Where Have the Kids Gone?

Maurine Pyle (WCTS, November, 2014)

I am a traveling minister, which brings me into close contact with many kinds of Quakers. These days I am observing in many Quaker meetings and churches many older folks on Sunday but very few kids and parents.

Where did they go? As an interfaith activist in my small town in southern Illinois, I also notice that liberal Christian churches are asking this same question. We find here that the Muslim kids are going to the mosque, the African-American kids are filling the benches, but there is a vacancy sign hanging out (metaphorically speaking) in many Christian churches.

A few months ago, I visited a lovely old Quaker meeting in Western Yearly Meeting. When the pastor came down to offer the children’s sermon, there were only elderly elders in the congregation. Where were the kids? I have something to say about this which may surprise even the most hardened atheists among us; namely, that there are still spiritually motivated parents out there and children who could be taught in our Sunday schools, but the word Christian is no longer a “nice word,” so they are avoiding church.

In my own meeting awhile back, when I was teaching the youngest group of three early elementary school children, I asked them who Jesus was. One little boy cheerfully volunteered an answer, “Jesus is a curse word.” That was all he knew about that subject.

We appear to have a language problem, especially among young parents. I learned this when I did a linguistic study on Quaker metaphorical speech. I interviewed six Quakers of different theological or non-theistic stripes, asking, “Would you call yourself a Christian?” I heard over and over that they did not want to be referred to with the name “Christian.” Even the ones who say they are Christian in their beliefs wanted to avoid this word like it was the plague. But they still acted like Christians and had a high regard for Jesus or the Christ Light. They simply did not want their religious practice to be confused with politically conservative Christians.

The politicization of Christianity in recent decades has driven many people away from church and the gospels. My research indicates that many Quakers feel the same way as the little boy. So today if your religious group is part of a Christian sect, then it could be viewed as an unpopular brand by the Millennials. Buddhism, but not the gospels, is very popular among post-Christians. What are we to do?

Some non-denominational churches are rebranding themselves with cool monikers like The View, The Vine or Destiny. Hard to argue with that language. Does Christian mean your religious group hates gay people or believes that marriage is sanctified only between a man and woman? There are many choices on the menu, but if you think Christian means only vanilla, then Buddhism is way cooler. In my neighborhood we have a UCC church that hosts a Gay Pride Picnic once a year. They have gay members actively serving this Christian church. I went to the picnic and saw drag queens performing on the lawn. Does this fit your stereotype of Christian?

I don’t have the solution—just a few queries to get us off the dime. In my research I began by asking questions of six different Quakers, and then I listened deeply to their answers. For some folks, it was an invitation to share their hurt feelings from their church or family of origin. That can provide a good starting point for deeper conversation. If we want to invite the kids back to meeting or church, we first need to ask kids and parents where they came from, where they are going and how we might help them and their kids get to the destination. The healing begins when stories are invited  and listened to deeply without judgment. I know that when I first arrived at Quaker meeting in 1975, I was an angry immigrant from Catholicism. Some wise Quaker elders listened to my pain until I could let it go. Then I found a home among Friends that has lasted a lifetime.

Maurine Pyle was called by a vision to ministry among Friends in 1998 and was recorded in ministry by Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting in Carbondale. She recently finished her master’s thesis on Quaker use of metaphor, then and now. She is writing a book about young Quakers’ experiences of Quaker metaphors like “Light and Dark”, and “As Way Opens”.

 God’s Rest Awaits Thee

Maurine Pyle (WCTS, May 2016)

 Some life lessons may appear in the simplest forms and yet imprint indelible marks in the mind. Such a memorable experience came my way during my freshman English class when my teacher introduced me to Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I had never met him before. She invited us to accept an assignment, guided by Thoreau, “to live one day deliberately.” Looking back, I can only recall that I moved throughout my day with intention rather than by habit. Did I really change anything about my patterns? Yes, I was invited into God’s rest and accepted the invitation. As you can see, that one day has been etched in memory, not because of anything I did, but for what I did not do. My entrance into my practice began on that day of what I now call the Sabbath-rest. For the first time I was called by God to lay aside my daily agenda, and thus create a space to allow my life to slow down—so I could see it.

