Posts Tagged ‘Quaker’

Not a Christian

December 21, 2013

“I am not a Christian.” A simple, declarative sentence.
My housemate’s aide asked why we do not yet have a tree up, and I answered, “I am not a Christian.”

Why is this the first time I’ve made that statement so openly? In the past, I’ve evaded. “We don’t make a fuss over the holiday, since it’s just the two of us.” Or, “I wasn’t raised to celebrate Christmas.”

It’s true, I wasn’t. My culturally but not religiously Jewish upbringing included commemoration of holidays as a remembrance of history rather than as spiritual practice. I’m old enough to have attended public schools that started the day with both the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. For all of my first 6 years in school, I would silently add “Cross that last line out, God” when the teacher ended the prayer “In Jesus name.” Later, at convocations, graduations, other public events in pre-politically-correct times, I didn’t bother with the amendment. Other people could pray as they wished, and assume what they wished about me.

While I lived in Vietnam, in order to participate in a choir, I practiced with the group at a non-denominational Protestant church. My mother did not let me perform with them on Sundays, however. I lit incense at a temple with our Chinese housekeeper, and watched the elaborate funeral parades of some of Saigon’s wealthiest families. The first time I encountered the concept of reincarnation, I knew it to be truth, resolving as it did so many of my questions and doubts.

One of Many

One of Many

In college I took several courses in comparative religion, and sat in silence with the Quakers, drawn both by their lack of ritual and their commitment to social action. The practice of seeing “that of God in every man” enabled me to feel part of a larger whole, in contrast to my life’s lessons of being an outsider. I diligently sought, in the silence, to discern “God’s will for me” and to listen to the “still small voice” giving direction to my life.

I’ve rarely had – or perhaps only rarely remembered having – dreams. The few vivid ones that have occurred have always been crystal clear as to their meaning, and prophetic. My access to inner answers has been simpler, more direct than dream interpretation. If I frame a question before going to sleep, I awake with the answer. If I frame a question before participating in Quaker Meeting, I leave the meditation having received – either from within myself or from a spoken message – a sense of direction. I never conceive of this instruction as God speaking directly to me. Rather, I remember my grandfather’s answer to a question about why one should do right. “Because you know it is the right thing to do.”

I have followed my inner instruction because I know it to be right for me. Living and working these past twenty years amid practicing Christians, primarily Catholics, I’ve kept my views to myself in order not to offend, in order not to disturb their settled beliefs. I’ve been respectful of our differences, not feeling any need to explicate those differences.

For more than twenty years I have been student of MasterPath – a spiritual teaching, an instruction in how to find “one’s way back home” to realization of one’s true nature as Soul. Practitioners number now in the tens of thousands, come from many countries and a wide variety of faith – or no faith – backgrounds. What we have in common is the desire to know our Divine purpose – to know and be our true selves, to manifest wisdom unadulterated by considerations of body, emotions and mind.

Different religions use terms like man’s purest essence, Buddha nature, the Soul self, Christ consciousness to describe the state of pure consciousness to which my Path leads me. Many religions ascribe the capacity to manifest that pure consciousness only to the founder(s) of the religion, as something outside oneself, to be worshiped and admired, but not to be attained.

Regrettably many religions are now adulterated by ego interpretations of what it means to act “as a ______” (fill in the blank with Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, etc.) so that instead of manifesting the beauty and truth of their faith, they demonstrate violence, intolerance, exclusion and dominance all in the name of religious purity. It should not surprise anyone that atheists point to the history of war waged in the name of religion as proof that belief in God has a negative influence on humanity.

Religious history has little to do with why I reached my seventh decade before stating plainly, “I am not a Christian.” Or maybe it does? Maybe the intolerance of differences reflected in all those wars waged in the name of religion has seeped into my being, quietly persuading me to not make an issue of my difference from my neighbors?

No, I think it has taken me this long to be truly comfortable with who I am and what I know to be Truth; to achieve a genuine indifference to reputation and how others perceive me; to feel certain in my knowledge of my Inner Being. In other words it has taken me this long simply to Be, and hence to be free to speak my own truth. I need not weight myself down with a responsibility not to offend others. If they are discomforted by me, so be it. In a far from cartoonish and Popeye’d way, I am what I am.

In the words of a blessing spoken at the start of a lovely Ba Gua exercise called Swimming Dragon, “I am health, I am beauty, I have enough.” It is enough, that I AM.

When It’s Time

December 8, 2013
I Dare You...

