in a village outside Philadelphia with an unfinished cellar and an attic full of cobwebs and old terrors. My mother’s parents lived with us in those days. Her Scottish father, my grandfather, had a cabinet-making workshop in the cellar, and I would spend hours down there with him. I can remember his face aglow in the light, a furnace roaring and blazing flames, while sawdust, darkness and gloom rimmed the edges of the cellar. I wandered in those dark, shadowy edges of the cellar and discovered relics from the past: bayonets, WWI helmets, and mess kits.
I would drag these treasures out of the corners where they had been stored, and urge my grandfather to tell his stories of fighting in France, meeting my French grandmother, his feelings regarding my mom marrying my Jewish father. He would pause his work and tell me how he survived being wounded on the battlefield near Saumur and found love in the midst of that battlefield.
My father’s Dad had his own battlefield stories. He was one of the first of his kind, a battlefield psychiatrist. He was also stationed in France and recalled guns blazing and shells falling around. This grandfather, we called him Daddy Sam, kept detailed journals all his life. In 1917, he wrote of the beauty of a late-autumn sunrise, the fading colors of the autumn leaves drifting across the fields, mists rising from the warmer soil into the chilled, rain-soaked air. Daddy Sam wrote also of the abject terror that filled the air on those battlefields. The blinding smoke and debris in the air, the shriek of falling shells, the cries of those wounded, the smells, the inescapable acrid, foul air. His work was to ensure soldiers remained at their post or returned as soon as possible after being injured. In those days, any soldier who did not want to return to battle faced immediate disciplinary action. But my grandfather looked more deeply into the battlefield injuries of mind and soul. He was part of what would be pioneering work on the effects of “shell shock”.
He likely saved many men from court martial or worse. He saw that the horrors of war wrecked souls, bodies and land. He kept meticulous case notes on the battle field, and afterwards, as Chief of Psychiatry for the Philadelphia Penitentiary and still later when he kept journals on his love of art and painting.
I read all of his journals, and was struck by the fact that after his accounts of WWI battlefield, I never heard his own voice again. His words “disappeared” into the clinical world of case notes and later into the world of the technique of writing. He never let us know what he was feeling during the remainder of his 102 years of life. I wonder now if my grandfather had suffered moral injury and what that cost his family, my family. The call to defend land, home and hearth has been a part of our human history and we have always known that we must honor those who sacrifice for what they hope is a “just war”. All of us can reflect on our priorities, on where we share our money and when we send our young to fight and perhaps die and how we honor those veterans who serve.
I read the scraps of paper Daddy Sam kept often used as book marks in treasured books. I believe he wondered a lot about the human condition and society, he wondered about God, he wondered about his own soul. I found this piece of scripture amongst the notes he kept, “I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” Habakkuk 2:1-4
For all my family now gone: Samuel and Clara, Bryant and Marta, Richard and Yvonne, I pray that you know the peace and the grace that is available to all of us. I pray that our nation untangles its budgets of war, ensures communities are equipped for soul repair for those veterans in need and, weaves budgets that support education, protection of our land and housing and food for people in need.
For all of us this November 11, 2018, may we know the cleansing gaze of the divine passion for mercy. May our efforts be pure, may serve justice and may we defend the helpless.
R. Thomas Browning was a fighter pilot, prisoner of war for more than six years in Vietnam, a brigadier general in the Airforce and a civic leader. He had a reserved smile, a steady, measuring gaze and usually wore crisp blue suits. I am a Quaker, entrepreneur and a passionate justice worker with an eye for fashion art and, who knows, might show up with an auburn streak through my hair.
Our differences were obvious when I began working with Tom in the 1990s when he headed Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business membership organization. We united quickly, however, around our similarities: a passion for justice through equipping people to create healthy cities and towns and the importance of shared commitment to this greater vision.
Tom passed away in July 2018, and I miss him. This story is part of his story and the love story of people who, despite their differences, came together and cared. My words are dedicated to them all.
