QUAKER CARES AND CONCERNS:
WILLIAM DOLPHIN in conversation with Judith Favor
As we settled into expectant silence, I noticed attentiveness written into the muscles of Williamʼs body. Cyclist, writer and teacher, his ineffable sense of alignment with Spirit was palpable to me, but hard to name. Words came later. William Dolphinʼs presence reminds me of William Wordsworthʼs definition of Light, “a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused.”
Tell us about some of the cares and concerns you have carried throughout your life as a Friend.
Oh boy. This phrase, ‘cares and concerns,ʼ strikes a deep chord in me. From a young age, certainly by the time I was ten years old, my place in the world, my responsibilities and the degree to which I was meeting them, became real concerns. I grew up in an emotionally reserved family with academic parents who valued service but showed few feelings. I had neighborhood friends as a child, but our yearly summer routine created challenges for developing normal childhood friendships. Every summer from ages one to 15, my parents took me and my younger sister to southern Indiana where they ran a camp for kids with physical disabilities. The campers would come and go, but we stayed all summer. No radio, no television, roaming the woods. Naptime was mandatory for campers and my sister and I, but when I was about eight or nine, my mother said I could read instead. The camp library was limited, but I started with the Hardy Boys mysteries and then moved on to the science fiction classics of Asimov and Heinlein. The reading began as boredom, but I soon got very caught up in the storytelling and the transport to other worlds. I quickly became a voracious reader, consuming a book a day for the next many years.
As my tastes matured, I came to appreciate the achievement of literary writers and started writing poetry and short stories, but literature seemed elusive and out of reach. Art was not something that particularly appealed to my parents. They’re both readers but more pragmatic ones. When I shared with them the writing I was doing, they seemed confused by it. I recall my mother saying after reading one story that she didn’t understand it, so it must be good. I asked myself: who am I in relationship to their values? As much as I cared about books and writing, I never considered being a writer as a profession. It wasn’t a practical way to make a living.
Reading may not have given me career ideas, but it did give me a distorted sense of the importance of heroic action — some version of the Great Man Theory of history. The idea that the trajectory of the world is set by the efforts of a few extraordinary people fit all too well a naïve view of my family history in which everything worth doing seemed to have already been done. Since some of that history stretches to the 11th century, and the American part goes 14 generations from the Mayflower to settling New Hampshire and a winter at Valley Forge, I wasn’t wrong. More immediately, my parents and grandparents were serious people of diverse accomplishment — educated white-collar on mom’s side, self-made blue-collar on dad’s – all with unimpeachable integrity. And dad’s life story was made for Hallmark. Champion wrestler, almost killed by polio at 19, left paralyzed in both arms and told his life was over but persevered to have a family and become a college president and small-town mayor. How could I measure up to any of them, much less all of them?
How did you wrestle with these expectations?
“I became focused on finding ways to accomplish something exceptional, but that backfired early and spectacularly. Fifth grade, to be exact. It was my first book report, and I took it a little too seriously. My reading habit meant I spent a lot of time in the public library, so when I got this assignment, I went wandering the stacks looking for a worthy subject. I ended up in the philosophy section, probably because I had some sense that it occupied the top spot in the intellectual hierarchy of academia. Sickness Unto Death jumped out at me simply for the title, then I found out Soren Kierkegaard was a religious philosopher, which connected him to my cousin, Rufus Jones, and the fact that he wrote all his books anonymously astonished me. Who would risk the penalties of heresy for no glory? Just the sake of ideas? My “book” report ended up more like a ‘Meet Sorenʼ mini-bio, complete with pencil portrait I drew. As best I can recall, my classmates were baffled by the presentation.
Afterward, the teacher took me aside. “Do you know what plagiarism is?” she asked. I didn’t. “You have an older sibling in college who helped you?” I didn’t. “Well, you found this in a book somewhere.” There she had me. Yes, I got my ideas from books. I didn’t know anything about him before I checked out that stack of books. She assured me she wouldn’t tell my parents but wanted me to understand I had done something very bad. I believed her completely, but I had no idea what went wrong.
Suddenly, I was often too “sick” to go to school because of chronic headaches and other maladies, both real and pretended. My perfect school attendance went down to 50%. They tried valium and muscle relaxants, but at 12, that was not a good solution. The doctor hospitalized me for medical tests, including an awful lumbar puncture. After everything came back negative, they sent me to the child psychologist, who determined it seemed to have something to do with school and recommended a change.