As Abraham Heschel reminds us in his quintessential book titled The Sabbath:

Creating holiness in time requires a different sensibility than building a cathedral in space. We must conquer space in order to sanctify time.

Another source of wisdom for me has been reading and rereading the Letter to the Hebrews in the back of my Bible. I often turn to it for a restoration of my perspective.

To whom but to the disobedient did he swear that they would never enter into his rest. We see, moreover, that it was that disbelief that kept them from entering. (Hebrews 3:18)

This anonymous writer is retelling the story of the desert times when the Hebrews were invited into God’s rest and had refused the invitation. They had other more important things to do like complaining, creating an idol of gold and not making time for prayer. Does this sound familiar to you?

I practice taking a day off now and then from my many ego-centered activities. By setting aside time to reflect on what I am doing, I allow myself to review my habitual behaviors and reconsider them. In doing so I am making more eternal space by sorting out the laundry of my life into piles of their importance or triviality. Sometimes this occurs quite naturally, when a powerful pulling feeling comes over me, calling me to stop what I am doing and to enter into a prayerful receptive state. Often a name or thought will come to mind in this compelling silence. Fingering a string of sandalwood prayer beads, I breathe in and out in a measured way. Breathing in the confusion, sadness or anger of the world and breathing out peace with each intake and release.

I believe that God keeps offering us the invitation to enter into his rest.

“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

We only need to turn around to find that joy and peace abounds within us, and the kingdom is truly near at hand. As a reminder to myself of this prin­ciple, I have chosen the email moniker of “metanoia.maurine” which puzzles many people. What does that mean, they ask me often. Metanoia, a Greek word that early Christians were fond of using, has multiple interpretations – repentance, transformation, change. But my favorite meaning is “turning around.”

So when Jesus offers to me this invitation,

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while (Mark 6:31),”

I try to turn my life around and answer yes.

Maurine Pyle has been allowing God to push her around for quite a while now. She is on call as a traveling minister among the many branches of Friends, and says that Southern Illinois is her home where around town she is known as the Quaker Hobo.

A Visitation from Mother Mary

by Maurine Pyle (WCTS February 2017)

But when my Mary passes in the blue gown

With the light falling down,

Yes, when my Mary passes, I will follow, yes.

—Lyric by Krista Detor

There is one traveling ministry visit which I have never fully understood. After the Iron Curtain fell, I was called to visit St. Petersburg Russia in 1997. My mission seemed clear enough then, to attend an international peace conference as a teacher of peace with an intention about bringing some light to the conflict with the Russians. As a child growing up during the Cold War in Louisiana, we were carefully taught to hate and fear the godless Russians. I admit to being a little afraid when my leading was to confront evil people directly. Being faithful, I agreed but I was unsure of my actual purpose in going there. And for years afterward, I have remained mysti­fied. What was my mission? Sometimes a leading can take years to give evidence to the world. I often do not understand why God has called me into a place, but I faithfully follow. Here is what I wrote about that trip when I was asked to give the Plummer Lecture on my spiritual journey one year later at our yearly meeting:

Among our Russian students were two women named Luda and Tatiana, who fell in love with Sharon (my travel partner). They were constantly coming by our dorm room to ask her out for a walk. I used to tease Sharon because she does not speak Russian, and they spoke little English. “What on earth do you say to them?” I queried. She just smiled mys­teriously. Clearly, they were engaging in spirit talk, which is universal. On the day we were leaving, Luda came to give Sharon a good-bye gift. It was a silver ring in the shape of a serpent. Luda told her that the serpent is the symbol of wisdom and that she was giving the ring to Sharon so that she would be reminded of her wisdom. Then she turned to me and slipped into my hand another silver ring which had a smaller serpent engraved on it. “Wear this, Maurine, to be reminded that you are the guardian of Sharon’s wisdom,” she said.

I have often heard of the intuitive gifts of the Russians, but this was truly extraordinary. How else could Luda have known that my nickname for Sharon is “the Scarecrow?” Just like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, she forgets her wisdom. And Sharon calls me her “dueña,” which means her guardian. How could Luda have known these central truths about our relationship? Sharon and I serve as guardians for each other’s wisdom and health, and our relationship makes us strong.

