Monthly Archives: June 2018

Inaction, Interrupted

I had not, as it were, dictated the words, I had simply followed them where they wanted to lead.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

I like the footstools in this meetinghouse. It’s not my first time worshipping here. It’s a comfortable place to visit mid-week. Not far from the train station, small group but reliably present, with footstools for short people—this is something I appreciate.

Also, the windows are pretty. And the benches. Very old benches. There’s a piano in the corner and a sign on the piano about how Quakers didn’t traditionally use pianos. There are Bibles and hymnals on the benches to flip through if that feels appropriate.

I wonder if I might be called to speak. There’s a bit of internal tugging, but I find I’m not sure what the message is. Also, there’s rarely spoken ministry at this meeting. Since I don’t have words, clearly I’m not—

I’m speaking. Without intent or processing of any kind, I’ve stood and kicked my little footstool upside down and opened my mouth and I’m halfway through a sentence before I’m conscious. I seem to be talking about releasing one’s material possessions. Fascinating. I’m making sense—that’s good, at least I’m not babbling—but I certainly have no idea where this is going. A moment later, I appear to be finished. I sit.

I’m feeling glad that I didn’t knock over any other furniture.

Or fall down.

That was interesting . . .



This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

 If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Meet Friend



This is Friend.

Friend came into being a little more than a year ago at a “creativity and spirituality” weekend at Powell House. The whole community worked together to design her, cut her out, stuff her body with cotton, tie on her hair, and make her clothes. We also gave her a travel minute when it became clear that she felt called to travel in the ministry.

This is what her travel minute says:

Dear Friends, This is Friend. She likes to hear all different kinds of music, likes opera, and loves to dance. She also likes hearing stories and is very creative and artistic. She doesn’t like getting dirty. Her gifts are giving hugs and being an exelent listener. She travels in the ministry because she wants to build friendships with all kinds of Quakers. 

Maddie S, Linnea K-C, Emily P, Mary B, Naomi P-G, Jillian S, Anne P, Bridget B, Ruth R, Cathy R, Maeve


Friend has spent a little over a year now preparing to travel in the ministry. She made one trial journey with me last spring to Matinecock meeting on Long Island. That visit was super fun for Friend, and ever since, every time I’m leaving town, she tries to climb into my backpack, but she NEVER FITS.

She’s finding this very frustrating.

So a few days ago, Friend and I had a little chat about the post office. I explained that although she is perhaps a little too short to travel by bus or train unaccompanied, she might be able to travel by box, if she doesn’t mind being shaken up and turned upside down and so forth. She considered this very carefully and consented that she might be willing to try it, as long as I pack her a few crackers in case she gets hungry on the way.

Anyway, Friend is now looking for Quakers to visit! Later on, she thinks she might have particular destinations in mind, but for the first few trips, she’s up for anything—evangelical, pastoral, conservative unprogrammed, liberal unprogrammed, urban, rural, domestic, international, little meetings, big gatherings—whatever, as long as there’s a group of Friends waiting to greet her.

Is anyone willing to be Friend’s first host? All you have to do is take her along to whatever worship or other activities are already happening among Quakers where you are. Write a letter in response to her travel minute telling about what you did together, and if possible, take some pictures and post them online for everyone to see – #travelingFriend. Then, after a week or two, pack her up again (with a handful of crackers) and send her home.

Contact me if this sounds like something you’d like to do!

On Worship

Discoveries don’t come when you’re consciously looking for them. They come when for some reason you’ve let go conscious control. They come in a sudden flash, and you can receive that flash, or you can refuse to. But if you’re willing to receive it, then for that instantaneous moment of time you’re really you, but you’re not conscious in the same way you have to be later on when you look at what you saw in the flash, and then have to work out the equations to prove it.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)


In my first Quaker worship, I’m not evaluating the experience for itself as much as for what it can tell me about Quakers. The whole first hour, nobody talks and that annoys me because I don’t know anything more than I did before I came. I come again the next week and somebody says “there is that of God in everyone,” and I’m sold—I’ve found my spiritual home—but I’m not so sure about this worship thing. An hour’s a very long time for silence. I sit where I can see the clock, and I check it often.


A friend of mine comes to worship with me. Afterwards she says that she liked the meditation, the group meditation, “because that’s basically what it is.” I feel like something’s wrong with that statement, but I can’t articulate it, so I let it go.


I stand up in worship and say a thing. Afterward I’m pretty sure I did it wrong. There’s supposed to be huge feeling around speaking in worship, like you’re compelled to do so, right? I don’t think that’s what I experienced. I don’t have anybody to ask.


More and more often, I stand up and say things, and over time I start to recognize what’s meant by “ministry.” I recognize it on a visceral level, when I’m speaking it and when I’m hearing it. By listening to others at yearly meeting I learn about things like “opening to Spirit” and “channeling energy,” which sounds like a lot of hooey at first but the people talking are people I respect so I take it seriously even when I don’t understand it. There’s a kind of openness that I can feel in my chest and throat, a manifestation in my body of a spiritual truth. I absolutely do not talk about this.


At a yearly meeting function, at lunchtime over a buffet, somebody tells me I’m a prophet and I choke on my root beer. Nobody’s ever defined that word for me in the Quaker sense. This woman says this rather casually and then walks away while eating egg salad. Did she just compare me to Moses and Jeremiah? Because that’s just—I’m not—that doesn’t seem like a thing you say over a buffet.


I’m studying neuroscience for no particular reason and come across a book about alpha waves. I learn that alpha waves are associated with creativity and sudden insight and that they’re induced by profound relaxation—the kind of state brought on by stillness, silence, maybe deep breathing. The more I read, the more I see how Quaker worship stimulates alpha waves. I feel like the neuroscience doesn’t explain away the spiritual experience but deepens my appreciation of it. Why shouldn’t God work with our physiology?


Sometimes worship is boring. I kind of want the mountaintop experience every time, but it’s a discipline. Generally speaking, the less I want to be in worship, the more likely it is that I need to be. On one occasion, I have an experience in worship that manifests as a vision. I see something. It’s not a pleasant something. I post-game the experience with a couple of elders. They help me process. It’s kind of a big deal for me.


The experience of deep, settled worship is the same wherever I am. Sitting with Friends with the intention of listening for God . . . even Friends from other traditions, the ones who sing and pray instead of sitting quietly. We share the intention of listening for God. We share this experience. It’s amazing to me.


At least every week, and often, every day, quiet time—listening to God—and it can be boring or comforting or scary. Or joyful or funny or annoying or challenging. Or healing or exhausting or sad or surprising. And then I get up and write letters and answer emails and tie children’s shoes and ride the subway and, of course, the thing is, you can listen to God then, too.


The Methodist Church a block from home has midweek worship every Wednesday. It’s small and informal and nourishing, so I go when I’m in town. The pastor says, “I’m grateful for the settled spirit you bring. It’s like you just bring in this groundedness, this peace that you carry with you. I guess that must come from being a contemplative for so long.” And I wonder when—how—I became a contemplative, me, who likes spreadsheets and half the time can’t sit still.

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.