Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: The writings of Hannah Smith, touching on Human Loneliness

In the paperback book on Quaker Spirituality that I have recently been reading, a number of letters by Hannah Smith were included. I found them deeply insightful into the human condition. The fact of the Maker and His Creation ultimately being meant only for each other, to the point that nothing else can or will suffice, has been a point I have been discovering and exploring over the last couple of years.

Hannah Smith (1832 – 1911) was a Quaker lay speaker and author. Her husband, Robert, was also a Quaker preacher. Together, they impacted many people inside and outside of the Quaker faith. Later in life, Hannah and her husband moved to England where their children and grandchildren remained, identifying themselves as English, rather than American.

They were greatly active in the Women’s suffrage movement and the Temperance movement on both sides of the “Pond”. Life was not necessarily kind to them. Through all of life’s many, many struggles, Hannah’s faith remained strong. She encouraged and admonished others to do the same.

In a letter to a friend, Hannah touched on the very real issue of human loneliness, even in the midst of worldly activity and companions:

“The loneliness thou speaks of I know. For do not think, darling, that it is confined to unmarried people. It is just as real in lives that have plenty of human ties, husbands, and children and friends. It is the loneliness of this world life, the loneliness of hearts that are made for union with God, but which have not yet fully realized it. I believe God has ordained it in the very nature of things by creating us for Himself alone. And I believe He very rarely allows any human love to be satisfying, just that this loneliness may drive us to Him. I have noticed that when a human love is satisfying something always comes in to spoil it. Either there is death, or there is separation, or there is a change of feeling on one side or the other or something, and the heart is driven out of its human resting place on to God alone.

Sometimes God permits a little taste of a satisfying love to a human being, but I do not believe it ever lasts long. I do not mean that the love may not last, but separation comes in some way, and the perfect satisfaction is taken out of it. Now, darling, thy loneliness is not only because thou art unmarried and hast no very close human ties, it is the loneliness of a heart made for God but which has not yet reached its full satisfaction in Him. Human love might for awhile satisfy thee, but it would not last.

If thou can only see this and settle down to it, it will help thee very much. Thou wilt give up, as I have, any expectation of finding satisfaction in the creature, and will no longer suffer with disappointment at not finding it. And this will deliver thee from the worst part of the suffering of loneliness. Thee will accept it as a God-given blessing meant only to drive thee to Himself.

Thy loneliness is only different in kind but not in fact from the loneliness of every human heart apart from God. Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity. Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it. No change of circumstances, no coming in of the dearest earthly ties even, not my continued presence even, could really satisfy for any length of time the hungry depths of thy soul. I am speaking, darling, out of the depths of my own experience when I say this, and thee may believe me.”

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality

Lately I have been reading a small paperback book on Quaker Spirituality. Although I can’t embrace much of their points of mysticism, I find some of the Quaker writings to be quite inspirational. One of the most famous Quakers is John Greenleaf Whittier, sometimes included as one of the Fireside Poets.

The Quaker faith had many subgroups, much like Baptists have; there are Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Fundamental Baptists, Southern Baptists, and so on. The Quaker group that Whittier belonged to had a traditional type of service format in which the “brethren”, including women (some of which were lay preachers), would gather in silence, without program or an assigned speaker, and the group would sit in long periods of silence which was broken only when/if someone felt “inspired” with a Word from God to speak or share. In his poem, “First Day Thoughts”, Whittier described such a meeting.

In calm and cool and silence, once again
I find my old accustomed place among
My brethren, where, perchance, no human tongue
Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung,
Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung,
Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane!
There, syllabled by silence, let me hear
The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear;
Read in my heart a still diviner law
Than Israel’s leader on his tables saw!
There let me strive with each besetting sin,
Recall my wandering fancies, and restrain
The sore disquiet of a restless brain;
And, as the path of duty is made plain,
May grace be given that I may walk therein,
Not like the hireling, for his selfish gain,
With backward glances and reluctant tread,
Making a merit of his coward dread,
But, cheerful, in the light around me thrown,
Walking as one to pleasant service led;
Doing God’s will as if it were my own,
Yet trusting not in mine, but in His strength alone!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1833)

