Monday, June 21, 2010

My Spiritual Journey, Part 2

This is a continuation of my spiritual journey as told to the Atlanta Friends Meeting in November of 2008. Part 1 was here.

So, now the fun starts. In February of 2001, I got a call from my grandfather. We had been there for Christmas, I spent every Christmas with my grandparents except one, in 1975 when we went to visit my uncle, and I had gotten a Christmas present, it was like a CD of Scrabble stuff, I was a competitive Scrabble player at the time. And it had gotten lost and it didn't make it back with us, and he had found it and he said "I can mail it to you, unless you want to come down here and get it." And I said something to Ceal about that, and we both had this feeling like we needed to go. Ceal said my grandfather wasn't usually the one to ask, it was usually my grandmother "when are you coming? when are you coming?" In fact, she still does that, and I tried to head it off recently. I was on the phone, and I had just gotten back from visiting her the day before, so I said "Grandma, it was great seeing you yesterday" and so she goes "when am I gonna see you again?". You know, she's right on top of it. But, Ceal and I, we had this strong feeling that we needed to go, and at the time I was a contractor. My entire career, I really don't have a lot to say about it, I've been a computer programmer, that's all.. from the age of 16, that's all the jobs I've ever had. But, I was a contractor, I had a little more leeway to take off, so we went down to Florida, and we spent several wonderful days there, and my grandfather told us stories I had never heard before, about his father getting stuck on Rockaway beach in New York, and everybody recognized him and it was like "Hey! It's Billy Brown! Let's go help him!" and they all.. people just gathered together and helped get his car out of a ditch. And he dug out his grandfather's birth certificate from Scotland, just stuff I hadn't seen before. So, we got back on a Sunday, and he died on Monday. And, I would have had difficulty acknowledging it, but I felt that God was behind us visiting.

And so, while we were still recovering from that, Ceal's dad died April 1st. So, we were in.. we were having a tough time in 2001. So, when September rolled around, we had already been struggling quite a bit, and when 9/11 happened, I felt that, you know, a military response was what we needed. I was still, I actually didn't vote for George W. Bush, but I voted Libertarian that year. And we had a group of friends that we'd know since Ceal and I knew each other, and we used to be on a bulletin board system, if you remember those - you dialed into a PC and you chat.. you don't chat live, you know, somebody leaves a message, so we'd get on, we'd read everybody's messages and we'd write one, you know, "to so-and so.. to so-and-so.." and it was a neat group. Well, by that time it had migrated onto the Internet into a mailing list, and we had a lot of discussion about 9/11 and the United States response, and a friend of mine posted this letter from the Dalai Lama, about being peaceful and all, and I had a very strong negative reaction to it, almost ridiculing it. And I remember thinking "what's.. how has this helped him? China's still in his country, he can't even live in his own country". But, the funny thing about it is that the letter stuck with me, and within a couple of weeks, I started kinda thinking maybe that's not that far off.

And so I started reading about Buddhism, and one of the early books I read was a book called "The Heart of Buddhism" by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I remember at one point reading it, saying "you know, this is how I always thought Christians were supposed to behave". And from Buddhism I also ended up reading a lot about Hinduism, and you know I liked a lot of the ideas in there, and I remember reading this thing about all these mystical experiences of yogis, like glowing, and just kind of fantastic stuff, and this voice in my heart said "if you can believe all this, how come you can't believe in God?" And so, there was sort of a release, you know. I wasn't as resistant to that idea. And around this time I also started reading, I read a lot, okay.. if I just listed all the books I read that would chew up the whole hour, but I read "The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living" by Eknath Easwaran, it's a big.. it's a three volume set, it's not just reading the Bhagavad Gita, it's a little piece of it and then a lot of how you apply it to your life. But, a lot of that was meditation. He has this program of "these are the things you should do" and meditation is one of them. And, part of his meditation to start with is actually memorizing a passage and slowly reciting it. So I memorized a couple of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, and I also.. I would meditate to the love chapter in 1 Corinthians, and the prayer of St. Francis. You know, I didn't notice.. Ceal was actually the one that pointed it out, that I had changed after a while. After several months of doing this, I didn't.. I was calmer.. when I was programming, I didn't bang the desk as often if something didn't work, even though I was using Windows.

Although I had an appreciation for Hinduism and Buddhism, I didn't really feel that they were for me. I never went to visit a Buddhist meditation center, a Hindu temple, and I also found my way to a book called "Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time" -- Marcus Borg. I like Marcus Borg. And, you heard me mention that I started in a pentecostal church, when Marcus Borg talks about the varieties of worship styles, he often uses pentecostals as one end, and Quakers as the other end, so I kind of feel like I've covered the whole spectrum. And so that started me actually trying to re-embrace Christianity from a point which I was comfortable with it, which of course changes over time.

