Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Reading

Summer is a great time for some light reading outside.  While some use that time to catch up on a mystery series or those classics they have been meaning to get to, I seem to be drawn to spiritual memoirs, particularly ones written by women.  Here are a few that I have enjoyed recently.

Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit CoverJesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, by Tricia Gates Brown.  This book was recommended to me by Cherice B, who wrote a review on her blog.  If it hadn't been for Cherice's recommendation, I know I would not have read it, the title would have been too off-putting, but I'm glad she did.  In the introduction, Brown wrote that she is drawn to "the complex interplay of body and spirit, of the sensual and the spiritual, and the sexual and the spiritual."  As I read that, a voice inside me said, Yes!  This is what we need!  I am grateful for Brown's honesty in telling her own story, and the connections she makes between spirituality and the body.  I do not know Brown personally, but she is a Quaker who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and it was fun to read a memoir with such a familiar setting. 

Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life CoverBeginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, by Kate Braestrup.  I first got to know some of Kate Braestrup's story in her book Here If You Need Me, about her work as a chaplain to game wardens in Maine (if you have not read that book yet, go get it from your library immediately).  I grew up in a family and school where prayer was a given, so it surprises me how often I hear people say that they do not know how to pray.  For anyone looking for ways to pray, I recommend this book.  It is approachable and funny, filled with stories from Braestrup's life as well as a lot of great prayers.  Braestrup does a good job of showing the vast variety of kinds of prayers―she does not even get to prayers where you ask for things until p. 131!  There is also an appendix in the back with all of the prayers that are included throughout the book, many of which are by Braestrup.

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor Cover
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess.  This is the lightest of the three books, and at times reads like blog posts instead of a book.  For one year, Riess set out to become more saintly by assigning herself a different spiritual practice each month, beginning with fasting.  Reading this book felt a little like School of the Spirit-lite.  There were a lot of familiar readings (The Desert Mothers and Fathers!  The Rule of Saint Benedict!), but she didn't go deep into any of them.  Riess states at various points that she feels like her spiritual practice is superficial, and I have to agree.  She also recognizes by the end that these practices are meant to be done in community and it is less meaningful to try to do them alone.  I think Riess is a little hard on herself when she says that she failed all of the spiritual practices―I think she had relative success with many of them, but she set herself up to fail with unreasonable expectations.  Still, it is a very funny book and an easy way to learn about a lot of different spiritual practices.

Have you read any good books lately?  What would you recommend?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Here, Again

The days after getting home from traveling ministry can be a little rough, filled with emotional, spiritual, and physical highs and lows.  I have done this enough times now (and enough times recently!) to know that this too shall pass.  

When I lived in Seattle, my roommate had a magnet on our refrigerator that said, 
"Avoid making irrevocable decisions when tired or hungry." Robert A. Heinlein
Without fail, I am extremely tired and hungry after traveling ministry. So even if the ministry brought up things that I think I should act on, I try not to do so until I feel a little less tired and hungry.  Instead, I eat red meat, get lots of sleep, and try to find my balance.

I got home from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) on Sunday night, at what my body was telling me was 2am.  Fortunately, my boss is flexible and I have plenty of sick leave saved up, so I was able to take Monday as a recovery day.  That meant a lot of sleeping, eating, and waiting for my soul to catch up with my body.

I find that I often write lists in my journal while traveling and immediately afterward―half-formed ideas that I want to explore later, or things I don't want to forget but do not have time to work out completely at the time.  Many of these turn into blog posts or articles later, or work their way into my ministry in other ways.

On Monday, I opened my journal to write another list and laughed as a variety of gifts from my time at annual sessions fell out―a postcard, a poem, photos, and a Bible verse.  I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts I received from Friends while visiting NCYM-C.

These physical gifts seemed to symbolize all the other gifts I received while I was there: hospitality, rides, opportunities for deep worship and enlivening conversation, a good meal, and so much more.  

I am also grateful to Friends World Committee for Consultation for giving me a travel grant that made it possible for me to go in the first place, and to Freedom Friends Church for sending me (again) with love and a traveling minute.