Confessions of a City Girl Who Moved to the Country: I Guess a Raccoon Did It

Early one morning, I looked out my kitchen window to see a sea of white blossoms down in the swampy section of the pasture where the stock tank overflow funnels into the creek. I put on my tallest work boots and picked my way through the willows, swamp grass, dead stumps, and briars toward the white blossoms. What were they? I didn’t recall them being there last year.  The huge patch was thorny and growing wildly in all directions. I was intrigued by the lovely and mysterious swamp bush that seemingly appeared over-night. Fixated on the delicate white flowers, I called my mother-in-law who knows all things plants and gardening. She came over and looked. “Well, it’s blackberries,” she revealed, with an unspoken ‘duh’ in her tone. My delight was quickly snuffed out by her matter-of-fact statement of the obvious: “But, you can’t get to them. They’re down in that swamp.” Well, how did they get there? I wondered out loud. She looked at me with a quizzical expression. My ignorance of such things sometimes exasperated her. “Well, I guess the seeds washed in from somewhere upstream, or that’s where a coon decided to squat,” she blurted. “And,” she informed me in that knowing tone, “A patch this big didn’t just ‘spring up overnight’. This has been here probably for a couple of years. You probably couldn’t see it for all the willows and the briars.”

Well! Where was the justice in that? A huge, healthy, patch of delicious blackberries practically in my backyard, and I can’t get to them. Undeterred, I pursued my conquest of the blackberry patch. With renewed vigor, I took a variety of chopping and trimming tools and cut a path through the swamp. It was the principle of the matter. Satisfied with my path that lead through much of the swamp, I would have to continue in ankle and knee deep water. I had a pair of waders, and I would put them to good use…I thought…

A very large water moccasin slithered literally right between my feet. I looked up and spied a second one headed in the opposite direction away from me. Ok. That’s it. I concede. No blackberries for me this year. Waders or not, the snakes can have the swamp. But every time I look out the kitchen window at that patch, I catch myself squinting at the thought of that vexing raccoon who didn’t have the courtesy to poop this side of the swamp.

A Godly Moral Compass that Regulates both Private and Public Affairs

We have noticed a trend that seems to have escalated in the last few years. This trend troubles both Sarah and me. We believe that a capitalist based economy is the best economic form for a society. Capitalism not only rewards hard work, ingenuity, creativity, etc., but it encourages it.  I stand to reap the economic rewards for my efforts and creativity; therefore, I have a reason to excel and achieve in the marketplace, much like an athlete has a reason to excel or achieve in his or her chosen sport. If I run the fastest in a race, I am rewarded with a 1st place ribbon or trophy. Actually, that held more true when I was a kid in the days before “participation trophies”; but that is another subject for another time. But I’ll just say that, if in the Olympics, everyone only received participation medals, the games wouldn’t be the same.

While we believe that capitalism is the best economic form, it needs to be kept closely in check by another force. That force is not government, because government is not capable of the task.  Only one entity is capable—it is He who imparts us with the ability to govern ourselves and our actions. I am speaking of God and the Godly moral compass He imparts to his followers.   Without a Godly moral compass or governor, capitalism over time becomes controlled by greed, which results in dishonesty, selfishness, and a list of other vices. These vices, in turn, create all kinds of misery for society at large. Does any of this sound familiar? Has anyone reading this experienced any unscrupulous marketing or business practices of late? This is the trend that we were speaking of earlier. It has always been around, but it is escalating in mainstream, and even small town America. Why? Because we have removed God from most of our society; hence we have removed the Godly moral compass that should keep our business practices in check. Without this governor, our business practices become ruled by profits and bottom lines. If we remove regard for God’s laws and compassion for humanity from the equation, price gouging doesn’t exist, neither would deceptive marketing. It would be about a business extracting as much money as possible for the least amount and least quality of a product or service as possible. Sound familiar? Because we have deemed ourselves too good for God, we now live in a world of escalating deceptive advertising, deceptive packaging, and deceptive pricing of products that are often shrinking in quality and size, all in an attempt to maximize profits. We have lost our Godly moral compass of what is right. While you might expect this type of behavior from the world at large, sadly many people who attend church and claim to follow Christ have developed the attitude that church is  church, and business is business, and they need to be as profitable as possible: it is just good business. God has become compartmentalized; He no longer has complete rule of our lives. We have become out of control. We have in essence removed ourselves from the principle stated in the Scripture passage, 1 Cor. 10:31, which states, “whatever we do, do unto the glory of God.”

