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Writing Cheerfully on the Web

We're number six! We're number six!

The anthology of Quaker bloggers, Writing Cheerfully on the Web (featuring, among others, yours truly!) made the top ten best-sellers this year at Quaker Books!

OK. Technically, that's way too many exclamation points. I would never let one of my writing students get away with that many exclamation points in a row.

But we're excited around here, and we don't care who knows it! And, if you haven't done so already, how about celebrating the New Year with us by picking up a copy of this (Extreme Bias Alert!) massively magnificent book?

"Topical and thought provoking writing from all the best Quaker Bloggers." (And I quote.)

We're number six! w00t!

Fire in the Webs

It's still quite difficult to blog; I'm used to sitting down for two or three hours when the writing fit is on me, and my spine objects to anything over ten minutes. So I'll keep this short and sweet...

I celebrated my Solstice with a day off from my job--and I'm so glad I am openly requesting religious holidays at last. On my day off, I watched the sun come up through the line of white pines at the edge of the former pasture (now woodlot) behind our house. Then I put on hiking boots with cleats, and using a ski pole in lieu of my cane, I made the rounds of our quince and apple trees, with a libation of hard cider.

That afternoon, I wandered three miles along woods roads and the ridge path, out to the pine tree with the bee hive in it. I didn't offer the bees anything--as far as I could see or hear, they were all asleep--but as I turned to hike home again, I noticed the oddest thing:

Spiderwebs.

It was perhaps twenty degrees outside, with brilliant sun, warm aga…

Season of the Deer

The nearness of Yule has a different feel to it this year, our first year living by the woods again.

Since my back injury, I have spent a lot of time walking in those woods, alone, or with Peter and our dogs. Pain pills help; the heating pad and orthopedic chair help more; however, the only thing that really banishes the pain for any length of time is walking, particularly outdoors. I love the woods and walking in any case, but I've really been putting on the miles this year.

One thing I figured out a couple of weeks ago, when I found a spent shell along the trail, is that I'm not alone in these woods even when I am unaccompanied. It's hunting season, and these woods are wild enough and deep enough that they are in regular use by hunters.

On a practical level, that means that I'm back to wearing special Pagan garb again: in this case, a blaze orange women's hunting vest. (It has marvelous pockets, intended for game birds, which are waterproof and easy to clean:…

Waylaid by a Dragon

Have you ever noticed how much the shape of a human spine resembles a dragon, with the head at the base of the spine, and the tail at the neck?

I have. I have had reason to.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering: what happened to it?

The Dragon happened to it, in the form of a post-influenza inflammation of either the sacroiliac joint or the L5 S1 disc, depending on which doctor you prefer to ask. And while I have had my share of back pain in the past, this is really my first encounter with chronic and serious pain.

I have not been able to sit for more than a few minutes at a time for about a month now.

When I sit still, or try to sleep more than a few hours, The Dragon gets me, with fiery breath and claws, and sharp electric teeth, up and down my leg from ankle to hip. I have come to dread my inner Dragon, my spine that will not tolerate stillness or rest.

I have been back at work for a little more than a week, but the 25-minute commute is often a real …

Defense of Marriage

Note: This guest post was written by David R. Forman, a longtime friend of Peter's and mine, whose wife Leslie died earlier this year. Like David, as someone who has felt the blessings of a good marriage, I am outraged at the notion of denying the love of any class of people as a "defense" of my own marriage. Like David, I am dismayed that the voters of Maine were unable to see in equality, not an affront to marriage, but the strongest defense of love possible.

My imagination is beggared. I cannot understand how a subgroup of our citizen’s rights could be put to a popular vote in the first place. Should Jews be allowed to marry? Should post-menopausal women be allowed to marry? Should people who have once been divorced be allowed to marry? But given that such a vote was taken, I am at an utter loss to see how people could vote to strip their neighbors of the right to marry, in a country supposedly based on the idea that all are created equal.

I have no rhetoric to sway t…

Loss

I was talking to my grown daughter on the phone the other day. I told her that one of the unhappy things about getting older is that loss becomes just part of the scenery of life. I told her that I'd spent years of my life learning not to sweat the small stuff, the losses and frustrations that don't really matter, only to arrive at a time in my life that's filled with losses that do matter.

Live long enough, and loss, real loss, is inevitable, after all. We know it, but we live in the happy illusion in our youth that it is not so, that death and disease are the aberrations. Middle age knows they are the rule, and that soon or late they come for everyone we love.

But, I told her, there's an up side, too. The older I get, the better able to weather grief I seem to become. It turns out that in this, as in so many things, practice helps. Grief is a skill that grows better with use, if we dare to trust it--to feel it, acknowledge it, and keep walking.

I'm strong…

Red in Tooth and Claw

When Nora, Peter's grandmother, lived with us, our household was the nucleus of an active local Pagan community. Over time, dementia eroded more and more of Nora's ability to retain anything she learned about in the present, so she wound up discovering again and again that she was living in a family of Pagans.