That was my first indication that God was showing me more about the religious character of the Russian people. They were deeply spiritual and intuitive; not what I had been force-fed about them being godless. An American artist humorously quipped, “As a child the nuns taught me to pray for the Russian people. I am so glad to see that it has worked.”

On that visit we went to several huge cathedrals. The atmosphere was deeply mystical and dark and filled with images of Mary and Jesus that reminded me of my own Catholic cathedrals in Baton Rouge. One icon particularly held my attention, the one of Mary, the Mother of Russia. Her dark eyes and sad visage reached out and spoke to me. I felt an intense spiritual energy coming from the icon joining me with Mary in a mystical union. I was transfixed and could not move away. “What is happening?” I asked myself.

Mary has come to visit me again recently. A friend sent me the song with the lyrics, “and when my Mary passes, I will answer yes.” Then another friend sent me an icon calendar with Mary holding Jesus; with the same sad eyes, the same compassionate tenderness toward her child that I had seen in icons in Russia. Mary was speaking to me again. What was she saying?

I know now that I was called to see the holiness of the Russian people and their devotion to Mary when I visited them many years ago. As we enter another “cold war” with the Russians, I want to remind us all that these are merely passing images of enemies and not the truth. When I was a child we were told stories of the apparitions of the Madonna to three Portuguese teenagers at Fatima. She gave them a prophecy that if Russia remains loyal to her, then the world will be saved. I am offering this to you as a prophecy that we continue to hold the Russian people in the light in this period of deep conflict and darkness in the world. As the way opens.

Maurine Pyle has traveled the wide world for Friends to bring a message of peace. Now., as an ESL teacher, she lives in Southern Illinois, where the world comes to her door. Of this article, she wrote, “It came to me like Mother Mary… speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

Who Is Sitting on the Facing Bench?

Maurine Pyle (What Canst Thou Say? August, 2017)

Peacemaking first begins in the meeting family and in the lives of its members. So often we Quakers cast our nets far out into the world when we seek to heal the causes of aggression. I start my work closer to home. As Jesus said to the apostles when they were not catching any fish, “Cast your nets on the other side.” I catch more fish that way by opening the conversations about the hidden conflict.

Traditional Quaker practice offers pastoral support through the meeting’s Ministry and Counsel committee, which is a group of seasoned elders. In our yearly meeting the most experienced elders, those who grew up in Quaker families, have died or moved away. Our current population of Friends mostly grew up in another faith tradition where a priest or pastor provided care for members in trouble. We were not trained from birth with the skills to support one another in times of crisis, and we may even feel we have no business interfering. What I mean by pastoral care is offering compassionate listening and prayer for a member when a problem has not been clearly defined. I am not speaking of offering the equivalent of professional therapeutic services. What is needed in the beginning is assistance with discerning the depth of the problem and direction toward solving it. As a result, the community’s fearfulness about interfering in personal matters of members leaves many issues festering and untended.

If a member is experiencing a physical ailment, Quaker communities are quick to arrange meals for the family and visits to the hospital. We are often frustrated and incapacitated when trying to respond to the hot issues in the meeting. We tend to hear about problems in a marriage after one member files for divorce. In the case of suicide or mental illness, silence often envelopes the community. Often there is no appointed ministry committee because the community is so tiny it must handle all of the business of the meeting as a body with no privacy possible. The result is that important pastoral care issues are often neglected. In these situations, a visit from a traveling minister can offer primary support to a small community. It is important to note that this ministry does not carry any authority from outside the meeting. We come only to listen and to help with discernment within the community, to turn them to their Inner Guide.

Ministry of Reconciliation: Traveling Ministry

When I enter a Quaker community, my intention is to discover what is really happening there and help the community see it clearly. This is one of the benefits of traveling ministry. If we are invited into the inner circle, we can hold up a mirror for what needs healing in the Quaker meeting. A request for a retreat is often more than a desire for education on a particular topic. I have found that can also indicate an unspoken need for reconciliation in the community. To know that you don’t know is the beginning of wisdom, and so I enter a community in a state of “not knowing.”