Why can’t government step in to remedy this situation? Simple: because without a Godly moral compass, Government is just as corrupt as the businesses they are supposed to keep in check. In our society, “government” is a group of elected or appointed individuals, most often from within our own communities. There is no such thing as a mysterious entity called “government” absent the people. Government, is, in its very essence, people who are in positions to govern. Some societies choose a monarchy and are ruled by royal families. Some societies are prone to dictatorships and are governed at the point of a sword or gun. But, even in those situations, it is still people who are in a position to govern. In our society, those who govern are most often chosen through an election process and are consequently put in charge “at the consent of the people” to manage public affairs. However, they can, and often do, go awry with the power with which they are entrusted. We must return that internal governor of God awareness in order for both private and government affairs to be fair, just, honest, and effective. Otherwise, the strongest one wins, the one with the most money, power, influence, or intimidation techniques runs over the “governed”, and it most certainly does not represent the ideal of “with the consent of the governed.”

Just a Few Thoughts on an Evening Campfire with Friends

Last night, we enjoyed a pleasant evening with a small group of friends who brought all of the fixings. We grilled hamburgers, made homemade french-fries, and sipped on our drinks of choice. Each friend who was there has a particular talent or passion that often enriches their own lives and the lives of others. As we sat around the campfire, I began to think of the various parts that were brought together in this circle of friendship.

Two of them are excellent gardeners. In fact, one had brought some starter oak trees that he had grown from acorn seeds. I hope to plant them and have some great shade in years to come. Another friend had brought lettuce and onions from his garden. They were delicious on the hamburgers. One is talented in baking and homemaking; she had brought the homemade hamburger buns as well as a special homemade herbal beverage that was delicious and fresh tasting. Another friend is kind of like the glue that keeps the group together. Among her many, many talents, skills, and passions, she is deeply compassionate for people. But, the one talent that she has that came to mind as we sat around the campfire, was her talent with knitting and crochet. She is highly skilled and has created many masterpieces with yarn.

As I thought about each friend in turn, I realized that each one replicated a little bit of what God does with each of us. We are all familiar with the gardening aspect of the Gospel—planting, watering and nurturing seeds into fruition and harvest. Another way the Gospel is represented is the taking of small parts that seem insignificant, such as individual elements of a recipe or a small piece of yarn, and mixing or spinning, until a beautiful end is achieved. No one wants to sit down to a bowl of flour and baking powder—but you add a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and apply some heat, and a delicious loaf of bread is achieved. No one wants to wear a spool of yarn on his head; but you pull a little piece here, and wrap a little piece around this needle, and soon a beautiful cap, sweater, or perhaps a pair of socks emerges.

One of my husband’s talents is taking pieces of junk that once were valuable and restoring them. One of his passions is lights. He has always liked making lamps. His equal passion to lamps is lanterns. Some of the lights in our home are made of old lanterns that were either salvaged out of the pasture or trash, or redeemed at a flea market for very little money. With time and expertise, that rusty, valueless piece of junk slowly begins to emerge a masterpiece that graces a lampstand or mantle. If the lantern is fixable to run as a lantern, then it is restored to its initial purpose; however, if the lantern is too far gone to function as a lantern, then it is often turned into an electric lamp. Either way, it is no longer scrap metal destined for the furnace to be melted down. It is salvaged and beautified.

This is also an aspect of the Gospel. God takes what was perhaps supposed to be, but due to sin and corrosion of the soul, it became damaged and is not able to function as it was meant to do. He sends someone along to salvage and redeem. This person then brushes away the rust, repairs the bent parts, replaces the missing parts, and turns it into something that lights the way for others.

 

The Recital

Monday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a piano recital at which my young nephew performed. The piano students came from a wide variety of backgrounds: homeschooled, public school, private school, rural, urban, tiny tots, high school aged, financially strained, financially privileged, etc.

The recital was a necessary element in each student’s progression toward the next level of learning. They had to earn so many points before moving on, and the recital was worth X number of points. The students were not graded on their performances at the recital—that was reserved for another time. Simply showing up and playing before the audience was what was required.

The auditorium was large and modern. The stage was high. The lights were low, except for the spotlight on the piano. The interactive audience was polite and applauded at each appropriate moment.

The youngest and least experienced students performed first. The older, more experienced and more skilled students were reserved for later in the program. As I watched the students perform, one by one, I began to notice something extraordinary.

