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Linda's journey began when she suffered through a painful divorce, and a severely compromised immune system, that left her emotionally and physically devastated. In this dark period she experienced an extraordinary illumination, a sense of God's love and presence that transformed her life. Filled to the brim with the Spirit, she decided to go on a roadtrip in her white van called Moby and seek out kindred souls. She writes with honesty, joy and insight about the people she met and how they affected her. Some of them, like Lynn [Waddington], are Quakers. (Lynn's spiritual memoirs are also fascinating and were posthumously published under the title "Staying True: Musings of an Odd-duck Quaker Lesbian Approaching Death.") Some of those Linda interviewed, like Arlo Guthrie, are famous. But most are "ordinary" people with amazing stories of their experiences with the Great Mystery.
Linda's encounter with me occurred a dozen or so years ago when I was living in Whittier, CA, with Kathleen, my wife of blessed memory. Some of the facts are a little off, but I think she did a good job of capturing the spiritual essence of who I was at this time.
Anthony, whom I met at one of the Quaker meetings along my wandering way, had given me directions to his home in Whittier, CA. He and his wife Kathleen, a Methodist pastor, welcomed me. They would not let me cook or do the dishes, insisting I simply be a guest. They were so in love with each other that it was a delight to be with them. Anthony said, “When I met Kathleen she was perfectly satisfied being herself. She was not looking for anyone to marry. Her relationship with God was enough. Or almost enough. Later she told me, ‘It is nice to find God with skin on.’”
Anthony was editor of Western Friends Bulletin and coordinator of a youth program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. In his youth he had been going to a Presbyterian church when a friend he admired persuaded him to visit a Quaker meeting. “When I went, I liked everything about the experience—the 18th century Meeting House, the peacefulness, the people—except the messages. They seemed overly short, and not nearly as good as sermons at the Presbyterian Church. So I thought I’d go to both and have the best of both worlds. But as I sat in the Silence, I heard an Inward Voice say, ‘Do you want to experience Me or do you want to experience great sermons?’ Then it dawned on me: Why would I want eloquence when I could have God directly? So I learned the most important Quaker discipline, to be satisfied with what God reveals in the moment. I joined a spirituality group at the Quaker Meetinghouse where there were wonderful discussions about the parallels and connections between Taoism, Quakerism, and the Hebrew prophetic tradition. But the really important thing was that they took the twelve steps of AA and turned them into ten queries to help those addicted to ego. As we spent weeks after week reflecting on these queries, I began to learn how to live a life centered in truth. The following year, in 1986, I joined the Religious Society of Friends.”
Anthony told my favorite funny interview story: “I was coming back from a Zen retreat with my friend Ed. We were having a discussion in the car about the importance of being aware in the moment. Suddenly we heard a siren and a police officer pulled us over. We had no idea why until the policeman leaned toward the car window and asked, "Didn’t you see those three red lights strung across the highway?"
My second favorite funny story from an interview is also Anthony’s: “After a Zen retreat, I went to a computer store to find out whether my computer had been fixed. It had been causing many problems that delayed my writing about spirituality. When the woman behind the desk told me sweetly that the computer was not ready, I stormed around saying,‘This is ridiculous, why can’t you fix this thing? It’s brand new. I’ve just come back from a Zen retreat and damn it, I have to write an article about meditation.’ The woman replied calmly,‘Oh, that’s interesting, my brother just went on a Zen retreat.’ I looked at her and thought, ‘What a jerk I am. How can I write about spirituality when I can’t even practice it?’”
Practice. That’s what I kept doing too, practicing, and falling short, missing the mark, taking the wrong turn, tripping over my own feet, bumping into things in the dark, flying blind, putting my foot in my mouth and trying to embody Love at the same time. As one of the Dances of Universal Peace songs says, “Happy is the man who can laugh at himself, he shall never cease to be amused.”
I had long conversations with Anthony about Christianity but my experience was with God. I can think of my bright being as representing Jesus. The depth of connection to I can think doesn’t come from the same place as God came to me as Love, light, sound and all that exists. I connect more to Barbara’s image of tiny lights that represent Love because that resembles my own experiences. It was different for Anthony. After he’d earned a doctorate in English literature, he had toured the US and part of Canada as a hippie adventurer, looking, he said, like Sgt. Pepper. He traveled by train in Canada, stopping at various cities. Drawn to go into a church, he found, “Open on the lectern was a New Testament. I walked up to it and began reading at random. The words went right to my heart, and I cried. I knew these were not just words on a page. This was the most radical and revolutionary doctrine ever preached. I was overwhelmed with emotion. After the release of tears, I was puzzled, but I sensed there was a Presence trying to guide me. I felt that if I trusted in this Presence, everything would be fine.”
We walked a steep hill in late afternoon and Anthony said we could see fifteen miles at least over LA and Long Beach. Eventually I wrote up two interviews for Anthony’s Western Friends Bulletin and helped him with mailing two issues. He has continued to practice the presence of God over the years, working with youth and working for peace, among other things.