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)
In This Issue:

Families Torn Apart

American Friends Service Committee

Families Torn Apart

At 19, Jorge Velasquez fled the violence in his country of origin of El Salvador and came to the United States in 1995. Since 2001, he’s been legally able to work and support his wife and three children, thanks to Temporary Protected Status (TPS)—a government program that grants protection from deportation to people from certain countries afflicted by natural disasters, war, or other dangerous conditions. In January 2018, Jorge received shocking news—the Trump Administration cancelled TPS for El Salvador.

There are nearly 200,000 TPS holders like Jorge from El Salvador, who are currently living and building their lives and families in the United States. For the past 17 years, Jorge has created a life for himself in Colorado, away from the violence and insecurity in El Salvador.

The U.S. is his home. “We are contributing to this country,” says Jorge, ”What we want is to work hard and be well. And what we need is to be granted residency.”

Now, Jorge is left with few options. In August of 2019, Jorge’s TPS status— and that of hundreds of thousands of other Salvadorans’—will expire permanently. Without TPS, Jorge can’t legally work and our laws do not allow him a path to apply for residency. His wife is currently in sanctuary, to protect herself from deportation. His extended family—brothers, uncles, and aunts—have also built lives for themselves in Colorado as TPS holders. He has three U.S. citizen children, ages 5 and under. The US is the only country they have ever known.

That’s why AFSC’s Coloradans for Immigrant Rights (CFIR) Program and other programs across the country—in Newark, Miami, Des Moines, and Cambridge—have been working hard on the Residency Now! Campaign, which calls for legal permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for all TPS recipients. AFSC works directly with TPS holders and their children and provides opportunities for them to share their powerful stories while organizing for change.

Listen and share Jorge’s full story here, and join us as we work to save TPS and advocate for permanent residency.

Kristin Kumpf
Director of Human Migration and Mobility, U.S. Programs
American Friends Service Committee

American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
United States

Keeping Vermont Safer

Dear Putney Friends Meeting,

Earlier today, Governor Phil Scott signed into law a trio of bills that will help keep Vermont safer. We are very grateful to the Governor and to the legislative leaders who recognized the risk that gun violence poses to Vermont and championed these bills.


(photo courtesy of Greg Moschetti)


We are also grateful to you and all of our supporters who have shown up time and again over the past five years, marching, petitioning, donating, testifying, and emailing and calling lawmakers again and again. Some of you have done this work and told your stories while reliving your own traumatic histories, and yet you persisted because you understood the cost of staying silent.

Every phone call, every trip to Montpelier, every difficult conversation, and every testimony paid off today.

Thanks to you, Vermont is now a state where…

  • background checks are required for most private gun sales
  • gun buyers must be 21 years old (with some exceptions)
  • bump stocks are banned
  • large-capacity magazines are prohibited
  • law enforcement can temporarily remove guns from the scene of a domestic assault to keep victims safer
  • courts can issue an order to help protect people deemed to be at extreme risk of harming themselves or others by temporarily restricting access to guns

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the conversation began to change when young people organized and demanded to be heard. Today, their voices and the voices of survivors are taking center stage, as they should, and they are changing this movement. We are privileged to work alongside them and we are grateful for the energy and hopefulness that they bring.

While it is true that the passing of these laws came as a result of passion and dedication, it also has come at the unthinkable cost of far too many lives. I have often said that I wish I could stop doing this work, but I simply can’t as long as so many people are still dying from gun violence and so many more are living as survivors.

I hope, after taking a moment to breathe and appreciate the enormity of what has happened, that you will commit to moving forward with us.

Your donation today will affirm that you will not stop fighting the epidemic of gun violence. We all still have a part to play, here in Vermont and nationally.

Please make a gift to GunSense Vermont so that we can continue to advocate for gun violence prevention stand by those politicians who fought to pass the bills that were signed today.

Thank you for all that you have done to get us here, and thank you for committing to a more compassionate and peaceful future.


Clai Lasher-Sommers
Executive Director

p.s. — As Governor Scott noted in his remarks today, “Knowing that there will always be more work to do, today we chose to try.” We hope that you’ll stand with us as we keep trying–and succeeding–in this difficult and necessary work.

Town Hall For Our Lives

Dear Friends —

Rep. Peter Welch will be holding a Town Hall meeting specifically on gun violence prevention TOMORROW in Brattleboro. We are glad that he is helping to further the conversation around gun violence prevention, and we hope that you can attend.


Town Hall For Our Lives
Sat, Apr 7 2018 at 10:00 AM
River Garden, 157 Main St., Brattleboro

For more information on the Town Hall Project, visit their website.

Hoping to see you there,

Clai Lasher-Sommers
Executive Director, GunSense VT


The Encouragement of Light

The Encouragement of Light

How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its being, otherwise, we all remain too frightened.

–Hafiz, It Felt Love

Dear Friends,

In this season of turmoil and transformation, I’ve been learning about—and from—crocuses.

The flowers of the snow crocus focus the energy of the sunlight, so much so that the air at the heart of a crocus blossom can be as much as ten degrees warmer than the surroundings. Newly emerged insects warm themselves in crocus blossoms. They are a fierce and breathtaking harbinger of the coming spring.

On a path I often travel, this week there are beautiful new crocuses. They’ve been with me in my prayer time, and I think they’ve been telling me a story. I feel led to share that story with you:

It was quiet and dark below ground. Nothing changed; nothing stirred. Nothing grew. It felt safe. For all anyone remembered, it had always been this way.

No one risked; no one failed. No one danced or sang; no one was vulnerable. And so, no one learned or laughed. And no one was able to truly love…

Read more

In This Issue:

We’ve all been doing some heavy lifting

Putney Friends Meeting —

We know we’ve been asking a lot from our supporters these past few weeks. Getting these gun violence prevention bills passed is no mean feat, and we’ve all been doing some heavy lifting.

  • We believe that the final vote on S.55 (background checks) will start TOMORROW, 3/30, at 11:30.

  • We must be there, letting our Senators know that we support their YES vote!

Can you come to the Senate chamber starting at 9:30? Bring a book. Bring a friend. Once you have a seat, take turns spelling each other and enjoy some coffee in the cafeteria.


We are so close to passing this bill. We must draw on one another’s energy for this final push.

Thank you for being there,

Sen. Jeanette White showing some resistance to gun legislation

Dear Putney Friends Meeting — GunsenseVT

Thank you for all that you’ve done in support of gun violence prevention, and particularly in support of S.55 (background checks).

The bill is on its way, but we are not there yet.

Sen. Jeanette White is showing some resistance to the changes approved by the House yesterday. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she has a lot of influence over what happens with this bill.

Please contact Sen. White today and ask her to approve the changes to S.55 and vote YES.

(802) 387-4379

Or call the State House and leave a message for her at 802-828-2228.


With great thanks for your support,

Clai Lasher-Sommers
Executive Director