The private school was a fresh start, where I turned my attention to science. They let me and a couple of the fifth graders I roped in sign up for the sophomore physics class. We were in so far over our heads, having to learn the math to go with it on our own, but I was proud of the C I earned. Sadly, I had to go back to public schools for junior high. The lack of challenges meant I was a disruptive, back-of-the-class smart-aleck, so they had me do eighth and ninth at once to move me up a grade. That helped keep me occupied, but it also meant more disconnect from the kids my age. At least I felt like I was on a path of achievement, which seemed to be confirmed by standardized testing, but that went sour, too. When I qualified to be a National Merit Scholar with the highest score the school had ever seen, 13th in the state of Ohio, I thought I really had made it. But my mother’s only comment was “Too bad it’s not good enough,” and the school principal refused to recommend me for the award because of my history of troublemaking.
Ouch. Tell us more about that…
“Well, I gave up on academics. I was 15 then. Years later, at the start of what would be years of therapy, I asked my mother about her comment, what she meant and why she said it. She told me she hadn’t meant anything cruel but was just reflecting what she thought it meant for my aspirations, which at the time was studying solid-state physics at CalTech or MIT. She had a point, as language aptitude registered a bit stronger than math, but she also explained that she and my dad shared a Quakerly concern that I not decide I was better than anyone else because of my skills, so they went out of their way to remind me at moments of accomplishment. Unfortunately, that strategy dovetailed too well with my book-report experience, leaving me feeling like an intellectual imposter. That contributed to a very dark time in my teens, and I turned to alcohol with a vengeance. Drank myself into a stupor for a few years, culminating in three car wrecks in blackout during one month. After the third, I realized I risked taking innocent others with me, and I had just enough moral compass left for that to be too much. Went into rehab at age nineteen and lost my old coping mechanisms but had to find basic meaning in something. That’s when I returned to literature, to poetry — my own writing and others – as a way to transform the horrible into something useful or even beautiful.
What did this period of suffering open in you?
A return to roots, I suppose, which turned me toward the political. In 1983, with one year sober, I went with my parents to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for Intermountain Yearly Meeting. I was doing better with a new regimen of physical exercise, and time among Friends fit with my need for purpose. There I met a Salvadoran professor and poet who fled the death squads and had not seen his family for two years. He was at Ghost Ranch under the care of the Quaker- Jesuit underground railroad that smuggled political refugees from Central America into the U.S. because the State Department denied political problems from which anyone would need asylum. At the end of a long heartfelt talk that started with the poetry of Neruda and became the story of his flight, he asked, “So, what do you think of your country’s policies toward my country?”
I had to say I knew nothing about them. It was embarrassing to admit, and I felt a deep shame at the suggestion that what was happening in El Salvador, what had happened to him and his family, was done in my name. This changed how I read the news. I began paying attention to what was going on in Central America, and soon saw stories implicating the CIA’s School of the Americas in atrocities in Guatemala and elsewhere. As a teenager in the 1970s, I had adopted what was then my father’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republican politics, but now I had reason to question what “governing” meant in practice. I became more and more sensitive to human rights, social justice, and the global scope of my country’s influence, all animated by nagging questions: What else is being hidden? When do I only know part of the story?
Youʼd been through a dark time. What brought you into the Light?
I experienced a conversion of sorts when the Salvadoran poet confronted me, a political awakening. His problems became my responsibility. Our conversation reconnected me spiritually to caring for others. At the same time, I was reconnecting with my physical self as I became a serious athlete. I started cycling as transportation, but my ambitious bent meant I challenged myself to ride farther and farther, and then faster and faster. In the process, it saved me, biochemically. Alcohol cravings disappeared. I suspect that as a younger person I experienced pain – both physical and emotional – more acutely than many do, but endurance sports train you to tolerate suffering. I also found a meditative space in the long hours alone on the road.
I did not attend Meeting during my first marriage because hardcore evangelical Christianity had damaged my wife. She was allergic to religion, but I held to Friends’ values. When describing my ethics and politics, I often concluded with the thumbnail summary: “You know, Quaker.” I began to wonder why, if I identified with Friends, I didn’t hang out with them.
After my marriage ended in 2000, I took myself to Berkeley Meeting. It was so powerful! The physical space reminded me of the Bloomington, Indiana Meeting which my grandparents had founded. I felt such a powerful sense of homecoming that when I stood to introduce myself, I could barely choke it out through the tears.
What led you to stay with Berkeley Meeting?
