Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Monday, February 28, 2005

To find a discipline to stillness...

To find a discipline to stillness...

Sometimes dear Friend Carol.
Sometimes I find stillness through grace alone.
Sometimes God does not teach with a gentle hand.
I pray that God brings thee stillness, and stillness to all.
I was given other messages this week, one about stillness, the other about why stillness does not come easy to some.

If thee knows me, thee knows I was a sailor under sail more than power. So the metaphors of my life often come easy in terms of sailing and the sea. I often heard older sailors say that it is best to over ballast than to under ballast. The ship of my life has been ballasted very deeply. So deeply that at times I see only the rocks and sand, and not the small jewels brought aboard when I was not watching well.

What much of that ballast is, is personal and private. If thee knows me, feel free to ask in person if it helps thee to find light. I will tell thee that I did not take on this ballast by choice. Before I could reason, I was beaten, and suffered other terrible abuse. By grace I was sent a friend, a tutor who told me that I was not the cause of my abuse, the abuser was. So, as a young Friend, even before my convincement at eleven, I came to understand if not to fully know, that we are not what happens to us. If the worst happens to us, we are not that thing, if we do the worst we are not that thing. As for my abuser, Friends would not say this person is a rapist, but would say this person has raped. As such, I was able to forgive deeply in my soul. I did not become a victim. I became one to whom terrible things happened.

Inside we remain untouched and perfect.

But dear Friend, I am like thee, like all, open to the strife and struggle of life. I come up on rocks, other hurt friends, our hurts can open wounds in each other, and we are taught again, not by a gentle hand of God, but taught by the God of storms and volcanoes. Sure I would choose to be taught gently, God never intended that for me. I am often taught by fire and sharp rocks. I pray to be taught by the kind gentle hand of God... but, that hand is yet to come to me.

This year, among many huge rocks I have taken aboard as ballast, I have had to face the possibility that another piece of heavy weight has been snugged into the hold of my life's ship.

I had an extensive operation, just next to my vocal cords... and I am going through tests to see if my present throat problems are the return of the problem God graced me with before. Grace, yes, because we are sometimes taught with awful pain. Pain reminds us to take our hand out of the fire. One of these tests caused me mortal fear, and I am not ashamed to say, the lessons of that test came with tears and horror.

But thee likely missed messages I gave on stillness in this storm, only a small part I have shared with thee. As I was flayed and every nerve laid raw, stillness also came. At 9:30, I gave such a message.

It comes of a true story from New York Harbor, which in my pain and challenge, I remembered and saw as a metaphor for God's grace.

Look past the messenger, past the light even. That light within is not God in full. God in full is beyond our greatest dream. God is not the light, but the harbor.

Before the turn of the old century, my dear Friends, and dear dear Carol, on Robbins Reef, that rock thee sees as the comes near to Staten Island from Manhattan, towards New Jersey there was a couple who tended the Robbins' Reef Light.

The husband died, and Kitty, his wife. went on, tending the light. On several occasions, in the teeth of a storm, she lowered her boat into dangerous waters to save mariners clinging to the rocks of Robbins Reef. Her bravery renamed the light, Kitty's Light.

A wee song from me to the light house keeper, and the harbor that gives her to us.

Kitty's Light.

I was alone in the water, the blackness all around,
I could not find dry land, till thy beacon I found
It sprang forth from thy tower, and shattered the night
And I swam towards the warmth of thy soul saving light

Chorus: Oh I know thee is faithful, n' er yealding to fright
As thee tends to thy beacon, my Kitty o' the light.

As I cling to the sharp rocks, waves break o'er me...
so many of my ship mates are lost in the sea
but I can see thy shadow, as thee climbs to the light
and I know thee will find me as thee watches in the night

Every inch of my being, on this reef has been flayed
Each hope in my bosom, the seas torment has now frayed
Still I call out thy name, though I know thee can't hear,
Oh kitty launch thy small boat, oh kitty come near

My voice weak from salt water, my soul nearly fled
the hands that still anchor me, are but dead things of lead
But I know thee will look down, from thy tower above
And save this poor mariner, dear angel sweet dove

Now my body is slipping, deeper into the wave
My blood streams down the rocks, there's but little left to save
But I feel thy strong hands as thee lifts me from my fate
Oh Kitty, my dear Kitty, I knew thee'd not come late

When life's troubles engulf me, and my voyage seems unfair
I look to thy light house, and picture thee there
Oh Kitty, dear Kitty, thy strength and God's might
Will ever burn brightly, my Kitty in thy light
Will e' re sooth my heart break, my Kitty o' the light

(Kitty's verse)
Don't look to the light keeper, or focus on the light
I but point to a safer channel in the dark of thy night
When adrift on dark waters, and thy hopes all take flight
I but point to the harbor, thy Kitty of the light.

