Friday, October 1, 2010

Living up to the Light

Many years ago as a new Friend I pondered just what it meant to believe that there is that of God in everyone. I finally came to accept the Truth of this core belief and to see it as what I call "the Great Equalizer". It is what unfailingly makes each of us the same. It is the starting point that each of us has at the moment of our creation and provides the most important choice that we can ever make in the course of our lifetimes: "Will I fan that spark until it becomes an all consuming flame and allow the Light of Love to be my guide?" or "Will I ignore the spark?" effectively placing a rock upon it so that it lacks oxygen and must expend all it's energy simply keeping my body alive in hopes that my soul may awaken. I know those who chose to fan the spark. They are filled with unimaginable Joy and they glow with Love from the Spirit. I also know those who have not yet accepted the existence of this incredible gift. They struggle against the sorrows and trials of unbelief without the Loving guidance of the Spirit. In 1841 Caroline Fox explained it this way: “Live up to the Light thou hast and more will be granted thee.”

Friends often choose not to talk with one another about our faith; our spirituality. My personal perception is that, because we see our personal belief systems as diverse we shy away from these discussions usually because we are afraid of offending one another or of being offended. Yet, if each of us can say with honesty and clarity that we believe that there is that of God within each of us, there is a starting place. This is our common ground. It is where we all come together. Let us begin there.

As Friends, we yearn for a renaissance: for growth and outreach, a spreading of the Word. I find myself wondering if we are as a community traversing the dark night of the soul: That time of spiritual dryness and pain when we feel that God is far from us. It can be a time of frustration and fear. I remember Sister Ellen Stephen of the Order of St. Helena sharing her understanding that we sit in the midst of the darkness because the Light is so bright that we cannot see - that the dark night is a time to deepen our faith and prepare - that there is often revelation awaiting us and we will see it clearly when the time is right.

I believe that our time will be right when we can talk to each other with openness and clarity about who we, as Friends are, and what we believe: When we can see and touch the Universal Light within that we all carry and make the choice to fan the flame.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Many Blessings

How do I learn to trust more in God than in humankind? Or is it the same? Perhaps when I trust in God I must also learn to trust humankind and come to believe in our own innate goodness. I must not only say but truly accept and believe in my heart of hearts that God/Spirit/All/The Divine is present in each and every person - even in me. Perhaps the last is the hardest. Each of us have suffered traumas in our lives. Sometimes those traumas make us feel so much less than we truly are: less lovable and loved. I struggle with my own insecurities and doubts and am filled with wonder at the possibility that Love, any love, could be absolutely unconditional - could love me in that way. At the same time, I acknowledge that my love for my children is unconditional and in doing so acknowledge that the Love of God is so profound as to be beyond my limited human understanding. It is then that I know that God Loves me, and all of humankind, no matter what evil or folly we may engage in.

I look at the ills of our world: the tremendous imbalance of wealth while so many die of disease and hunger, human trafficking, despoiling our Mother Earth, Wars, all kinds of discrimination and so much more. I do not see these things as the work of God's Hand but rather of the hand of humankind. It is what happens when we refuse to acknowledge and to act on the Love that is - can be - so much a part of who we are. Acknowledging that Love is the first step toward Peace: That inward Peace that passes all understanding and that brings with it a Joy far beyond what I could possibly have imagined. When I choose not to acknowledge and to act on that Love often my baser human wants unfold. We need Love, we want wealth and power. When I accept and act out of the Love of God within I, and the world, takes one more step toward Peace.

Years ago I read a small book that shared Native American wisdom. In it was a teaching about the seven directions: North, South, East, West, Up, Down, Within.
Each direction had it purpose: the East with beginnings, the West with endings and so on. Within was reserved for God and the reason was so that we should never have to look for God; only remember Him*. I live by myself and sometimes wish for companionship on this journey. When I find myself in that place I know that I have not spent enough time within - acknowledging that I am never alone: that I am always Loved.

In this time in my life when I am so deeply engaged in working for Peace and find myself in dire financial straits because of that commitment I cling to my Faith. To the knowledge that God works through others and to Jesus' reminder that, if we ask, it will be given. Help has come in so many ways; a Wegman's Grocery Store shopping card, fresh produce, help from my monthly meeting and the prospect of help from my Yearly Meeting.** God, working through my human family, is amazing! Thanks be to God.


*(I need to say that my personal understanding of the Divine is neither Male nor female but that I tend to use male pronouns simply because that was the teaching of my youth.)