I will be meeting with a clearness committee soon to debrief and I know that I will have much more to say about my time with Friends in North Carolina in my official report and otherwise.  But for now, I just want to say thank you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Preparing for NCYM-C

It's a little hard for me to believe that I am going to North Carolina tomorrow.  This past week has been kind of crazy, between the half-marathon, my mom visiting, and a family friend's wedding in Hood River.  This evening, I emptied my overnight bag into the laundry and when that is done drying, everything is going into another suitcase for my trip across the country.

I am really looking forward to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) annual sessions.  When I have told people where I am going, I have gotten some strange looks at the word "conservative."  I say that it does not mean politically conservative.  The yearly meeting's introductory letter explains the name in more detail:
The Yearly Meeting is “Conservative” in that it values deeply the statements, words, and practices of those who have come before us, with the concern that change for the sake of change has the possibility of losing treasures we were unconscious were there. But change does happen. We have a living faith. The Yearly Meeting is not politically or socially conservative in the secular sense of that word.
I first connected with Friends from NCYM-C when I began the School of the Spirit in the fall of 2009.  Since then, I have wanted to visit their yearly meeting sessions and I am thrilled to be able to go this year.  I am looking forward to seeing friends, teachers, classmates, ministers, and elders.  I am also excited to see friends from other branches of Friends while I am visiting (there are a lot of kinds of Quakers in North Carolina!).

In looking over the schedule for NCYM-C annual sessions, I noticed a few things right away:
  • The Bible study is at a time when everyone can go.  It is not too early or late, and not scheduled at the same time as anything else.  That makes it feel like the Bible study is a part of the annual session instead of tacked on, as they sometimes are.
  • There is a space reserved for contemplative prayer during free time (I love this!).
  • Snacks!  Each evening, a couple meetings are responsible for providing snacks for the group.  Since 9pm will feel like 6pm to me, I am sure I will be glad to have something to eat then.
  • The annual sessions begin and end with worship.
My only official task while I am at NCYM-C is to perform in a play that I have been in once before, so that doesn't require much advance preparation.  Other than highlighting my lines and coordinating transportation, the main way I have been preparing for the yearly meeting is by praying.
  • I have been praying for everyone attending the annual session, that our hearts and minds will be prepared to listen to God and listen to each other.
  • I have been praying for my friend Charley B, who wrote the play, that everything will go smoothly as she prepares and directs the play.
  •  I have been praying for Friends in NCYM-C who are grieving, after learning via facebook that an elder in the yearly meeting passed away yesterday morning.
  • I have been praying that, if God gives me a message while I am visiting, I will be faithful and deliver it clearly.
  • I have been praying for safe travels, joyful reunions, and that we would all experience the presence of the living God during our time together.
 And although I will not be able to attend the yearly meetings in my part of the country this summer, North Pacific Yearly Meeting and Northwest Yearly Meeting are in my prayers as well.  I know that both yearly meetings are doing important discernment, and I am praying for strength and courage for friends who are speaking at the yearly meetings.

I would appreciate your prayers for me as I travel and for all Friends who are gathering this summer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Traveling Minute

July 1, 2012

Dear Friends at NCYM-Conservative and everywhere:

This letter is an introduction to and a travelling minute for Ashley W. She is a member in good standing of Freedom Friends Church, and is also our presiding clerk. Ashley is a beloved member of our community and we commend her to your good and gracious care.

Ashley will be traveling in July and attending North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) annual sessions, which will take place from July 11-15 at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.  While she is there, she will be performing in a play named "The Call," written by Charley B, about a young woman who experiences a call to traveling ministry.

She will be doing visitation and various ministry activities while there. Please greet her with love, care and share with her how God is with you.

If Ashley needs assistance, please assist her as if she were one of your own family or community. She is dear to us and we look forward to her safe return to us. She will bring us word of how God’s good work is flourishing among you, about how you love one another and serve each other in the light of God. We are praying for you, and look forward to hearing news of you.

Thank you, and may the God of all Creation bless and encourage you through Ashley and through each other.

Alivia B, Pastor
Freedom Friends Church