Sunday, June 29, 2008


I have been making some progress toward my goal of reading the Bible cover to cover, and I am happy to say that I am done with the book of Judges. It was really a relief to finish that book because it was violent and ugly. I have been trying to think positively about why it is included. I suppose it serves as a reminder that times have been hard in the past and people of God have had incompetent rulers, but made it through anyway. It also provides examples of how God uses unlikely and frankly broken people (I am convinced that Samson either was not so bright or had a death wish). These are definitely not children's stories, and I think it's unfortunate that I read them as a child.

One of the reasons I attend a Quaker meeting is because I believe that God continues to speak to us. I love sitting in silent worship when I can be centered enough to wait for a message. I generally hope that the message will come from someone else instead of through me, but I try to be open to the idea that God may give me something for the group. A meeting is made up of members, and what happens during a meeting depends a lot on who is there. For me, hearing others speak at meeting is similar to reading the Bible. The messages are presumably from God and some I know immediately are directly for me, while others are not. And sometimes there are lovely and profound truths that stay with me.

Meeting this morning did not start well. The Friend outside greeting asked me whether this was my first time at University Friends Meeting, and I just said no. I thought it would probably make her feel worse if I said I had been attending regularly for over a year. This happens almost every week. I was complaining about it to a Friend recently, and she said that she thinks it is a problem for unprogrammed meetings in general because we do not have the structures other religious communities have for getting to know each other. Although I know that the person asking whether I am new means well, it is alienating each time.

But when I got inside, people were singing for the second week in a row, which always puts me in a better mood. And the meeting that followed was beautiful. Several people spoke, bringing messages about passion, acceptance, faith, love, gifts, and community. It was exactly what I have been longing to hear at University Friends, and I felt like laughing and crying as I listened.

Another reason I am glad to be done with Judges is because it means I will be getting to the story of Samuel soon. I have always loved this story, especially the part where God speaks to Samuel for the first time. It reminds me that God can speak to anyone, even a child. It takes courage to listen to God and courage to tell others when we hear God's voice, however that may occur. I also love the simplicity of Eli's instructions: If the voice calls again, say, "Speak, God. I'm your servant, ready to listen." (Samuel 3:9).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In Endless Song

Six days a week, I am a dedicated Quaker. But on the seventh day, for one hour, I pretend to be part of the United Church of Christ. The one thing I really miss in attending an unprogrammed meeting is singing. Although I am not a soloist by any means, I love singing with other people and I especially enjoy singing traditional hymns. University Friends does have singing before meeting occasionally, but this is not nearly enough for me.

So I have started going to the Wednesday Jazz Worship at Plymouth Church. I highly recommend it if you happen to be in downtown Seattle on a Wednesday. The service is mostly music played by a jazz trio, comprised of a xylophone, an upright bass, and a grand piano. They play a mix of traditional and newer music, and the congregation gets to sing along to at least one song. And even though I thought I gave up on regular sermons years ago, I usually come away feeling like something in the message spoke to me. It's a nice feeling to have in the middle of the week.

This past Sunday, I was delighted when I walked into the meeting house and found people singing. Even better, my friend Sarah P was already there, songbook in hand. She was in town on other Quaker business (as she says) and it was her first time visiting University Friends. I was glad to see her and glad she came on a week with music. We sang together, and it was good.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Simon the Zealot

I can't believe I have had my blog for this long and haven't included a single picture of my godson, Simon. As you can see, he is the sweetest and the best.
This is not the most recent picture of Simon, but it is my favorite because he is wearing a hat I knit for him.

I got to spend a wonderful evening with Simon and his parents, Emily and Myles, last night. Emily and I have been friends since high school and she has become an amazing photographer. Emily also has the most beautiful blog, which I especially like because she posts lots of pictures of Simon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Because I am very uncool and do not have a radio, I depend on my siblings to let me know what I should be listening to, usually by handing them my iPod when I visit so that they can fill it up with new music. I also love podcasts. I listen to This American Life religiously and ever since Sarah Hoggatt recommended Live Wire, that has been a regular as well.

Over the weekend I saw Aimee and Jeremy and they recommended my favorite new podcast, Speaking of Faith. Each week on the show, Krista Tippett interviews people about a particular aspect of their faith, life, and experiences. The first episode I listened to was an interview of an environmentalist speaking about Pagan traditions, ancient and modern. I was engrossed. It seemed especially apt because Pagans keep turning up in my life lately (maybe I'll write more about that later). It was the second episode I listened to that really got my attention, though.

