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 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 <>
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.”

Finding Spiritual Support


by Pamela Richards

I have come to Quakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century, an age when the presence of traditional spiritual support is not as common as it once was. Spiritual support, like wisdom, rarely shows up when we are not looking for it. It is not that it does not exist; but the state of readiness to receive is prerequisite. There is a process of seeking, asking and knocking on doors that demands an openhearted curiosity. In seeking spiritual support, sometimes we learn to expand our community by traveling the paths of time. I have sought spiritual support in literature, in Scripture, with Friends who have passed on, from ancestors, and from Friends who have benefited from the wisdom of twentieth century elders.

In the story of Abraham, God takes Abraham to look at the night sky, and declares that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. If an individual is represented by one star, I suggest our spiritual support system is represented by a constellation. This is how humans of all cultures have viewed the night sky—as connected in meaningful patterns that tell a story.  Every culture has its own sense of the meaning of these stories. Even though I live in a hilly city, I admit I am still a skygazer: I am drawn to any visible patch of night sky again and again, scanning it like the pages of a book, expecting it to spell out a story that will bring me a message from God. A moon? What part of the sky, how long after dusk, what shape? Do I recognize a constellation nearby? Looking up into the dark at night reminds me that we have all been tossed into the same sky, but not without connections: not without context. Seeking spiritual support is much like seeking the sparks of light that have been cast into our constellation with us. It is not to our own credit that we have experienced certain relationships or learned from particular Friends. It is a matter of God’s design, and a declaration of his glory.

Surprisingly, I entered my first relationship of spiritual support after I left high school and met my first Friend on the campus of a fundamentalist Bible College founded by my grandfather. I had known no Quakers growing up, and my initial introduction to Quakers had been through the writing of Catherine Marshall in the novel Christy. I felt a certain respect for the character of Alice Henderson, a nurturing and spiritually mature woman who the author contrasted against the more rigid, legalistic evangelists portrayed in the mountain setting of the book. As the granddaughter of a preacher and teacher of preachers, I already knew everything I wanted to know about their practices. It was the Quaker who intrigued me.

This summer, while I was visiting my elder and spiritual supporter Maurine Pyle, we visited a library where we were invited to select books to donate to prisoners. There I came across Christy, and I knew I’d like to ask Maurine what she thought of it. I suggested the book to Maurine, who cheerfully made a donation in exchange for a used copy of the book.  More than forty years after I had first read the book, Maurine pointed out the narrative description of a clearness process between Christy, the main character, and Alice, the Quaker. And now I could see that when I first met Maurine three years previously, I already had a prototype for the nurturing presence of spiritual support we found in our friendship.

Back in 1974 when I met my first Quaker, Richard Mullins, I do not know whether my initial reading of Christy had influenced, or prepared me for the experience of spiritual support we both gained from our relationship. It became a complex and multi-faceted friendship, but for the moment I will focus on the spiritual dynamics.

What characterized the relationship as one of spiritual support? I knew it was spiritual support, but not until re-discovering Quakers thirty years later did I learn a vocabulary to describe it. I began to recognize underlying patterns in my friendship with Maurine that reminded me of Richard’s style of listening, and I asked, and sought, and knocked. A seasoned elder, Maurine reflected all of my questions as she modeled the clearness process. She helped me recognize the underlying process of spiritual support that, by God’s plan, has been unfolding throughout my life.

First, I learned that in spiritual support there is no judgement. In 1974, I was in a clear state of spiritual rebellion against my mother’s form of Christianity that had brought me to that place, but Richard considered me in all respects his spiritual equal. Frankly, I felt like everyone else on campus treated me like a freak. They were being kind, but the underlying assumption was that I was the goat, and the rest of them were all sheep. I soon became irritated by the “salvation” scripts that some students resorted to when we were alone.

By contrast, in his actions and his conversations, Richard had even invited me to act as his spiritual support before I demonstrated a commitment to any sort of spiritual calling. It was such a relief not to face harsh judgement, I instantly relaxed in his presence. He simply believed that humans are spiritual beings, and that makes us all equal regardless of our stance toward spirituality. He modeled the kind of openness that showed me how to contemplate the possibility or, later, the reality of God without sensing the threat that triggered my rebelliousness.

During our deeper conversations, we were present for one another, but more than that, we were both in the presence of the Light. I sensed, as he told me the more difficult parts of his story, that he had more to bear than I could help him with. I began reaching out for a higher source of strength. I found myself praying for my friend as he spoke and in the silences, listening for God to speak his wisdom to us as well. I sensed Richard was doing the same for me. This is a practice of spiritual support some have called “deep listening.”

