I work with the dying. I’m a healthcare chaplain who works in hospice, in what we call palliative care. Some people who do this work call themselves death midwives. The process of attending a person in their dying is very similar to the process of attending to a mother as she brings a child into the world. And it is hard work. The night before I left home, I went to the hospice house to see a patient that I’ve had for two years and she is now really dying and the nurse there said, “I have another patient, he’s not your patient, but he’s having a hard time dying. He gets confused and he says ‘I know it’s time for me to go. I’m going to be late. But I don’t have a ticket.’ And he’s trying to figure out how to cross over, how to drop his body.” So I went to him and I sang him this song.
I am wading deep waters, trying to get home.
I am wading deep waters, trying to get home.
I am wading deep waters, wading deep waters, I am wading deep waters trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, trying to get home.
I am climbing high mountains, climbing high mountains, I am climbing high mountains trying to get home.
And I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
I am walking dark valleys, walking these dark valleys, I am walking dark valleys trying to get home.
As home place, that’s how African American folk talk about dying. Going home. Going to a memorial or a funeral, it’s a “Coming Home” celebration, going home. They’re going home to Jesus. This longing to be home is part of the universal human condition.
My home place as a minister is never to read. I have never read when asked to bring a message and I have tried to write a message for you all, so that the interpreters could have it in advance. It is thirteen pages. You can read it. (Holding up the papers.) Some of it’s quite good. Some if it is just notions. But this is part of what my branch of the Quaker tree preserved, that early Friends tried to speak in the Spirit. Not to offer a set prayer or prepared sermon. We say: The minister IS prepared,” rather than, the minister prepares. Not that I believe God cannot show up at any point that we come forward to worship. So, I’m going to read my introduction so you know who I am.
Buenos dias amigos. Me llamo Carlos Magruder and I’m honored to have been invited by FWCC to talk to you today. I am from California, where I live on the ancestral lands of the Wiyot people. This is part of what didn’t quite work for me. I introduce myself as being from a branch of the Quaker tree called Earth Quakers, but it’s a joke. And it probably doesn’t translate. There are Earth Quakers throughout Quakerism, but we don’t have a Faith & Practice. But what it is, is its people who have come to understand that as we say there is that of God in everyone we can also recognize that there is that of God, that of the Creator, in all of Creation and that it is all holy. The book of Genesis is credited with a lot of bad principles for the human relationship to Earth: have dominion, etc. But the part I come back to is that every time that God creates something, God pronounces it good.
Now the theme of Ecojustice is probably also a concept that doesn’t translate and part of the reason for that is that it’s a concept that Western people need, in the developed world, more so than in the developing world. North Americans have a particularly perverse concept of humanity as separate from the creation. Europeans came here, thought the land was empty, and carried their dualism into their understanding of the relationship to the land. The land was sinful, frightening, wild, and had to be tamed and civilized. So, we’re in a war with the Earth. We inherit that. But this separation is not so pervasive in Latin America. As you study Latin American environmentalism, where it’s a deeper understanding that we as humans are embedded in earth. The name of the first man, Adam, is from the Hebrew adamah which means earth. He is named “earthling.” At some point, science and religion were put into opposite corners of a boxing ring and told to fight. I really don’t know how that happened. Now one beautiful thing about writing things in advance is if I had done so I would have this quote verbatim. William Penn says, “It would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world that they would better studied and known in the creation of it. For how could man find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part thereof?” For me, the best understanding science can offer about earth’s processes simply increase my sense of awe and gratitude—the sacredness of Earth. That’s the concept I’m talking about. There is that of God in each of us and in the whole of creation.
I’ll confess that I went to seminary. Just so that’s out there. One of the things you learn is that, you know, for ages and ages in the West there is only the Catholic church, and then Luther, and then the Reformation. (Gesturing with hands to show a linear prgression.) Quakers are part of the radical reformation. Do you know this? We’re way the heck over here. We’re as far as you can go and not be so anarchist that your movement just fell apart, like the Diggers and Ranters. They were so cuckoo they couldn’t keep it together.
And what made us radical is that we’re mystics. That’s what made us crazy, and dangerous, and radical. Brother Stendl-Rast, who is a Catholic monk, says that there is an upflowing of religious feeling or knowing, mysticism, like lava out of the earth. And then the lava cools and becomes encrusted and hard and rigid and then periodically you have to have an upwelling of lava, of hot lava, to break loose, like Hawaii. So, Quakerism was a volcano that happened in the 1600s.
