Reviewer Judith Wright Favor is an elder member of Claremont Monthly, Southern California Quarterly, and Pacific Yearly Meetings. Her latest publication is the Pendle Hill pamphlet: Friending Rosie on Death Row.
This post has been contributed by Judith L. Favor, who is rooted and grounded in Quaker tradition and contemplative practice. She is retired from pastoral UCC ministry in San Francisco and teaching at the Claremont School of Theology. She created the “As It Is: Spiritual Journaling” e-course for S&P.
This year I’ve found myself reflecting in my journal about the meaning of democracy to me. I have turned to some traditional Quaker queries and crafted some of my own as I have explored my feelings about and experiences with my country and its leadership. One query that I suggested in my last blog post is: Which persons or events helped to shape your democratic values? How? It led me to both memories and reflections about what I call “Big-Hearted Democracy.”
Big-Hearted Democracy became real for me on the day We, The People elected Dwight D. Eisenhower as 34th President of the United States. On November 4, 1952 — through the miracle of television — democracy became visible and audible to me for the first time. My school principal placed a small, boxy television at the edge of the stage in the auditorium. It was the size of a Shredded Wheat box and had a tiny twelve-inch screen. Each class had thirty minutes to crowd in and watch. We, the sixth graders of Richmond Elementary in Portland, Oregon, got to see Democracy at work across the nation, in living black and white. Rowdy boys stopped their fart contests and spitball wars to stare at crowds cheering for political candidates in the streets of the United States. Gawky girls stopped whispering secrets to each other and fussing with their hair to watch voters emerging from polling places with big grins and expansive gestures.
At home, Big-Hearted Democracy played triumphantly on a brand-new television console, purchased by parents who usually had to work on Tuesdays. Mom was a file clerk and Dad was a milkman, but their bosses gave them paid time off on Election Day. (In the Fifties, Oregon employers supported workers’ voting rights.) After casting ballots, my folks celebrated by buying a TV set, and installing it while we were at school. The new television was a total surprise to my brothers and me. We were so proud to be the first on the block to own a TV that we quickly spread the news to our neighbors. Chinese, Cuban and Irish families on our dead-end street arrived bearing snacks, and we invited everyone in to watch the returns.
In my 12-year-old memory, Big-Hearted Democracy became permanently imprinted with Attention, Connection, Enthusiasm, Hospitality and Zeal on Election Day 1952, sixty-plus years before I met the authors of Spiritual Literacy!
In college, I was startled to learn The Constitution of the United States — as originally written and ratified — does not grant American citizens the right to vote! Individual state laws determine voter eligibility. Did Mr. Hill, my sixth-grade teacher, emphasize this fact? If so, it didn’t stick. I am uneasy knowing that for more than 100 years (!) there was no federal ruling to eliminate race or gender voting barriers in the United States of America. Systemic disenfranchisements were later eased by passage of the Fifteenth Amendment (in 1870) and the Nineteenth Amendment (in 1920.)
I recorded these Practicing Democracy memories and reflections on August 6, 2020, the centennial of the passage of the constitutional amendment ensuring women’s right to vote. In California, however, women won the vote in 1911, (four years before my parents were born) and nine years before American women gained universal suffrage. California efforts began in 1908 (the year my Dad’s parents were married), when bold determined women in San Francisco linked arms for what is believed to be the first equal-vote demonstration in America.
On August 27 at 6 p.m. Pacific Time, we can watch history unfold at the San Francisco Public Library website:
Undocumented History: America’s First Suffrage March and the San Francisco Women Who Led It
Early-morning pages, written before my responsible self comes on duty,
take me into deep, dark places and a few bright, clear ones.
My fifty-four-year-old son is dying of cancer,
complicated by meth addiction.
Mary’s question to the angel echoes within me: How can this be?
The answer, according to the Beatles:
Mother Mary said to me, Let it be. Let it be.
“What are you seeing?”
Ray’s last words were raspy,
yet powered by the curiosity that propelled his entire life.
