Betsy Blake and “He Lives!” at Pendle Hill

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.”

  • Thanks for the syn­op­sis, Mar­tin! Great obser­va­tions about Bet­sy, and I am espe­cial­ly appre­cia­tive of your insights into the spir­i­tu­al needs of Lib­er­al Friends.

    I think that I can excuse my Hick­site ances­tors for stray­ing from cul­tur­al and the­o­log­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty, but we have lost the com­mon foun­da­tion for our (dai­ly and com­mu­nal) spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. The phrase that I’ve heard Bet­sy use when observ­ing our aban­don­ment of Chris­tian­i­ty: “You’re throw­ing out the baby with the bathwater.”

  • Julia Haver­stock

    i am a friend of betsy’s and i dig your thoughts about her pre­sen­ta­tion. i also went to guil­ford and dig Quak­ers too. thanks for this. 

  • Craig

    We are so proud of Bet­sy. She is an amaz­ing person!