George Fox walks up Pendle Hill, as you know, he’s given up on everything, and he has this revelation. And Liberal Friends say, “There is that of God in everyone.” And Pastoral Friends say, “Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself.” Okay, it’s the same idea: that God is manifest in creation, available to us, if we can come present to that Godness. And then, what do we need a priest for? And how do we understand scripture? And we don’t need a steeplehouse because God is everywhere. Quakers didn’t wear their hats in the meetinghouse because they were cold, they wore their hats in the meetinghouse because the meetinghouse was no more holy a place than every place.
So, the sacredness of creation, in the Biblical tradition—and if that’s not a comfortable place for you, I want to encourage you to grab yourself with both hands and just come along for the journey. The Biblical tradition of Ecojustice and earth justice is Shalom. Shalom is peace, it’s God’s peace. But it’s not simply an absence of war—that’s just the absence of war. When there is Shalom the domestic animals are fat, the wild animals are abundant, the rivers flow (this is a desert people, the rivers flowing is a big deal – people at Standing Rock would agree), and we are prosperous, and our children live, and we have enough to eat, and maybe we have time to write poetry. That’s Shalom, God’s peace.
So, Fox has a mystical experience of that peace. It’s not really available in this world, that’s why we have the tradition of this world as fallen. But he has that experience on Pendle Hill – and I did write this quote down and I kept it. I call it the Apocalypse of Pendle Hill. Do you know this word, apocalypse? Apokalypsis? It doesn’t mean disaster. In Greek it actually has no connotation of disaster. It simply means a revelation of truth. It could be a beautiful, healing, inspiring truth; it doesn’t have to be a disaster. The apocalypse of Pendle Hill. He went up the hill, he had this experience. Now this is an experience we can have in the covered meeting. I hope that you have had this mystical experience. Michael Sheeran wrote about Quakers and our decision-making process, and he said the Quakers imagine that the division between them is between Christ-centered Friends and non-Christ-centered Friends. He was a Jesuit. He said that’s not the division. The division is between those who have had this experience of oneness with God and those for whom it is an idea or aspiration, or, perhaps, not even something they expect.
Fox wrote, “Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.” There are several thick and important concepts, but I want to bring up “beyond what words can utter.” You will find that precept in the mystics of Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism: when we try to language it, we will always miss.
And then this crazy notion that I was in the state that Adam was in before he fell. That literally, legally, was blasphemy in England at that time. And you know what they did to James Naylor. Now this would have been fine, for Fox to have this beautiful experience and sit under his Bodhi Tree on Pendle Hill and meditate on the beauty. But, in his old leather britches and his shaggy, shaggy locks, he came down off the hill and tried to find or make the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Calvinists were really preaching this idea that the whole earth was fallen and God was not having anything to do with it. We would figure that all out post-revelation or post our death and here Fox is saying, “no, no, I am able to be in that condition right now, a corporeal man, and you can too.” So, a very wild idea. Now there are other Anabaptists that have this idea and they very sensibly withdrew from the world, the fallen world, and they went off someplace by themselves. But that’s not what the Quakers did. It’s not what we were called to then and it’s not what we’re called to now. We’re called to Shalom, God’s will done on earth as in heaven. So, that’s Shalom, that’s justice, and the bringing it forth. And just as it did for Jesus and more recently Ghandi, Diane Fossey, Cesar Chavez, Alice Paul, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Lucretia Mott, etc, etc this caused all kinds of problems.
So, the call to Shalom, the call to be radically transformed, provides us with a kind of freedom and this freedom is amplified by the apocalypse, which is actually the horrific kind of apocalypse. This present time is the time of what the eco-spiritual activist Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning. It’s funny to me that Jonathan and I both came to this conclusion in coming here this weekend. And what precedes the Great Turning from the Industrial Growth Society of rampant mechanization and fossil fuel consumption and perpetual growth of the free market economy—the turning from that to the Life-Sustaining Culture—Shalom, well, what precedes it is the Great Unraveling.
The system fails before it changes, that’s how evolution works. It’s very easy to see at this point. The veil has been lifted. The systems that we have relied on since, say massive exploitation of fossil fuels, are failing. And the last hurrah of a doomed mindset of dominion, and some people having privilege and others not, is in its death throes – and they’re pretty spectacular. But we’re not going to go into all that. We know it already.
So, the freedom that we have is the realization that we are playing for all the marbles, that the status quo is not going to work, and that minute changes, like recycling and driving a Prius, are not going to get us there. So, we are free, like the Valiant Sixty, the first generation of Quakers—to be wild, peculiar, unpredictable, radical, which means coming from the root, that mystical root, that Christ showed us.
The most important consolation of facing the kind of truth that is terrifying, and finding the spiritual strength to live into it, to respond from a place of creativity and love, is that we draw closer to God.
