The Thinking Heart

At night as I lay on my plank bed surrounded by women and girls … who often told me during the day, “we don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, otherwise we are sure to go out of our minds,” I was sometimes filled with an infinite tenderness, and lay awake for hours … and I prayed,
“Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks.”
—from the diary of Etty Hillesum

Dear Friends,

This week marks the presidential order in 1942 that led to the internment of Japanese Americans. It’s the one-year anniversary of the killings of high school students in Parkland, Florida. In a season of “emergencies” both real and imagined, of walls and separation, of hatred and division, we mourn the suffering and loss of so many to violence, injustice, and the lack of moral imagination. I know I’m not alone in struggling to live faithfully in the face of it all.

Through the gift of a friend, I’ve found guidance and encouragement in A Life Transformed, a biography including the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum. A radiant and challenging voice, Etty was born in a secular Dutch Jewish family, growing up in her twenties in Amsterdam during the Second World War.

Living a self-described life of personal chaos, insecurity and disorder, on the precipice of the Holocaust Etty had a powerful experience of convincement and transformation. Without any formal religious background, she learned to pray through direct spiritual experience. Etty was driven to her knees in prayer on the rough floor of an untidy bathroom. This moment reordered her life toward the ground of reality she discovered within her, a presence she came to call “God.” She came to volunteer as a caregiver—and to bear witness—in a transit camp from which thousands of Jews and those deemed “other” were loaded onto trains for Auschwitz. In time, her whole family was forced to board one of those trains—including Etty.

In the face of terror and dehumanization, Etty chose to cultivate an inward freedom. She dedicated herself to safeguarding deep within the resilient hope beyond despair, grounded in Love. Faced with lies, oppression, and evil, she chose to live as if the Truth is true. She found refuge in that knowing, in the active practice of what she calls the “thinking heart” of God. Her witness calls me to consider how I—how we—might live in ways that more fully bear witness to the truth of Love she discovered and trusted until death and beyond.

In a moment of shattering recognition, she prayed:

Dear God, these are anxious times. … We must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safekeeping instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safekeeping but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, “I shan’t let them get me into their clutches.” But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms.

I’m increasingly convinced that one of the greatest gifts we can offer to the condition of our world today is the quality of grounded love that we cultivate and bring into relationship. We can love and feel and hope for those who are unable as yet to love and feel and hope—and we can do this for each other when we’re the ones unable to love and feel and hope. We can strive to protect our cherishing of divine presence within each person—and in ourselves—in the face of the countless voices that would close the ears of our hearts to Grace.

The growing resonance of that loving and feeling and hoping can open the way for new breakthroughs, fresh possibilities, bold emergences in our communities, cultures, and institutions. In Etty’s words: “Somewhere deep inside me is a workshop, in which Titans are forging a new world.”

Etty’s presence and practice as the “thinking heart” of the transit camp barracks calls me me to question my own capacity and commitment to Love. Her testimony challenges me to renew my participation in relationship with fresh intention and initiative. I hear the echo of Etty’s midnight prayer: to be an instrument of presence, to bring forth this radical, witnessing, self-aware, resilient loving even in the midst of unimaginable suffering—and I’m drawn to imagine how that resonance might be more fully expressed in my own life, and in our corporate life as Friends.

Might we find the courage to be thinking hearts of the voyage on which our own desperate, divided society is sailing? Might we discipline ourselves to be the thinking heart of a demonstration; of a workplace, of a family crisis; of a chance encounter on our daily commute; an intervention with an addicted friend, neighbor or stranger; a vigil at a detention center or a bedside? Through patience and dedication, might we be the thinking heart in the worship of our local meeting, radiating love and witnessing presence to all who surround us?

I give thanks for all the ways members of our Quaker communities are working alongside so many others in this powerful practice of presence, and I give thanks for the Spirit provoking us to deeper Love. Wherever we might encounter God in ourselves and one another—may we remember Etty, and her witness to the power of the thinking heart. And may we, like her, be filled and freed by the infinite tenderness that is stronger than death.