Each student, from first to last, sought to please only the teacher. Yes, the parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas were in the audience; however, each student eagerly sought the teacher’s face for approval or displeasure at the performance. The teacher remained slightly out of the spotlight in the shadows, but near enough to the piano for the students to hear encouragement, correction, or instruction.

This really touched me and brought home a beautiful lesson on how Father God instructs, teaches, admonishes, corrects, and encourages each of us. He often does remain in the shadows. In fact, He stays out of sight so much that some doubt His very existence: however, those of us who have felt and heard His guiding hand know that our Teacher is there—all the time—and it is He whom we should strive to please—not so much the others watching our lives—although they are important, too. But, it is to His standards that we must perform. The others applaud or approve (or maybe they disapprove). But, it is He who grades and allows us to move on to the next thing He has for us.

At the recital, the students were not in fear of not performing well because they might not receive a good grade—remember, no grades were given at the recital. However, each student eagerly wanted to please the teacher—and that is what it is all about.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: One of those Father-in-Law Favors

Friday, my father-in-law asked if I would do something for him. He had to be out of town on a semi-emergency, but he had committed to hauling a load of food from a warehouse in Cleburne, Texas to his church in Early, Texas. The church was hosting a charity food give away on the Saturday before Easter; and a warehouse in Cleburne had donated a large supply. It just needed to be picked up and trucked to Early. It is approximately a three hour drive. Several others from the church would also be hauling.

We asked all the pertinent questions, like, did we need to bring anything besides truck and flatbed? Did we need to contact anyone, or just show up? He gave us a contact number, which we called and explained that we would be picking up the load for father-in-law because he had to be out of town. The contact person said, “Great. Thanks for your help…” and gave us the address in Cleburne. The contact person said that the items were stacked on pallets and wrapped, ready to haul. At the warehouse, the pallets would be loaded by forklift onto the flatbed, and we would be good to go.

We said, “Sounds easy enough. We’ll be there.” We showed up and backed in to the appropriate spot.

We noticed that the wrap around the pallets looked pretty flimsy. It looked more like shrink wrap from a kitchen than heavy duty wrap for hauling loads. HHmmm. The forklift driver loaded the front of the trailer with a pallet of oatmeal, followed by a very tall, double pallet of tortilla chips and finished out the load with a pallet of cookie dough on the rear of the trailer. Again, we thought, HHmmmm. Those chips were pretty light; and that shrink wrap looked pretty flimsy. We had not brought tie downs. The funny thing is, I’m usually over-prepared for things. This time, for some reason, I had embarked on this journey totally under prepared.

We looked at each other dubiously and said, “Well, let’s try it.”

We headed out.

Let’s just say, it did not go well. By the time we reached the outskirts of Cleburne, headed south on 67 toward Glen Rose, the tall pallet had shifted significantly and much of the shrink wrap around it had shredded in the wind. We stopped and got some rope and tied down the top row of boxes of chips.

We hit the road again.

Just outside of Glen Rose, the shrink wrap around the front pallet began to shred. This was a bigger problem. The boxes of oatmeal were little and would be more difficult to secure. Sarah looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see a box of oatmeal fly.

I looked for the nearest place to pull over. We topped a rise, and to our left, facing oncoming traffic, with its lights on, was a highway patrol car. “Oh, great,” Sarah said. We pulled over as another box of oatmeal rolled off the trailer and bounced across the highway. It skidded right in line with the patrol car door. We looked at each other and just had to laugh.

Traffic was heavy, so retrieving our boxes was going to be tricky. We waited and waited for the highway patrolman to turn around and pull in behind us. We just knew, for sure, that he had been told about our unsecured load, and that he was probably waiting for us. One box of oatmeal had landed in front of his car, and the other had landed in line with his car door in the lane of traffic, and drivers were having to go around it.

No action from the highway patrolman. He did not make any moves. He sat in his car, with its lights on. We could see him moving around in there, but he never saw us, it seemed. Finally, with a break in the traffic, I walked out into the lane and retrieved the troublesome box that drivers were having to go around.

With the help of another passerby, we gathered our boxes and got back on the road. We stopped at the next hardware store and secured that load enough to where it would take an act of Congress to undo. I’m surprised we didn’t get an award for most creative string art. We finally made it to Early, with the rest of the pallets intact.

The next time “Dad” says, “Hey, I have a favor to ask…”

Well…we’ll see.