Once on a traveling ministry visit, I met with the leaders of a meeting who were deadlocked over the issue of approving gay marriage. Over the years, they had settled into a dark silence, walking around the “elephant in the living room.” Their healthy development as a community had ground to a halt. People began slowly leaving the meeting, and eventually no one wanted to volunteer for service.

The initial request for my services came from the Nominating Committee asking for help in envisioning their future. I proposed a series of retreats to address the conditions they were avoiding. Following two retreats, it was revealed to me privately that there were two hidden gay people in the meeting and that the gay marriage issue was the tip of the iceberg.

At a subsequent retreat a lesbian member told her story of being suicidal and her fears of asking the community for help. Over a long period, and after receiving assistance from other traveling elders from the yearly meeting, many other hidden issues were revealed and healed. The presenting problem of gay marriage was eventually reconciled. Now the meeting is a welcoming community for all people.

As a traveling minister I am given access to closely held secrets, sometimes willingly but more often through a process that I call a ministry of reconciliation. Usually it begins this way: someone calls me to request a workshop on what they term “Quaker process.” I have found this terminology to be a code phrase for a family fight going on in the meeting. People are too polite to name it so they blame it on improper business process. Quakers are excellent conflict avoiders.

I have a theory that most of us joined the Religious Society of Friends because it looked so peaceful. A few years ago, I received a request to offer a retreat for a troubled meeting in a nearby state. When the request was for a Quaker process retreat, I suspected that a hidden conflict needed healing.

Since no one in the meeting stepped forth to help me design the retreat, I told my contact that I would simply bring my talking stick and open a conversation. When I arrived, I felt the tenseness in the group. Smiles were pasted on with great care, and eye contact was limited. I sensed their uneasiness in being together. I began by introducing the talking stick as a means of free and open communication, which Native Americans have used to encourage truth sharing. Only the person who holds the stick may speak, and the others are encouraged to listen deeply. I reminded them that the talking stick couldn’t be used to express anger or blame, only truth. They could only make “I” statements.

The query I posed was, “What suffering of your heart do you need to share with your meeting?” The group centered into an uneasy silence. As we passed the stick for several hours in surrounding silence, we heard the hidden pain in the community. Some women began weeping. One of the founders, whom I had been told was an angry resistor, softened and showed her deeper nature to the group.

An emotional shift occurred as members saw her in a clearer light. She had been standing in the way of change because she felt she was the holder of the founding vision. At the close of the ceremony the group had moved to a place of reconciliation without actually naming the conflicts. We closed the circle with gratitude for a new truth revealed and a deepening of Spirit.

Later, in response to their request to learn more about Quaker process, I invited my companion-elder to lead a discussion. At that time she was serving as the clerk of her yearly meeting and was well suited to the task. From the outset of her presentation some of the meeting members began to attack her verbally with intellectual sharpness. I discovered that many of them were leaders in local, national and international organizations.

I allowed the aggressive behavior to continue for a while and then I stopped the action, asking them to notice how differently they were speaking to one another than they had in the morning session. They appeared shocked. One said, “This is how we speak to one another in meeting for business.” Laying down our secular experience as leaders is often difficult. Assuming the role of servant-leader in a Quaker setting asks us to do symbolic foot washing. Jesus was the role model for this type of leadership, which instructs us to act as the humblest, not the smartest, person in the room. What did we learn in our time together? As a spiritual midwife, I offered them the opportunity to look deeply in the mirror at their reflection as a community. I had come without any prior knowledge of their conflicts, yet we were able to uncover and heal them. One year later I happened to meet one of their leaders at a conference. She said that the meeting community had experienced a turning point at the retreat.

In the 21st century there have been major changes in our Quaker culture with secular ways of organizing the meeting creeping into the structure and process. For example, instead of turning to elders for help we might turn to the DSM5 (a mental health diagnostic manual). And since we have become less attentive in a traditional Quakerly way, we often fall apart when conflicts arise between members or over what we like to call “Quaker process.”

