The everyday is sacred

I was listening to "Holy Now" by Peter Mayer recently when I ought to have been in meeting. I was indulging in a little house-to-myself time instead.

"Wine into water is not so small,
but an even better magic trick
is that anything is here at all.
So, the challenging thing becomes
not to look for miracles,
but finding where there isn't one.

When holy water was rare at best
I barely wet my finger tips.
Now I have to hold my breath
like I'm swimming in a sea of it.

It used to be a world half-there
heaven's second rate hand-me-downs
but I'm walking with a reverent air
cause everything's holy now. "

I wasn't at meeting last week either. Last week I had worship at the home of a friend after a lovely breakfast. Part of the reason that early Friends adopted the phrase "meeting house" for the buildings they built for communal worship was that they regarded the people as the church.
The monthly meetings I have access to rarely meet my spiritual needs and I am grateful that He hasn't asked me to commit to any of them. I still go to meeting frequently, but certainly not every week. I do try to be aware of my place in the Church on a daily basis. Am I being attentive to the needs of the people around me? Am I encouraging their growth in grace as well as my own?
Sometimes, even when I'm feeling the need to take care of myself and I know that attending meeting isn't absolutely nessecary, I can still feel guilty about skipping meeting. It's good to be reminded of all of Creation is holy and that the First Communion was Jesus sharing a meal with His friends.

Elizabeth Bathurst


The next movie I watch about a plane will be S.O.A.P.

I saw United 93 over the weekend. Most of the discussion I've heard about the movie was whether or not it was too soon to revisit 9/11. Without question, it is still too soon to be entertained by the 9/11 story. But this movie isn't entertaining. It felt like a horrible and realistic reenactment and it helped me grieve. It helped me take back the memory of United 93 from the warmongering that embraced the phrase "Let's Roll." I was able to reclaim the memory of the awfulness of that day and the sympathy I felt for the people who were faced with making unthinkable moral decisions based on very limited information under a very tight deadline.

After the movie, I was discussing the it with friends, some of whom had just watched the movie with me, and some who had not. Someone asked a non-American in the group about his responses to 9/11. He likened his response with his response the Kashmir earthquake in 2005. It's true that the Kashmir earthquake killed a great many more people, but for me the difference is vast. A natural disaster has yet to make me contemplate pacifism, universalism or the nature of justice. I'm able to simply grieve for the victims of natural disasters. I cry, I pray, and I send money when I can. Suffering that is related to "Acts of God," however influenced by human incompetence or wit, is easier for me to comprehend than acts of extreme violence.

The magnitude of 9/11 for me wasn't the destruction of buildings, or an alteration in my feeling safe as an American. It wasn't even the horrific deaths although some images from the towers still haunt me. It was knowing that these acts of desperation and hatred would be met with large scale revenge. By some estimates, the wars waged in response to that Tuesday morning's hijacked planes have killed almost 250,000 people to date. 9/11 was a horrible tragedy in and of itself, but it was only the beginning of a very dark time.

Today, we are living in a world where too many decisions are being made in fear, in hate, in confusion and in revenge. I feel as though all I have to fight against the wars being carried out in my name is my voice and that my voice is drowned out by so many other voices. I don't think anyone is actually listening, anyway. I feel so helpless and so scared.

Towards the end of the film, there's a period of time where everyone is praying. The prayers of the hijackers, the passengers and the flight attendants are all overlapping in the chaos. Surely God is able to hear each of us, distinctly, as we cry out to Him in our time of need, no matter what language we speak or how many of His children are crying to Him at once.

Elizabeth Bathurst


You get so Alone it all just makes Sense

Sometimes that which provides you with the most solace is not the Spirit nor a friend, but something dear and comforting...like a new book of poems by Charles Bukowski.

In my current life, I am loosely affiliated with academics. Thus, I am a bit stressed out as "it is that time of year." To procrastinate last night, (my hott Saturday night consisted of writing a paper on Cerebrovascular events aka stroke) I went to a book store to see if I could find any books in italian...I am leaving in less that two weeks for Italia and am trying to learn Itanian in-between all of my other committments. There were no books in Italian and somehow I found myself in the Poetry section.

Hank and I have been acquainted for at least 8 years now. He and his crusty take on life have seen me through many difficulities. People are always surprised that such an aredent feminist could love Hank. But I do. Years ago for an English class a friend and I had to give a presentation on Hank. I think the whole class was expecting the typical feminist tirade about him being such a misogynist, but then we got up and praise him. Mouths hit the floor. There is a quote I really want to track down someday that has to do with being a "critical lover" and that is what I am. And I think that is what Hank is.