Slan a chara,
sin e

is mise


Monday, February 21, 2005

Discipline thy self to truth

Discipline thy self to truth These messages which have been being revealed in the past months continue. Today, one led to what others have told me was a very gathered meeting, and one Friend at least was disturbed by... but it follows the messages which stated that one should:

Discipline thy self to love, as it makes all things new Discipline thyself to joy as it makes all things bearable

Discipline thyself to faith as it makes all things possible and

Discipline thyself to worship in every moment.

As I can remember, I said that to give these disciplines meaning, one must discipline thyself to truth. And that this is so hard, as one may centerdown to joy, one may be led to faith, one can... or as Kipling reminds us, one cannot help but fall into love and can learn to be discipline in following that love responsibly, but the truth takes a process of deep discernment. I asked in a world of slave catchers, this posses challenges...

I recalled the Anna Curtis stories of the Underground Railroad she would share with us when I was young. I wished she was here to explain to me the truth in the half truths spoken by conductors when the answered the slave catcher with... "thee will find no slaves in this house..." meaning the person who ran away was well hidden and the Quaker did not accept that anyone was a slave at all... I asked, would not the response which recognizes the God within the slave catcher be, "I will not tell thee, because I love thee too much to allow thee to hurt thy self by being cruel. I said that we often lie or tell half truths in order to serve a good intention. But, that to be present to God we must tell whole truths even to say, I will not tell thee if it is help thee do harm to another and in that do thyself harm, what thee asks, thee has not need to know, yes or no.

There are also great reasons to make avoid the truth, but in avoiding the truth we make traps for ourselves, without the truth we are not present to God in the other person.

I sat down quaking... and did so for most of the rest of the meeting at times...

There was then a message about the need to engage in half truths as we live in the real world of practicalities. I could not help rising again and excusing the breach in our tradition to say this message was roaring in my soul, that the road to hell was far more often paved with practicalities than ever it was paved with good intentions...
messages flew about until a dear friend gave a message, with great feeling that only God is an absolute and calling us to perfect truth was not to recognize that... (and there is me sliding into the cold... a little... )

Another friend gave a long and wonderful message about the trial of Friend Bliss for draft evasion, about a Friend who had to testify to the whole truth and the judge allowed him that latitude, it was a message which was so sweet to my heart as it returned me to those days of fear and hope and faith in the future...

then another Friend arose, a teacher who had taught in a Friends school who now taught in another school. He told of his discomfort in a story told the children in his school about lying about a disability to get a wheel chair to India for tsunami aid, while saving two hundred dollars, a lie for a good reason, that did not sit well with him. He said he had come to New York to see the installation, Doors, but now realized he had come to be at this gathered meeting.

Then a Friend spoke, now at 12 10, about blind people embracing an elephant, each knowing part of the truth.

I felt my Friend was still not right with the message, a few complicated reasons, but the message was very important to all of these, though it was not about these. I was in some turmoil over this, though we both said, no problem we will wait on understanding each other's messages.

A real gift... the Friend called and we met for tea. This friend said, I know this all was metaphoric, it was not a message about the underground railroad, but, lets continue with the metaphor ... "The slave catcher asks, are there slaves in the house ... thee tells him, I will not answer because I love thee, thee should not know ... the knowledge helps thee to hurt thyself... what happens next..."
"The slave catcher punches me in the nose and burns down the house..."
"And the underground railroad looses a station, thy family and slaves thee protects may be killed..."
"Yes. ... or another thing happens. As when John Woolman embraced the Delaware who was running at him with a tomahawk, and the weapon dropped from his hand... we might give a chance for the slaver to answer to God within, and sometimes he does. It is easier when we trust each other, Friends and friends who deserve trust, but sometimes we have to trust the slaver..."

This all is not about secret undergrounds. I know in these days of fear there are folks looking under every bed. This is about the searching of souls for truth among traps of tenderness and fear of harm. But, as Elias Hicks reminded his friends, turning the bible quote around... fear is the greatest barrier to perfect love. Friends love each other and those thee meets with perfect love, if ye can, and if ye can, try to express the truths of thy heart, not the fears of thy heart, embrace each other with all that light.

