Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What I love about Quakers: a poem by Stan Searl

This past weekend I gave a presentation about the Quaker World Plenary in Peru at Santa Monica Meeting, which I joined in 1989 when I first arrived in California from Philadelphia. Much water has flowed under many bridges (including some that have burned down!) since my arrival in the golden state twenty six years ago. Over the years I have come to love Santa Monica Meeting, and have felt such love and support from it, that during meeting for worship I was moved to give a message about love, based on 1 Corinthians 13:
Though I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, but have not love, my words are as sounding brass and crashing cymbals. If I have prophetic powers, and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I gain nothing. If I give all I have to the poor, and sacrifice my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing.... Love never fails.... Three things will last forever--faith, hope and love--but the greatest of these is love.
I was led to speak about how important this passage has become for me, and how the core of all authentic religion is love. God is love, and we are made in God's image, so we are created to love and be loved.  I also quoted the beautiful message by Sarah Rose Lightener, a young Friend who used to be in my Quaker youth group and has grown up into a radiant young woman with an authentically Quaker heart: 
"Each of us is lovable, each of us is worthy of love, and each of us is capable of love..."
I was led to share this message because I always feel the powerful presence of love when I come to Santa Monica Meeting--it's truly a love feast for me. To be honest, I have also experienced some challenging moments in this Meeting, such as the time when the USA invaded Iraq and I spoke out passionately against the war and some Friends cheered me on, and others felt I was a "knee-jerk liberal." But that's par for the course if you're a Quaker peace activist. What really matters is the love and support I received when I needed it most. When my wife Kathleen of blessed memory and I went on our cancer journey,  and needed the support of Meeting, Santa Monica Friends immediately offered their homes for us to stay in (since we had just sold our home when we got the diagnosis). Friends also formed a support group, prayed for us, and gave us all the help we requested and needed during this difficult ten-month journey that ended with my wife's death. I should say that Kathleen's physical life ended, but love never ends. I'll say more about this in a subsequent blog entry.

During my talk this Sunday, when I spoke the trip that my current wife Jill and I took to Quaker gathering in Peru and how we are trying to live the Sustainability Testimony, I felt utterly free to share from my heart because I knew I was among Friends who care deeply.The spirit of love inspired me to be light-hearted and passionate and I had a blast. And my words moved my dear friend Stan Searl to write one of his inspired poems.

I've known Stan for over twenty years and he is one of the best Friends I know. A former clerk of Santa Monica Meeting, he is a retired academic and scholar who has the heart of a mystic and poet. Now that he is retired, he has gotten in touch with the prophetic fire that has always been bubbling up in his soul. He has written a couple of volumes of poetry--one called The Lady with Dirty Feet (about his Vermont upbringing, and the other called Quaker Poems; The Heart Opened. He loves to write what are called "occasional poems," poems inspired by some passing incident or event, like a wedding or a funeral, or in this case, a presentation by a visiting Quaker.

I love how this poem captures the green essence of my Greek Quaker soul, the part that experiences the Divine in every part of nature, from the lowly earth worm to the lofty Milky Way, in every blade of grass, and in every living creature, from the poet to the street person.

Thanks, Stan, for letting the spirit move you to write from your beautiful heart and soul!

Dance Piece

Stanford J. Searl, Jr.

“Everyone neath their
vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace
            and unafraid” (found on Anthony Manousos’s blog)

I imagined this Pasadena man underneath an apricot tree’s foliage,
his head and part of the face wrapped around with grape vines,
the tendrils become a vegetative mask.

I watched more leaves and stems
twist around his neck and up to the head
as he beckoned to follow him into the back garden,

walking next to persimmons, oranges, raspberries
to celebrate Pasadena’s mode of eco-friendly plantings
to twist and turn through vegetables

among the raised beds of heirloom tomatoes, zucchini blossoms falling over the path.
He handed over two speckled eggs,
talking and demonstrating

about net-zero renewalable energy approaches
how they used grey water, had installed solar panels,
removed the grass (and got paid for it),

now had energy efficient toilets as well.
In my mind, his skin had started to take on a greenish tinge
probably because of the brittle, thick greenness of California laurel,

now twining around the top of his skull.
I noticed a skip in his steps,
hopping along the back gardens

Pan-like, grinning out of the leaf-mask,
improvising vigorous two-steps underneath the fig trees.

About the author: Stanford J. Searl, Jr. lives in Culver City, California and for twenty-five years taught as a Core Faculty member in a person-centered, interdisciplinary doctoral program for Adult Learners at Union Institute & University. He's married to Rebecca Maris Warren of Whittier, California, and taught as an English Instructor for the Weekend College Program (Instructional Television) in the Los Angeles Community College system.
Raised from birth by his father's parents, S. Clyde and Daisy Godfrey Searl at 100 Main Street, Ludlow, Vermont, Searl graduated from Ludlow's Black River High School in 1961 and has a Ph.D. in English from Syracuse University. He has published two books about Quaker silent worship, including Voices from the Silence and The Meanings of Silence in Quaker Worship. He co-edited a book that presented formerly unpublished essays by the intellectual historian, Perry Miller, entitled The Responsibility of Mind in a Civilization of Machines. He published Quaker Poems: The Heart Opened in 2014.

Still in this day and age, Quakerism remains a frequently misunderstood religion, not for the complexity of its tenets, but for the difficulty of expressing its dimensions and depth in ordinary speech and language. Because the spiritual journey of the Quaker is primarily conducted inwardly through gatherings held in silence, words rarely do the experience justice and leave more questions asked than answered.
But through poetry, longtime practicing Quaker Stanford J. Searl Jr. has found a vehicle to express the inexpressible and bring his inner journey outward to break the silent surface with beautiful, heartfelt words that celebrate the vital undercurrents of his faith.
A collection of fifty poems that vibrantly depict Quaker life, Quaker Poems: The Heart Openedexplores the transformative power of silence and the principles of love, compassion, and peace that are the lifeblood of Quaker spirituality and practice.
With sections devoted to Quaker worship; Quaker history; Quaker activism and outreach; and Quaker values, people, and themes, the collection provides invaluable insight into the aspects of Quakerism that may confound those of other faiths, and it gives Quakers a soulful and accurate account of spirituality to which they can relate.

See also his book of Vermont poems


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