In the Jewish faith, ten members—called a minyan—are required to be in company to experience the presence of God in worship. By contrast, one of the teachings of Jesus says, “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in your midst.” Of course, it cannot be denied that God touches us with His presence at times when we are otherwise alone—but that experience can be so overpowering that in the moment, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the meaning or purpose of His presence. The value of processing such an experience with a supporting Friend in the light is that it gives our experience more depth, exposes more levels of meaning, opens more potential, and affects both of us in profound ways. The fact that it only takes two to usher in the presence renders the Light more accessible, more portable and more consistent in our lives. Sometimes it takes a fellow stargazer in our constellation to help us discern which way the cosmic wind is blowing.

Deep questions—about ourselves, about the nature of God, the meaning of suffering—surfaced, requiring a response not from the mind, but from the source of wisdom within. Sometimes the answers were incomplete, simple statements of not-knowing, but answers were not the point. The questions served as a gateway to a state of openness. In turn, dwelling in a state of openness suspended our expectations, opening the way for potential in any direction. I later learned that the process of opening to unexplored potential is sometimes called “clearing space.” It is an attitude essential to the path I am currently called to, the windblown state of responsiveness to Spirit which some call “As way opens.”

Pamela Richards is a member of Community Friends Monthly Meeting in Cincinnati, and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.  She joined the Society of Friends in 2013.  She has sought out experiences of mentoring practices of Friends such as deep listening and eldership. New to traveling ministry, she has also had the joy of supporting Friends in traveling and writing ministries. Like many of us who have undertaken a study of their ancestry, she has recently discovered long-forgotten family roots among Quakers.

Editors’ note: What Canst Thou Say? is happy to share this, the lead article in the May 2017 issue. It is published here as a teaser. There is much more in the print version which will be mailed in the next few weeks and in the web version, which will soon be available on the website <>.

The Journey to Joy: Slogging My Way to The Transformation High

by Mariellen Gilpin

The story of my thirty-year journey to joy has to begin in a sordid, sad place. I met my first psychiatrist upon admission to the local hospital. Without any preliminary question and answer session, he abruptly ordered me onto the examination table and somewhat roughly gave me a pelvic exam. There was something about the way he stared intently at my private parts. I came to the hospital confused and disoriented. Desperate for help, ready to trust the doctor. Now I was politely, silently angry: The problem is in my mind, not my crotch! The trauma happened only once in the four years I worked with him. But that once was enough to leave me frozen in shame, humiliation, and powerlessness.  I only began to recover when I learned from other women, including one who sued him, that I was not alone in having been subjected to what amounted to medical molestation. I was not alone.

Whenever I met with him, I reported whatever I was doing to help myself. He chuckled like an evil uncle and indicated many of his patients had tried that very same thing, and failed. He seemed to find their failures funny. I did not enjoy my mistakes. The consequences were always awful. They were not funny.

It seemed whatever I said, he always prescribed still-higher doses or still more pills. Each pill had its own side effects, and so there were more pills to deal with the side effects of the other pills. And, of course, multiple pills made it hard to track which side effect was caused by which combination of pills.I was so medicated I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, let alone think through what caused my mind to derail and how I might learn to stay on track. Or draw the conclusion that this doctor did not want me to get well. Or that I could choose to go shopping for a doctor on less of a power trip. My sessions with this doctor came to a stop because I wanted a better insurance plan, rather than a better plan for getting well.

The new doctor, more than likely caught between genuinely wanting to help me get better and protecting his medical-fraternity brother, suggested trying a different medication plan, which he described to me and sent me home with a book to read. I had been in the first doctor’s care for four years, and was so indoctrinated by his No hope! No hope for you! that I told the new doctor I needed to think about it. What I really needed to do was decide to risk hope. I had hoped, and failed, so consistently. Each failure seared my wounded soul. To choose to hope was to choose to risk still another failure. What I spoke of to friends and family was the potential side effects of the new medication regime. What I really was doing was summoning the courage to choose hope.

The new doctor gave me a range within which I could self-medicate, and introduced a brand new concept: I could learn to manage the illness. In the nearly 40 years since, I’ve worked with six other head doctors, seven internists, and one oncologist. I interviewed each one before I agreed to work with them, thanks to that first head-doctor. I am prepared for the probability that any doctor is likely to be a bit of a nutcase. My real question is, Is this doctor ethical? Can I trust my body and my mind to this person who by nature of his profession will have a power relationship with me?

***  Fast forward now about three years. My medication regime had stabilized, but I continued to hallucinate at about the same rate as before. I was not really getting better. I joined a 12 Step group for mental sufferers called GROW. GROW encouraged members to work with their doctors to reduce their medications, even get off all psych meds. My husband encouraged me to try. I was taking enough pills that I was a dingaling. It would be so wonderful to be able to think again. But the hallucinations—I wanted no more of them than I could help, and every reduction I’d tried in the past increased their number and intensity. First, I needed to reduce the hallucinations, and then try reducing the medication a trifle.