In faith and service,

Noah Merrill
New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers)

P.S.: Again this year, New England Friends are partnering with New York Yearly Meeting for a weekend retreat, March 29-31. It’s an opportunity to gather with Friends from across the northeastern United States who are called to nurture the wholeness of the local meeting community, cultivating this resonance of resilient love.

If it sounds like this opportunity might be right for you or someone in your local meeting, contact Honor Woodrow, clerk of NEYM Ministry & Counsel, to explore participating, or speak to your local meeting’s Ministry & Counsel/Worship, who have received more information.

P.P.S.: I hope you had a chance last month to watch the invitation to the “video plenary” series from Lisa Graustein. This month—with links later in this newsletter—Lisa offers three more short videos with different ways of engaging with New England Quakers’ repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Whether you plan to attend Annual Sessions this August or not, these videos are intended to help us all engage with the ways the Spirit is working among Quakers in New England, inviting us to grow in Love and carry that Love into the world. 

Transforming Racism and White Supremacy

Noticing Patterns of Oppression—and Faithfulness

In 2018 the Yearly Meeting in Sessions charged the NEYM Committee on Ministry & Counsel (M&C) with creating a process to name people to help New England Friends see when and how we are enacting patterns of oppression. As the work unfolds, it has become clear that we need time together to build the skills of noticing and sharing awareness of these patterns in ways that invite people in, build community, and help us become more God-centered and just.

The Working Group under the care of M&C will host a day-long workshop on Saturday, March 9th at Wellesley (MA) Friends Meeting. We hope you can join us! The workshop will be a chance to learn about and experiment with the practice the Working Group has developed, gain skills for talking about patterns of oppression, and connect with other Friends who want to help move our shared work forward.

All Friends are welcome, young Friends and adults, whether you are new to social justice work or have been doing it for a long time. Please consider encouraging others from your meeting to attend.

To register, click here.

Waking Up White

Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White, will speak on the issues of racism and white privilege explored in her books at the First Unitarian Church, 90 Main St, Worcester, MA, on March 31, 2019. Sponsored by Worcester Friends Meeting, the event is free and open to all.

Other events coming soon

Upcoming Quarterly Meetings

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Join the Virtual Plenary Experiment

In the January newsletter we shared an invitation from Lisa Graustein (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) for Friends to participate in a “Virtual Plenary” to deepen engagement with the theme for 2019 Annual Sessions, “Provoke One Another to Love.” This is an opportunity for meetings and individual Friends—whether or not they are planning to attend Annual Sessions—to take part in exploring these important issues that we face as Friends today.

The three videos this month include some reflection-and-discussion questions at the end. The videos were designed to be viewed on your own and can also be used to shape an adult religious education session, using the reflection questions for discussion. If you want support or ideas for how to use them in First Day School or for adult programming, contact Lisa Graustein.

Click here or on the images below to watch

Video 1- Exploring New England Yearly Meeting’s Minute repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery
Video 2- Noticing and understanding patterns related to the Doctrine of Discovery
Video 3- Spiritual practices to support our work related to the Doctrine of Discovery

Legacy Grant Application Deadline:
March 1, 2019

Do you or someone you know have a ministry that could use some financial support? The deadline is fast approaching to apply for grants from the Yearly Meeting Witness and Ministry Fund and the Future Fund.

Ministries which already have an oversight committee and the support of their meeting will be given preference. Click here for details.

Nurturing Faithfulness

Informational video about the upcoming Nurturing Faithfulness Program at Woolman Hill Retreat Center (Deerfield, MA)
Might you be led to participate in a multi-generational faith and leadership program designed to help Friends explore ways to meet God more deeply, hone methods of discernment, reach for fuller faithfulness, and ultimately bring these gifts and strengthened abilities home to your local meetings and beyond?

Consider joining the Nurturing Faithfulness program beginning in August 2019 co-led by Hilary Burgin (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) and Marcelle Martin.

Click here for more information, and decide if this is the program for you or someone you know.