Well, it’s certainly one of the more entertaining meetings you’ll ever attend! You never knew what was going to happen – profound poetic ministry, spontaneous song, the occasional person off the street who would share visions or voices. I enjoyed that, and I felt a sense of belonging. I was given a role in the Meeting right away, recruited to serve on committees, of course. I served as Berkeley Meeting’s representative to Friends Committee on Legislation-CA, which felt meaningful. Most significantly, we had to decide whether to support proposed legislation to make gay marriage legal in California. All the representatives on the committee were in favor, but several were unsure of the sense of their meetings. Whittier Friends were not ready to offer same-sex marriage under their care. After many tearful testimonials, we appeared to be at an impasse. The clerk gave up and moved to table the issue, but I could not let it go. My emotions were running high because two of my dearest friends could not marry their beloveds. I was sure there was a way forward. I pointed out that we were not being asked to conduct samesex weddings. This was civil legislation that would simply confer the same rights on gay and lesbian people that straight folks already enjoyed, and our position on discrimination could not be more clear. They were separable issues.
Everyone nodded. Affirmation came easily. FCL-CA endorsed Mark Leno’s bill. It didn’t make it through the legislature, but helping bring Friends to unity on right action was a powerful example for me of the rewards of service. And tactful negotiation!”
A powerful example of your care and concern…
Yes, whether despite or because of a life of privilege, I’m present with the pain of injustice daily, and when I hold a big concern I feel compelled to act, to find explanations and solutions. It’s a way of doing something with problems rather than letting them destroy me, as they almost did. By the way, I am now in a serene place with alcohol. Thirty-four years since I was given three years of life expectancy, alcohol use is alien to my identity.
You researched medical cannabis for many years. How did this concern lead you to right action?
My dear friend Fausto, after whom one of my sons is named, was sick with HIV and hepatitis, a bad combination because the drugs that help one hurt the other. He ended up on palliative care, but the opioid pain killers made him feel dead to the world. He confided that a puff on a joint relieved his pain as much as a Percocet, but he was worried about losing his disability if he got caught. I offered to look into it for him, and my research was like peeling back layers of an onion that was both horrible and wonderful. The government warnings of my youth about the dangers of marijuana turned out to be totally wrong. Not only that, but the medical uses were astonishingly broad. It was another moment of revelation. My government lied to us about this, too? Why?
Eager to find out more, I talked my way into doing press relations for the high-profile federal trial of Ed Rosenthal in San Francisco and wrote a public daily trial diary. That experience opened my eyes to how criminal justice actually works, as I saw the prosecutor and judge both use procedural gymnastics to keep the jury from hearing testimony on the full facts. No information was allowed in court about state medical cannabis law, or Oakland’s official city program for distributing it to patients, or how the city had deputized Rosenthal as an officer of the city in an attempt to give him federal immunity. All the jury heard was that he owned a warehouse in which he grew marijuana plants; they convicted Rosenthal on three felony counts. After jurors left the courtroom and discovered the full facts, nine of the twelve publicly recanted in the next 24 hours. They appeared on Dateline and CNN, then sat behind Rosenthal at his sentencing wearing pins that said “Ed is a Hero.” By the end, there were more than 200 media stories about his case, including two editorials from The New York Times, and I was asked to do similar work for a then-new patient advocacy group that is now the leading national organization. Sixteen years later, I still write their monthly newsletters.
You were faithful to a powerful leading, William.
I suppose so. I don’t think about it that way, but I do try to be faithful to the truth and to act with compassion. My advocacy work gave me the opportunity to meet a remarkable range of heroic people who, like my father, just want to live with dignity as comfortably as they can. The writing I’ve done on this topic — articles, lobby sheets, white papers, op-ed pieces, informational pamphlets on using cannabis to treat various conditions — has made a difference for many of them, and over time we’ve changed the conversation. The scare-quotes around “medical” marijuana have disappeared. 46 states now have some sort of medical cannabis law and the first drug derived from the plant has just been approved by the FDA.
That work has yielded other rewards. I met Michelle Newhart because of the Ed Rosenthal case. After contributing to a dozen books together, she is now my wife and co-author. She did the research for the book while completing her PhD, while my work provided the background for the medical science and policy developments. We share a commitment to correcting one of the biggest mistakes of the last century.
What do you sense yourself becoming now?
Hopefully even more of a writer. I enjoy teaching college students, but Michelle and I have plans for articles and have started another book project, the dramatic story of the science side of medical cannabis, written for a general audience. I’ve let go of worrying about Pulitzers and the like, though we both care deeply about doing good work. I’m not sure if it’s humility or a form of confidence, but I no longer feel compelled to be the best ever. Ambition still burns bright, but it’s focused on making a difference in how people understand things, helping others achieve clarity. That said, the early reception for our book has been strong enough that I can’t help but wonder: What’s it going to mean? What comes next? How big can I dream? Is it really okay to care about this?
Has this leading taken you anywhere else?
