A busy Quaker week. On Tuesday I heard North Carolina Friend Betsy Blake give a talk called “He Lives” at Pendle Hill, the story of how “Jesus has been her rock” to quote from the program description. It was a great talk and very well received.
Betsy is a graduate of the Quaker program at Guilford (so she was a
good followup for Max Carter’s talk this weekend) and she helped
organize the World Gathering of Young Friends a few years ago. The talk was recorded and should be up on the Pendle Hill shortly (I’ll add a link when it is) so I’ll not try to be comprehensive but just share a few of my impressions.
Betsy is the kind of person that can just come under the radar. She starts telling stories, funny and poignant by turn, each one a Betsy story that you take on its own merits. It’s only at the end of the hour that you fully realize she’s been testifying to the presence of Jesus in her life in all this time. Real-life sightings, comforting hands on shoulders family tragedy, intellectual doubts and expanded spiritual connections all come together like different sides of the elephant.
One theme that came up a few times in the question-and-answer section is the feeling of a kind of spiritual tiredness – a fatigue from running the same old debates over and over. It’s an exhaustion that squelches curiosity about other Friends and sometimes moves us to follow the easy path in times of conflict rather than the time-consuming & difficult path that might be the one we need to be on.
The last time I was in the Pendle Hill barn it was to listen to Shane Claiborne. I’m one of those odd people that don’t think he’s a very good speaker for liberal Quakers. He downplays the religious instruction he received as a child to emphasize the progressive spiritual smörgåsbord of his adulthood without ever quite realizing (I think) that this early education gave him the language and vocabulary to ground his current spiritual travels. Those who grow up in liberal Quaker meetings generally start with the dabbling; their challenge is to find a way to go deeper into a specific spiritual practice, something that can’t be done on weekend trips to cool spiritual destinations.
Betsy brought an appreciation for her grounded Christian upbringing that I thought was a more powerful message. She talked about how her mom was raised in a tradition that could talk of darkness. When a family member died and doubt of God naturally followed, her mother was able to remind her that God had healed the beloved sister, only “not in the way we wanted.” Powerful stuff.
The sounds at Pendle Hill were fascinating: the sound of knitting needles was a gentle click-clack through the time. And one annoying speaker rose at one point with an annoying sermonette that I realized was a modern-day version of Quaker singsong (liberal Friend edition), complete with dramatic pauses and over-melodious delivery. Funny to realize it exists in such an unlikely place!
And a plug that the Tuesday night speaker’s series continues with some great Friends coming up, with North Carolina’s Lloyd Lee Wilson at bat for next week. Hey, and I’ll be there with Wess Daniels this May to lead a workshop on “The New Monastics and Convergent Friends.”