Last Tuesday, I headed up to Friends Church with Karen, my accompanying elder and wife, intending to see some quilts. And on the way North, we drove to Mount St. Helens, all the way to the National Park.
When I think of quilts, I always see visions, visions of rags and useless shreds of fabric, coming together under the eye of a designer. Pieces of cloth disciplining their disorder by the needle, coming together from their uselessness, from their raggedness, and forming the quilt. With that quilt you can cover yourself. One of the biblical names for God is “Hen.” Remember that? If the Hen covers and warms the chicks, maybe “Quilt” is another name for God, just as much as it was ever “Comforter.” Maybe there’s no better structure for a Church than a Quilt-made-of-rags.
So, I was into visions, and I went up there, up Mount St. Helens, and maybe I was looking for brimstone spread over the valley. Maybe I was looking for white bones. Yet, all I found were green trees. All I found was the forest alive. Even the stumps, those logs were soft and rotting – rotting into life, covered by the moss. I saw no white bones; all I felt was the Life.
And I have news for you. There’s nothing but crisis.
I was glad to hear about Jesus the Healer and Peter’s sick mother-in-law in the Bible passage that was just read to us. I was glad to be reminded of Jesus “rebuking the fever,” because that clears up a meaning of “crisis,” a meaning that we don’t always keep in mind. When people say, “the fever broke,” or when in medical terms we say that “the patient is in the crisis,” we are talking about that moment when things change for the better or the worse. That’s the kind of crisis I see you in. You are at the moment when the fever has been rebuked and you can testify to the steep growth into health.
I went up to North Seattle to look at quilts. Once in Seattle, I was also given one majestic sighting of Mt. Tahoma from the lowlands. In a conversation with the pastor of North Seattle, somebody said something about Quaker process taking forever – moving like a glacier. Maybe under the influence of all those glaciers up the mountain, maybe obsessed with the call to talk to you about “Courage in Crisis,” I started to wonder, “What’s a crisis for a moving glacier? What does a moving glacier know about courage?”
From those questions I was given openings, ways to unwrap the powerful valley-making, mountain-carving glacial gift of early Friends: that long, interminable process of discernment in love, a mass of ice slowly girding its loins with all sorts of loose rocks underneath, grinding down the valley. Unstoppable. Where the mountain resists, there you will get polished rock. Where the great river of ice piles up debris, there you will get the richest forests.
There’s always a crisis and there’s always courage – particularly if you live in the succession of Life-Giving crises of our Courage-Giver. Often, not always, Quaker process fights the expeditious efficiency of the world and resists the quicker ways of a majority acting without its minority. Courage in crisis will always be with us because love just takes longer as we labor together, as it grinds its adversaries down through their transformations.
In all this you recognize the essential role of listening. Listen through your ears; listen through your open hearts. Don’t listen through your pain. Pain is to be spoken. But when you are in your mutual pastoral loving, when you are Christ for each other, maybe remind yourselves that Christ spoke his pain; but he did not listen through his pain. He listened through his love. He listened through his glory.
One of the ways sufferers survive in community is to acknowledge that the miracle requires the same friend to be a speaker of the pain today and a hearer of the pain tomorrow. When we deploy our own gift for healing others, we have to put our pain aside.
Sometimes you’re doing it by yourselves, with your great loving Heart-Lifter inside your very own heart. Blessed be He. And sometimes you do it with and for each other. It’s going to be precisely in your capacity to listen to the pain of others that you’re going to feel healed for the first time. You’re going to be healers in patches of time; you’re going to be sufferers in other patches of time. If you take those patches of time, you will start to sew up the quilt – the quilt of the Healer, the quilt of the Covering, the covering of the Spirit, the covering of the Comforter.
So, lift up your hearts.
In the greening and the healing that comes after the ripping landslide, the blasting pyroclastic wave, the rushing mud-flood, and the darkening ashes – after all that you have gone through – the first respondents get a little tired. Because there is a first-respondent in each of you, as sure as there is that of God in you, and you shouldn’t be surprised if that first-respondent gets tired, weary, unfed and fed-up, anxious and zealous for the dream of renewal, trapped in the middle of fallen logs, mud, and lack of oxygen.
In this condition it is inevitable to ask ourselves: “Why did this happen to us?” “Why did this happen to me?” But it is also possible – with your courage and in your crisis – to be strengthened by George Fox’s testimony of the heart in 1647:
And I went back to Nottinghamshire and there the Lord showed me that the nature of those things which were hurtful without were within the hearts and minds of wicked men. . . . And I cried to the Lord, “Why should I be thus seeing, as I was never addicted to commit those evils?” And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions . . . (Journal, 1647)
It takes courage to say: Sure, every suffering, every disappointment, every uphill, every cross, is there for me to learn how to speak to the condition of those who don’t know how to deal with that, people who don’t feel their access to a Comforter, who don’t have that sense that the Healer and the Cleanser is already lodging in the heart.
As you see yourselves yielding to everything that the Compass-at-Heart does teach, then you can say that you know how God speaks to us. God speaks to each of us individually, yes; but also to the heart of the gathering – and that takes courage, and that is courage.
Friends of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting, with your experience of strife and renewal, and with your tested capacity for yielding to the Love of God, for listening and obeying the Prince of Peace, you have the best of chances for being confirmed as the peacemakers that the world needs. By your fruits you will be known. ~~~
The text above was excerpted from a complete transcript of Benigno Sanchez-Eppler’s presentation, which is posted at: westernfriend.org/media/courage-crisis
Benigno Sánchez-Eppler is a member of Northampton Friends Meeting in Massachusetts. He currently teaches at Amherst College, where he develops courses to support multi-lingual students. He translates early Quaker texts into Spanish (www.raicescuaqueras.org), and directs a project to digitize more than a hundred years of minutes from Cuba Yearly Meeting.
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