Poetry by Judith Brown

                                  High Desert

Longing for the sight of water,

I walked along the Truckee River.

Turning near the tree line between California and Nevada,

I saw the coyote..

looking at me with compelling gaze control.

A mystical creature revered for wisdom by Native  Americans.

Coyotes openly play and display affection to family members,

put out small fires by burying the embers or rolling on the flames,

improving on creation,

Reminding us not to be dualistic in our thinking.

Among the greatest survivor on this earth.

We are evolving with them.

They teach their young,

make up after fights,

console the one who is hurt

mourn their dead,

Experience the ineffable.

with no language

no religion

no scripture

a coyote specific

relationship with God.

—Judith A. Brown

                                      A Syrian Mother

with three children

envied the dead because

they had found a place to settle down.

Finding refuge in Germany.

the only thing she feared

was religious intolerance.

Her children were grateful there

wasn’t a single shelled house.

The birds were singing

Welcome to Germany.

At school the teacher wrote

warm greetings on the board

and surprised the children

who were not expecting

to make friends

on the first day.

—Judith A. Brown

                         The Moon in the Morning

As I opened my door at dawn,

the full moon invited me

into its embrace.

Filling me with love energy

from the Big Bang,

no longer disconnected from the cosmos.

A welcome call to all creation

into a sacred space.

Redeeming and renewing.

God going before us

and yet deeply incarnate

in the present moment.

Calling us to open to a new future

for everything and everyone we love.

—- Judith A. Brown


Continuing the Conversation

A conversation was begun in the May issue of What Canst Thou Say around a submission from William Shetter, A Milestone Birthday, his thoughts about his ninieth birthday. Here is the continuation of the conversation and one response. We encourage Friends to continue the conversation continue the conversation by commenting to this post.

February 15-16, 2018
Two quotes from William Shetter’s answers published in the WCTS print edition caught Guest Editor Rhonda Ashurst’s attention:
“I’ve come to feel that like each of us have one life that is composed of two dimensions, one in time and the other untouched by time.
“Living in these two inescapable dimensions, time and timelessness, sets up the enormously creative tension we call “our journey”—our human adventure of discernment and discovery.” —William Shetter
Rhonda: At this stage in your life, do you have a sense of your timeless Self returning again into time and the physical body to create another human adventure?
William: No, I’ve never had any sense other than a single dependable ‘me’.
Rhonda: Do all our adventures “in time” really happen at once?
William: For me, just the opposite. That’s the part of my life that is “strung out,” giving me the sense of time in the first place. My challenging quest is for that hard-to-reach timeless part of me, not part of my everyday experience.
Rhonda: Is there some kind of progression, or is that only a human illusion? Or, perhaps it is a both/and? It is all happening in the now, and there is a progression…
William: The hesitant nature of these questions somehow signals that you’re as much baffled as everyone (at least since St. Augustine including me) is who has ever tried to understand what TIME is! …

by Jessica S.

A strong image of color came immediately to mind when I read the opening lines “the day is past and gone / the evening shades appear …”. Instead of grays and black representing the foreshortened time ahead, I found myself thinking of rich shades of blue and violet and purple. Yes, they ultimately shade into black, but before they do they are vivid and bursting with richness and unexpected beauty. I encountered these colors again when William Shetter asks “shall I endow these evening shades with a deeper, newly richer, vibrant life …?” His clear answer is “yes”, reaffirming that the evening shades are indeed saturated with intense color before they fade to black – if we strive to peer beyond.

Answering the Call

Proceedings of the Ministers and Elders Colloquium — Part 1 — by Maurine Pyle

The Ministers and Elders Colloquium was held October 6-10, 2017, at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Chicago, IL, sponsored by What Canst Thou Say? The Proceedings was published February 17, 2018. It is available in hard copy on lulu.com The WCTS editorial team decided to publish the presentations on this blog, one at a time. We hope to start a conversation. Please become a follower and make comments.

Maurine Pyle and Pam Richards were the organizers of this Colloquium, but both became ill as the day of the gathering approached. We began calling it “Holy Spirit Mischief.” So even though Maurine was not able to give her presentation, we have included it in the Proceedings.