Many times I have seen a single angry episode break the membership into small isolated groups with no one talking about the problem in an open manner. They smile and suppress the conflict. I call this condition “terminal niceness,” and Quakers suffer greatly from it. Some people feel it is not nice to call attention to conflicts in the community; it is not nice to get angry. But tamping the fire down will not eliminate it. The flames just travel underground for a while and then pop up elsewhere. My prescription regarding conflict is that there is no way around it—we have to go through it!

These stories I am telling beg the question—Where is the source of authority in liberal Quaker meetings today? We often no longer rely on the authority of scripture, such as Matthew 18. Nowadays there are few, if any, seasoned elders in our meetings to stand up for traditional Quaker practice. So, in the absence of these tried and true methods, it is vital that we pay careful attention to conflicts in meeting as they arise. As Simone Weil has said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Maurine Pyle has traveled the wide world for Friends to bring a message of peace. Now., as an ESL teacher, she lives in southern Illinois, where the world comes to her door.

I See Sicily Island

By Maurine Pyle (WCTS, November, 2018)

As children growing up in the 1950s on Morning Glory Avenue, there was one message we loved to hear from our parents—“We are going to The Place.” That meant not just any place, but a very special place with a capital P. Our Daddy Sam, my mother’s father, lived on a small farm by that name in North Louisiana.

Our mother, Lorelle Seal Hebert, was often homesick for her childhood home, a small town called Sicily Island, so we visited there often. When I look back on this simple adventure, I think it is amazing that we all loved to go there. As we approached the town around a curve and over a small bridge, we raced with each other to be the first one who could say, “I see Sicily Island!”

Daddy Sam lived in a bungalow-style house outside of town with his oldest daughter Lily Mae, affectionately called “Mae” (pronounced “main” like the French word for hand) by her nieces and nephews. Mae never married, choosing instead to teach English in the high school and care for her father. Behind the house was a kitchen garden, an unpainted barn and a chicken coop. Our favorite activity was sitting on the screen porch swing or on the floor at Daddy Sam’s feet. Screech, screech, went the swing. Clunk, clunk, went the chain. Snore, snore, answered Daddy Sam in his big rocker.

He was a large man with a fluffy white moustache, always wearing khaki farm clothes and a wide brim hat. He would grab a little kid and tickle him or her under the chin with his moustache until we giggled, or he would grab another kid and placing her across his knees he would “play the piano” on her ribs. But the best part was listening to Daddy Sam’s stories while we shelled peas or snapped beans for our dinner. I remember a passel of us little kids sitting around on the porch waiting for Daddy Sam to wake up from his nap and tell us more stories. I often said that Daddy Sam’s front porch was my first Quaker meeting—sitting in silence and waiting for him to speak.

The old barn was a great place to play. The older kids—Billy, Bob, and Mike—loved to make hay forts with secret entrances, which kept us little ones at bay. I never found my way in. Our daddy bought a swayback horse named Betsy for us to ride. Mostly I remember just sitting on her back. She hardly moved. I guess that is why Daddy bought her. We were little, and Betsy was going nowhere.

We invented our own fun like observing dung beetles as they created perfect balls of cow manure. Daddy Sam sometimes called them “tumble turds.” Lula and Mike remember a game of “bat the bumble bees” beside the old shed near the gasoline pump. They didn’t know that they were harmless carpenter bees. Whoever hit the most bees with a piece of wood or old license plate was the winner. Some games were more risky such as playing logrolling on an old metal culvert. Just missing getting squashed was half the fun. We were never bored at the Place.

Meanwhile Mae would be in the kitchen with Bertha, her helper, stirring up a homecoming dinner. It was always the same—chicken and dumplings with a crust of pastry on top, fried chicken, corn on the cob, butter beans cooked in milk, purple hull peas, cornbread sticks and country butter. Country butter tasted sour to me. It was made in a round green butter mold that made designs across the top.

At noon we all sat down to a feast, everyone except Mae. She was always occupied with “one more thing” in the kitchen. If you sat next to Daddy Sam, you can be sure that your plate would disappear just as you were ready to take a big bite. First, he would distract you by pointing to the window, and then when you turned back, your plate was gone. In a minute you would find it hidden in his lap under the tablecloth. We never tired of the game.