Yea, he's a bastard. He's crusty and angry and misanthropic, but then you get to lines, which usually occur at the end of a poem, and blow away by the beauty. There is no way he can be all bad. I tend to think that all the crusty misanthropic talk is just to cover up a bare and wounded soul, the type of soul that those of us who care to much have...it is battered and angry and since we feel powerless against the shit that fate has thrown us and those around us, we engage in self destructive behaviors, drinking, smoking, meaningless sex. And that is why sometimes the only comfort a soul can find is in a glass of whiskey and Charles Bukowski.

...I loved you
like a man loves a woman he never touches, only
writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cigarette and listened to you piss in the bathroom.

....I would have probably been unfair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.

Charles Bukowski, an almost made up poem



My yearly meeting reads our Advices aloud at close of sessions following meeting for worship on First Day. When I reread the Advices to myself, I often hear my father's inflection on certain words, like "worship" and "banal" as he has read them aloud in recent years. It's a very comforting piece of prose, even this part:

"For although we recognize the children of our members as objects of our care, and partakers of the outward privileges of Christian fellowship, we would earnestly remind all that such recognition cannot constitute them members of the Lord's Spiritual Israel. Nothing can effect this but the power of the Holy Spirit working repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let the words of our Holy Redeemer have due place with us all, "Ye must be born again." May all of our members become such on the ground of true conversion, and be prepared in their several places to bring forth fruit unto God."

For years, I glossed over the importance of all that "Holy Redeemer" and "born again" stuff. It just wasn't relevant to my life or my experience. That language was used by hypocritical, judgemental people who were far more concerned with getting into Heaven than making God happy. The important part of that passage to me, for many years was the idea that one had to have a real relationship with God in order to be a member of the meeting. You couldn't just go through the motions or grow up in the meeting.

I joined the meeting I grew up in a long time ago. It wasn't some sort of life-changing experience, I was just ready to join in the spiritual life of the meeting. I served on committees and attended business meeting. I began to speak in meeting, albeit reluctantly.

I related to the conversion stories in the journals of early Friends. I heard the voice of the Lord audibly from an early age, so early that it didn't occur to me that this wasn't a perfectly normal experience until I was in my late teens. I saw things. I felt things. But I didn't have a deer-in-the-headlights moment of conversion myself. I understood continuing revelation as a slow life-long process.

Fast forward to another First Day worship at close of sessions almost two years ago. I was freaking out. I knew that way was opening for me to move to Boston and I knew that a large part of my motivation for leaving North Carolina was to get away from the evidence of my mistakes. I was deeply fearful that I'd failed in His plan for me so utterly, He'd just given up on me. And for the first time, I let go of the anger. I'd always blamed God when I failed. If He'd given me just a little more guidance or asked something a little more realistic I would've been able to pull it off. There I was, wallowing in my newfound awareness of my sins and as soon as I had listed everything I could think of that I wished I had done differently, every aspect of myself that falls short of perfection and apologized for it all, I felt His hand on my forehead as I heard His voice say: "You are forgiven".

I've been a different person since then. Sometimes it's more obvious to me than other times. I've been handling the difficult things in my life a lot better. I spend less time berating God and I'm far less reluctant to speak the messages I'm given in worship. I'm just generally calmer. I can't go so far as to say I've found anything that resembles Joy, but I have I been born again of the incorruptible seed. And it has made me a better person.

I'm writing all this not to try to convince anyone to say some magic words like "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior." Those stories are a dime a dozen and never spoke to me. I believe that we each have our own path to travel and so long as we are faithful to our Guide, we'll get where we need to be. I can't give any sort of advice on how to be obedient. All I'm saying is that this is what happened to me and I'm not being allowed to hide it anymore, apparently.

"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever." 1 Peter 1:22-23

I still believe that continuing revelation is a slow life-long process. I don't have all the answers and I never will, but each day is an opportunity to learn just a little more and grow just a little closer to Christ.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Where do all the young Quakers go?

So come and gather around me my contemporary peers
And I'll tell you all the story of
Jesus...The Missing Years

--John Prine, Jesus, the Missing Years

It seems that many young Friends drift away during their 20's. Some come back. Some do not. For a religion that is slowly dwindling away one might think that this would be more of a concern to Friends. It is true that Meetings will embrace the young people that stay faithful, and are more than happy to welcome back lost lambs who show up when they are ready to settle down into partnerships and raise children.

But for us, single, childless young Quakers, who occassionally turn up at meeting we get a hello and asked where we are from and if we are new to Friends, but often once it is found out that we are not new to Friends we are rather less interesting. However, if we come several times a month for a few months we become worth investigating. Especially, if we might be open to lending our youthful energy to committees and such.