When I began working with Tom in 1992, shocking images of the Los Angeles riots filled the airwaves. Cars overturned, buildings on fire, smashed windows. The riots stemmed from issues of crime, poverty, police violence and failing schools – a troubling stew that fed a decline of confidence in the United States.
I was a young mother at the time working to facilitate the development of healthy cities and towns across Arizona when Tom Browning asked me to launch and lead a community-building organization we called Neighborhood Partners, Inc.
The work of Neighborhood Partners required us to not only examine the roots of our community distress, but also to explore the strengths of the people in who region who could join forces in the name of justice. While the struggle for quality education, economic justice and community-based policing continues to be of concern in Phoenix today, I am proud to have known and worked closely with individuals who have grown up in this struggle and who to this day remain quiet leaders still doing good work.
These people, who were neighborhood members and leaders, local school students, teachers and principals, bankers and business owners, church pastors and local police, City park and recreation as well as neighborhood planning staff, joined forces through Neighborhood Partners. Many of them had never met. They came in an array of shapes, sizes, racial, economic and ethnic backgrounds with widely different experiences in life.
We had great partners like Brian Hassett who was then president of Valley of the Sun United Way. Dan Duncan, president of the Mesa United Way, who also worked with the Asset Based Community Development Center ( abcdinsitute.org ). We learned from the best like the Dudley Street Initiative folks in Roxbury MA. ( www.dsni.org) We had tremendous volunteers like Kathy Gerber who, as a geologist, changed remediating environmental hazards in south central Phoenix. Her work with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA improved the health of thousands of residents in south central Phoenix. We had a strong, committed staff, all of whom work today for justice and health in Phoenix.
Over the years, dilapidated houses were restored to healthy homes, playgrounds and gardens were constructed, crime was reduced, and environmental toxins were cleaned up, school children learned from neighbors, pastors, and local business partners that there was a place for them in our community.
More than $300 million in community investment was captured and used to rebuild neighborhoods. Tom and I differed on how to deal with the root causes of our distress, but we put those differences aside as we worked on the most pressing problems facing the neighborhoods. Together, we honored our communities. Our work required us to look beyond polarizing attitudes and work together to inspire the young adults and children in the 1990’s, who as adults today, continue to lead.
Two years ago, in January 2016, over 100 of these people came together to honor and reflect on our accomplishments. Here are a few quotes from interviews and an image that was created from this gathering of people.
“It was the kids, seeing myself in the kids, they did not have hope. Bringing people and resources together we saw hope in their eyes.”
“The trick was being together and learning about the issues facing our communities, the economy. We learned working together can make a difference. I understand the value of relationships within the community.
We learned about power structures, how to tap into that power. It became clear we had access through engagement with others. We learned about how to deal with environmental justice and land use”
At the core of what we did is invite seemingly disparate people to get to know each other and work together for the greater good. Today this work is often labeled, “Collective Impact” and “Radical Hospitality.” At its root, it is a form of ministry where one person calls to another in love and acceptance, putting differences aside and uniting for the common good.
We fostered love. We fostered hope. We fostered vision. These young people are social workers in inner city hospitals, teachers, business leaders, police officers, and even the Phoenix police chief. They all maintain the momentum now by engaging the youth in their communities. This is a watershed way for changed lives and changed communities .
Figure 1. An Image of the words of the people who have worked and continue to work for healthy neighborhoods.
Tom knew that leadership was critical for this work to succeed. He leaned in and stepped up as he always had throughout his life. For Tom, this work was for love of country. This work relied on faith and strength in dark times.
Our current crisis across the U.S. cries out for this work. We need to strengthen relationships and look at the roots of our social distress. “Intersectional” is the current term used to describe a focus on where our differences intersect and then work together from that point of unity and shared commitment. An approach that requires study and understanding of actions that improve paths of collaboration. These pathways require tough conversations on race, gender, socio-economic class while also exploring unique experiences of oppression and privilege.