Have you ever had this experience in your life, where things get very, very dark and difficult and you finally stop trying out of your own will and cleverness to solve it and you say, “Help me!” and God comes in. Not because God wasn’t there all along, but because you were trying to do it yourself. I can testify. Instead of climbing out of that hole, you fall out the bottom of it and discover that you’re caught and carried. So, that’s one consolation. We draw closer to God.
But the consolation I want to focus on this morning is that God’s Shalom in the Bible is protected by a covenant. It’s made possible by covenant. And this covenant encompasses all of creation, humanity, the wild animals, the rivers, okay? And it is a supernatural vision, alright? So, I have in here the proper quote from Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Some of those animals are wild, some are domestic, and the human being, the little dinky one, the kind that Jesus told us to become like – will lead them. It’s a supernatural vision, right? The trees of the fields clap their hands. So, in order to live into that inspiring vision, we have to have a covenant. And the covenant community is an outpost of the republic of heaven. It’s traditionally kingdom of heaven, but I made it a little more democratic. Jesus can still run it, I’m happy with that.
So, these outposts of the kingdom of heaven, these are the mustard seeds, this insidious little seed that can be carried by a sparrow in its poop, or carried on the back of a rat or a coyote. And they can grow up where there’s hardly any soil, in a little crack in the pavement. This is what we are invited to be, Friends World Committee for Consultation, the latter part of March, 2017. The last days of this model of a society that we find ourselves in. And these may be some of our last chances to turn the ship and to prevent our little interstellar island from becoming a galactic Easter Island, with these interesting artifacts – but where are the people? So, we are a covenant community, we have come together across a diversity of geography and theology and beard length, Christ-centeredess and non-Christ-centeredness.
Now, if you are willing; if you would stand, find one other person, preferably someone you don’t know well. Try to turn your core, your heart chakra, towards them.
[If this is awkward for you or if you don’t feel like you want to participate, you can just hold the group in prayer…]
So, centering down in the silence. Take your partner’s hands in yours.
These are hands of a human person. They are only to be found here on earth as far as we know.
This little hand opened like a flower in its mother’s womb. It learned to hold a pencil, to tie shoes, maybe to soothe a fussing child. Maybe this hand you’re holding held the hand of someone in their last moments on the earth. Feel the magic of those many bones and tendons. Take this friend in, breathe them in.
This person could have been somewhere else this weekend. They are very busy. They have a lot of things to do. But they chose to be here, to come here to be part of this covenant community.
This is a person who has suffered, and who has caused suffering, as is inevitable. And this is someone who knows that our world is suffering with injustice, with famine, war.
And you are also a person who chose to be here and who knows these things.
Allow yourself to feel compassion rising for this human soul before you, this courageous being, so awesomely and wonderfully made with that of God shining within them. Feel your wish, your prayer, for this person to thrive and to be well, to draw nearer to Spirit, to be emboldened and strengthened to discern and faithfully follow the leadings of Spirit in their life. Also, allow yourself to receive this compassionate wish from them. Breathe it in. Feel your feet on the body of earth. You are here now, in this good place, among Friends. Open your eyes to the glory of this shalom. Take this blessing into you, to carry with you as we spend this time together. And now, thank your partner in whatever way seems right to you, and is permissible to them.
Friends, let us close in prayer. One of the great adventures of my becoming a healthcare chaplain from the west-coast-bleeding-heart-liberal-waiting-worship branch of Quakerism is that I had never in my life prayed out loud; but that will not fly in the hospital. So, I would center myself for a moment before I would pray and often the patient would say, “Are you okay?” And occasionally they would just start to pray without me.
Spirit of Love and Light, come illumine this gathering of Friends World Committee for Consultation. Bring us together in a radical way, a way that might challenge us but also opens us and deepens us to the love that is possible and the world that is possible when we come together. We are mindful of the mighty works that you have inspired in faithful people of all traditions throughout time and we want to be open and willing to receive that inspiration. We give thanks for the opportunity to be in this beautiful place and for the Earth’s abundance that sustains us at mealtimes with heat and with light. We dedicate this worship and our time together and our efforts to the healing of the world. So may it be.
We are wading deep waters, trying to get home.
We are wading deep waters, trying to get home.
We are wading deep waters, wading deep waters, we are wading deep waters trying to get home.
—A Period of Worship—
Coming back to the beginning, to the man I sang to about going home—there is a powerful grace that is possible as death—that is, transformation—approaches. Great courage may be found, and things that seemed impossible may be readily accomplished. This is where our society and our planet are now—terminally ill, passing tipping points that we cannot recover from; approaching a kind of transformation which feels like death. In this liminal time, new possibilities arise, tremendous courage is needed, and within the looming chaos a mustard seed whirls. The kingdom of heaven is among us. Shalom is at hand.