Note to John Woolman on Chapter VII

 Dear John

In your accounts of 1760, I’m reading:

Being two days in going to Nantucket, and having been there once before, I observed many shoals in their bay, which make sailing more dangerous, especially in stormy nights; also, that a great shoal, which encloses their harbor, prevents the entrance of sloops except when the tide is up. Waiting without for the Chart of Nantucketrising of the tide is sometimes hazardous in storms, and by waiting within they sometimes miss a fair wind. I took notice that there was on that small island a great number of inhabitants, and the soil not very fertile, the timber being so gone that for vessels, fences, and firewood, they depend chiefly on buying from the Main, for the cost whereof, with most of their other expenses, they depend principally upon the whale fishery. I considered that as towns grew larger, and lands near navigable waters were more cleared, it would require more labor to get timber and wood. I understood that the whales, being much hunted and sometimes wounded and not killed, grow more shy and difficult to come at.

I considered that the formation of the earth, the seas, the islands, bays, and rivers, the motions of the winds, and great waters, which cause bars and shoals in particular places, were all the works of Him who is perfect wisdom and goodness; and as people attend to his heavenly instruction, and put their trust in him, he provides for them in all parts where he gives them a being;

and as in this visit to these people I felt a strong desire for their firm establishment on the sure foundation, besides what was said more publicly, I was concerned to speak with the women Friends in their Monthly Meeting of business, many being present, and in the fresh spring of pure love to open before them the advantage, both inwardly and outwardly, of attending singly to the pure guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therein to educate their children in true humility and the disuse of all superfluities. I reminded them of the difficulties their husbands and sons were frequently exposed to at sea, and that the more plain and simple their way of living was the less need there would be of running great hazards to support them. I also encouraged the young women to continue their neat, decent way of attending themselves on the affairs of the house; showing, as the way opened, that where people were truly humble, used themselves to business, and were content with a plain way of life, they had ever had more true peace and calmness of mind than they who, aspiring to greatness and outward show, have grasped hard for an income to support themselves therein. And as I observed they had so few or no slaves, I had to encourage them to be content without them, making mention of the numerous troubles and vexations which frequently attended the minds of the people who depend on slaves to do their labor.

Journal of John Woolman

I’m trying to figure out what you’re getting at.  Continue reading


For at least a half hour of this morning’s worship, I wasn’t fully comfortable.  I had volunteered to oversee the meeting for worship and had arrived barely before the appointed Worried facetime.  I’d not had time to open the overhead window its usual crack, or to turn on the ceiling fan.  The lack of air circulation put me to sleep for a while.  My throat was dry, as I’d left my water bottle outside fastened to my bicycle.  I was not in a sufficiently spiritual state.  I was tired from working hard and with too much adrenaline at quarterly meeting yesterday.

Close to the end of meeting, the Lord inwardly admonished me not to fret.  I was sufficient for God to address.  My throat, the atmosphere, my energy were all enough for God to reach through to find me.

This reassuring message of sufficiency and competence is the message of gratitude.  As I begin to pray, it helps to be thankful and acknowledge the blessings of life that surround me. Continue reading

Thanksgiving sunrise

In late slanting light I saw the Sisters two days ago.  Triune and illuminated, their western aspects excited me enough to ride partway up the ridge on whose shoulder I now stand.  The vision wasn’t repeated that afternoon, but perhaps it is what stirred me this morning as I lay warm, long before this fine red dawn.  Or perhaps it was something greater than Three sistersjust a vision.Something shook me off the couch Continue reading

Quaker politics as a game of Tip It

My name’s Jay and I’m a television addict.  I watched a great deal when I was a kid.  Some of it still rattles around in my head.  Not the “programming” so much.  I’m a good student, so I remember the main point of the TV productions.  The marketing.

Perhaps you, too, remember, “Stop!  Now you can pour a beautiful floor.” Or tTip Ithe Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots!

In the 60’s the kid shows advertised a game called Tip It.  Players took turns placing weights on a platform, balanced in the center on a small fulcrum.  Whoever made the platform tip too far lost.  I never owned or even played the game, but, thanks to the TV spots before my eyes, I remember how to play it and how much fun it must be.  And how much I would be missing out by not nagging my parents until they got it for me.