** Some of you have expressed a desire to help as well. I am grateful to you and would be happy to talk with you about possibilities. You can e-mail me at gemjourneytopeace@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fiscal equality

There are so many dynamics at play when we talk about fiscal equality. I believe that the clear economic segregation practiced in various ways among Friends is the outward sign of a much deeper and ingrained problem. Many of us wear economic blinders and choose not to see the pain that others who are poor but are working hard to 'pass' feel. Many of the poor among us feel ashamed and diminished and so, work to 'pass'. When we suggest that they should ask their meetings, regions, etc. for financial aid we reinforce those feelings.

For many years I too tried to 'pass'. Now, as I work for peace and justice it is clear to me that part of my leading is to witness. To be the voice that says "this is what it's like to be poor in the Religious Society of Friends": to continually lift this uncomfortable reality up and to try to find ways to help to heal it.

I have learned to ask for financial help. This too is part of the witness that I am called to. To lift up that it is not only OK to ask but a blessing to both the receiver and the giver. As we begin to talk about fiscal equality and the sharing of resources we need to learn to be open with one another about what our fiscal resources are and where the need lies.

I believe that when we have been hurt by another we have a responsibility to share with that person (organization)that they have hurt us. Sometimes that means exposing our innermost weaknesses; our pain; our fears. Yet, without living into this in Love we have withheld the information that may help another to open to change. It is a "conscious act of Love" - an opening on the road to Peace. This is not always an easy thing to do. And yet, it is what we are called to. To those who have been hurt, including those who are fiscally poor, I hope you will let your voices be heard so that we can begin to find our way to healing.

I have come to believe and to accept this bit of guidance from 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 “There is no question of relieving others at the cost of hardship to yourselves; it is a question of equality. At the moment your surplus meets their need, but one day your need may be met from their surplus. The aim is equality; as Scripture has it, 'The man who got much has no more than enough, and the man who got little did not go short.””

Or, in the words of John Woolman, in his Plea for the Poor:
“O that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and therein examine our foundation and motives in holding great estates! May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions. Holding treasures in the self-pleasing spirit is a strong plant, the fruit whereof ripens fast. A day of outward distress is coming, and Divine love calls to prepare against it.”

I am grateful to all those who have helped to meet my fiscal need and to those who have helped in various ways to support me as I live into my leading to work for Peace.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Enigmatic Friends

Modern Friends are to me, an enigma. We have testimonies and advises and queries to help guide our path as we seek to walk toward God: to help us weigh our actions and behaviors both toward ourselves and others. At the same time society tells us that we need to look straight ahead - to mind our own business - to not intrude on another's affairs. Simultaneously, our faith and practice calls us to be accountable for and to those that we are in community with; our families, our monthly meetings, the towns in which we live, our quarters and yearly meetings. We cannot practice integrity and live by both. If we truly want to reach out to one another in Love: than we must risk being openly loving and genuinely concerned.

I believe that we are often particularly challenged by our testimony of equality. We struggle hard with questions of sexual orientation and race and the more overt forms of discrimination but confronting questions of fiscal equality seem to be particularly difficult and elusive. I'm sure that some of the discomfort comes from the fact that we've been taught not to discuss our financial circumstances. Society often equates the amassing of money and belongings as a measure of success. Those who are fiscally poor are often ashamed despite the myriad of other gifts that they may possess. I am fiscally poor and so speak from my own experience and from sharing with others in this circumstance. When we exclude anyone from our body for financial or other reasons; wittingly or unwittingly, we as a community, are immeasurably poorer.

I recently attended a large Quaker gathering that ran for several days. There was not enough room for everyone attending to stay in one building and so there were many different types of housing on campus ranging from a quite comfortable hotel to a very rustic, musty bunk house up a very steep hill. There were significant differences in the cost of these accommodations and so those who are comfortable financially stay in comfortable accommodations and those who are not so well off fiscally stay in the less expensive accommodations. The result is economic segregation. There, I've said it. Quakers practicing segregation! This gathering has taken place at this venue for decades and yet, to my knowledge, no one has spoken this until now.

The question of how we move to a place of economic equality is huge and looms over us at every turn. Understanding how to share our resources (fiscal and otherwise) is incredibly important as we attempt to live into our testimonies. It is also important because until we can actually begin to face and work on our own problems we have little moral authority to speak with others about theirs. It is a huge piece of the puzzle as we work toward Peace and Justice within our own communities and so, despite the discomfort of lifting it up, of drawing open the curtain to expose our own sores, we must proceed. It is not only the health and wholeness of the Religious Society of Friends that depend upon it but our communities - indeed, the world community.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Old woman?

I recently received an affirmation that was both wonderful and thought provoking. A young women wrote "I want to be like you when I will be old woman." I was certainly flattered that anyone would want to be like me although I am definitely not ready to think of myself as an old woman! I also felt the weight of responsibility to be a role model, no matter how passing, for another. As I traveled home from Tbilisi there was plenty of time to ruminate and I found myself thinking about my life. If I were to live to be ninety, my life would now be two thirds over. It feels like a good time to think about where I've been and the possibilities for the next thirty years or so.