Join the NH Council of Churches in opposition of the death penalty

In 2012, New England Quakers joined fellow member churches on the NH Council of Churches in approving a statement opposing the death penalty. New Hampshire again has a death penalty repeal bill in the 2019 legislative session. That bill has just been made public as HB 455. The Council encourages congregations to join them in preaching, praying, teaching and acting for the repeal of the death penalty in the state of New Hampshire on February 24 as part of “Death Penalty Repeal Sunday”.

Click here for more information and resources

Accompanying Migrants in Tijuana

Em McManamy (Amesbury, MA, Friends Meeting) and members of her family spent a week in Tijuana, accompanying migrants waiting to present their cases for asylum in the U.S. Read about Em’s experience here.

Friends Camp: Lasting Impacts

“Going to camp is a challenge. You are living in (quite close) community with many other young people. You have to leave your cell phone at home. You might not have a good friend you already know at camp. Facing this challenge and having an amazing time at camp can make a camper more willing to take on the next challenge that comes their way, whether it is starting at a new school, trying out a new sport, or even going off to college.”

This is just one of the impacts that Friends Camp Director Anna Hopkins writes about in her most recent blog post about the lifetime effects of attending Friends Camp.  Read more from Anna’s blog here.

Opportunities to Serve

There are many employment, and service opportunities listed on the New England Yearly Meeting website. Click here for details.

Work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation

If you are under 35 or work with young adults, come to Washington, DC on March 23-26, 2019 to lobby on immigration issues at Spring Lobby Weekend.

Registration is open!

If you are about to graduate college, apply for the Young Fellows program. Deadline is February 18, 2019.

If you are looking for an internship this summer, apply for the Summer Internship program. Deadline is March 29, 2019.

Quaker Center Continues Search for Directors

The Ben Lomond Quaker Center (Ben Lomond, CA) is now accepting applications for a Director to begin work during the summer of 2019.  The Director provides spiritual leadership, develops workshops; manages staff, finances and facilities; fundraising; and works closely with the Board in support of the mission of Quaker Center. The Center is also accepting applications for an Associate Director.

Click here for more details.

Discounts for Friends General Conference  Gathering

Thanks to a generous donation, FGC is offering discounts for the 2019 Gathering!

  • Children and teen’s program fees are waived
  • 50% of children and teen’s meals are covered
  • More scholarships are available to families and teens
  • The fee for young adult Friends is reduced

Click here to find out more about the 2019 FGC Gathering in Grinnell, Iowa.

Friends General Conference is a North American association of Quaker groups of which New England Yearly Meeting of Friends is a member. 

Come and See! Friends World Committee for Consultation

Friends World Committee on Consultation Section of the Amercas (FWCC-SOA) will gather in Kansas City, MO, March 21–24, 2018, with the theme ¡Come and See! (John 1:46). There will be daily worship, Bible study, and workshops including:

  • “Come and See: An Examination of Earthkeeping Through the Lens of Quaker Conviction” with Adrian Halverstadt, Director, Evangelical Friends Church – North America; Shelley Tanenbaum, General Secretary, Quaker Earthcare Witness; and Cherice Bock, co-clerk, Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends
  • “Who is my neighbor? Welcoming the stranger, being a Friend” with Judy Goldberger (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting)

Find out more about the gathering here.

Howard Thurman on PBS

PBS is offering an hour-long documentary about the life of activist, mystic and theologian Howard Thurman in Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story, which you can view online. Friends who have benefitted from reading his work may appreciate the chance to learn more about his story. You can see a collection of his work here in the Friends United Press bookstore or in their print catalog.

Updated Quaker Resources for Newcomers

Are you looking to update your meeting’s printed materials about Quakers? Do you wonder what to include in welcome packets for new attenders? The Friends United Meeting (FUM) Communications Department is in the process of updating their pamphlet series. Three titles have been updated so far: The Gospel According to FriendsGeorge Fox and the Early Quakers, and A Quaker View of Ministry. Each one gives, in a quick and readable style, an introduction to one aspect of the Quaker faith. Perhaps one will be right for your meeting.

News of New England Friends sharing and acting from their faith:

Are you aware of Friends or Friends Meetings featured in the media? Email us so that we can share the news!

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