When I sat down in a sparsely attended meeting for worship yesterday, half the attenders were on one side of the room.  The other half (plus one) of us on the other.  A bunch of chairs and empty space were in between.  Then from my rattling head pops out the image of Tip It.

The meeting room in Corvallis is hexagonal.  The ceiling beams come to a point above the middle of the room.  Above there’s a windowed cupola which sheds light on us sitting below it.  I wondered if we were balanced on a point in the middle of the floor, or hung from the top of the cupola, which way would the whole thing swing? Continue reading

More Conversation

John, the first time I read through the second chapter of your Journal (1743–1748), I didn’t have much reply.  My own state of heart was pretty barren.  On this second time through, I’m finding some reflections in my own life.

I had a great regard for him, and felt a strong inclination, after matters were settled, to speak to him concerning his conduct in that case; but being a youth, and he far advanced in age and experience, my way appeared difficult; after some days’ deliberation, and inward seeking to the Lord for assistance, I was made subject, so that I expressed what lay upon me in a way which became my youth and his years; and though it was a hard task to me it was well taken, and I believe was useful to us both.

That’s an experience I have had, though less and less as I age.  I’ve heard it referred to as “youngering.”  Sometimes, those who have less status or fewer years have a clear role in reminding their elders of the Guide and principles that they profess to live by. Continue reading

Dear John #5


Referring to Abraham Farrington’s ministry, you phrased your description, “In both these meetings my ancient companion was engaged to preach largely in the love of the gospel.”

That’s not a phrasing I would have used, but it does open some windows to me on how vocal ministry is an act of love.  I’m considering this morning how much our speaking flows from the love Friends hold each other in.  Usually I consider ministry as an act of obedience to God, or of passing on the Light as received.  It is that, but your phrasing has pointed me to the relationship between minister and flock.

I’ve long recognized the importance of a healthy school community in the teaching I do.  When the relationships between students, staff and parents are caring and interwoven, the learning and teaching is enriched greatly.  You’re bringing me to remember how much the ministry in a Friends meeting or a church can be a product of the love and community that is present there.


Jumping in light

Last week I was reminding one of my 5th grade PE classes about the Jump Rope for Heart event that was planned for a few days afterward.   One of the students explained that he wasn’t going since he didn’t see that the American Heart Association needed any more money.   I rather agreed with him, but remained silent as I’m the principal organizer for the shindig.

“So why do it?”  I wondered that week.   Jump Rope for Heart raises money for the Heart Association.  Children ask people they know to contribute, usually a flat dollar amount, in honor of the jumping that they will do at school.  The students are motivated by prizes they earn for raising different dollar amounts:  water bottles, jump ropes, plastic toys, tee shirts.

After the event, I had my answer.   It felt right in these ways:Jumping in light

  • Thirty seven children enjoyed jumping rope for an hour.
  • They worked hard at the jumping.
  • They helped each other across grade levels and economic strata.
  • They took some initiative to ask scores of adults to contribute. Continue reading

on moods, Advent and keeping holy days

I’ve been out of sorts.  Prayer has been pretty dry and perfunctory.  Journal writing and blogging have not been happening.  I was concerned about it.  I’m less so, since I realized it’s been Advent.

For me that’s long been a time of reflection and introspection.  In that season, I’ve often listened to Gregorian chants and appreciated their haunting polyphonies.  Perhaps due to my memories of O Come, Emmanuel, they speak to me of desires for fulfillment, held for generations in anticipation of something more:  enlightenment, world peace, the coming (first, second or third) of a savior.

I’m not so concerned since I remembered I often feel this way at this time of year.  It’s part of the long slide to the winter solstice, which promises celebration after.  From that cycle, I gain more awareness and understanding of the natural and spiritual realities of life. Continue reading

on Forgiveness

Personal forgiveness has seemed fallacious to me.  To say “I forgive you” is to put myself above you, so why do that?  It’s also very cheap.  It costs me nothing to forgive.  So why would it be worth doing?  It was opened to me today, on reading Mark 11:25 (Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.), that forgiving someone benefits me, even if it doesn’t benefit her. Continue reading