I Dare You…

This isn’t the topic I expected to post this weekend. Not because of the passing of Nelson Mandela, but for an even more personal passing that raises almost identical emotions.

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I demonstrated to push my college to rid itself of all investments that supported the South African government during apartheid. I’m proud to say Swarthmore College was one of the early institutions to manifest its (Quaker) values by participating in the economic boycott which the pundits are crediting with bringing an end to the apartheid system.

I rejoiced when it became clear that Nelson Mandela’s emphasis on equality and democracy, and commitment to reconciliation as the path forward, would be carried out with a simultaneous delight in the small pleasures of life. I’ve followed Mandela as I have the Dalai Lama, listening (by reading) to their speeches and appreciating how well they each translate values into action in ways I try to embody in my own life. My venue, as my status, is so much less than that of these two men I admire. Only others can assess to what extent I manifest any similar virtues.

I do attest that my Shih Tzu, named Shian Shung in respect of his status as a Master and Teacher, has shown the Mandela and Dalai Lama traits of persistence, consistency, dedication, joy in living, playfulness, affection, tolerance and respect for the equality of all. I could not know, when I cuddled him for a bit of extra “affection time” this past Monday, that I would never again do so. I cleaned and treated his eye, hugged him, received several doggy kisses in return, and watched him run out to catch up with his mates, chasing a rabbit into the pasture.

Blowing Kisses

Blowing Kisses

I loaded the car for my week of job training away from home and, as I headed down the drive, looked back to see my four dogs sitting on the deck, watching me go. That is my final image of Shian Shung – a furry white bundle of loving energy standing out against the blackness of the other dogs.

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Today everything outside the windows is white. It snowed while I was away, and is snowing again now. Somewhere hidden within the cold wet white, is the body of what was a vibrant, lively personality cloaked in the white fur of a Shih Tzu. Apparently he was hit by a car mid-week. A visitor reports noticing a white dog lying beside the road Wednesday night. Shian Shung has not been seen since Wednesday morning; no body was found near the highway on Thursday. Most likely it was moved, or covered over, by snow plows clearing the road from the storm that day.

In his three short years, Shian Shung endured two traumatic health challenges and lived with a persistent eye irritation that required daily treatment. He was little more than a year old when he ingested meat some neighbor had set out, filled with rat poison. His gums were almost colorless when I got him to the vet. Daily injections with Vitamin K saved his life. He bounced back. He had one surgery to his right eyelid, intended to eliminate irritation to the cornea. It was only partially successful – I still had to clean and treat the eye daily. A follow-up surgery ended abruptly when Shian Shung flat-lined on the operating table. The vet and his assistant performed CPR, intubated him, worked on him for more than half an hour. He survived – again.

Within a week he was running and playing and teasing his pals, warning me of intruders with his assertive bark, tolerating steroid shots to reduce the inflammation to his eye, and lavishing me with his affection and abundant joie de vivre.

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural New Mexico, I’ve shared my home with a very large number of dogs and cats. Inevitably, a few stand out… Natasha, Driftwood, Daisy, Haiku, Rowena, Mei Ling and now Shian Shung. Daisy (a beagle/basset cross) extended her life after a serious illness, for just long enough to see me through the loss of my father, before she moved on to join him.

Handsome Haiku

Handsome Haiku

Haiku and Natasha (tiger-striped cats, one ginger the other grey) each taught me how to recognize the difference between choosing to live with sickness and being ready to depart. Rowena (a Scottie) and Mei Ling (another Shih Tzu) offered generous  love while also requiring respect for their independence. Each chose her moment of passing, in ways I could not avoid recognizing and respecting.

Miss Independence x 2

Miss Independence x 2

Various cultures articulate a tradition of animal guides and companions for the spirit world; I’m certain they “have it right”. A cat (my totem) will undoubtedly inform me, and accompany me, when it is my time. For now, I accustom myself to life here without the active presence of Shian Shung, as I adjust to a world now lacking the physical presence of Nelson Mandela.

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We are most fortunate when we find good role models or wise teachers, to help us on our paths through life. I’m blessed to have my spiritual teacher, on MasterPath, still present in the physical, as is the Dalai Lama. Two other role models, one proximate (Shian Shung) and one more distant (Mandela), have shown me how to live fully and well despite imprisonment and life threatening trauma. Both will continue to function as guides, now in my memory.

I wonder – is Shian Shung frolicking at Mandela’s feet as they move to their next stage of being?


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