So, in fall of 2002, I took this test online called the Belief-o-matic, and it asks you all these questions about what you believe, and for some of those it asks you to rank how important is this, cause for some people the bodily resurrection of Jesus - you have to believe that, and for other people.. there's just different varieties. And so, when I took the test it popped up "Liberal Quaker", number one. And I'm thinking "Quaker?!" I didn't know anything about Quakers.. nothing. So I started reading about it, and I said "Wow! This sounds exactly like me!" So, I screwed up my courage, and in November of 2002 - six years ago, I came to meeting. I don't remember the exact date, but I can tell you it was a date that you had an FGC book sale, so I did not get out of here empty-handed. The other thing, you know, I had read enough about Quakers to know that plain dress was part of the Quaker history, but I didn't know how much of the Quaker history it was now, so I decided to play it safe and I wore black pants and a white button down shirt, which to me is modern plain. I actually joked with Ceal about maybe I should wear that today, but to me that's dressing up, and this is what I'm comfortable in.

And, I am fairly introverted. I don't seek out conversation all that well, so I would come to meeting and then I would leave. And, finally I got Ceal to come to meeting. We were.. at the time we were gymnastics judges, and Ceal especially during that winter she was working a lot more than me, so she really wanted her Sundays to rest when she had them off, so it took a couple of months for her to come. And I finally got her to come to meeting, and to be honest I was lucky to get her to come back. It was right before the Iraq war, and it was like a political rally. It was a popcorn meeting, and the funny thing was, I sent a message on the Quaker-L mailing list saying "Hey, I just took my wife to this meeting and it was a popcorn meeting.." I described the whole thing and I said "Is this normal?" And someone else wrote back and said "You know, the same kind of thing just happened at my meeting. It's not always that way, but people are.. this is a tough time." That was Julia.. Julia Ewen [of Atlanta Friend Meeting].

So, I got Ceal to come back, and the funny thing was, you know, I had been coming a few more months than her. She went to the Gathered Meeting Retreat. I had to miss it because I was judging a state gymnastics meet, which was kind of a big thing, although it doesn't mean anything to me now. But, anyway, she got to meet all these people, and the next thing you know she's introducing me to all these other people in the meeting, which I wouldn't have done on my own. So this was 2003. We went to SAYMA that year. My first SAYMA. And, we got there at the time registration was supposed to start - imagine that - people are supposed to be on time? The registrar wasn't even there, it wasn't set up. There was.. there were two people there, however. Lloyd Lee Wilson and his traveling companion. Lloyd Lee is from North Carolina Yearly Meeting - Conservative and he was the keynote speaker that year. And Lloyd Lee and his traveling compassion were both plain Friends, you know, the straw hat, the suspenders and everything. So these are the first two people I saw at SAYMA, and I thought "Wow! This is going to be way different than I expected!"

So, in 2004, we went to our first FGC Gathering, and that was in Amherst, Massachusetts. And we took Richard Lee's workshop on "Meeting for Healing and Laughter". It was not our first choice. And you know, I really wasn't all that excited about it. The laughter part, yes, I like to laugh. So, the first couple days are a lot of lecture, talked about Quaker history, especially the healing.. there are a lot of incidents of healing, especially with George Fox in the early Quaker writings, that we probably don't talk about much. There's actually a book called "George Fox's Book of Miracles" that was never reprinted, and all we have now is.. Henry Cadbury found an index of what all the incidents in there were, and for the ones he could find in other places he put them together, so if it was something that was mentioned in the journal he could say "this is what this would have talked about", so it's not a book you can really read very easily, but it is quite interesting. And, I was sort of "ehh.. okay", I was somewhat skeptical. So that Wednesday we had our first meeting for healing, and if you haven't ever been to one, you know how we hold people in Light at the end of meeting, it's like an intense version of that. We would have somebody sit in the middle, and we would all hold that person in the Light for a pretty good period of time, five or ten minutes. And, Ceal was the last person that day. She was in the middle, and I just.. I felt myself going very deep, and my hands started to tingle. I didn't know what to do, I just sat there. And, I also kinda remember that it felt like there was a ring of .. I felt I could almost touch it with my hands. And at the end of the meeting, somebody had this little chime, and they rang it, and instead of snapping out, it felt like I was going over the top of a rollercoaster and plunging down, and I just went deeper. So everybody, they had gotten up and they were all shaking hands and talking, and I was just sitting there, because I was actually kinda freaked out by it. I had come in very skeptical and I was confronted with stuff I really didn't understand. And I went to every meeting for healing they had at FGC after that, because they would have them in the afternoon, and I experienced the same kind of thing, although later on in reading, it's important if you have physical sensations not to rely on them, because you don't always have them. But the one thing I have to say is that was the biggest turning point in my life, because I felt like at that point I could feel God. Not necessarily the tingling hands, I just could feel God. And since then, there are lots of times when I don't feel that, but now instead of saying "Well, maybe God's not really there", it's "I'm not listening hard enough, or maybe I'm doing things that are getting in between that". So I felt like it gave me a gift of faith.

Part 3 continues here.


  1. thank you Mark, We don't get to talk enough at SotS. that has to change. Your journey is so different from mine but the paths lead us to the same place. Blessed Community and the Love of God sharon

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  3. Sharon, I so much enjoy talking with you, I certainly hope we get to talk more. I'm really grateful that after our School of the Spirit program finishes, I'll still get to see you at various SAYMA things.
    With love,