Tom’s model of leadership grew from a time when “intersectional” was a word applied to streets and not human behavior. But his instincts were intersectional. He innately reached across differences and united people based on their shared dreams and visions. Tom’s community-building skills have been passed along to many of the children and youth in our partnerships who are today’s leaders. Many of these people have shared with me that their hope is to pass these skills on to their children as a means of lasting change.
Tom’s legacy is watershed change. He will remain in my heart forever, and it brings me extraordinary joy to know his work, his legacy of change, will be carried forward by so many of the individuals whose lives were touched and transformed by his commitment and vision.
Handmade Aran sweaters in Ireland led us to her. My husband Dan and I combed charity shops to find a well-loved, handmade sweater. Our search uncovered many interesting items, but not a single shop that held the treasure we were looking for! It took the Wi-Fi connection in our cottage in a small County Donegal village to finally lead us to the most innovative knitter in Ireland- Rosaleen Haggerty of Crana Knits.
Rosaleen was a bit surprised when we knocked on her workshop door. We were damp having walked through the town in a gentle summer rain. She gave us a smile of approval for having persisted in this search for her and took a break from her work. We stepped into the office where the women were reviewing an order of 150 Aran sweaters for a client in Japan. After a quick a quick tour of her workshop, we settled in for an afternoon of conversation and learning from this master knitter, teacher and business woman.
Rosaleen started her work life as a school teacher. Part of the curriculum included teaching young women the art of knitting. Rosaleen imbued her students with skill and confidence in their abilities. Bouts with cancer eventually kept her from the classroom, but she continued to work with the knitters. Rosaleen’s love of textiles and innovative spirit, along with the support of her entrepreneurial father, spawned her forty-year career as an Irish business owner and allowed her to spread the love of her craft to hundreds of women.
In a time and place where opportunities for women were few, Rosaleen’s legacy represents the importance of supporting women to gain agency and income through their handwork. At the height of her business she employed some 550 women. Today, she is in her early 80s and continues to employ dozens of women through her workshop. Her special passion is creating unique patterns and instructions for those patterns. Her eyes twinkle as she shares the persistence and courage that has been required of her life journey. She brings the best of her culture to the world.
Rosaleen has mastered the supply-chain equation. Her woolen yarns are produced solely in in Ireland. The sweaters, hats, and scarves are exclusively hand-made by women in County Donegal and carefully inspected before they leave her shop, being sent around the world. She speaks with warmth about how she has endured by staying true to her natural gifts while supporting the Irish economy. Her greatest regret is that so few young people are interested in learning to knit. She attributes this to the economic pressures facing youth and that they do not value working with their hands. This lament is heard in the other crafts and trades such as construction. The elders here shake their heads that the youth do not see a need to learn to build a solid house or work in farming or textile making.
I hear the same concern from Hopi elders in the high desert in Arizona. These native peoples have a history of building and art-making. While they have had some success in cultivating interest among the younger generations in these arts, a diminishing number are embracing the traditional ways.
My daughter has embraced making art with her hands. She was first encouraged by Navajo grandmothers who nurtured her abilities when she was three years old. At a local annual Navajo festival, she sat at their feet learning to card and spin raw wool. Few words were exchanged, but when she needed a tip, they leaned forward in their chairs and lent her a hand, showing, not telling, how to grip the carding paddle and how to hold the drop spindle. They taught my daughter with the same contentment that Rosaleen expresses.
Uncovering our unique gifts and talents requires careful attention and self-awareness. It takes persistence to nurture those gifts and courage to build lives on the foundation of our gifts. How often have you paused to take stock of your natural gifts and abilities? How were you mentored and how do mentor others? Are these gifts woven into your own life? If not, perhaps you might want to take some time to reflect on these questions and notice where your life is asking you to connect who you are within what you do! When you take time for this reflection you are stepping into a watershed way of living… and this takes courage!
Future blogs will bring more portraits in courage that inspire and support your recovering resonance!