I recently heard Billy tell of a choice meal that Daddy Sam enjoyed from time to time—roast possum. Billy says the recipe is you salt and pepper it and bake it in the oven surrounded by sweet potatoes. Once Daddy Sam asked his dainty daughter-in-law, Mary Lucille, if she would cook a possum for him. She sweetly replied, “I love you more than anything, and I would do almost anything for you, except cook possum.” Mae wouldn’t do it either, so Daddy Sam had to wait until the ladies were away to have Bertha cook his favorite dish.

The older boy cousins—Leon, Billy, Bob, Charles and Mike—were allowed to visit the Place during the summer months for longer stays. They told us tales of mud fishing back in the swamps and turning over the hay wagon by making too sharp a turn. We girls stayed closer to our parents. That was the way it was in those days.

Mama was born in Tylertown, Mississippi, where Daddy Sam owned a sawmill. When it burned down, they had to move from their established town with a big Baptist church to the smaller country town Sicily Island. Mae was used to having French lessons and piano lessons in her old town. Life certainly changed for the worse. Mama Seal (Daddy Sam’s wife, our grandmother) was always missing Tylertown. Daddy Sam began by trading horses from Texas, and later became a contractor clearing rights of way for oil and gas pipelines, which were being cut across the South and Midwest.

They first lived in the Ballard House, a large frame house within shouting distance of the train station in town. Daddy Sam loved to meet the train and invite strangers over for dinner on the big front porch. We were told that the Chambers Hotel lost a lot of business to him. Once a man stepping off the train said instead of the hotel, he would be staying with “Sam Seal, by Gar (God).” Ouida and Mary Lucille recalled that you could see people of any station in life or race seated at Daddy Sam’s table.

Sicily Island was a dusty crossroad with very little culture. Lily Mae seemed to be one source of introducing the finer things in life. She taught English literature and Spanish at Sicily Island High School. Although we thought she was so sweet, her former students remarked on her tough nature as a teacher. She also founded a storefront library in the town. One summer the three schoolteacher sisters, Mae, Mildred, and Lorelle drove to Colorado to attend summer school for professional development at a Normal School. Whenever we took our summer vacations, Mae often came along for the ride and lectured us on literature and poetry. It was a special part of our education. Many people excelled in higher education because of Mae’s influence.

Small town life is surprisingly rich and layered in texture. Mama said she never thought of herself as poor. When we visited Sicily Island, we always felt rich. My cousin Bob had this memory to offer. “I remember the excitement of piling in the back of the truck and driving down the Cane Road with the dust blowing in your face. You could always know when someone was coming to the house by the advancing dust cloud. We would announce “dust coming down the road” in case it might be a visitor to the Place.”

Maurine Pyle has traveled the wide world for Friends to bring a message of peace. Now, as an ESL teacher, she lives in Southern Illinois, where the world comes to her door.

Tribute to Maurine Pyle

<from Illinois Yearly Meeting> Please join us in holding our beloved member, Maurine Pyle, in the light. Maurine passed away on May 21, 2022, at her assisted living facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. Sage Moffett, together with their spouse, Logan Elisha Plummer, have been the local friend and loving caregiver to Maurine since Maurine moved to Terre Haute. Sage held her hand and spoke words of comfort to Maurine as she passed. Friends Dawn Crimson and Tom Hensold had visited Maurine recently, as had her sons, Nick Pyle and Ned Pyle and a number of friends from Carbondale, Illinois, where Maurine lived until her move to Terre Haute.

Maurine was a member and recorded minister of Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting. Before transferring her membership to Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting, she was a member of Lake Forest Meeting. She served in many roles in the broader Quaker community, including as Clerk and then Field Secretary of ILYM. She had also delivered the Plummer Lecture at ILYM Annual Sessions in 1998.

She had, many years ago, executed a “Five Wishes” document in which she stated, among other things, that, “I wish for my family and friends to know that I do not fear death itself. I think it is not the end, but a new beginning for me…I wish for my family and friends to look at my dying as a time of personal growth for everyone, including me.” She asked to be remembered “as a peacemaker, a follower of Jesus and [as] a loving family member and friend.”