Teaching is certainly part of it. My parents and sister are educators, as many others in my family have been. My academic work dovetails with Quaker testimonies. I try to convey the respect I feel for each student in my teaching. I try to help them see clearly and be more effective agents of change, to feel their place and power in the world. Distractions and dishonesty can trick us into misperceiving the facts of a matter and the right action we need to take. I’ve always felt teaching to entail a radical obligation, but recently I’ve come to realize my orientation to it is rooted in the way Quakers worship and operate, sometimes explicitly so. When I was in grad school and pondering pedagogy, I latched onto consensus decision making as a task to organize writing. So for 30-odd years, I’ve started my academic writing courses with an extended series of writing exercises that culminate in the students deciding the grading policy for the class.
Worship with Claremont Friends is incredibly powerful for me. Sitting still for an hour is an intensely physical experience. It takes a lot of practice to settle into quiet – decades in my case — but I’ve found remarkable emotional support in it. Worship with Friends is like being held in a cocoon of Light, both calming and energizing. As a boy, I was always tense and on guard, not sure I was loved or lovable. Here I feel loved by the Meeting and have the daily experience of love in my marriage, with my children and among Friends. Claremont Meeting takes children’s religious education seriously, and I want my sons to have Quaker faith and practice as a touchstone, as it has been for me. Hopefully they don’t have to journey quite so far afield to claim its power.
St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 272 pages.
$26.99/hardcover; $16.99/paperback (available June 2019); $13.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Judith Favor on October 1, 2018 in Friends Journal
The Sun Does Shine is the true story of an innocent black man’s unjust conviction, his despair on Alabama’s death row, and his practice of peacemaking behind bars. In “The Death Squad” chapter, Anthony Ray Hinton’s anguish is palpable as he describes men in chains being walked past his cell to the electric chair. He leads inmates to bang on the bars of their cells during electrocutions, raising a holy ruckus of accompaniment and protest.
Hinton eased racial grudges and grievances by aiding KKK and African American inmates alike. “A book club will help things stay more peaceful,” he told the warden, pointing out that reading books would be a good way for the men to quietly spend time and focus on something other than the negative aspects of life on death row. He also added, “I do think it will help [the guards] have an easier time doing their jobs.” His resourcefulness led to the first death row book club. In chapters titled “Love Is a Foreign Language” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Hinton reveals which authors forged community between black and white convicts.
I was disappointed in two aspects of The Sun Does Shine. My friend Rosie on death row cannot read it, because hardcover books are forbidden in her facility (and in many others too). My greater hurt is all the women missing from the afterword. Preceding nine pages of “the men and women who sit on death row in this country” (as of March 2017) listed in “Pray for Them by Name,” Hinton writes:
Statistically, one out of every ten men on this list is innocent.… Read these names. Know their stories.… The moral arc of the universe needs people to support it as it bends.… Read the names out loud. After every tenth name, say, “Innocent.” … The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the Death Squad or you are banging on the bars. Choose.
He chose a provocative way to conclude, but I am pained that, for some reason, the women on death row in Central California Women’s Facility and other facilities are not acknowledged.
During the author’s reading at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, I was moved by his honesty, his vulnerability, and his simplicity. Hinton’s true voice is inscribed on every page, and his tears, too. Three relationships kept him going through 30 years of wrongful incarceration: his mother’s unconditional love, his friend Lester’s faithful visits, and legal advocate Bryan Stevenson’s commitment to setting him free. Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, took Hinton’s case to the Supreme Court where all nine justices confirmed his innocence. That day at the bookstore, Hinton gave the crowd one closing bit of advice: “If you ever get arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, do two things. Pray first, then make your 911 call directly to Bryan Stevenson.”
The Sun Does Shine may deepen the commitment of Friends working for prison reform, offer fresh insights to Friends conducting Alternatives to Violence Project workshops with inmates, and perhaps inspire new AVP volunteers.
As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill… and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea… and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
– George Fox 1652
The job of a Quaker pilgrimage is to re-connect us with eternal truths, lucidly lived.
I was a great-grandmother by the time I found my way to the hall where Quaker faith and practice began. In May 2017, walking through Swarthmoor Hall’s stone entryway, I felt rooted and grounded in Love. I never would have made it there, though, without Connie McPeak Green’s caring guidance and sturdy companionship.
She and I set out to find our Quaker roots with a rental car and a do-it-ourselves itinerary, but navigating Cumbria’s narrow roads frazzled me. I hit a pothole on our first day, got a flat tyre and had to call the AA for roadside assistance. Self-doubt quickly followed.