My Childhood Calling to Seek God
Up the Magnolia Tree*

*Excerpted from my 1998 Plummer Lecture, Follow Me <quaker.org/plummer/1998.html>
Let your life be a story worth retelling, I always say. For me life is all about storytelling. Those ancient griots of Africa sitting around the campfire could recite all of the “begats” for their tribe, recounting tales of generation upon generation. I want to restore that storytelling tradition from a spiritual perspective, sharing the lessons I have gathered along the way.
At the heart of my story is my love for Jesus Christ and his love for me. That love has made all the difference. I was surprised and overwhelmed by his love. From the moment I embraced Jesus, my former life was overturned. My life was no longer my own. He said to me, “Lay down your life, take up your cross and follow me,” and I have been following ever since. This is a story about how I became a follower. Before that encounter with Jesus my first intention always was to lead, not to follow. And I started leading when I was very young.
My first kingdom was the magnolia tree in the front yard of my parents’ house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I loved its smooth branches and fragrant white blossoms. There were small cones filled with bright red berries and glossy green leaves with a fuzzy undercoating perfect for writing secret messages. Most of all I loved being held lightly, but firmly, in her topmost branches. I suppose my mother would have scolded me had she known I was up on the highest branches, but she was always too busy with her many children to spy on me. I was up so high I could see over the trees and look down upon the glistening lake below.
As the wind blew, her branches would cradle me, gently rocking me. Although I was feeling safe as can be, had folks seen me up there, they would have pointed out the obvious danger. But this experience became the pattern of my life—taking apparent risks while feeling perfectly secure. Even then I knew that I was truly safe. For it was there atop the magnolia tree that I first learned to speak to God, to hear gentle whispers in my soul. Visions and mysteries enfolded me. There was just blessed silence, the wind and me, and the magnolia tree.
I knew even then that I could not tell others what I had learned there. Even a child knows the dividing line between everyday reality and the divine mysteries. Maybe children especially understand. They keep their mystical secrets carefully concealed until the moment comes to reveal them. High atop the magnolia tree I learned to let the winds of God blow me wherever it would.
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
There must be a God somewhere.
Who Am I?
My own story and my early religious life was grounded in the Cajun Catholic culture of South Louisiana. The Cajuns (i.e. Acadians) were French settlers who were forced by the British to flee from their homes in Nova Scotia in 1756, with many of them eventually ending up in South Louisiana. They have added spice to the American culture in their spiritual practices, as well as their famous cooking.
As a counterpoint to most of American culture, in my Cajun family we do not find it strange to hear reports of conversations with dead people or of messages from the saints. From early childhood, I knew that I could hear the voice of God speaking directly to me, telling me in which direction to go. This was not considered strange or dangerous in my religious culture.
As I was growing up, I kept searching for a way to answer the ever-present and insistent message to serve God. For a female growing up Catholic in those days, the call to service could be very troubling since the Catholic Church of the 1950s and 1960s was intensely patriarchal, a society largely closed to women. Only nuns could serve God. Anyway, I knew I wanted to be a mother; therefore, no religious path seemed open to me within the Church. As a young adult, I eventually left Catholicism quite angry over not finding acceptance of my gifts.
Later when I heard of the Quakers, I was delighted to discover their long history of equality for women. I resolved to locate their meeting houses and group members, which was not an easy task. They usually congregate in small groups that are often hidden, so my attempts to find them met with little success. Finally, it was through God’s serendipity that my path crossed theirs. In 1973, my husband and I were living in Maryland. We loved to wander the countryside looking for colonial buildings. One day we spotted a “chapel-of-ease,” a tiny Episcopal Church building where country residents in colonial times could worship when severe weather prevented them from going into town. As I approached the building, I saw a small sign which read “Welcome: Quaker Meeting.” The following Sunday, I joined their small silent worship group. The white-washed interior filtered a pure white light. In the pristine silence, I found my joy. I was home at last!
I had been looking for a place where a woman’s spirituality was respected. I joined the Liberal branch of the Religious Society of Friends in my twenties. What I discovered was that for the Friends, having a direct experience of God was normal religious practice.
