Archive for August, 2010

Give me LIBERTY!

Pendle Hill is actually in a suburb of Philadelphia, so we had to take in the Philadelphia sites! There is a great visitor’s center to help you get your bearings and make your plans.  Everything you’d want to see is within walking distance of the vistor’s center.  For example, the Liberty Bell…


or give me...


Again, this was a nice, new visitor’s center with many great exhibits about the background of and influence of this important symbol. Maybe not surprisingly (but unknown to me before this visit), the Liberty Bell became an important symbol to the abolitionist movement to end slavery in our country. As a mater of fact, until the abolitionist movement claimed it, the bell was known as the State House bell. (That doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?)

I also did not know that the LB was used to unite the country later, as it traveled the nation and smaller symbolic casts were given to each state of the Union.
I am certain that the founders of that bell had no idea as they molded this musical instument that they were creating an icon. There is also a history of failed attempts to re-make the bell several times.  But our divided nation needed a divided bell to unite us. By the packed out museum hall, it’s obvious that it still inspires us to be better than we are.

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I’ve never been so quiet, so long, with so many people.

Quaker worship is “unprogrammed” at Pendle Hill. (I’ve learned that there are “programmed” Quaker services in many churches – not so different from Baptists’ services with songs and a sermon.) Unprogrammed means you enter the room in silence, have a seat and be still, knowing that God is God.

I’ve spent a week on silent retreat, but this is different. On my retreat, I spent the silent time reading or writing or hiking. I had something to “do” in my silence. Here, I’m sitting with 40 or so people. Sitting. Breathing. Centering. Praying. Waiting. For something…

It was strange on our first try at this. Most everyone sits with their eyes closed. I did, too. But every once in a while, I’d look around. There is something beautiful in seeing the faces of  several dozen praying souls. Sometimes, I’d see someone else looking around, our eyes would connect, then both of us would quickly close our eyes again.

The meeting room

We sat on wooden benches that surrounded the room with a large open space in the middle. After about 25 minutes of silence, a woman stood to welcome everyone and asked non-members to introduce themselves. We all then stood to greet one another. She asked if there were any prayer requests and announcements. We departed.

For the next day’s service, we decided to take our Bibles, so we would have something to read and maybe focus our thoughts during the silence. However, neither of us opened our Bibles. We were already becoming accustomed to this new way of listening for God.

During yesterday’s service, no one had anything to present, but today, a woman who had come into the area for medical treatment had written a song she’d written that wanted to share (accapela) and a man said he’d come from Minnesota with two words to bring – both short sentences that I hope were helpful to someone, since he’d come such a long distance just to bring them! A man voiced an intercessory prayer bringing someone “into the Light”. In this way, each service is different from another.

At night, there was another opportunity for a time of worship, but this was not in silence. At this vespers service, one of the members would tell a story or read a poem and invite reflective comments. Our leader read from an autobiography of a woman who was very ill, cared for by her mother. There were a few comments, then silence, then we left.

Although there was some initial awkwardness for us in these services, in the end, we found them very refreshing.

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Dogwood, simple and beautiful

Closeup of dogwood flowers

Erin spent the rest of the retreat time with very practical guidance on uncluttering one’s life, workspace and home. Some things I liked best:

Work desk: have nothing within arms reach if you don’t touch it multiple times a day. Set up your phone so that it is in the opposite arm of your writing hand.

2 hour rule: when you return from a trip or complete a home party, have everything back to normal within 2 hours of walking through the door or saying goodbye to the last guest.

Lifestyle: Start small, with something you see every day, wherever in your house you get the most frustrated, the place you first see when you get home.

Mug studies: I’d never heard of these, but they are all the rage in sociological studies, apparently. If you touch a mug you have formed a physical/emotional bond to it, so that you do not want to give it up. So, have a friend help you as you sort through your clothes. They hold it up to ask you, “Do you need to keep this?” If you touch it yourself, you’ll almost aways decide to keep it.

Failure: all fall off the wagon. Learn from it and start over. The only real failure is to give up.

Maintaining: Uncluttering, as hard as it may seem, is the easy part. The hardest part is maintaining a lifestlyle. Every thing has its place or it is not needed. For every single item you’re thinking of bringing into your house ask, “where will it live in my house?”

Be an editor versus a curator.

Everyone struggles with this. Some just have more practice.

It is a practice of Simplicity.

Susan checks in with the boys

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On Saturday morning, we looked at more readings and scriptures. The key verse was “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” We sat to ponder that verse for a while, then share our reflections on it.

We also had a story about John Wolman, who according to Thomas Kelly, had “inner integration…He yielded to the Center and his life became simple.” Erin pointed out that she did not have the one answer for what we needed to do. These are individual choices based on individual goals for life. “There is not only one choice. There are many good choices.”

A reading I especially liked was from someone having a discussion with Gandhi about his stuff. What he confessed was that he could not live without his books, could not imagine life without them. Gandhi replied that the man should keep his books, then. He should only release what he wanted to release because he had come to the personal conviction that he could live without it.

Then we were challenged by Erin to consider what matters most to us. “What is the remarkable life you desire? If God is at the center, we will be filled with the time and energy for the gifts we love the most.” We made a list, then made a “visioning board” (a collage) picturing the answers to the questions, “In the remarkable life you desire, what is there more of? Less of? Needed? What can you set aside? What will need to change? What are you being led to do? What and who are the gifts in your life? Do you have ‘singleness of eye’? Can you see where you want to go?”

My collage

Susan's collage

This part of the retreat was just what I was looking for and needing. There would be helpful pointers and hints later, but this was the foundation I needed to examine and reflect upon. This can guide me to have a more simple life based on a solid philosophy and open spirituality, rather than on wishes and guilt.

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Light shining through nature

At our next session, Erin led us to some Scriptures and readings from Quaker writers. We spent several minutes in silence, considering how these readings informed us on simplicity. Erin then gave us a brief understanding of Quaker theology, since about half of us were not Quaker.

Though there is no formal or systematic theology, Quakers share in common the belief that the Light of God dwells in each person. She pointed us to the Matt 6:22, “that your whole body may be full of Light.” Erin said, “Simplicity is a way of making room for the Light.” We should determine who we are and what we want. “If you know what your final objective is, it’s easier to know what to give away. Clutter is a distraction that draws you away from your Center, the Light, God. The Holy Spirit cannot fill if you’ve allowed no room.”

She concluded, “If you decide to make room for God, that can be scary. You may have to change.”

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