Manager Jane Pearson welcomed us home to the Hall that day with a gift of immeasurable grace: would we like to walk ‘In Fox’s Footsteps’ with seasoned guides? We would! Connie re-booked our travel plans and we joined Gordon Matthews and Sasha Bosbeer on a ‘1652 Quaker Pilgrimage’.
It was quite the challenge to climb Pendle Hill. Readers who’ve done it know about shale embedded in dirt, uneven steps marching upward at a forty-five degree angle. My old body needed divine assistance. A breath prayer gave strength: ‘Mercy’ as I lifted one boot and hefted it up; ‘Grace’ each time I planted that boot on a higher stone.
The view was worth the effort, a shiny line of North Sea visible in the haze.
After a picnic we settled onto Pendle Hill’s uneven turf for worship. Resident Friend Jan Shimmin sat back-to-back for support. Shared silence on common ground became a ‘sticky’ experience for me, a muscular Quaker glue, bonding strangers into community on the first day of the pilgrimage.
I could not have anticipated the power of Light and Love that emerged as we walked on Firbank Fell, explored Sedbergh and Kendal, gazed at the Quaker Tapestry, saw Marsh Grange, picnicked on the seaside bluff where Margaret Fell grew up, enjoyed a morning with Ben Pink Dandelion at Clitheroe Meeting, shared an evening with Rex Ambler at Swarthmoor Hall, conversed with British Friends in historic Quaker Meeting houses, and gathered in worship at Sunbrick burial ground – ten Friends from three nations atop the unmarked bones of some 200 forbears denied burial in church-owned ‘consecrated ground’.
The job of Quaker practice is to repeatedly lure us toward direct experiences of Light, to remind us how it feels to be one with Love.
I landed in England unsure whether my ‘convinced’ status was enough to qualify me as a true Friend. I brought doubts. I wanted help strengthening my conviction. My heart opened at Swarthmoor Hall. My mind cleared. I can never be a ‘birthright’ Friend, but, then, George Fox and Margaret Fell weren’t either. Original Quakers all started out ‘convinced’. This, for me, was ‘a great opening’.
At Swarthmoor Hall clear light filters through diamond-shaped leaded-glass windows into rooms where Margaret Fell and six daughters planned missionary journeys and corresponded with far-flung Friends. Beams infused with expectant silence sheltered us as we worshipped in The Great Hall. George Fox’s bed and travelling trunk sat just overhead, in an upper room, as did a cradle in which Margaret Fell might have rocked her babies to sleep.
I’ve come to view the ‘cradle of Quakerism’ as a crucible of light, or maybe a chalice. Transformative spiritual and social changes took shape and continue to shine. Staff and volunteers, resident Friends, event guides and guests all contribute to the energy field of living love at Swarthmoor Hall.
As Gregory Orr put it in his poem ‘Let’s remake the world with words’:
as Wordsworth said,
Remove “the dust of custom” so things
Shine again, each object arrayed
In its robe of original light.’
Following ‘In Fox’s Footsteps’ is a graced way to robe old doubts in original light. And in the end, isn’t that what we ask of a pilgrimage – that it reconnect us with eternal truths, lucidly lived?
(note: subscription required for full text)
Spiritual direction is an ancient ministry,
a unique one-to-one relationship in which
a trained person assists another person
in the search for an ever-closer union
of love with God.
“Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.
Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day.
Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions. Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living. It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Our role is not to define spiritual direction, but to describe the experience.
Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.”
Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv
Executive Director, Spiritual Directors International
Stillpoint offers a two-year training program in The Art of Spiritual Direction (click here for details), and also provides references and resources for persons who are seeking spiritual direction. Directors listen carefully to the unfolding of directees’ lives, to help them discern the ways in which God is leading them. Spiritual Directors meet regularly (usually once a month) with persons who are seeking to share and explore their journeys of faith. The term “spiritual direction” has a long, rich history, and the term is still used today even though the practice of spiritual direction consists much more of “holy listening,” rather than direction in the sense of offering guidance or direct advice.
A Spiritual Director is a privileged witness in the spiritual unfolding of another person. The focus is on the relationship between the “directee” and God, much more than on the relationship between the director and directee.
Monday, August 8th – Friday, September 2nd, 2106
“As it is.”
These three little words embedded in the lines of a prayer taught by Jesus remind us to seek the workings of the divine “on earth as it is in heaven” — that is, to approach our many challenges in union with Sacred Presence. But how? One profound and reassuringly helpful tool to foster this sense of unity is spiritual journaling. Through contemplative writing, we get practice in recognizing and responding to our relationship with God, self, others, nature, work, and society just “as it is.”
Spiritual Journaling opens space to relate to deep questions:
- What does this event or this emotion have to say to me?