Over and over, we would have made some reference to our Paganism, and Nora, having forgotten about it for the time being, would ask us to explain again what it was we believed. We would explain, yet again, about all of life being sacred to us, and nature being the source of our inspiration.

Each time we did this, we would reach the point in our discussion where she would protest, quoting the line from Tennyson about "Nature, red in tooth and claw." Nevertheless, we would insist that that was where we looked for the holy, and eventually, she would exclaim (just as she had the time before that): "Well, then, you're all heathens!"

When we agreed wi…

There is Always Joy

To A. This isn't written for you. You don't need to take care of me over this one; this is written for myself, and it is how I cope. I love you forever.

I remember when I was small, not understanding why the adults around me were so serious. Everyone talked about how hard life was, and I thought that was a sign of how ridiculous adults could be.

That says a lot for how good a job the adults around me did, on the whole, caring for me as a child, and what a happy childhood I really had.

But I also remember when I learned for the first time about death.

I was about eight years old. My parents had been away for the weekend, and they'd left us overnight with our babysitter's family, which had been all right except for the fact that the sheets all smelled funny and, in the middle of the night, the world was very gray and I was very homesick.

But when they picked me and my younger brother up in the morning, about halfway home from the babysitter's, they broke the news to …

You Who Are My Bible

I have a vivid memory, from a Quaker retreat I attended not so long ago. I remember coming across a friend, sitting quietly in a patch of sunlight, paging through his Bible.

The sense of depth and worship that surrounded him was as rich as the silence in a forest, and I envied him his ability to sink so deeply into communion with his God, and to stay there so comfortably and restfully. (I often find that, after any extended period of worship, I need an even more extended period of silliness and ordinariness. I love the depths, but often find myself unable to bear them for long.)

Today was one of those days in meeting for worship that the sense of living silence rolled out to meet me as I passed through the door. That feeling--the patient, watchful stillness--is sometimes as palpable as a fur cloak laid over my shoulders, and at times, I find myself savoring it a moment or two before I go to my seat. I love to stand and feel the warm light of morning on my face, and the even warmer q…

Meeting for Worship for Woods

I stayed home for meeting for worship today.

The two acres of woods immediately behind our house have not been woods for very long. They are still in that stage of growth where the trees are mostly of the same age, young trees that are stretching their heads up as high as they can, seeking some light and air, jockeying for position among their fellows in a very close race. Only at the edges of the old field are there old trees: oaks, a hundred years old perhaps, planted behind (and apparently in) the old boundary wall.

These woods do not belong to us. Of course, that is the nature of living things; properly speaking, all living things belong to themselves. However, the non-profit that is the paper owner of the woods maintains a loop path in the young woods behind our home, with a fire circle and benches in the middle of it. As far as I can tell, neither path nor fire circle get very much use. Only once have I ever seen another human being on the path, and the fire pit is almost en…

Daily Sustainability

This is it... the last weekend before I return to full time teaching in a high school English classroom. And, if past years are anything to go by, teaching English will live me feeling wrung out and used up at the end of each day, somewhat resentful at the end of each week that I have such a narrow little window in which to fit the rest of my life.

I don't want it to be like that. That's not new. But the both the desire and the challenge is keener now, since buying this house.

I've mentioned before how important the woods behind the house are to me. I grew up surrounded by woods, and I've longed to live in the woods ever since I left them, to go out and try to create an adult life.

As a child, I at least believed that I lived a life with a kind of balance. My parents had important, meaningful work, but also friends, time outdoors, a house and a garden they were able to take good care of... it looked good, and I both wanted a life like that, and have been afraid I'…

In Which our Heroine Tells us More Than we Wanted to Know about Her New Old House

So. As previously hinted, I do have more to say about New England Yearly Meeting. However, my ability to say it has been temporarily compromised by two issues: technical difficulties, and finally moving into that new/old house I've mentioned here before.

Unless my personal life and Peter's holds interest for you, you might want to skip this one.

The technical difficulties I mentioned are entirely the normal thing in this technological age; when we arranged to transfer our current telephone and Internet service from our old house to our new one, across town, the telephone company gladly accepted the commission, without mentioning that they don't actually provide Internet service in our new part of town. At all. Three weeks and six or seven phone calls later, we learned exactly why the carefully scheduled transfer of services was so unsuccessful when it came to our Web access.

While I realize that it would be unusual for a service to refer customers to their competition,…

New England Yearly Meeting Affirms Same-Sex Marriages

This was a sort of a breakthrough year for me at New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers).

I want to write about that, but I feel that, this year, I need to allow NEYM to scoop me. Because it was a breakthrough year for Friends in New England, too; we minuted our clear sense of the right order of same-sex marriages performed among us.

It is probably worth mentioning that same-sex marriages have been performed by monthly meetings for a number of years now, and that many of our quarterly meetings have affirmed this practice. We have, however, been laboring with this issue, and with our relationship with Friends United Meeting (which continues to be a tender spot) for a long time now.

I mention the issue of Friends United Meeting, which has a personnel policy many of our members find discriminatory and painful, because it was grappling with our discomfort over FUM that kept pushing the matter of same-sex marriage, and of glbtq rights in general, into the limelight for us. Try as …

Standing on Holy Ground

I dreamed a few nights back that I was in a hurry.