At a recent Quaker Meeting where I was speaking, I offered images of liminal spaces that are forever present in our lives if we pay attention. These liminal encounters can be communion with the Divine in spacious silence, a tender moment with another person, special pet or favorite tree where time stands still, and light and love illuminate, just for an instant, what feels like a freeze-framed encounter.
What do I mean by the liminal spaces? I mean that threshold where rational and irrational meet, where the practical everyday moment, task or object becomes radiant with unexplained beauty. You know what this is when it offers itself. You cease all activity in that instant. Perhaps you have experienced it as sunlight streaming through clean windows, the gentle billow as the wind lifts freshly hung laundry on a line, the glow of fresh blossoms on a favorite plant in a garden, a kind smile or quiet tears.
Liminal spaces offer themselves up through prayer but also during times of transition in life when moving to a new location, job loss or gain, falling in love or breakups. These are spaces of creativity and change, of emptying and expanding, which are there for the taking if we pay attention and release ourselves into the awe and wonder that surrounds us that we too often ignore.
As I prepared my message, the autocorrect on my computer changed ‘liminal’ to ‘luminal.’ I liked the sound of the blending of luminous and liminal. Of course, I was quick to clarify the term since I intended the liminal. But as I shared my message, there were puzzled looks on Friends’ faces. I quickly knew that the word ‘liminal’ is not heard often in daily conversation. There was a polite silence in the assembled community, and I realized that ‘liminal’ is outside of the box for many of us. Still, I was commended for this talk, and people noted that it made their hearts hunger for liminality. The word might be foreign but the hunger for those moments dwells just beneath the surface of our skin.
People who come to me for coaching or spiritual direction are motivated by this hunger, the vague sense that something better is available for them in life. That ‘something better’ could be directly related to their work. They want to move into a new field, or, perhaps, they have not been bringing the best of themselves to work or relationships. I see the same thing in my consulting practice, and we work together to redesign their organization or build a new coalition to improve education or health care. Inevitably, the conversation begins with how they want to really Be in the world.
Whether coaching, spiritual work or consulting, individuals come to me for a nudge toward living in the flow of the best of self, which is the finest gift possible. A nudge that helps them face the horns of the dilemma of living true to themselves in the face of the pressure of the workplace and the world.
Sometimes we imagine this pressure as a confining box. Reflect a moment. When did you most recently notice that you felt “boxed in,” or had a sense that the walls were closing in on you? What made up the dimensions of the box? Does work deaden your soul? Was it your desire for more things that you really don’t need but you pretend would scratch the itch inside? Or perhaps a demand from the outside world that conflicts with your values?
I recently had a friend tell me, “I have never fit into the religion box even though I want to embrace aspects of many religious practices!” In my work, I blend aspects of several faith traditions. How could I not? I am a Quaker, raised as a Catholic, with a Jewish parent and many Buddhist and Muslim friends. My practice blends the Quaker ‘waiting in silence’ with a morning yoga session and an evening Lectio Divina based on scripture. My family members are all faithful souls who have blended aspects of faith and practice into uniquely powerful expressions of their gifts of service to others.
Each of us wants to have the freedom and wherewithal to name and claim our values and to transform these values into meaningful actions in our world. We want our worlds to be congruent. We want who we are and what we do to match up, to join the silent spaces with the work we do in the world.
Our bodies know when we are congruent. Deep in our gut, we know wellness. When we are not living in a manner that is congruent many of us have some sort of upset in our bellies. So how might we begin to live in more flow consciousness?
Become available to the liminal spaces.
Start with the easiest and perhaps most challenging step. Try sitting in complete silence for ten minutes a day. Find a quiet place, inside or out, where you will not be distracted or interrupted. Sit comfortably in a position that best supports your body. Just be with this practice of silence. If your nose is itchy notice it and scratch if needed. If you are holding your breath, notice it, take deep slow breaths and exhale slowly. Notice the sounds around you and the thoughts in your head and then just let them flow past because for these few minutes you are sitting in silence, the oldest practice of the mystics, allowing time’s unfolding and heightening your ability to simply notice.