- What can this disappointment teach me about healing?
- What does this discovery reveal to me about the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit?
- How can my anguish over the suffering of this person or that group stir my love into action?
- How can my felt sense of yearning guide me in taking the next best step in this situation?
Whatever spiritual path you are on, this e-course will equip you to explore interior, interpersonal, social, and sacred realities. Holy questions gleaned from scripture, poetry, and literature will offer a variety of perspectives on faith and doubt, action and reflection. In each email sent on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for four weeks, you will receive:
- An introductory reflection on the day’s topic
- A tip for getting started with your writing
- A special query to spark your thoughts and journal writing
- A suggested action and resources for going deeper if you wish
- A link to the “Practice Circle” (a community forum open 24/7 to share with others in this e-course and to receive guidance from Judith)
Judith began journaling when she was ten, in a small blue diary with a gold lock and miniature key. She chose a ballpoint pen, because she knew that writing in pencil would let her fudge the truth. In 1974, she began a lifelong love affair with keeping a journal, studying journaling as an art form and not only writing but also inserting soul collages, tree photos, and icons in her journals.
In 1981 she enrolled at Pacific School of Religion and then went on to be pastor of United Church of Christ congregations in San Francisco until the ministries of spiritual formation and writing laid claim to her soul. She now lives with her husband Pete at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. Her heart is enriched by her work in spiritual accompaniment, teaching, and contemplative writing.
Judith invites you to freely express your full range of written reactions in this e-course — confused or certain thoughts, positive or negative emotions — because each aspect of the truth of yourself will reveal valuable insights. You may want to follow her journaling prompts exactly; you may also view them as a trampoline and record the bouncing associations that follow. This e-course gives you lots of freedom, most of all the freedom to follow your heart and the arc of your own life’s story.
Monday, August 8 – Friday, September 2
[The above text content courtesy of www.spiritualityandpractice.com]
Is silence collaborative, complicit?
“You know your part in this,” Sheriff Bowen once told him, and he did. Leo had not spoken up. He should have told someone about his brother torturing dogs. Leo knew he had been a coward.
- from Silent Voices, Part One: Boy
Is silence the space between words, a pause between heartbeats?
That evening, Cordelia heard Leo’s baritone sounding the overture to an opus, one she would be hearing for nearly thirty years. It took longer for her to discover the complexities of this opus, to make out its woodwind harmonies, its percussive dissonances and its long, silent rests.
- from Silent Voices, Part Three: Coming Together
Does silence signify absence? Does it entail presence?
Leo didn’t quite know how to be normal under the shadow of goodbye, although he had lived through it once. In Granny Phoebe’s case, he had her love to live up to. In Margaret’s case, his mother-in-law’s temper outweighed most everything else.
- from Silent Voices, Part Three: Coming Together
Does silence make you nervous? Can it be menacing?
The silence that followed Leo’s departure was like a held breath. Chastened by her husband’s outburst, Cordelia wilted into a state of rebuke. Little did she know it would become a permanent condition.
- from Silent Voices, Part Four: Wife
Is silence voluntary, even communal?
What are Leo’s mother and I doing here, sitting quietly like this, Cordelia wondered. Praying, she supposed, though neither said anything remotely prayerful. She didn’t want to break the peace by asking.
– from Silent Voices, Part Four: Wife
Is silence a refusal to speak, or to respond?
Nothing had ever been said about her husband’s mother leaving the convent. Cordelia felt the pressure to ask, but was relieved by the silence. She was not at all ready to hear about private matters between a failed nun and her God.
- from Silent Voices, Part Four: Wife
How may silence and gender be related?
On this winter day she felt it again, the race of her pulse that propelled her to keep after him. “You may have uncovered a terrible crime. What will you do, Leo? You must do something about this.”
He hung his head and went mute, not for the first time. She was desperate for him to speak, to say anything, but he was too busy breathing. No matter how hard she pressed, no matter how urgently she pleaded, Leo kept his mouth shut, saying nothing for such a long time that she eventually stopped waiting for an answer.
- from Silent Voices: Part Seven: Widow
Can silence be pleasurable, even palpable?
Nobody knows about our sexual chemistry during my first two pregnancies. Our secret. She used to wonder what the men at the bank thought when Leo came to work with his face aglow, but never dared ask.
- from Silent Voices: Part Seven: Widow
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.