There have been many wonderful as well as difficult times in my past but, aside from raising my three daughters and now being enfolded in their love and friendship, I find difficulty in enumerating those things. I know that my spiritual life has been rich and continues to deepen even as it broadens to encompass many different faith traditions and ways of understanding Spirit. My personal goal, above all else is to seek unity with God. Striving for that goal often takes great courage. It means saying "yes" to the leadings of the Spirit even when I think that the work is too difficult or when I am afraid. It means speaking out when I see injustice and opening my arms in love to embrace the wounded. It means being willing to risk further pain and rejection to share with others when they have hurt me or a loved one. It means accepting and acting on the fact that everyone is a Loved one. It means knowing that any pain that I may suffer in the name of Love is compensated in Joy. It means living into the prayer that was given to me while in silent worship: Let my words be thy words. Let my hands be thy hands. Help me to be your Peace. And so, it seems that there is no set plan for the future aside from working hard to be faithful to the leadings of Spirit as I seek to be at one with God.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Now begins the time for deep reflection. The work in Sakartvelo feels new and fresh; seasoning is required even as the work continues on.

In a meeting at the Department of the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation of Georgia I mentioned my personal leading of working toward world peace. One woman looked at me and said that she thought that was a wonderful goal but that everyone thinks that peace is something different. She is right. There are many perceptions of peace. The most common is perhaps that it is the absence of war. That the sole criteria for being "at peace" is that we are not killing other human beings.

Vova is a member of Tbilisi Friends Worship Group; an avid reader and deep thinker. I had a conversation with Vova in which he posited that the making of war is considered a science. That books are written about making war: weaponry and strategies planned. His query was that if war is a science, isn't peacemaking a science also? Can we apply the same sorts of strategies? It was a good and thoughtful question but I couldn't agree. For me, the work of peacemaking is the work of the heart and soul; inextricably linked with my connection with Spirit. I believe that we must begin the work of peacemaking by beginning our own individual quest for Peace - searching for "that of God within" as Quakers say. Without having begun the work within ourselves, we lack the moral compass and integrity to ask others to follow that path.

From the beginning of this work in Sakartvelo I have been so touched by Tbilisi Friends Worship Group, a small gathering of Quaker members and attenders who reached across the world in hope and faith to ask for help with the care of refugees (then 62,000) and with bringing conflict transformation skills to their country. They did not shy away from the size and scope of the work that was placed before them. They were not overwhelmed by the enormity of the work or by fear of failure. They were, and remain, faithful to the leadings of the Spirit. This kind of faithfulness is not centered in our minds or in logic, if it were, we would run thinking the work too hard or too difficult or too large. It finds it's roots in our heart and soul supported by the Joy that only Spirit can bring when we are faithful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sakartvelo 6/21/10

Yesterday we finished our last AVP workshop. It was with refugees from Ossetia who fled in the conflict with Russia in October of 2008. Many times during this workshop we paused as they shared their stories: stories of being bombed, of leaving there homes with only their clothes, of two elderly sisters walking 80 kilometers to reach safety, of families separated and some still not rejoined. Hearing their stories made it even more poignant that each and every one had joy to share; each one was full of warmth and love. I feel so clear that this is the true state of the human spirit. It is what we are all called to reach out to in one another.

Over the last five weeks as we have done AVP workshops with many different groups in many different circumstances; from members of the worship group to orphans to refugees, I see over and over again how important the work of AVP is. Within each group, I have seen participants grasp a clear understanding of transforming power and heard stories of how it has begun to change their lives - even within the three days that we spent with them. We know that many seeds of change have been planted. We leave behind twelve apprentice facilitators (three men and nine women)who are bright and enthusiastic and who, we believe have grasped an understanding of the power that we name as transforming power and so, AVP Georgia is reborn. She will need to be nurtured. Maia Gonjilashvili is a long time facilitator but she is not clear that she has the skills to train new facilitators and so a Training for Trainers workshop will need to happen here. But the work has begun and, even as we prepare to leave, it bears fruit. Nothing touches my soul more deeply.

Last night we shared our last meeting for worship with Tbilisi Friends Worship Group. At the end, there was a bottle of wine and the traditional Georgian toasting (Tamada). Shirley and I were toasted in traditional fashion and I returned a toast, thanking them for all that they have done to support us and the work of AVP in Georgia and for their deep caring for others. They endorsed our travel minutes in English, Russian, and Georgian.

