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Finding Grounding in Unfamiliar Territory at the FWCC-SOA Gathering
In mid-March 2019, Friends World Committee (FWCC) in all the Americas met in the middle of the vast Missouri plains, near the homeland of the Ozarks, and Missouri nations. We were 130 Quakers converging from Bolivia to Washington state; from Guatemala to Vermont. People drove, flew, and some came by train. We crossed the mother rivers of Mississippi, Rio Grande, and Ohio seeing the poverty of trailer parks, and the common occurrence of Confederate flags outside of the front doors of suburban Missouri.
I came to the conference with apprehension. I came to the conference with apprehension. I traveled from Tijuana where I had conversed with dozens of refugees to help them find asylum in the US. I felt lonely and uncorked. In Missouri I saw roasted ribs but no clam chowder. I saw trees drowned in floods, but no evergreen mountains. Who are these people? Holy One, how do I pray for this Quaker family I don’t know? I was hungry although the kitchen served mostly chicken. I felt alone despite the full dining room. I knew in my head Love was at work, but I didn’t feel Love. I was imbalanced.
What do you recommend when exiled from the Living Spirit? I retreated to three spiritual practices.
1. Reading devotional stories or scripture. A prayer partner from Cambridge Meeting had agreed to read Jeremiah with me. Slogging through 52 chapters of the raging prophet during the Babylonian exile was excruciating. (I stopped at chapter 14). I was angry at God’s wrath and condemnation of the Israelites. After banqueting on Isaiah, reading Jeremiah was like sitting with Sylvia Plath’s psychiatrist. Jeremiah’s message got me "woke" but wasn’t nurturing.
2. Running or swimming. Is there such a thing as prayer with fluid body movement? Can I join the gyroscope of God’s amazing creation? I did wake up during the conference at dawn to run along lakes and fields. The effort was worthy. I became grounded, but not truly centered.
3. Asking people for Guidance. I found gentle cradling came my way at FWCC. Jeremiah says in 29:12 “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” I slipped away from the business meetings and walked around a lake with two Friends. I admitted I was confused. I found another Friend and kept walking. Was I being asked (by God? By Friends? By elders?) to travel to the Mexican border again? I noticed fear. I didn’t admit that I felt incompetent and insignificant. I walked again.
On the last day I walked with a Salvadoran hermanita (dear sister). She affirmed me. She hugged me. I confessed. She didn’t critique my halting Spanish. I was washed with hope, hope like an expanding magnolia. A buoyant air carried me at the end of the conference. I felt gratitude. It wasn’t a cure, but I wasn’t hungry.
Visiting with FWCC in far places reminds me how God lives in crevasses that I’d rather ignore. Traveling to FWCC events reminds me of New England bees that rub pollen over their jaws and whiskers. The humming insects lift off and share the rich pollen with other flowers, in other gardens. Meanwhile my soul becomes slathered with the golden nectar too.
Mirad cuán bueno y cuán delicioso es habitar los hermanos juntos en armonía