Arrangements for a memorial service are still undetermined.

Jill Adam
Clerk, Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting

Maurine Pyle contributed 21 different articles to WCTS. As a tribute to Maurine Pyle, the Editorial Team of WCTS decided to republish her essays on our two blogs: <quakermystics.wordpress.com> and <worshipsharinginprint.wordpress.com>. The following is a list of her contributions:

St. Louis Cathedral — February 2020

I See Sicily Island — November 2018

Who is Sitting on the Facing Bench — August 2017

Quaker Elders I Have Known and Loved — May 2017

A Visitation from Mother Mary — February 2017

My Joy — November 2016

What the Grandmothers and Grandfathers Are Saying — August 2016

God’s Rest Awaits Thee — May 2016

The Magic Prayer Room — February 2016

Listening at St. Julian’s Window — November 2015

Where Have the Kids Gone? — November 2014

Encountering Mary, Mother of Jesus — August 2013

A Narrow Way — August 2010

Telepathy — Editorial Maurine Pyle and Mariellen Gilpin — August 2008

A Bit of Mind Reading — August 2008

The Rabbi’s Prayer — August 2008

Saying Yes, while Living into the Calling — Feb 2008

The Women Under the Cross — November 2007

Hospitality  —- Editorial Maurine Pyle and Mariellen Gilpin — August 2007

Conversations with Lucifer / Vanity — November 2006

Stretch Out Your Hands — May 2004


ANNOTATED by Michael Resman

Many of us keep the inner workings of our spiritual lives closed and unspoken, guarding our most tender self. While this protects us, it provides little support to others. One thing we could all do is share the sources of our inspiration. Daily support for me comes from sacred music.

Depending on my needs at the time, I am comforted, challenged, informed and perhaps transported by songs on this playlist.

I usually listen to them late in the evening. My mind is less active, which I find makes it easier to respond with my heart and soul. I believe that we humans focus too much on thinking. Feeling, listening, reaching from deep inside opens possibilities.

All of these are music videos on YouTube so you have to start there. I’ve included some long descriptions in hopes that the piece I intended shows up at or near the top of the list.

Here they are, in no special order.

Hallelujah – Pentatonix PTXofficial

Hallelujah in Hebrew means ‘To praise joyously’. Here is a challenge. Do we love God enough, do we trust boundlessly enough to praise joyously while in the depths of loss and pain. The harmonies from Pentatonix are glorious.

Andrea Bocelli AVE MARIA (SCHUBERT) Dreamer100PRE

               My primary connection to the Divine is with Holy Spirit Mother. Bocelli’s voice carries me.

Rhiannon Giddons – Wayfaring Stranger – BBC Northern Ireland

A longing for heaven played on a fretless banjo using only one cord. What a smooth, immediate voice.

Brooklyn Duo Canon in D Cello and Piano (BEST wedding version)

Musical sophisticates might find this simplistic. I – like millions of viewers – find this soothing. Right click on the video and loop it for more soothing.

#piano #evgenykhmara Passengers were shocked

               Professional playing the piano in an airport. I don’t know the song, but it is beautiful.

Miserere mei, -Deus-Allegri – Tenebrae

An old song of remorse for human failings and longing for God. I don’t need to know the words to feel the emotions.

If Ye Love Me – Tallis – Tenebrae

               Same group as above, but an old song in English. “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Agnus Dei – Samuel Barber LIVE Vleams Radiokoor

The most sorrowful song I’ve heard. Words are from the Catholic mass in Latin: “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” Listening to this over and over led me to see the great privilege I’ve had all my life of living in safety, unlike so many.

Schlinders List – John Williams – NL Orchestra Guillaume

               Gorgeous violin playing of a mournful song.

Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra – Calling my Children Home (A cappella)

This group of Norwegians puts out a wonderful bluegrass sound. This song is one of my favorites but I like many of their other songs as well. Little known, they play in some funky venues. This gives you a chance to choose between several versions of many songs.

Nearer My God to Thee – 488b jwr50

               Recorded in a small country church, this powerful Sacred Harp version speaks to me.