Sakartvelo is a land that prides itself on it's hospitality, and with good reason. Everyone has been so helpful and welcoming. The street vendors that we buy most of our food from have gotten to know us and are quite good at guessing what we want. I've taken to keeping paper and pen in my pocket so that I can draw pictures of what I hope to buy. Between the pictures and pantomime we manage to figure it out. The women in our local shop seem awed when I ask for 6 kilo of Samarkho cookies(We find that many who practice the orthodox faith fast a great deal of the time and so eat no meat, fish, eggs or milk products - "Samarkho" is fasting.) Often they will have a few English words with which they try to guess why we're here. I've been unable to explain to them that I'm buying for workshops or to share with them that we're leaving today.

And so, this morning is filled with packing - bags filled with gifts from the worship group as well as a souvenir or two of my own. We'll clean the flat and return it to it's original configuration. There are the final meetings to be had, an hour or two of sleep and then off to the airport at 1:30am. I am longing for my own bed but at the same time there is a tug in my heart and tears in my eyes as we prepare to leave this country and people that I have come to love.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tskneti Orphanage



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Sakartvelo 6/17/10

It's Thursday in Tbilisi. Finally a day off for Shirley and me. Having completed the AVP mini-workshops for two groups of children at the Tskneti orphanage (Saturday and Sunday), on Monday we began a full AVP workshop for teachers and staff at the same orphanage. This group was all women. Several had worked at the orphanage for more than twenty years. Aside from a seminar here and there none had received any specific training in working with the children. They seemed clear that while they love the children and do their very best that the children need much more than they have to give. The workshop was wonderful. Full of open spirits, laughter and tears and as we parted there were hugs and thank yous from both participants and facilitators. As we did our final evaluation our participants talked about the new skills that they had found within themselves and how they were already starting to put them to use in their lives and in their work with the children.

Tomorrow, we begin our final workshop with a group of South Ossetian refugees from the war in 2008. These refugees still live in refugee housing provided by the Government of Georgia. In this instance it is an abandoned school building in the middle of Tbilisi - only a couple of blocks from the flat that Shirley and I are staying in. The building is in quite a state of disrepair. One of the woman at this refugee center will host this workshop in her room. I suspect that the space will be challenging as it is quite small. We expect to find the trauma of war in this group and so we are doing our best to prepare ourselves and our apprentice facilitators for that eventuality.

I find my thoughts beginning to wander to home. I wonder how Max, my cat is doing in the house for five weeks and how he'll react to my being home again (Max was a feral cat before he decided to adopt me). I know that my car, with a blown head gasket and ring problem will not run very much longer and I know that I don't have funds to replace it. There will be a tax bill waiting. I look forward to hearing my daughter's voices and to meeting with my care committee and my home meeting. At the same time, there is a sadness as I think of leaving Sakartvelo. There is a Spirit here of welcome and love and joy, even in the midst of severe poverty and oppression, that calls out to me. There is a longing for Peace. I know in my heart that the work of peacemaking is needed in all corners of the world, including my tiny hometown in New York. For me, creating this blog is part of the work of peacemaking and so, as I return home and continue to share my spiritual path and insights, that too feels like peacemaking.

Society talks about doing "random acts of kindness". I believe that we who choose the path of Peace are called to radical action: not random acts of kindness but "conscious acts of Love". For Love is the only power strong enough to overcome evil and to lead us to peace.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

AVP mini-workshops at Tskineti Orphanage


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Sakartvelo 6/13/10

We've just finished two, two day mini workshops at Tskneti orphanage. We worked with two teams of apprentice facilitators for these workshops. They met and exceeded out hopes and expectations. The workshops themselves were difficult. We were expecting that our morning group of children would be 10 - 13 years of age and that the afternoon group would be 14 - 18 years old. I think that we had younger in both groups. The first day was extremely challenging with a great deal of disruptive behavior. The second day was a huge improvement. We had already been told by officials at the ministry (This particular ministry has only existed for 5 months!) that oversees orphanages that their ombudsman had reported finding instances of abuse happening in the orphanages so we were not completely surprised by the children's behaviors. Nonetheless, as we left today, we had a sense of hopefulness. A sense that we had planted seeds of change - of another way. We will not know what the fruit will be, but the seeds are good.

For me, the work of peace making is often about the planting of seeds. I rarely get to see the outcomes but I know that I must continue to plant the seeds moving in faith and in faithfulness to answer the leading I've been given.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sakartvelo 6/10/10

Yesterday we completed a training for facilitators workshop and graduated thirteen people who are excited and anxious to bring the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) to their countrymen. This weekend we will begin working with some of them as apprentices. AVP was active here in the late seventies when a UN employee was paid to bring the program to Sakartvelo. She acted in the capacity of coordinator, trainer, and lead facilitator. She had UN money available and used it, in part, to pay stipends to AVP facilitators. When she, and the UN program and it's money , left Sakartvelo, AVP stopped. The facilitators refused to work without pay. Today all but one of the facilitators from those times still refuse to work without pay and so, our work here in the Republic of Georgia is to raise up a cadre of facilitators who will work as volunteers and to work to breathe new life into AVP in this country.