Wendell Berry, from “Rising”
1902 ON THE RUN
The boy slumped, forehead resting against the grimy window of the train. Leo removed his spectacles and put them in his shirt pocket. He couldn’t see much without them but that was how he wanted it today. He was too ashamed to look anyone in the eye. The past two weeks had been tense with accusations and threats. Now – all because of his younger brother – his family had been run out of town. He was furious at Albert, humiliated about being forced to leave his home in Montana. Leo had found a seat as far as possible from his family and pretended he didn’t even know them. His brother had a problem with violence. It was a form of madness, Leo thought. Albert’s madness had already caused more heartache than he could bear.
The last glimpses of home made his belly ache. After Dad announced they’d be settling in Oregon, starting over, Leo already hated it there, just as he had begun to hate it here. He kept his back to the aisle, shrugged Mother’s hand off when she touched his shoulder and ignored her until she went away. Tears rose, threatening to spill over. Leo tightened his throat, forcing back the tears, clamping his jaw so hard it made his molars ache.
“Bull.” That’s what Dad called his younger brother, sounding proud. “Loner,” he called Leo, sounding mean. He hated it when they made fun of him. Sheriff Bowen had said “solitary.” Leo rolled the word around in his mouth. Solitary tasted better than loner.
“You and I are a lot alike, son. We both tend to be solitary,” the sheriff had told him on that awful evening. “Yes,” he’d repeated, “we have something in common. That’s why I’m giving you a chance to get right with what you’ve done.”
Tears filled his eyes again. Remembering the sheriff’s gentle tone made his nose run. Leo wiped his coat sleeve across his face and hoped no one noticed. Mother told him to use a handkerchief but he didn’t have one now. Dad told him boys don’t cry and his younger brother didn’t. Albert – who told everyone to call him Bull – hadn’t shed a tear since he was in diapers, at least not that Leo had seen. They had to share a room but that was no place to let his feelings out. Leo went into the woods whenever he had to cry. Will there be any woods in Oregon? What if I can’t find any woods?
Alongside the tracks Leo spotted a railroad storage shed painted the same dried-blood color as the one he’d vomited behind a few weeks back. He shuddered in his seat, remembering what he’d heard on his way home from school that afternoon. Slugger, Albert’s buddy, was showing a second-grader what they’d done to a stray dog in the rail yard. “Bull said this here dog is shivering, let’s get it warm. You shoulda seen that dumb dog dance.” And I shoulda told Dad, Leo thought, except he woulda told me to quit making up awful stories. And to quit trying to get my brother in trouble. The bile rose in his throat again. He had to swallow hard to keep his breakfast from coming up.
Leo gazed unseeing at the rough terrain as the Great Northern labored into Idaho. His thoughts were in Billings, on what he’d been doing before Sunday turned bloody. His mother made him go to Mass but she didn’t care what he did the rest of the day as long as he was home for supper. Leo liked to ramble in the woods, moving up mountain trails and down steep ravines. Sometimes he sat on a rock, breathing the pine-scented air. Sometimes he’d see a shy animal go by. Occasionally he caught sight of a doe with her fawn or a buck with a great rack of antlers. Once he’d even spotted a mountain lion, the most elusive of creatures.
On that terrible Sunday, two weeks after his thirteenth birthday, he’d paused at the top of a ridge to look around. He picked up a pine knot, turned it this way and that, looking for the face hidden in it. He thought of pretty Alice, who sat in front of him in history class. Leo’s face flushed, remembering how embarrassed he’d been after splattering egg yolks on her pretty green dress. Maybe he’d carve a gnome for Alice, something to make up for his clumsiness.
He balanced the pine knot on his left palm and had just slipped the blade of his jack-knife into a seam when he heard something that made his ears stand straight out. It sounded like an animal in pain. Leo heard it again. The scream split the afternoon. Oh no, only a wounded creature makes a noise like that. Just yesterday he’d heard a customer tell Mrs. Mac that her beagle had disappeared. “I can’t imagine what happened to my little Buddy,” the woman said. She’d looked so sad.
He snapped his jack-knife shut and headed toward the trouble. Dodging branches on the ridge and sliding feet-first down a rocky chute, Leo gave no care to his britches. They were old, already torn at one knee, now ripping in the seat. The closer he got to the shriek, the faster and higher it came. Not just caught in a bear trap, he figured, but tortured somehow. The more the screams increased in pitch and intensity, the more frantic Leo felt.
Bursting into a clearing, he gasped to see his brother bent over a small dog, one boot on its hindquarters. He saw the flash of a knife and a quick spurt of blood. “Stop!” Leo shrieked in a high, girlish voice. But Bull did not stop. He slashed again, carving deep into the dog’s belly. Leo kicked the Bowie knife away and slammed his body against Albert’s, powered by adrenalin beyond the strength of his medium frame. Leo pummeled his huskier brother until Slugger pulled him off. By this time the dog had shuddered and gone quiet.