At the age of 24, I was accepted into membership and made a lifelong commitment to the Quaker way. Many wonderful elders taught me by their example how to be a Friend. There was no catechism or instruction manual to guide me, only the elders gently guiding me along the path. I have been a Friend now for over 40 years, and it has been a richly rewarding lesson in how to live adventurously. Now I have become an elder whose role is leading young Friends on their adventures in spiritual development. In return, they teach me how to remain refreshed and connected to life in all its vicissitudes.
Among the Friends I found a spiritual community where I could respond to God’s beckoning. At age 35, I received a spiritual calling to become a minister, and finally was recognized by a Quaker meeting in Southern Illinois that released me to become a traveling minister at age 60.
My Spiritual Timeline among the Friends
1983—received a vision of the Cross of Joy.
1985—began hearing messages to “record my ministry.”
1985—met Louise Wilson at a Quaker Hill Consultation sponsored by Earlham School of Religion (sent by an elder of my meeting, Alice Walton, who recognized my calling and tried to bring it to acceptance at my post-Christian meeting).
1985—met Lucy Talley [Davenport] and formed a covenant group with Evanston Friends: Wilfred Reynolds, Lucy Davenport, and Annette Reynolds, which met weekly to pray together. We were all devout Christians.
1998—was asked to give the Plummer Lecture at Illinois Yearly Meeting which was a call to Friends to return to Christ. Clance Wilson, a returning elder to Clear Creek Meeting, heard my message and asked me to “become his minister.”
1998—went to Louise Wilson in Virginia Beach for confirmation of my calling into ministry. At that time, I was facing strong resistance to my being a “called Christian minister” in a post-Christian meeting. She assured me that I should go forward.
2003—was called to serve as clerk of Illinois Yearly Meeting (ILYM) during a period of organizational and building restoration.
2005—was called to serve as ILYM Field Secretary.
2008—resigned my membership in my Quaker meeting because of strong resistance to my Christian ministry.
2009—asked for clearness to become a member of Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting. I was graciously received into membership even though several attendees said that they were atheists. They recorded my ministry even though I had not requested it. Then I moved to Carbondale and entered graduate school [2000 – to date). I have traveled among Friends of all branches in America.
2013—was invited to be the plenary speaker at Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting in 2013. I met Pamela Richards who later became my constant traveling ministry companion.
2014—was invited to travel to speak at the Menucha Women’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. “Wilt Thou Go with Me on My Errand?” was the theme—traveling ministry. This conference of Unprogrammed and Evangelical Women of the Northwest have been meeting for years to bridge the cultural religious gap. Lucy and I spoke together of our experience with Louise Wilson and how each of us had found difficulties in bringing forth our ministries. Below, in brief, is what I said to the Menucha Women: I have named my story “Set Apart by God.”
I told them my life story. It concerns my receiving a leading in 1985 to become a called minister for Christ. I was then a member of an unprogrammed Quaker meeting where I faced another door that did not open to me.
“The time has come,” said God, “for you to come away and be alone with Me for a while.” I wrestled with this thought like Jacob with the angel. I was to be given a new name if I succeeded in this wrestling match with my God. Did I want to be renamed? I knew in my heart that I would be set apart from all that I had come to love in my life if I accepted the name of God’s Child. The path ahead was murky and uncertain and caused me to tremble with fear. At that moment, a brilliant light appeared showing me the way forward. It was Jesus, my guide and my teacher, leading me one step at a time. My fear began to leave me.
Then I told them about the challenges that I had encountered in recording my ministry and my encounters with Louise Wilson who encouraged me to keep going forward. I finally found an open door among Friends in Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting. Several people asked me for copies of my travel minute because they too were looking for a way to go forth, and it spoke to them of their own struggles to have their gifts acknowledged.
All around the conference room on the final day of the retreat I could hear the voices of Quaker women of all ages, all stages of life, singing with great joy and gusto:
Oh let us sing, sing till the power of the Lord comes down,
Oh let us sing, sing till the power of the Lord comes down,
Lift up your voice, be not afraid,
And sing till the power of the Lord comes down
2016—I was invited by my friend Mariellen Gilpin to attend my first WCTS Mystics Reunion in Chicago. At the end of the retreat, Michael Resman asked me to create a design for a Ministers and Elders Retreat. At the moment he asked me, I knew this would call forth all of my experiences as a Friend. I said, “Yes,” and immediately consulted Pamela Richards, my traveling ministry companion.