Sakartvelo is a country steeped in violence. As a tiny country (about the size of North Carolina) wedged in between many larger countries she has been invaded innumerable times in her history and still managed to retain territory but only through fierce fighting - violence. Her culture is pervaded with violence of all kinds. The work of AVP is so needed here!

These last weeks, in the few free moments that we have, I find myself rather amazed to be carrying this work. I remember when I was first asked to take over the correspondence with Tbilisi Friends Worship Group: to listen to their requests and to discern how to move forward. My first inclination was to say "no". I hadn't had any experience in such things and wasn't clear that I had the skills or knowledge to proceed but I stopped and took the time to pray for guidance. In my inner silence I heard a very clear voice with a very clear message "Just do it!" and so I stepped into the work in faith, believing that if I continued to listen, to be faithful, that way would open. That has been true. I am amazed by the good work that is being accomplished.

I remember one Christmas morning in meeting for worship receiving a message. It was the revelation that Mary said "Yes". She didn't have to. She knew that it would change her life completely and probably knew that it would be challenging and put her in painful places but she said "Yes". I have never come to an answer for myself around the question of virgin birth but I am clear that the message for me is that Mary said "Yes". Each time that I open to the Spirit, each time that I say "Yes" it makes the next time that much easier for I know that God walks beside me and will not abandon me. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Medical Aid program funded by NYYM

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Sakartvelo 6/6/10

The last few days have been a rush of sightseeing as our Georgian hosts try to make sure that we see as much of Georgia as we can in the minimal amount of free time that we have left. On Friday we were headed to The Cave City of Vardzia in the Meskhet-Javahet region of Georgia. The Cave City was begun as a cave monastery and is dug into the side of the Erusheli mountain in southern Georgia near Aspindza. It was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185. The monastery and complex was constructed as protection from the Mongols and at it's height consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands. The only access to the complex was through some well hidden tunnels near the Mtkvari river. An earthquake in Samtskhe destroyed approximately two thirds of the city in 1283, exposing the caves to outside view and collapsing the irrigation system. Today about three hundred apartments and halls may still be visited. The site is maintained by a small group of monks.

Our route took us through Borjomi, a famous resort town with hot springs. We stopped to fill bottles with this precious water which we were exhorted to drink. Both Shirley and I tried it - extremely salty with a touch of sulfur. A taste was about as far as we got. Then we were on the road to Svaneti. Borjomi was about a two hour drive west of Tbilisi with Svaneti about another hour and a half to the south. On the way we wound our way through beautiful mountain passes with hanging foot bridges over a fast moving river the only connection for the inhabitants of mountain towns to any form of modern transportation. About half way to Svaneti we came upon a stretch of fresh asphalt and pebbles. It was so hot that the asphalt had melted. Pebbles and asphalt became lodged inside the wheels of Misha's car forcing us to turn back. Because we now had extra time we stopped at a traditional Georgian restaurant. We had a wonderful spicy black bean soup with a local variety of corn bread followed by yet another variety of cachapuri (bread with a tasty cheese filling - each region has it's own variety)and kingali (a dough, filled with a delicious meat filling and boiled - looks like an inverted mushroom). Shirley tried the local beer while I stuck with mineral water. We remarked that the bottled water tastes very different from the water at Borjomi! From there we headed back to the flat for a nights rest.

Misha picked us up the next day (Saturday)at 11:45 and we were joined by Vova (the current clerk of Tbilisi Friends Worship Group)for a day of exploring old Tbilisi. We viewed the hot springs that caused King Vakhtang Gorgasali to move his capital here from Mtskheta in the middle of the fifth century and roamed the streets of the old city stopping briefly to listen to the chant at a Georgian Orthodox church service and to marvel at the beautiful handwoven locally made rugs in a shop.

The weather here is unseasonably warm. The normal temperature this time of the year is normally in the upper sixties and lower seventies. For the past week the temperature in Sakartvelo has been consistently in the upper eighties to upper nineties.

Today we begin team building for our Training for Facilitators workshop. The predominantly young people who are anxious to become facilitators are so full of hope for their country; so anxious to be part of moving to a knew way of thinking and being and away from the violence that is so prevalent in this culture. It fills me with hope and reinforces my belief that world peace is possible.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sakartvelo 6/4/10

It's Friday morning and we have the weekend off! Yesterday evening we completed our second AVP Georgia workshop with a group of Abkhazian IDPs (Internally displaced persons)who have been in Sakartvelo since the first conflict about twenty years ago. (see photo below!) Many of them are students. They were bright and enthusiastic! Many of them will be part of our training for facilitators which will begin on Monday. We expect to have about fifteen in that workshop. From here on out an AVP marathon begins. After the T for F we will spend Saturday and Sunday (6/12 & 6/13) working with youth in an orphanage in the mountains. For two days, in the mornings we will do a mini-workshop with youth 10 - 13 and another mini-workshop in the afternoons with youth from 14 - 18. On Monday 6/14 we will begin a full three day workshop with members of the orphanage staff. Following that we will do a workshop with South Ossetian refugees from the 2008 conflict. That workshop will end on 6/20. Our flight home is in the wee hours of the morning on June 22nd.