I have been having a tough week. I hit real low points in both my job and my committee work. As I mentioned in a previous post, University Friends Meeting is currently in a Year of Discernment. This is a time set aside for everyone to reflect on whether University Friends in its current structure is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its ministries. Although I am not a member of University Friends, I am on the Steering Committee for the Year of Discernment, to provide a new/outsider perspective on the process. It is an amazing committee and I feel privileged to be on it.

But a few days ago, I felt overwhelmed. I felt like the wounds of the meeting were too deep to heal and all of the work we have been doing was not going to change anything. I also felt like these were not my problems, and maybe it would be best for me to just walk away. I knew even as I had the thought that I would not actually do that, but it seemed like a viable option as I thought about all the issues that stand between where the meeting is now and where members and attenders want it to be.

That night I was lying in bed, somewhere between active prayer and regular old worry when I got an answer: "This job is too big for you." Relief washed over me. I felt like I do when I stand next to the ocean, blessedly insignificant. Somehow, I had forgotten that I am not the one who is supposed to fix the meeting, God is. I am just supposed to do my best to help the committee and then get out of the way.

The podcast that got my attention was an interview with Karen Armstrong. She is an incredible woman, a former nun who left her convent and then fell in love with aspects of many faiths. She spoke about how a reading of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday spoke to her condition when she was at a spiritual low. The poem is beautiful but sad, and it reflects so many of the things I have been feeling about University Friends that I wanted to include it in this post. These are just the first and sixth parts, though the whole poem is lovely.

Ash Wednesday
by T. S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

* * *

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dream-crossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window toward the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Few Good Books

My name is Ashley and I am a compulsive reader. I read more than just about anyone else I know. I have always been a fast reader and I tend to read three to four books at a time. Right now, I am actively reading People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, the Bible, Be Full of Yourself! The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration, by Patricia Lynn Reilly, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, edited by Dave Eggers. And there are a few other books on my night stand that I have started and will probably get back to soon. I am fortunate to have an excellent public library within walking distance of my office. Otherwise, my reading habit would be very expensive.

I also have a very hard time keeping what I am reading to myself. My friends, family, and co-workers occasionally get annoyed by how often I read sentences, paragraphs, and pages aloud, but they are usually pretty good sports about it. Later, they come to me for book recommendations. I take these requests very seriously and take a lot of factors into account, including the interests that I share with the other person, our relationship, what I know about the other person's reading habits, and conversations we have had about books and life. It is a little scary recommending books because I am never completely sure whether others will like the book or even read it, but it is very rewarding when they do.

The first time I remember making book recommendations was to my friend Inger in elementary school. She and I ran into each other at the Loussac Library and she complained that she could not find anything to read. I was appalled. When the city decided to build the Loussac, it was by far the biggest library I had ever seen. I thought it was the most amazing refuge, containing all the books I could ever want. The thought that Inger couldn't find a single book that she wanted to read was just outrageous. I immediately began walking through the children's section, pulling books off the shelves and handing them to her. Some I had read, some I had heard of, and some just seemed interesting. Inger looked a little shell shocked, but she took all of the books I handed to her and dutifully checked them out.

At the writers' conference, I kept a running list of books that people recommended. By the end of the weekend, the list included The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Orchid Thief, Walden, Refuge, The Elements of Style, Artful Sentences, The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction by Imitation, Middlemarch, The American Way of Dying, Surfacing, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, Rabbit Run, Happy all the Time, Broken For You, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, and The Thin Place. I have read some of these, but not all, and the ones I have not should keep me busy for quite a while.

When I started this blog, I really wasn't sure how to structure it or what I should include. I knew that my primary focus would be my spiritual journey, but the books I have loved have so influenced my life and writing that I didn't feel I could begin without them. So without any explanation, I included the list of "books I love" in column on the left. I also think this list gives readers a little insight into where I am coming from. For example, the fact that two of my favorite writers are David Sedaris and Barbara Kingsolver explains more about my sense of humor and politics than a dreary post on those topics could.

It has been interesting for me to see how the list has become incorporated into my posts. I did not plan to dedicate an entire post in response to Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz when I added it to the list, and I would have added Bird by Bird even if I didn't know I was going to see Anne Lamott at the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference.

I have come to think of this blog as a more organized and public version of the random thoughts going through my head. Similarly, the list of books I love is a more concrete version of the casual book recommendations I have made over the years. There are certain books I come back to over and over and that I want everyone to read and those are generally the ones I put on the list. These books have changed my life in one way or another and when I see others reading them for the first time, I feel a little jealous that they have that ahead of them.