An Infinite Number of Second Chances: Three Books About Life Between Lives

Three Books About Life Between Lives recommended by Rhonda Ashurst and reviewed by Mariellen Gilpin for preparation for the May issue of What Canst Thou Say on the theme “Other Lives”

Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Michael Newton, Ph.D. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN. 1994.

Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Michael Newton, Ph.D. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN. 2000.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. © 1988. Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Michael Newton is a hypnotherapist who began interviewing people with severe pain issues without clear physiological causation. His books record snippets of his conversations/interviews with some of his patients, in which he explores their traumas in earlier lives to learn how to relieve physical ailments in their present lives. Along the way, he began to investigate what a soul’s journey is like between one life and the next. If one were to read Newton’s books expecting to explore his reasoning about whether and how one might have consciousness between a death in one life and a birth into the next, the reader will be disappointed. Newton’s objective is not an argument for the existence of souls based on his interview data, but socio-anthropological studies, if you will, which explore the structure and the milestones of a soul’s journey between lives.

Journey of Souls, first published in 1994 and revised five times by the 38th printing in 2017, focuses largely on the stages of a soul’s journey from one life to the next: first passing the gateway into the spirit world; then one’s homecoming party, so to speak, with others in our group of soul-intimates; our review of our learnings (or not) in one’s past life; choosing a new life and a new body; and the experience of rebirth. He also reviews the journey of a soul as it moves from beginner to intermediate and then advanced soul-hood over the course of many lives, many centuries.

Destiny of Souls, published in 2000 and reprinted 24 times by 2017, explores in some depth various aspects of a soul’s journey: the ways spirits connect with the living; forms and functions souls may take when they wish to stay connected to earth between lives; how souls may undertake to restore themselves between lives on earth; the group systems that souls may choose between lives; how souls undergo evaluation (not judgment and punishment) of their lives; the linkages between spiritual and human families, including reuniting with souls who have hurt us; and some specializations that advancing souls may choose (ethicists or nursery teachers, for instance); and finally, how souls are supported and guided in their choices of future lives.

Once the reader adapts to the lack of support for those of us thrown in at the deep end of Newton’s pool, we can notice that there is actually a great deal of support for souls during their lives between lives. The Universe, according to Newton, seems to understand that we are all in a process of learning how to do things better. There is much less emphasis in Newton’s universe on depicting the horrors of eternal punishment; much more emphasis on reflecting on one’s life and how we can do it all better next time, and the time after that. It is a universe with perhaps an infinite number of second chances; opportunities to do it better. One can hope in Newton’s universe, also, for an infinite number of opportunities to rest, reflect, think it over before trying again.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. © 1988. Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

This book will provide some of the narrative background for the change in therapeutic methods and thinking one lacked when reading Newton’s works (see above). We can follow the developments when traditional psychotherapist Brian Weiss first interviewed Catherine under hypnosis, and stumbled on something he knew very little about: reincarnation and past-life memories. His scientifically-trained mind resisted, but he couldn’t deny the reality of his observations either. And, as her traumas in past lives emerged under hypnosis, Catherine’s lifelong anxieties and phobias began to diminish—sometimes disappearing entirely after just one session. As they continued to work together, she began to develop psychic abilities, among other things sharing some remarkable revelations about Weiss’s own family and his dead son. She was also able to serve as a conduit of information about life and death from highly-evolved spirit entities. Weiss’s style of questioning Catherine became much less conventionally therapeutic, and her pace of progress much more rapid. Weiss himself was no longer so fearful about his own death, although he continued to scrutinize carefully every new piece of information from their sessions together. Using past-life therapy, he was able not only to cure Catherine but begin an innovative and highly effective treatment modality.