“I see you filled with light,” I said, “and surrounded by light.
I see you loved and loving, forgiven and forgiving.”
With that, he slipped into stillness. No sign of pain.
No sign he knew I was there, yet I knew it was the
absolutely right place to be. I just knew.
How long can a mother gaze upon her comatose son,
seeing that of God in his wasted body and paralyzed limbs?
One can live infinitely into a single moment, says Philip C.
When my oldest son phoned to take me to lunch,
I said, “No thanks. I’m right where I need to be.”
I declined Michael’s invitation to dinner, too, because I was beginning
to feel something so unexpected, so far off the deathbed emotional charts,
that I could barely name it to myself,
let alone speak it aloud. It felt strangely like joy.
Joy? How could this be? I was losing my youngest son
to cancer after decades of shared adventures, epic struggles
and occasional unitive experiences in nature. Why joy?
Later it came to me: Holy obedience. Surrender to Love.
All through Ray’s final day, I sat where Christ guided me to
sit. Kept silent until prompted. Spoke what Spirit directed
me to say. Personal needs, even hunger, evaporated into
the mystery of grace.
How can a son’s tragedy become a mother’s grace?
How could Ray’s passing engender a joy huge enough to encompass
all of his pain, all of my pain, and perhaps your pain, too?
Holding a loving, prayerful vigil with my dying boy lifted
me through sorrow and beyond it to an astonishing fullness
of joy. But even robust joy is fragile and fleeting.
Ten days later, grief yanked me down, pulled me deep
beneath the strong dam of capability I had constructed to
care for my husband as he weakens with Parkinson’s Disease.
Triple sorrows smashed my carefully constructed dam.
Loss of son. Loss of Partnering Pete. Loss of mobility and freedom.
The combination brought me to my knees.
I cried and cried and cried and cried.
How is it even possible to sob for so many hours?
Pete, helpless to comfort me, called the grief midwives.
Friends Connie and Charleen came and knelt beside me on the floor.
Time collapsed beneath floods of tears.
Losing a child is unspeakably difficult.
I can manage only silence.
Lifting Heart Lines from my messy morning pages buoys
me through the grief-bursts.
I swim infinity loops in the community pool,
and dive deeper into stillness.
Sometimes I find a Heart Line in another’s words.
Sacred Veil lyricist Tony Silvestri: “Giving myself permission to write
these texts allowed me to revisit my grief in a very powerful way.
I understood I hadn’t fully grieved, because I hadn’t processed it in art.”
Eric Whitacre’s music and Los Angeles Master Chorale lyrics convey Silvestri’s
intimate expression of his young wife’s death.
Primagravida. Retroperitoneal cystic. Adenocarcinoma. Adnexal cysts…
How do they manage to sing complex medical terms so tenderly,
without choking up?
I sat at the threshold with my son, at the open door of Mystery,
until Ray was ready to pass through it.
He crossed a horizon as wondrous as the one we crossed together
when I gave birth to him 54 years earlier in this same hospital.
In his end is my beginning.
Those words came in meditation. I wonder what they mean…
I travel to Quaker Center to renew body and spirit in the redwoods,
to commune with Friends and place rocks of personal heartbreak
in a communal griefbowl of clear water.
I seek a weekend of contemplation for strength to tend Pete
as his health and memory fail.
I awaken at 1:40am to a delicious melting-chocolate sensation,
as if I had melted into God. If I had stayed in bed to savor it,
I’d still be ambulatory today…
but I rose to go to the bathroom. Fainted. Fell.
Heard my rifle-shot tibia fracture,
saw ragged bone protruding through flesh and foot twisted at right angles.
“Uh-oh, compound,” said the first EMT.
“Not prepared for that,” said the
In Trauma ICU,
a nurse drew red balloons and wrote Happy Birthday on the whiteboard.
My decidedly unhappy 79th birthday was brightened by my daughter’s visit
followed by assurance from two female orthopedic surgeons
that their repair efforts were successful.
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?
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