In the midst of this hustle and bustle our hosts are determined that we will see Sakartvelo and have an opportunity to experience their culture and customs and so today and tomorrow Misha Elizbarashvili (member and former clerk of the worship group) and Maia Gonjilashvili (our Georgian AVP facilitator) will pick us up to go on "excursions". I am grateful for their attentiveness and for the wonderful Georgian tradition of hospitality!

As we move through these days filled with hustle and bustle I have been called to more and more time in silent prayer. That deep listening - opening to Spirit - help me to know my center and remain grounded. I am reminded of Brother Lawrence - an early monk in the Christian tradition who was so spiritually centered that people traveled great distances to hear his wisdom. Brother Lawrence spoke of the practice of the presence - an understanding that we can be just as close to God while peeling potatoes in the kitchen as we can be in our places of worship - reminding us that we only have the present moment. I find that I slow myself down just a bit as I begin to rush through preparations - the gathering of food for workshops, planning exercises, choosing gatherings and light & livelies - to be aware of Spirit in the midst - to give thanks for that moment. When I am able to do this I find my days are filled with Light and Joy.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/30/10

Almost two weeks of our five week stay here are done. Today we did some sightseeing in the Eastern part of Sakartvello. It's a very beautiful part of the country that I had not seen before. The Georgians call it desert because it is very dry in the months of July, August and September but right now it is lush and green rolling pastureland. There are no fences and large herds of both sheep and cattle roam free over the land. I asked who owned the land and found that it is owned by the government and so everyone is free to use it. The end of our journey took us to David Gareja Monastery which was started in the third century. It is very close to Georgia's border with Armenia. It has been attacked,burned and rebuilt several times. The Turks and Mongols in the earliest times. The last interruption was during soviet days but today this incredible monastery, carved into the rock, is once again inhabited by Georgian Orthodox monks.

Tomorrow, Sunday here, is the election of the mayor of Tbilisi. This will mark the first democratic election of a mayor of Tbilisi and there is much excitement. The last week has seen pamphletting on the sidewalks as we normally see in the US. Misha is a member of a political party and so has committed to working at the polls so we will not see him tomorrow.

A thunder and lightning storm is starting and likely to take out our electricity so I'll sign off. Utilities in Tiblisi are rather tentative at best. In our flat we never have water between 3:00pm and 6:00 pm.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/27/10

Maia and Shirley and I have just completed the first AVP workshop to take place in the Republic of Georgia in more than eight years. This was a mixed gender workshop which, in this culture proved to be very difficult. The woman's place is taking care of her husband and her children and to be obedient. There were a couple of men in the workshop who were very gracious and courtly in their behavior and also, without realizing it, quite belittling. I feel that I need to provide balance between one facilitator who immediately falls into the Georgian woman's role and another who is a strong feminist and would like to see this change NOW. I think that sometimes it is hard, when we want something so badly for someone else, to accept that they are the ones who must determine what is right and wrong themselves. They are the ones who must want the change before they can move toward change. Nonetheless, we do have several good prospects in this group to invite to be trained as AVP facilitators.

Things in Sakartvelo have changed for the better since my last visit in the winter of 2009. I can see that some buildings have been painted and some roads paved. The parking lot at the airport no longer has gaping holes. In some places I can see and hear new construction. At the same time some of the big building that were started ground to a halt during the financial crisis. Many of those have not recommenced building since there are no more funds available. On my last visit here I was warned not to go out alone. Now, it feels safe to walk on the street alone during the day, although we have been warned that we should not go out at night, even together. It is so clear that we are not from Sakartvelo! Women here almost always wear black slacks or black skirts and almost never wear blue jeans. Their blouses are usually dark colors with a sweater on even when it's really too warm for one. Men seem much freer to wear whatever colors they please! Our skin is fairer and we are taller so it's really very easy to pick us out in the crowd!