I was rushing along through cleared fields and woods roads, up and down hills like the ones I remember from the town where I grew up. Though it looked nothing like the specific landscape behind the house that Peter and I are moving to this month, in the dream it was part of that landscape.

I was in a hurry because it was almost dark. There was a sense of urgency, but no panic--just a need to cover a lot of ground efficiently.

As I came up over a rise, along a power line I was following, I saw silhouetted against the brow of the hill a remarkable sight: a circle of standing stones, very stereotypically Stonehenge-ish, tucked under the wing of the soaring high-tension power lines. The sunset flared out behind the pairing in a breathtaking way, and I mourned that I did not have a camera with me.

I resolved to return with one for another sunset, yet wondered if it would ever be possible to capture the image again in quite the same way. I …

Peter on When Words Fail Us

I have been really struggling with how to respond to the controversy that keeps rearing its head (most recently at Quaker Quaker) about Liberal Quakers’ supposed “hostility towards Christianity.” I’ve been disappointed in and saddened by some of the Quaker bloggers whom I have respected as intelligent and thoughtful Friends with integrity but who are just NOT LISTENING to anyone who might, for instance, be hurt by the Pope’s encyclical against the Neopagans.
I was ruminating on various ways to respond—angry tirades, insightful analyses, heartfelt pleas for understanding and tolerance…none of which would have amounted to more than spitting into the wind—when I came across a quote from Wendell Berry’s essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” He said it all much better than I ever could. And Cat, in her comments over at Quaker Quaker, has been doing a good job of making the point that not all non-Christians are wounded refugees from Christianity; some of us just happened to gr…

Thought for the Day: Save What You Can

Pagans and Quakers spend a fair amount of time thinking about what is going wrong: wars, global warming, species extinction.

And if we're not careful, we can get caught up in feelings of helplessness, cynicism, or despair.

Today, reading about another effort to save yet another endangered species, I found my heart aching with something, something like this:

It doesn't matter if we're going to succeed or not. Not to you and me, and not to what we have to do. Yes, I am hopeful; but really, hope or despair is not my job. My job is to do what I can, small or large. Your job is the same.

Save what you can. Whether or not we're all headed for destruction is beside the point.

Save what you can. No pausing for cynicism or despair. No excuses. Get it done.

A Walk in the Woods

I went for a walk in the woods yesterday.

Though it's not the regular occurrence in my life I wish it was, it wasn't just the fact of being in the woods that made the walk important to me. It was the fact that, after thirty years as an orphan from the woods of my childhood, I was once again walking in woods of my own. Peter and I are buying a house, and the house has woods behind it.

The woods will not literally belong to us, but to a non-profit located next door. That's all right. The woods I walked in nearly every day of my girlhood were not my own, either, beyond the two acres my family held the title to.

I couldn't even guess how many acres I rambled over as a child. From my backyard to the two oaks; from the path across the street to the ledges and the maple grove; from the end of the street to the Peak and the oak scrub and trails beyond it. I hiked over streams, across farms and orchards, in snowstorms, fog, blazing sun and, on at least one memorable occasi…

Quaker Pagan Reflections Featured in Writing Cheerfully on the Web

Writing Cheerfully on the Web, an anthology of Quaker writing, is now available for order.

And Quaker Pagan Reflections is in it!

Edited by one of my favorite Quaker bloggers of all time, Liz Oppenheimer, it also features the work of many of my other favorite Quaker bloggers, including Chris Mohr, Robin Mohr, C. Wess Daniels, Aj Schwanz, Peggy Senger Parsons, Micah Bales, Will Taber, and Peterson Toscano. Sections include Ministry & Worship, That Of God, Convergent Friends, and Love As A Testimony.

Why should you buy a copy of this book? Well, besides the fact that I'm in it (and, did I mention, I am in it?) there's the fact that all of the featured writers do a terrific job at voicing some part of the complicated choir of the modern Religious Society of Friends. Absolutely there will be points of view that will surprise you, maybe even provoke you a bit. But, if you are interested in Quakers, the book will offer a juicy, quirky, lively, and sometimes even wise and insig…

Touching the Spirit

Ask me where I feel Pagan, and I will hold out my hands. Ask me where I feel Quaker, and I will touch my heart.

The other day, at my Quaker meeting, I had just come in the door before meeting for worship and was quietly greeting friends. I was, however, inwardly, already making the transition to worship in my mind, and as I was happily smiling at a friend who had just walked into the room, my hand found its way over my heart.

My friend, thinking I was giving him a kind of New Age salute, returned the gesture. My hand dropped a moment, sheepishly; I am far more New Englander than New Ager, and hate like anything to seem grandiose or self-dramatizing. The gesture, as a gesture, seems terribly precious to me.

Nonetheless, a moment later, I noticed my hand had returned to its position over my heart.

See, there's this thing about my hands. There's this thing about my heart. There's this thing about the sensuality of Spirit, and the physicality of prayer.

The thing about my han…