“What is the name of this boy, your brother’s friend?” Sheriff Bowen asked the night he picked Leo up. He spoke in a calm, even tone despite the gory details he’d just heard. To Leo, his words felt like boulders cracking the sidewalk.
“Sam Tucker, but he tells everyone to call him Slugger.”
“Ah yes, the Tucker tribe. Time to make another visit out to their place.”
“You won’t say it was me that told, will you?” Leo’s voice trembled.
“No, son, I protect my sources. But I will be coming to see your folks. I need to have a little talk with Albert.”
“I was afraid of that.” Leo blinked back tears. He suddenly knew that nothing would ever be the same. My life will never be the same.
By Colum McCann
Random House, New York, 2013
Hardback, 305 pages $27.00
Reviewed by Judith Favor. Published in Friends Journal, September 2014, pp 42-43
I yearn for writing that is transformational, and this beautifully crafted novel met my longing. Colum McCann braids together the passions of publicly acclaimed men – abolitionist former slave Frederick Douglass, WW1 pilots Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown and peacemaker Senator George Mitchell—with the private stories of feisty fictional women. McCann brings his characters to life through exquisite prose, gifting the reader with story lines that arc across the centuries and crisscross the Atlantic, interweaving Irish and American views and values.
Memorable scenes pulse with Quaker testimonies. In 1845 Irish maid Lily Duggan crosses paths with Frederick Douglass whose integrity and commitment to equality inspire her to escape servitude, sail to America and nurse wounded soldiers on a Civil War battlefield. The novel follows her daughter Emily and granddaughter Lottie whose journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. In 1919 they are influenced by two aviators who set course for Ireland, attempting a nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in a bomber they modified for peaceful means, a flight designed to heal the wounds of the Great War.
In 1998 Lottie encounters Senator George Mitchell in Belfast as he labors to negotiate the historic Good Friday Peace Accords. Mitchell granted the author access to his inner reflections, making para bellum a profoundly moving chapter, worthy of repeated readings. Mitchell’s inner light shines through McCann’s poignant portrait of the contemporary peacemaker who embodies simplicity, equality and integrity under intense international public pressure.
TransAtlantic is not a quick read. McCann’s truthful, tender pages invite pauses for deep thinking, remembering past peacemakers and imagining a more simple, just and equitable future. There is so much goodwill, humor and pure life force in every chapter that this book will lift the spirit of Friends and meet the hunger for transformational fiction.Judith Favor is a member of Claremont Friends Meeting in Southern California. Literary fiction seeded with Friends’ testimonies feeds her hungry soul.
What would you call this category of writing?
The Edgefielders is my great-grandmother’s hidden story. Public records show only birth, marriage and death dates so I composed a biographical novel to knit imagination into these bare facts. I invented scenes and dialogues to illustrate what happened before and during her four years at Edgefield.
How does imagination work with facts?
Margaret Mary was born in 1869 in rural Ontario and erased from family lore after she died in 1938 at the Multnomah County Poor Farm. I’d not heard of her until Aunt Margo handed me a stack of genealogy documents including a death certificate. Place of Death: Multnomah County Poor Farm. What? How could this be? Who sent my elderly ancestor to an institution for paupers?
Stories hold us together but hers had been deleted. I had to find out, even though it felt risky to probe into family shadows and secrets. Remaining elders had erased memories of Margaret Mary and they resented my questions. Shame went deep, it seemed, the shame of allowing Grandmother to end her life on the dole among strangers. I hate to stir up conflict but could not let this go. Someone had to bring Margaret Mary out of the dark and into the circle of light.
What did you hope to accomplish here?
Beyond telling a good story, my real purpose was to capture the truth of Margaret Mary’s soul and to illustrate the power of mutual spiritual care. The Edgefielders’ tales show how each person – no matter how poor – can contribute to compassion and generosity in the wider community.
And how did you do that?
Soul-seeing is tactile so I sat with my dearly departed ancestor and kept quiet, waiting for “something” to arise. The song of a canary evoked one story. The sensation of fingertips on a tiny golden cross brought forth romance. Cold bacon grease beckoned me into her melancholy, keeping watch with Margaret Mary where “the ocean moaned, tossing eternal waves of sadness against the shore.”
Where do meditation and imagination meet?
In stillness. And in love. Meditation offers a way to be with dread and fury, anxiety and confusion, to stay present to all those vulnerabilities we usually try to avoid. Meditation invites us to see through the surface of things to the light source of everything. Imagination arises from the power of love, the force of love between the generations. In this book, meditative imagination is the active, conscious practice of finding my way – with Margaret Mary – to the heart of Presence and recording what is revealed there.