Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, February 20, 2010



Susannah McCandless recently received a bone marrow transplant. Her husband Ethan is blogging about the experience here.

Please send prayers their way.

Ethan wrote:

I don't like the idea of miracles. By that I mean, I don't like the idea of specific miracles, the “Lo, then God parted the SUVs and gave His faithful free on-street parking” type. It grates at my intellectual desire for explanations. It also gives me a kind of ethical qualm...if we see a bone marrow transplant as a miracle, aren't we snubbing the thousands of people who have devoted their lives to the work that makes it possible?

But I do believe in the general miracle; I am in awe of that. Death and stasis and entropy seem so compelling. Bad tends to go to worse. In contrast, the riot of living and thinking—more life, as the old blessing goes—feels almost like a sucker bet. ... And yet the whole world is full of life and thought, and it persists tenaciously all the same. That is the miracle.

It got me thinking more about miracles.

Every day the sun rises and the sun sets and it is a miracle. Is it any less of a miracle because it happens every day? It can all be explained with straightforward physics. But before the sky turns from black to blue, it has a moment of red and gold. And before the sky fades to dark, the clouds capture the same red and gold from the sun. And before the line of light that is always moving from east to west across the earth, there is a line of song. Before the light, the birds awake and start to sing. Even in February in New England, there are song birds singing at dawn. Even in the islands in the ocean, where they cannot hear the rest of the chorus, birds wake up and sing. This circle of birdsong has been circling the earth with the dawn for millions of years. And it, like the dawn itself, is a miracle.

At the ocean the tide rises and falls. And the waves break on the shore and go out and break again. This has been going on since the oceans were formed billions of years ago. There is a miracle there.

My home is near the top of a rocky granite ridge in New England. The soil is thin and full of rocks. 20 thousand years ago there was no soil here. The rock was scraped clean and was covered by a glacier. The soil here ended up on Cape Cod and Long Island. The soil was formed by the action of water and ice on rocks and pebbles and the decay of the plants that started to grow. This was a miracle.

Nearby there are some ponds. They are called kettle hole ponds and they were formed when large chunks of ice from the melting glaciers took longer to melt and so formed depressions in the ground. At first they were filled with water from the melting ice, and then with water from springs. There was a time when these ponds, Spy Pond and Fresh Pond, were ringed with ice houses. In the winter the ice would be cut into blocks and stored. It would be shipped to the cities in the South and to the Caribbean Islands and as far away as India. This was the hard work of many, but when the ice showed up in the tropics,
it was also a miracle.

Miracles are not supernatural events, even though it is common to think of them that way. We talk about the healing miracles in Jesus' ministry but science records similar miracles regularly in clinical trials. They get categorized as the placebo effect. It is true that people get better just because they have faith that someone has done something to make them better. The miracle in feeding the multitudes was not that Jesus magically multiplied a few loaves and fishes. The miracle happened because he was able to move people to a place where they were aware of the abundance around them so that they were able to share what they already had with them. When they went from each one holding on to what they had, to sharing, they found that there was enough for everyone.

The secret of a miracle is not in the event, but in standing in the place where we can see the wonder that underlies it. The other secret is that we never deserve miracles no matter how fervent our prayers or how righteous we try to be in our lives. The miracles are poured out on us in an unending, undeserved bounty of blessing. They are poured over us even when we are too blind to see them.

More life. More life. What a miracle. The windswept rocks at the tops of mountains are covered with lichen. At timberline in the Rockies are gnarled trees no higher than your knees that are hundreds or thousands of years old. More life. Besides volcanic vents on the floor of the ocean where there is no sun or air, there are colonies of plants and animals living off of the heat of the volcano and the minerals spewn forth from the earth itself. More life. Even the crabgrass and dandelions that grow in the cracks of my sidewalks and driveway, threatening to break them up is the miracle of more life.

More prayers for Ethan and Susannah, too, because prayers are miracles too.


Will T

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Reading from the Lectionary

This winter I have started the practice of each week reading the Bible selections from the common lectionary. (For those who are not familiar with it, the common lectionary sets forth the 3 year cycle of Bible passages to be read in Christian worship services each week – with extra days thrown in for major church holidays like Christmas and Ash Wednesday and so on. It can be found on line here.) Last week the readings included 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is a passage that is so commonly read at weddings that it is easy to overlook it's value in other areas of life. The following section caught my eye and has stayed with me in the context of the divisions among Friends. If particular the controversies within FUM and also the controversies over New England Yearly Meeting's relationship with FUM came to mind.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Cor 13:4-7

I know that my actions have not always met this standard, especially the parts about not being arrogant or insisting on my own way. I am sometimes irritable and resentful and often impatient. I want things to go the way that I think is best. Especially I want things to go in the way I think God thinks is best. Now I am boasting about my arrogance. How rude.

I hear echoes of Corinthians in James Naylor's deathbed confession:

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. ... Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.

If we are called to love our enemies, isn't this how we are called to act? If God is love, then this is the nature of God. Isn't this the way God works with us, wearying out all in us that is of a nature contrary to God? Faithfulness requires that we proceed in in the manner of love. If I am to be faithful it means I have to do more listening and less talking. It means I have to listen deeply and not just so that I can formulate the perfect response. I have to listen deeply enough and openly enough to listen into words what is on the heart of those I am listening to. I need to hold those words and treasure them because God speaks through the words of the heart.


Will T