While writing this I was called away into a night which began to drift down snow, called to an evening of music, red Turkish wine, laughing and talking in Romany (Gypsy) and English with dear friends, and new Sinti friends (a tribe of Romany people). It was a night of great wonderful joy.( Nyes tuka, Jane.)


Friday, February 18, 2005

Give, Give, Give...

I had several friends tell me over the years that in many cultures the best way to deal with anything was to give it away. What huge joy there is in that.

Moonface Bear, a Paugeesukq chief said that folks don't understand stuff in Indian communities, they give a gift to one person, then the next day it is in another person's house, then another, and after a year everybody has owned it, and the non-native who gave it said no one values the thing. Moon said, the reality is that everyone valued it so much, they had to pass it on.

Nadia Sermatakis, (I hope I spelled thy name right if thee is out there...) a teacher of mine at NYU said the same thing about Greek folkloric communities. "If I give you this shawl, then for you this is always 'Nadia's Shawl' when you were it... my name and giving it to you attaches to it, so the only way to really own it, imprint my name on it is to give it away".

Oh dear Friends... would it not be a wonderful thing to do that with ego at every moment, even say, at meetings for worship with a concern for business? I don't think it is impossible, eh? To give ego can also be to NOT give something, sometimes, like... advice!?

What a dear gift to trust and be silent when thee thinks that something is so clear to thee that the other is "wrong - wrong headed - dressed wrongly - not Quaker enough all the little wrongs..."

I think I gave a friend to a Friend tonight... and oh, though I was alone in my house, I was so, so not alone in my heart.

How wonderful that ye can give thy heart again and again.

My love to both of ye

(and the rest of ye as well...)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fare thee well to much of who I was... I don't know if we will meet again.

Turloch O'Carolan, on his deathbed, wrote the great O'Carolin's Farewell to Music. I was trying to repair a broken link here, the link to the Letter From the Birmingham Jail, and in frustration just placed the whole letter here... and thought of my coming to the place I am in this month, a farewell to American Politics.

This week two dear dear people and good friends of mine were convicted by a jury in New York of crimes they did not commit. Conviction came in a courtroom filled with the fear that this nation has adopted in place of love of the bright dreams of patriots like Dr. King.

King's martyrdom was quite different than the martyrdom of my two friends. King died to move this nation towards something. They are facing the possibility of decades of their lives taken, placed in a box of hatred from which their words can be controlled, not to move towards something, but to end the process of America's journey towards liberty which began with the words, we hold these truths to be self evident.

Our land of self evident truths is buried beneath fear. So my farewell, is not a farewell to music, but a farewell to American politics. I fear that many of us live as a reaction to the hatred and base cruelty of the American state. They become a reaction... become, be... that reaction. It does me no good to be that reaction when we live in a land without hope of progressive change. Reaction often makes the old state anew.

Many friends will say, after years of activism, I have given in to fear and have become a coward. I can accept that accusation without an offer of defense. I do not think so. I believe that for me, it is time to live my convictions in the light and let America be, we are no longer family, this America and I. I cannot see myself tonight joining her martyrs from Lexington Green to the Courtroom where the Rosenburgs were murdered, or singing her songs in love or anger. As with that beautiful young man of my mind's eye, who stood in the light, apart from the Second World War and said, "No... I can't change the world, but I wont be changed by it..."

I do not join those who said to me, "don't associate our meeting with thy friend, she is a communist" nor do I join those who say, keep your head down and wait things out. No.
I maybe called to the words of the welsh song, the fortress of Owain Glyn Dwr, which says the walls of the fortress of Owain Glyn Dwr is the fireplace of your grandmother.

When others ask in anger what to do, I cannot tell them. I just turn away and turn back home to the gentler way. I cannot build an America of freedom and justice. I can live free and just, and try to keep out of the way of the madness which grips the world.

God grant us the strength to live well, and grant those gripped in madness sight to see the virtue of our ways, or grant them blindness to us as they hunt.

So, farewell to most of my songs, and hello again to the songs of my ancestors.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Miracles continued:

I gave a message several months ago. I wrote about it here...
"Discipline thyself to love, it makes all things new
Discipline thyself to joy, it makes all things bearable
Discipline thyself to faith, it makes all things possible"

Last week, I was made to add the rest of the message This is close to what came to me in meeting. "I restated the above and said that these were disciplines in preparation for another discipline. They lead us to the greatest discipline... worship.
Worship here in Meetings is in preparation worship. This teaches us to worship in every moment of our lives.