This is how you begin. Notice. Be still. Keep your heart in readiness for the moment when, through the stillness, new awareness arises. The liminal space. That moment when your soul, heart, and mind meet for a cup of tea. When insights arise, and miracles become available. Space where time stands still, the lines thin between conscious and unconscious and hard-nosed reality touches ineffable mysteries.
My first blog generated interesting questions foremost of which: What is watershed change and what do I mean when I say watershed change of consciousness is possible?
The term has been used to describe dynamic change, turning-point moments. For instance, a major revolution in medicine was the development of modern antibiotics. This watershed moment made it possible for people to survive pneumonias and other bacterial infections. A more recent watershed moment: the digital revolution. And in our own lives, watershed moments are those time, perhaps the death of someone we love, meeting the right person or stepping up to being a new parent when we hit a fork in the road and turn in new directions.
Of course, watersheds are also features of the land. We are all connected to the earth, so this term speaks to me. A watershed is an area of high ground from which water flows down to a stream, a river or the ocean. Our lives depend on watersheds, we must take care of our watersheds. This image is central guide for working with people who want to tend their lives in new ways. Watershed change in consciousness happens inside of us, inside our minds, our bodies and spirits.
I have had a watershed moment or two in my life. When my daughter Samantha was born my life was forever changed. I developed near super-human powers in my senses of hearing and smell. I had been one of those people who could sleep through an alarm but with the birth of my daughter, I detected the slightest change in her breathing in the middle of the night two rooms away. My deepest, protective instinctual self, arose from a depth I did not know I possessed! I treasure this shift in ability and consciousness.
I do confess that when I first took up cycling, I rode through the streets of my town wishing my sense of smell was not so keen, especially on trash pickup days. But we don’t get to control the powers gained from watershed moments. We get to witness them, to be stewards for them.
Just five years after the birth of my daughter, my husband Ralph died from his cancer. Walking with this very dear man through his dying and death was a sacred watershed moment for me, as the death of a loved one often is for all of us, in very different ways.
I have little memory of the year after he died. I know my daughter started school, and I started a new nonprofit organization. I know, I sold our home to move the two of us into a simple house where I served as care taker of our Quaker Meeting house. Here is what I do remember: I was forever changed because during the time of his passage, we touched the Divine. We knew we were loved, we knew joy, grief and loss, tears and terror and ultimately serenity.
How did we come to accept all that we were given? Because we tumbled into mystery. Because there were tears, and then angels would arrive. People brought gifts of food and support. We were given gifts of new consciousness. One man, a senior teacher of Qi Gong (or Life Energy Cultivation) donated his time to us. He came to our home to teach us this practice of our true nature every week.
We learned to breathe, to be present and knew a kind of well-being that had eluded us. We read Pema Chodron, “Start where you are” and we learned about compassion and being broken open. This was the book that Ralph, who had been a book seller, named as the most important book he had ever read. And I learned to read the Bible. I read the Psalms. Book Angels (or a book that had years of many hands seeking solace) guided me when I first opened the bible the Good Book fell open to Psalm 91. … “because you have made the Lord your refuge, the most high, your dwelling place no evil shall befall you” (Psalm 91:9-10).
God abides in me, and I in God, and Ralph in God and our little girl in God and each of us in one another. We all realized True Self.
In that moment, we became a revolution of Love and possibility. Ralph who already, at an early age, had touched many lives, committed himself to caring for nature and environmental protection. Ralph said to me, “You must carry on this work. The only hope we have will come from a watershed change in human consciousness. This change is possible but not inevitable, so we must live into it. Risk losing standard comforts to grow in new ways, to work in new ways, and to care for one another in new ways. Divine presence and humanity can walk together for the good of all but it’s an inside job!”
Watershed changes in human consciousness is the work I dedicate myself to through Watershed Ways. I wish you great watershed moments – where you shed self-imposed limitations and dive into the waters of life and soul. You won’t be sorry.