One cannot help but reflect, upon reading Newton and Weiss’s works, how their views of a constantly-evolving human potential over the course of many second chances, many lives, fit with the more traditional psychological framework, which tends to assume that some diagnoses/labels, such as sociopathy for instance, may be organic in origin. Does such a label remain in place for a single soul through the course of many lives? Stay tuned for more information from later researchers.


by Michael Resman

My heart is full of joy

I revel in ecstasy

For God loves me

I carry that piece of god’s love deep in my soul




God is in me

Never to be taken away or lost


A piece of the universe hurtling through

Pulled by the spark within me to that great conflagration

Thank you, oh thank you, my beloved


What I Said in Worship August 13, 2017

by Mariellen Gilpin

I could sense that Chuck was moved to speak, and then I was moved to speak. Here’s the message Chuck shared:

Chuck had heard the backstory of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Halleluia,” which has been played often in his memory after his recent death: Leonard Cohen had just come to New York City to seek his fame and fortune. He happened to hear a street musician who was playing 6 chords and a series of progressions that Leonard Cohen was especially intrigued by. He talked the guy into coming to Cohen’s apartment and teaching him the chords and progressions. The musician was a recent immigrant, I think from Rumania, and supporting himself by being a street musician. He came to Cohen’s apartment six evenings, but the seventh evening he didn’t come. Cohen made inquiries, and learned the street musician had committed suicide. Cohen made lots of use of those chords and progressions over the course of his career, but in his mind, his “Halleluia” was a memorial to that street musician.

I pondered Chuck’s story. I pondered it a lot. Finally I spoke, seconds before the end of our hour of worship. The message wasn’t completely together yet, but the message needed to come out of the silence, rather than spoken after worship was over. So, I spoke and let the message come together for the first time in the speaking:

“Recently I heard a saying that went something like this: Relapse is a stepping stone on the way to recovery. I certainly had my share of relapses on the way to my recovery. But I am not comfortable with the verb in the saying. It’s not IS. It’s more like the verb needs to be CAN BE: A relapse can be a steppingstone on the way to recovery.

“When I look back at my journey to recovery, I realize my husband’s emotional support was a very important factor. But I’m also remembering my grandmother this morning. I’m remembering when I was four years old and the two of us were walking hand in hand toward the gate that led to the hog barn. My grandmother always carried a stout stick, which she used to help her walk. She never talked about it with me, but somehow I intuited that my little hand helped her walk. It’s not that she depended on my hand to support her as she walked. I am now the age she was then, and I think probably holding my hand helped her know where she was in space—that I was a source of a little extra data that she needed to function.

“As we walked toward the gate to the hog barn, my grandmother told me I was not to go with her into the barn, as I usually did, to feed the hogs. One of the hogs was about to give birth, and was extra-irritable and might hurt me—and also lose her little unborn pigs. I was to stay outside the gate, and also be very quiet while my grandmother fed the pigs and made sure the mama pig was all right. A full-grown pig about to give birth probably weighed 350 pounds, and she had a mouthful of sharp and menacing teeth. Grandmother warned me the mama pig might come right through the gate out of the hog enclosure if she was upset. Then Grandma walked through the gate and shut it behind her.

“I stood there on my side of that gate while my grandmother disappeared inside the barn, alone with the pigs. I listened and listened. There was no sound while she was inside the barn. Finally she finished her job and silently came out of the barn and through that gate.

“Talk about profiles in courage! My grandmother was not only a profile in courage, but also a profile in empathy. Yes, we ate our pigs and sold them for meat. But my grandmother had a very strong feeling that those pigs were fellow creatures. I am also very aware that she took the time and thought, and empathy, to make me aware of the factors in the situation that made this particular journey to feed the hogs—a daily occurrence in my life—unusually dangerous. A little kid to an angry mama pig could look an awful lot like prey. My grandmother took care of me, not by protecting me, but by teaching me to be observant of the nuances in a situation.

“Whenever I had another relapse, I could have simply despaired like that street musician. I remembered my grandmother, and instead I thought about why I made the mistakes that caused the latest relapse. I chose to become more aware of the nuances—to look for the pattern and thus learn from my mistakes, and keep learning, so that a relapse could become a steppingstone to recovery.”