Ireland Sacred Harp Convention 2012

This was the second annual gathering of Irish Sacred Harp singers. They filled a small venue and sound wonderful. There are many songs to choose from.

Chant of the Mystics – Pater Noster – Our Father

The Our Father prayer sung slowly in Latin by several monks. This is the Catholic version, slightly shorter than you might be used to. I find it useful to close my eyes while slowly and silently saying the words to myself. It causes me to recite the prayer slowly, giving me time to ponder phrases.

Tchaikovsky – Hymn of the Cherubim – Liturgy of St John Chrysostom V Hamilton

Combines pictures from deep space with the Hymn sung in Russian. Watching the wonders of the universe transported me. I came to understand that the creation of the universe was an act of love.

Moments of Great Relief: The Gratitude Reflex

From the Editor: The What Canst Thou Say? May issue should be out in the next couple of weeks. There was space for only one of those that Janice Stenrude submitted, so we are pulbishing the other one here. Thanks, Janice!

by Janice Stensrude

When I first set pen to paper to write about gratitude, I was startled that the first thing that popped into my head was “Thank you, Jeezuz!” — an exclamation that crept into my lexicon many years ago, seemingly outside its religious meanings. As I pondered this curious thought reflex, I became aware of the existence of an unconscious, deeply felt sincerity that hides within our secularized hymns of gratitude — the happy “Thank you, Jeezuz!” response to receiving an unexpected windfall or long hoped-for outcome, or the “Oh, Gawd!” uttered or shouted in praise and thanksgiving as the sexual climax reaches its crescendo. Reflecting on the gratitude expressed in my life and in the lives of those around me, I realize that the most powerfully felt moments of gratitude seem also to be moments of great relief — moments that can bring us to our knees in earnest prayers of thanksgiving or to our feet with shouts of joyful gratitude.

As I sift through my memories to remember moments of felt gratitude, two particular incidents come immediately to mind, mostly because they left behind important insights. The first occurred in 1987, when my younger son was a petty officer aboard the U.S.S. Fox. The United States had deployed several ships to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, placing themselves in the middle of a conflict between Iran and Iraq. In May of that year, an Iraqi fighter plane fired missiles at the U.S.S. Stark, killing 37 American sailors and leaving 21 more with serious injuries — an incident that the Iraqi government claimed was an accident. My son’s ship was part of the fleet that was called to the aid of the crippled ship, and he was assigned the duty to make the decision and to push the button that would launch an attack if Iraqi planes entered the protected air space. It was a tense ten days. Others in my family listened to the news every day and heard the familiar voice that warned Iraqi planes to turn back, but I just changed channels, refusing to make too real the paralyzing truth of the situation.

I was a young child during World War II, and I grew up hearing the stories of worried mothers, including how my step grandmother’s hair turned white overnight when two of her sons were reported missing on the same day. But now it was real. It was personal. It was my nineteen-year-old son, and I finally viscerally understood the terror of all the mothers who ever had sons in a war. I was flooded with immense relief and gratitude when the danger passed without incident.

That same year, the Oil Bust hit Houston, where I was living at the time. My boss had just shut down her architecture practice, married, and moved to London where her new husband had an accounting practice. One of her clients immediately approached me to work for him, but the day before I was to report to work, he called and withdrew the offer. His main client, who accounted for more than half his business had cut him from their budget. After several months bouncing between unemployment checks and assignments for a temporary agency, I was offered free office space in exchange for answering telephones. I used my windfall workspace to set myself up as a small-business consultant.

It didn’t take long to realize that there wasn’t a market for those services, but there was a growing market for people who knew how to write and type a letter. As professionals in various fields were laid off by large companies, they scavenged work as contract consultants, but now without the office support staff provided by previous employers. I continued taking on temporary assignments when they were available, paying someone else minimum wage to answer telephones for me. At the end of my second year in business, I had made enough money to pay an income tax. Who would have thought that paying taxes could trigger a gratitude celebration?

In retrospect, I find a host of unlikely occasions that triggered my gratitude reflex. The old saw, “You have to take the bad with the good,” is, quite simply, true. Each cause for grief has arrived arm-in-arm with cause to celebrate with thanks.