Sunday, December 20, 2009


It suddenly struck me that I should leave. I was in class during the second School of the Spirit residency and I could no longer be in the same room with our guest teacher. He was condescending, he didn’t listen, and he interrupted women while they were speaking. I told one of our (wonderful) core teachers that I needed to take a break, and I went out to one of the prayer pavilions and tried to calm down.  I couldn’t tell if I was shaking because of the cold or something else.

After a few minutes, I decided to walk the labyrinth. My prayer going in was something like, “God, I am having trouble with male voices right now.” I walked the labyrinth, not really thinking about anything, and sat on the bench in the center.

Out of nowhere, I started sobbing. The emotions going through me felt so much bigger than me―I was shaking with rage and grief. When I could think a little more clearly, this is what came to me:
I am angry with the church for silencing my voice and for silencing women for centuries.

I am angry with the world for telling me to be quiet.

I am angry with Quakers for acting as if the equality testimony makes all of this go away.

I am angry with God for allowing all of this to happen.
I tried to welcome these emotions. I let myself sit there for a while and feel this anger and sadness. Eventually I got up and walked back out of the labyrinth.

The next morning during worship, I shook with a message I did not want to give. It was a hard message for me because I was worried that it would hurt the men there, but I knew I had to speak.  I said:
I struggle with hearing men talk about God. This is hard for me because I know these men are good people and mean well, but they speak with an ease and an ownership that I don’t feel.

And I struggle with vocal ministry. It is very hard for me. But I have realized that God is making me speak and I can’t, I can’t be silent.


  1. Preach it sister!

    Is there anything that would help you feel stronger in voice when such messages must be given?

    You are dead-on about the testimony on equality not letting people, men and women both off the hook about real dialogue and different dynamics.

  2. Ashley, you are such a powerful spirit in our Meeting (and I would assume, in all the places where Spirit leads you) - Thank you for listening to this message and allowing it to manifest through you.
    I would imagine that the men present would be surprised by your message, because they have recognized you as a Vessel of the Spirit since you first appeared - so they will listen, and not dismiss your words with easy excuses.
    Still, it is painful to be in that trembling space with a message you do not want to give.
    Love, Merlin

  3. Thanks, Rantwoman and Merlin! It is great to hear from both of you.

    Rantwoman - one of the things that helped me give the message was knowing Friends there were holding me in prayer while I was speaking. I always find prayer helpful.

    Merlin - I am grateful that you are faithful when the Spirit nudges you to speak in meeting (and that I get to be there to hear you!). I appreciate your example, understanding, and support.

  4. Us male types do have a tendency toward condescension and bluster, qualities I know myself quite capable of. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. I think it's an central part of George Fox's story that he was serially disappointed by the spiritual teachers he visited. This was a grief that kept him searching till he recognized that there was that one who could speak to his condition--something he had to feel experientially and not just intellectually. I myself have been disappointed by various Friends but it's ultimately a good process, a humbling one that reminds me of my own limits. I have a working hypothesis that God often works through us by means of other people's bad behavior.

  5. Thank you so much for this message, Ashley. I have struggled with the same issue for many, many years, and at one point, I almost left my belief in God behind over it.

    What brought me back was a voice that did not sound like a man or anything human, that kept quietly saying to me, "You are a minister." It was a voice of peace and power all at once. It was a voice I knew I had to listen to because it came from so deep within me. It overrode all of the societal stereotypes, and it kept calling me to something much deeper.

    Our testimony of equality comes from seeing that there is no person who does not possess the Light of God (or whatever words you put on that) within them. You are so right, that we often want to just forget that the standards of our society allow freedoms to some people that are just as much ours, and give them (not just men, but people who are white, people of higher social stature, people from developed nations) an ease to their words and their actions that some of us must consider much more seriously.

    My own belief is that God doesn't go around handing out bad things or lessons so we can learn from them, but God does provide each us with that inner voice or insight or light, so that we can take even the worst occurrence and make some sort of good out of it, if we choose to.

    I hear that in your transformation of your experience from anger and hurt into ministry. You are a minister.
    Thank you.

  6. Dear Ashley,

    I hear what you are saying and am glad you are honest enough to say it. You speak my mind on this subject.

  7. Ashley, I am not grateful for your honesty but your faithfulness.

    You've found one of the reasons Quakers do not believe in creeds--the testimonies aren't things we should believe but instead should be evidence of our changed hearts. This Friend you speak of, his heart has not fully changed about equality. It's hard for those with power to recognize the power they...I was going to write "have" but I think it's more like "assume" or "take" or "presume."

    Thank you for being faithful, and thank you for telling us about it.

  8. Martin - I think you might be right about God working through others' bad behavior. I only hope that when I behave badly, God is working through me too! And although I didn't feel like it at the time, I know this experience was a gift.

    Haven - Thanks for sharing your story. I am glad that you had the strength to stay. Thank you for naming the gift of ministry, both in yourself and in me.

    Diane - Thanks for the comment, I am glad my message spoke to you.

    Jeanne - Thank you for expanding on the testimonies. Sometimes it is easy to forget that they come out of turning toward God, not something to try to achieve on our own.

  9. Ashley

    Thanks very much for your faithfulness in sharing this gift with us.

    I hope your comments will help me assume and proclaim less, interrupt less. I pray that I can respect others, tremble and hesitate more.

  10. Ashley - for me, the experience of listening to our guest teacher brought up issues of gender - but also layered with clericalism - since he is an ordained priest in a tradition that does not ordain women.

    These were the overlapping issues for me twenty years ago when I left Roman Catholic christianity (with a great deal of anger and grief)for Quaker universalism. I am only now returning to a Christ-centered spirituality.

    As I reflected on my experience in the SoTS residency, I felt gratitude for my own father - a man of few words and deep faith, who taught me through his own quiet faithfulness.

  11. Dear Ashley,I am not sure what your exact experience was,but your anger seems a lot deeper than because of it,or any other particular circnmstance.It is rather frightening and disturbing to me. I am new to the Quaker faith and did not expect to find this type of deep seated animosity between men and women.
    I do hope you can come to terms with this Soul destroying bitterness.
    Richard,a male who believes both men and women are made in the Image of God.

  12. Jay - Thank you for listening. I pray that we can all be faithful in listening to God together and sharing what God places on our hearts, whether that is to listen more or to speak more.

    Rita - Thank you for adding your perspective on our guest teacher. I am glad that the experience brought up such wonderful memories of your father and I look forward to seeing you at the next residency.

    Richard - Thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear that my post was frightening and disturbing for you. I want to assure you that my post in no way reflect the opinions of the Religious Society of Friends. My blog reflects my own experiences, good and bad, as I attempt to live my life to the fullest. Blessings on your journey.

  13. Dear Ashley,thank you for your kind response. Since I do not know you or the circumstances,I did not mean to judge,though it may have come across that way. I know from experience in my own life and journrey,seeking for Truth,that bitterness is like a festering cancer of the Soul,which destroys my peace and joy.My "disturbance" by your reaction was not because of you as a person,but in knowing what not remaining in the Mind that was,and is,in Christ Jesus can do to our innermost Being.By not responding in anger to my email,proves to me that you do have THAT Mind and will prevail.
    I also wish you blessings on your journey to the fullness of Christ,Who alone can speak to our (every) condition.


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