Now it is true that I have not been to meeting regularly for over a year. However, in the last place I lived, I began going regularly for a time...When I moved home after college I also tried to attend meeting with some regularity...However, I just have not been able to stick with it. It is not a case of needing to seek out that which can speak to my soul, I know I have already found my spiritual home. However, my comfortability with my spiritual home does not extend beyound worship. Now community and the corporate experience of worship are important to me as they are to the larger body of Quakerism. Yet I have not felt comfortable and accepted amoung Friends after meeting has risen. This speaks perhaps of my own discomfort in groups and other issues I have with Friends...but what is interesting to me is that many of the birthright Young Adult Friends and Friends who have attended since before they can remember, do not attend regularly either.

Out of the 15 or so young adult Friends (that come easily to mind, who are between the ages of 25 and 33) who fit into this catagory, only two attend meeting regularly. These are not people who have dabbled in Quakerism. They are all members of meetings somewhere, were raised Quaker, and many of whom were in a Quaker scholarship program in college. I believe all of the individuals I am thinking of still consider themselves Quaker, and are not seeking other spiritual homes. Yet we do not attend meeting. One would think these are the type of young people we would want to encourage to remain connected to Quakerism. However, many I have talked with have had experiences with meetings similar to mine, when they have attempted to return--because they have longings to return--have felt isolated, underwelcome, and alone. Some come to meeting and cry because we are so lost. Some of us come and feel we have nothing in common but worhsip, some of us want to go but will never make the effort.

Now we could look at these as the "lost years" similar to the time in the Bible where Jesus disappears around 12 and re-appears at 30-ish. Or it could just be that all young people go through a period of being in the desert...being tempted by Satan, but that is only supposed to be 40 days, right?...or perhaps we are to wander like god's chosen people for 40 years...but I don't think have seen any manna, much less had the joy of eating it. But why are there "lost years?" Do we just need time to be of the world for a time, to be better grounded in our faith later? Is it some type of spiritual test? Or is there something lacking in Quakerism that we keep stepping over like a dead dog in the center of the Meeting room floor?


Things you save for rainy days...

First, I would like to start by saying...that despite all attempts to hide it...I am a sentimentalist. Secondly, because of this I spend most of my time being bitter and angry. Now I will do something I regret because all of you will somehow want to remind me of this when I become angry again. Just remember I repress, repress, repress--ACT OUT!

Today I was thinking about the lovely weather we are having right now. I know its dry, but it is so sunny and warm...it hasn't gotten terribly humid yet, its quite lovely. And I was thinking about how glad I am to be alive. And what a wonderful world we live in that there are not one but two young men who make me smile to myself these days. And I feel silly about it, but its nice. Now I can understand why people become serial monogamists, its nice to feel the excitement of it. The flirtation, the unanticipated and endearing personality quirks. But then I wonder where are these things going...one lives so far away, but he is nerd-licious and geek-tastic all rolled into one mild mannered exterior, with a raging sense of humor underneath. He is so damn sexy. The other I see almost everyday...he looks at me like I am gorgeous. He makes me feel desirable...and he makes me laugh...but how do I know which is the path? Or perhaps its just safer to end the possibilities before they begin...Or do I just enjoy the secret smiles to myself as I walk into a beautiful day thinking of the vast possibility of things.

Blessed Community

I haven't had the energy to write much of anything lately. I was blindsided by the suicide of a friend and mentor about a week ago. In my grief, I've been thinking about community. While I've been surrounded by love since I got the news, I'm reminded that she didn't have that kind of supportive local community.

From holding me while I sobbed, to making sure my cats and I have been fed regularly, to helping me do my laundry, to "thinking of you" text messages and letting me bail on scheduled activities, my friends have really come through for me in my time of need. I have been overwhelmed with community and I am so, so grateful.

I had been singing "Here I am, Lord" a lot lately. The chorus goes something like this:
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
When I realize how obedient I've been, how open I've been to my leadings, I'm able to absolve myself of most the guilt. I know that there was nothing else I could have done to help my friend. While I've been grieving the loss of such an important person in my life, both professional and personal, I've been comforted by the last line of the chorus. His people have been holding me in their hearts this week. His people: the athiest Jews, lapsed Catholics, Quakers both "good" and "bad," and beef-eating Hindus.

I used to long for a community of faith. For a local, thriving meeting to accept me and my faith without reservation. The kind of Blessed Community that Thomas Kelly talks about in his Testament of Devotion. I may not have found my community of faith yet, but I do have a community of love. And today, that feels like more than enough.

Elizabeth Bathurst