Tomorrow we will go sightseeing with Misha and Maia as well as trying to accomplish all of the household things that have been left undone. We'll buy a wash basin on the way home from the internet cafe so that we can wash our clothes, do some cleaning, and try to prepare for our next workshop. The next AVP workshop will begin on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with an organization of refugee women. We are very much looking forward to working with them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/24/10

The last couple of days have been filled with preparations for our first Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops. We've been to market to buy food & supplies for our AVP participants. Yesterday Shirley & Maia and I met with two former AVP facilitators that Maia knows. Both were shocked by the thought of facilitating an AVP workshop without receiving a stipend for doing the work of AVP. We shared our understanding that AVP is a volunteer program for both facilitators and participants, explaining why that is important including that is it one way in which we maintain equality. We lifted up our own experiences that when the work comes from a place of love for and belief in the work and those we are working with that it is very different than when it is driven by a need or desire for money. I don't know if these two women will return.

Today we spent the day planning for our first workshop and meeting with our translator, Natalie. Natalie seems very excited and enthusiastic not only to be working with us but about our process. Tomorrow we begin. Our first workshop will run from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm for the next three days with facilitators beginning a half hour earlier and staying a half hour later. They will take place in the flat where we are staying. We will begin with some of the Friends from Tbilisi Worship Group and two refugees for a total of ten participants. The first workshop will be in Russian with the remaining four in Georgian. The second workshop will be an all female workshop with refugees. Then we'll do a training for facilitators (T for F) followed by two more workshops, one with refugees and another with orphans. This feels very exciting and challenging and I believe good work will be done by all.

Shirley and I share a flat that has one main room aproximately 12" X 20" (The space we're using for the first three workshops as well.) with a tiny kitchen and bathroom attached. We are doing a rather intricate dance of learning to be in this very small space together: not an easy thing for two strong willed women who are used to living along. It is good that we are both dedicated to using AVP skills in our lives and to actively work as peacemakers! Our skills are being tested.

I find myself reminded that each of us carries a measure of the Truth and that for me, there is only that which I think I know, for only God holds all Truth and the Truth as I understand it shifts as the tide of my journey ebbs and flows. I know that when I look for; listen for the truth in another that I will find it and that when I set my expectation; my belief so that I will see negative that probably is what I will find.

Toltec wisdom says that we lie to ourselves each time that we say "I'm only human, I'm not perfect." They say that each time we say this that is simply an excuse that lets us off the hook. I believe that we are made in God's image and therefore, at our core, we are perfect if only at that place where we find "that of God within". And so, we are called to work our hardest to reach our full potential: to reach perfection - to be at one with God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/20/10

The journey to Sakartvelo (as Georgians call their country) has been both a blessing and filled with continued challenges. After delays leaving the airport in Syracuse, holding patterns over the airport in New York, an hour delay in the flight to Istanbul and finally, lost bags, we arrived in Tbilisi. We were met at the airport by Misha (Member of Tbilisi Friends Worship Group and former clerk) and Maia (the AVP facilitator that Shirley Way and I will be working with here in Tbilisi). What a warm welcome! We spent a couple of hours talking about AVP and how we will plan and do workshops and with whom and settling into the flat where we will be staying during our five week sojourn. Many members of the Worship Group hope to become AVP facilitators and so they will be part of our first workshop. Others, including some members of the refugee communities, one of Maia's daughters, and possibly Kety's (who translated our manual and who lives in Florida) sister are hoping to become facilitators as well. We will meet with members of the worship group on Sunday before meeting for worship (6:00 pm) to talk about workshops. I am very excited about seeing all my friends from last trip and to meet attenders who have started attending since my last trip. Since January of 2009 the numbers of members approved by FWCC have doubled (now eight) while more attenders come. We will spend time this afternoon with Misha shopping for food and supplies in the major market in Tbilisi.

For me, despite the challenges of the trip, I feel bouyed up and carried forward on a current of pure and Holy energy. I am clear that that energy is a response of Spirit generated by all who hold Shirley and me and our work in Sakartvelo in the Light: in prayer. I know that network reaches far beyond people that Shirley and I have had direct contact with to those who have simply heard of the work that we are here to do and of the plight of the people of Sakartvelo and so are holding us. I am so grateful for that!

As I traveled yesterday I found myself amazed at the level of courage that learning to trust in God (a continuing process) has brought me. I am such a new AVP facilitator that, even with Shirley (a very experienced facilitator) at my side, there is some wonderment that I am called to be in the midst of this work and yet, the Call seems clear - it has been tested again and again. Some might call it pure, brash hutzpah but it is not that. There is trembling within. My only response is to consistently turn it over to God. My constant prayer: Let my words be Thy Words. Let my will be Thy Will. Help me to be your Love.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

God is good

A couple of years ago a Friend doing missionary work in Kenya spoke at yearly meeting. She taught us a call and response The call: "God is Good!". The response: "All the time". As I sit here looking over the last weeks of preparation for the trip to the Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo as she's known to her people) I am filled with immense gratitude to God and to those who walk with me and allow God to be known through their words and actions. They help me to know the strength to be faithful. When I gave notice to my employer I knew that action would leave me without an income upon my return from The Republic of Georgia. I was willing to accept that and trust that way would open upon my return. I have been amazed and joyful as, over the last two weeks, way has opened and, on June 24 I will return to my job. I am filled with gratitude! I will still be many weeks without pay but I know way will open.