I have an announcement to those who go to hear me play music that I think will give ye joy. I have decided to retire from performing music forever. (shocked and amused looks) My band mate and I discovered something. We must stop performing and worship with those who want to hear us. We did such a concert last Friday. We settled into silence with the listeners, after telling them we were Quakers and that we speak out of silence and tonight would sing out of silence. When they were ready to listen and we were ready to play, we played better than we ever had, no fear, because we stopped performing. The difference between worship and performing was the expectation of return... applause, understanding, all the things we perform for we put aside and gave the music with not an expectation in return. I now know that I must put away all performance... not perform my life but worship each moment. Expect NOTHING back from life... give. Service without thought of thanks, without thought of need to even succeed in the help I offer, give all my all and if God wills it, good will follow, or a tree can fall on all I worked for, and I praise and worship on as ever."

I have been learning about miracles... one I have driven friends close to me crazy with these days. It is, at the moment an important metaphor for me.

I used to go canoeing ... well everywhere. I knew what I was doing as could not imagine anything bad happening. The winter I got into law school, a number of us were going out onto the Hudson for a wee trip. Our landlord, Kathy, with whom I was in serious conflict, wanted to come. Everyone paired up quick, and there was only room in my boat, so I ... believing I should as we were in conflict, called her over and tossing the ballast out of my boat told her she could come in my boat.

We left below Canal street and headed north. Soon we were off the Intrepid Museum, off mid town. For some reason I will never know... Kathy took a lurch. I grabbed at the opposite gunnel ,but I could see green water under the rail and knew we were in for it. I suddenly was facing the river rushing at my face then stillness.

The gray green of the river was gone. I was suspended in freezing water, about seven or eight feet down, all around me emerald light, fading to dark below and silver above. I wondered at such an odd dream. The feel of sharp salt water rushing through my nose into me made me realize it was not a dream. I felt comfortable and lazy, and very very sad. All I had wanted to do, but, well here I was drifting away in freezing water.

I looked up at the simmering silver and thought ... there is life. There is salvation. And forced myself to the surface. I was already too cold and in shock and there was too much wind and chop to drain the canoe by forcing it under and letting it jump up, and I knew the only thing was to get on the overturned boat. I did. I looked to shout to the others... my voice was nearly gone and they were far away by now and not looking back.

Next to me Kathy was treading water. "What do we do now, Otway?" she asked.
"Get on the bloody boat," I told her, cause when in a moment or two you begin to freeze and sink, there is nothing I can do for it."
She got on the boat with me, and I don't remember much about her from then on. All I remember is having to raise my head out of the water to breath, and that I could not feel myself gripping the boat from the moment I climbed on to it, and I knew there was not a hope in the world.

Soon a speed boat full of party guys began to circle us. I remember their wake now keeping my head under long enough, again and again to know I would soon drown. Each time water would pour down my through my nose, and I would beg, just under my breath as I gasped for air, "no... please stop... please stop it."

At last they slowed and gently lay along side our boat. They kept calling us to get in. I knew that if I let go of the boat, I would slip under. At last they put down their beer cans and hauled us over into their boat.

Getting towards the surface was choosing to live. Getting onto the boat was putting myself in God's hand. Kathy was calling me back into the river, and again and again there were temptations to get into the river. I am now beginning to see how often we put ourselves in God's hands and then the river and those in the river call us, in so many ways. They call us to help them, and instead of saying all I can tell thee is get on the boat, we get into the river with them. Some go overboard and offer no help at all, say there is no room on the boat. On that boat all things are Gods. If thee has on that boat and another in the water needs, give with no thought of thanks, that which you gave was never thy own... But stay out of the river

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Miracles continued

Miracles are not for thee, but to lead thee to good.

I expect more miracles are destroyed by greed than by skepticism.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Knowing when...
When thee cannot ignore that the coincidence is not only profound, but is calling thy attention... a sort of "Hey Thickhead!" from that ? .

All that thee knows... hides... cannot face... is in thy face.

All that is revealed thee knows in thy heart, in spite of denial, strong denial.

Thee knows the miracle IS, though perhaps not why

As fast as thee runs to it or from it, it is there

It exposes selfishness and sin, and forgives at the same time

The darkest spot of thy soul is bathed in light

Thee is still the same week and strong stuff thee always was... but week and strong... are not so different.

Everything becomes alright, even if nothing is solved

Thee finds thee only needs to say God is to all the commentary

Nothing changes, every thing changes, Joy, Love and Faith are all at once possible

Friends... within a deeply moving, sometimes painful, forever beautiful miracle with no end in sight, I can affirm to ye... dear Friends

God IS.