I had been advised by my GROW friends not to converse with my voices, because engaging with them encouraged the pattern to persist. The problem was that my hallucinations woke me up from a sound sleep with an audible whoosh at about two a.m. Why out of a sound sleep? Why at two a.m? Why that whoosh? I had no idea. The workings of my once-good mind no longer made any sense to me. But the pattern was totally reliable: the whoosh, a pause, then the voices, and pretty soon I was conversing with them. What I had to do, I decided, was find a way to distract myself immediately upon hearing the whoosh.

The idea was daunting: choosing a different response when I was both half-asleep and also too drugged to think—I couldn’t have been much more vulnerable. How was I to change a thought-habit when I was in that condition? Something that caused me great grief and shame was that one of the voices I heard was “God.” When I called out in my anxiety and bewilderment to God for guidance, and Fake God provided advice that invariably turned out badly, it wasn’t hard to decide the voice was not the real God—in retrospect. Hindsight might not be 20/20, but it was better than what came to me in that split second after calling out to God for guidance. Somehow, I decided, my concept of God was faulty, that I could be hoodwinked by Fake God so easily. I wanted a better relationship with God.

In GROW we learned to hope for one another until we could hope for ourselves. We were encouraged to memorize bits of the program, so they’d be available in our moments of need. At the close of every meeting, we recited together a prayer called the Act of Surrender. I decided the prayer was a pretty good model of what a right relationship with God could be. I undertook to memorize it. It was fairly long and complicated, especially when I was trying to memorize it with half a brain. As I memorized it, a plan began to develop. The moment I heard the whoosh, I would throw all my attention to reciting the Act of Surrender. I would distract myself from Fake God and at the same time, work on building a better relationship with Real God.

When I talked about my plan in GROW, a leader suggested I also memorize and think about another GROW saying: Resume quickly without fuss. The next time I heard the whoosh, I didn’t start the prayer or switch my attention in time. I reported at the next meeting and was encouraged to believe I’d get it started more quickly next time. And I did. The old thought-habit was decisively derailed. It was as if the whoosh turned a somersault in its eagerness to leave my mind.

I was overcome with joy. There was reason to hope. I knew I had many mistakes ahead of me—about 20 years worth, as a matter of fact, before I learned how not to hallucinate. There were lots of opportunities to practice resuming quickly without fuss. But my strategy had worked that once, and would again. I’d try to learn from my mistakes and refine my strategy. When I’d piled up enough successful derailments of the sick old thought-pattern, I could be completely free of hallucinations.

Over the years, I’ve thought and prayed a lot about addiction. I’ve come to view those sick thought-patterns as a form of behavioral addiction, because addiction can be anything we do over and over because we want to feel better, even though we know it’s bad for us. That’s why we must choose not to fuss at ourselves when we make still another mistake: fussing makes us feel worse, which makes it harder to avoid the faulty thought pattern next time. The old short-term feel-better reward is always followed by mid- to long-term awfulness. What seems to work for me is replacing the short-term feel-good with a longer-term choice for happiness. It’s very hard to do at first, because we know what the short-term reward will be. We won’t like the downside, but since we’ve never tried the choice with the longer-term reward, we don’t know how it will make us feel. If we’re used to eating chocolate when we’re depressed and decide to go for a long walk instead, what we’re most aware of at first is the chocolate-deprivation. The short-term joys of the long walk are subtler: the smell of the fresh air, the bunnies and birds along the way, the enjoyment of feeling our blood moving. Because the immediate rewards are subtler, we may not notice we’re rather happier several hours later. I had the benefit, however, that my voices always had a truly awful and fairly immediate downside. When reciting the Act of Surrender stopped the whoosh in its tracks, the sense of joy and relief and hope was much more immediate.

Recently a gym-friend, a long-distance runner, talked about the runner’s high. She’d run and run until she was exhausted, and then her runner’s high would kick in, and she’d run almost effortlessly the remaining distance. She explained that hormones called endorphins were released to create the runner’s high. She ran to achieve the distance, always, but the runner’s high helped her get there.

When I remember my first success at un-choosing listening to voices and that moment of joy, I know I was transformed. I may have experienced a transformation high. Whatever hormones may someday be discovered that cause the transformation high, I can assure you the transformation high is instantly addictive. Any and all obstacles to happiness and wholeness I now view through the lens of the transformation high. How can I change myself? How can I get that high again?

I run my life now as much for the transformation highs along the way as for the actual overcoming of the obstacles. I think it may be fair to say that my happiness today is basically a continuous state of being high on transforming myself.