There is an inscrutable dichotomy of incredible simplicity and difficulty. The simplicity is learning to simply say "Yes". Trusting that when Spirit asks us to carry His/Her work that we will be taken care of - that we are not asked to carry more than we can bear. The difficulty is in letting go of the teachings of the world: in letting go of the fear that God will not catch us, will not provide, will not walk beside us each step of the way. My faith is experiential. I know that each time that I trust; Each time that I move in faith, I am rewarded with incredible Joy and a Peace that passes all understanding and so with each new call I am ready to trust more - to say "Yes" with less and less hesitation.

As I pack and prepare translations and make arrangements for Max (my cat)and think of the sixteen hours of travel over nine time zones to reach Sakartvelo I am filled with hope and excitement for the work to come. I am grateful to all of you who hold me in prayer and make this work possible.

God is Good all the time!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On the way to the Republic of Georgia

For months now I have been working with a small Worship Group in the Republic of Georgia to bring the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) back to that country. Last year I traveled to Georgia and visited with Friends. I expected to be back long before this but complications with my health and timing with Friends in Georgia have interceded. There are still challenges to overcome: I'm still working to get finances in place - the packing, the making of bean bags - all little things. On May 18th this phase of the Journey will begin as I travel with another AVP facilitator to the Republic of Georgia. The preparations with my employer have tested my resolve and faithfulness as they refused my request for a five week leave of absence; only being willing to grant me a two week leave. I have spent a great deal of time testing with others, with my oversight committee and praying for guidance. In the end, I was clear that I am led to this work and so gave notice. May 14th will be my last day of employment. Having made this decision and carried it out, I feel at peace. I don't know what will come next but I am sure that God will provide.

Hand in Hand

“As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.” Psalm 42 vs.1

Several years ago a friend asked me what I wanted more than anything else in life. The rapidity and clarity of my response caught me quite off guard. I said “I seek to be at one with God.” It is what I yearn for with all that I am. As a Friend, I firmly believe that there is that of God within me and every other being on Earth and so, in that infinitesimal part of my being I and we are one with God. I am not naive enough to believe that that is the sum of it for God exists far beyond the realm of my human understanding. Indeed, from time to time, when I have found the strength to do as God has required of me, I have drawn near, I have taken a sip from God’s cup and I long for more.

My personal journey has been long and winding: From the child whose secret playmate was God, to the nine year old girl who wanted only a prayer book for her birthday, to the acolyte, to the Novitiate, to the candidate for the priesthood, through failed marriages and broken hopes and dreams it has always been my relationship with God that carried me through: Faith and the fruit it bore. I have been blessed with pain and joy, challenges and gifts that have opened way for the many things that I’ve learned along the way. But we each have our own journeys. Mine is not so very different from yours.

The many twists and turns of life have led me through many changes and understandings that continue to shift and grow over time. It is not the questions that change but the answers. We learn to take risks in the name of L/love. The understanding that it’s not about me or what I think I want rather, what God wants for me. It is the understanding that “all that I am and all that I have” God has given to me. It is the Suscipe – a prayer that is one of the gifts of my time in the Novitiate “Take and receive O Lord, my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I am and all that I have you have given to me, and I give it all back to you to dispose of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the support of your presence and the joy of your love, for with these I shall be more than rich and desire nothing more.” After years of praying the Suscipe daily I suddenly understood that it was all of me that I was returning to God; asking God to transform me. That I was asking not that God take control of me but that I be opened to use all that I’d been given as God would have me use it. Not the giving up of all but the freely giving over to All. I began actively listening for God’s will for me and began testing what I believed I was hearing with a care committee. I believed I was being led to do the work of peacemaking. I labored, sometimes with great frustration, with a care committee that pushed me to dig deeper, listen harder, until I could say not only what the leading was but how I was led to live into it. It was grueling work and sometimes I wanted to forget about my care committee and just get going with “the work”. In the end, they were right. The foundational work needed to be done. I came to clarity that the message I need to carry is that the path to peace begins within ourselves; understanding that, as we find our way to inner Peace we radiate that Peace outward – the Peace that passes all understanding. The journey has taught me patience, and how to open to the voice within and the voices of God speaking through others. It has changed me.

Change can be a fearful thing when we try to do it alone. But when we open our hearts and minds and souls to the Love of God both inwardly and outwardly through the love and of friends and community we are supported and uplifted and even though the fear may persist we find the courage to move forward; to change. With God, all things are possible.