Still There and Always There

Image: Eric Muhr


Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,

only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.

–The Fountain, by Denise Levertov

Dear Friends,

When I get tired or discouraged in my work supporting the life and ministry of Friends, I return to our local meetings, to the solace of worship, to courageous conversations with people seeking to be faithful in these times. And despite my sometimes-lack-of-faith, again and again I find—fresh and clear as ever—the springs of living water that I first discovered as a child in meeting for worship, and that have kept me coming home to our faith communities again and again as an adult.

In what feel like times of “dryness,” this poem—which first came to me through a Quaker traveling minister years ago—becomes a daily affirmation, a walking practice, a pilgrim’s prayer.

This month I’ve been blessed to share with Friends in conversations that I think get to the heart of the challenge and invitation before us. I was recently reminded that sharing the places where we see Life helps that Life to grow.

So here are some places where I’ve tasted this water in the past few weeks:

  • In an impromptu conversation—after a nourishing Living Faith gathering—with several Friends from across our Yearly Meeting finding joy in the new life emerging in the Quaker movement, and discovering how Friends called to deeper risks in ministry can support, encourage, and journey with one another;
  • Accompanying a local meeting exploring its yearnings, its history, its stumbling blocks and growing edges, and its relationship with money and power, as together they seek Guidance for the future of their meeting and its presence and witness in their context and their wider community;
  • In a weekend with more than 30 Friends from New York and New England Yearly Meetings, who gathered to encourage one another in supporting the life of our whole meetings, and exploring how naming and nurturing spiritual gifts can awaken us to the Spirit’s invitations through our communities of faith;
  • In the release of the first few episodes of On Carrying a Concern, a podcast hosted by Callid and Kristina Keefe-Perry of Fresh Pond (MA) Meeting, supported in part by a Legacy Grant from New England Yearly Meeting. I hope you’ll take the time to listen with the ear of your heart to even one of these deeply personal interviews with Friends testifying to their experience of carrying a concern for spiritual service;
  • In James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, speaking so powerfully to African American Christians’ unearthing in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion a prophetic, liberatory critique and upending of the brutal legacy of lynching—this particularly American incarnation of white supremacy, injustice, and trauma. As we mourn Cone’s passing this past week, his call to the healing—and reckoning—still needed for our society and our spiritual communities is more timely than ever, a challenge to live the radical hope that, as Cone writes, “our beauty is more enduring than our brutality.”

So I wonder, Friends:

  • Where have you found living water in a dry place this month?
  • Where have you been surprised by newness, quickened by a moment of “coming home,” encouraged by a companion on the journey?
  • Where can you sense this enlivening waiting to emerge in your meeting, or in your own heart?
  • How might you be led to share what you have found?
Still there, and always there. What strange power, indeed.
In faith and service,
Noah Merrill
New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers)
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