October 13, 2013
The 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Let us all take a deep breath and an extra one for me. Dear God you know that during my preparation I asked you to put your hand in my mouth as you did Jeremiah’s; please continue to do so now as I speak what Your words, and while you are at it, please put your finger if you have those, in the ears of those present so that they are alert to listen and not fall asleep, but if they need to sleep, that they listen with their heart.
I was born and raised Catholic in India and Tanzania, so were my parents, grand and great-parents. We might have been converted by the Portuguese when they colonized Goa in the late 14th century, I don’t know. My early education was by German and Indian Catholic nuns and a few lay teachers which contributed to me having had a solid Catholic influence. My notion of Call was based on the premise that God called certain people to become priests or nuns. As an exemplary Catholic student, apparent to the nuns, I was chosen to be one of the “12 apostles.” The process was done in such secrecy and awe, that I felt really special and thought that now I am expected to be holier. Later a friend and I wondered whether we had a calling to join the nunnery. I really did not hear a call – no revelation (like bells ringing) as clearly as she did it – bells were supposed to ring as a sign! She became a nun and went to Rome and I returned to Zanzibar to continue my studies because after 15 my parents would have to pay for my fare.
In my mid 20s I became ecumenical after I realized that Catholics did not have the monopoly on being spiritually centered or doing and being particularly good and spreading the faith. I was influenced by the actions of non-practicing Muslims and others who practiced their beliefs without labels. Outwardly I went to Catholic Church and practiced the faith I was raised in while at the same time operating from habit. When I moved to the States into a community of counter culture political activists I gave myself a sabbatical from church as I did not feel the urge. Some were Jews who had issues with Catholics, others were burnt out from religion, others were practicing Quakers and most of all I wanted to fit in this all white community. I did go to Quaker Meeting since my sponsors were Quakers and I wanted to learn about Quakerism. I found it interesting but difficult to meditate for that long and wondered how the spirit moved in some of the same people and never in me. Was I not hearing? Since my Catholic disciplines made clear delineations between black and white, it was hard for me to comprehend the grey area. It seemed as if people were taking the easy way out or were indecisive. It took me time to understand and incorporate the values of Quakerism and marrying one made the learning and practice easier.
My first encounter with real Call was through marriage with Jim Schrag. For Catholics marriage is a sacrament or as others could say a sacred undertaking, it surely provides us with all the steps necessary for developing sainthood. This time I encountered several signs including the blessing of my parents who had not met or seen this person. I think if I had taken Marjory test survey I would rate high in Revelation. I still felt it was important to ensure that we had some facets of common vision of what this marriage would look like. In clarifying and sharing important values in written form, it gave us time to reflect on each one’s personal strengths and vulnerable areas and helped us to prepare our paths for the future or so we thought.
We were not without those who played the role of evocateurs and sabateurs, all with good intentions. His father asked him if he realized that I was religious and could he handle it? His mother wondered what my parents would say about a man without a steady job or profession. He was a trainer, not a professor in a college. This community did not believe in marriage, and advocated a circle of friends, so Jim was reminded that I was the monogamous type. In listening and re-listening to the Ram Das tapes, God had opened him up to other tenets of marriage and monogamy. I was not without fears and concerns for I was taking on a big plunge, marrying someone quite different from me but who had some similar values. He practiced Gandhian principles better than me the Indian; he was from a middle class background, white and had very close relationships with a black family in his youth. Doesn’t love overcome all the nuances of isms? The testing of so-called traditional vows, “for better and better, in sickness and poverty etc. came about much sooner than expected. One of the unusual things we incorporated into our lifestyle was daily meditation and prayer. Doing it together strengthened us and prepared me for the next phase of my journey as caregiver of a person with a terminal illness. Jim who had lived longer than me in that community and gave a lot of himself to its growth and development; now he and I were repeating the benefits of love. Community and in our case family was central to building support to manage a new lifestyle. We had our activist community, the Quaker community and the colleagues of his graduate program at Penn to embrace us as did our families. The Quaker belief that there is that of God in each one was so true and proven repeatedly in our case. God reaching out to us directly and indirectly through dream assurances and encounters was amazing. It does not mean I was not stressed out…it is amazing what a good shower, guided imagery and praying for oneself can do as well as being open to friends. I hardly ever prayed for Jim, I know others were doing; I needed to look after myself by letting Presence guide me to make each day count for both of us. That’s what I prayed for and that’s what I got. And yet God had other plans for our lives.
When I heard about the Inward/Outward concept, I thought it meant “Going deep within to feel the presence and relationship with God and manifesting that outwardly. In reading Elizabeth O’Connor writings I learnt that the Outward is the manifestation of service and Gordon is big on this practice. The Quakers’ primary medium is “Faith and Practice” – the same understanding that faith should lead to service or practice. This may not read like a Seekers type of call, but it was my draft of a call as I reflect at either one of my marriages.
As I reflect on my life and learning I have been the recipient of short and longer calls and calls not permanent, but the lessons learnt from each call are lessons carried forth for the on-wardness of life and in fact prepares one for the next call.
Taking a class on call helps to understand the journey and then one gets the extra support in a class at Seekers. I took a class several years ago because the word “call” gets used by members of this faith community that I had to understand its true meaning. Somehow I did not get it. I attended classes, sometimes did the homework, found it extremely difficult to understand the language maybe because I was taking it literarily. I was totally uncomfortable in the class and wanted to leave but for the respect for the instructor. I think I was working full time and found this a burden, so towards the end I confessed my ineptness and inability to do the homework. I was listened to and yet I was invited to continue to attend without the burden of homework.
I have also experienced dryness and wondered what was wrong with me. How come so many people are filled with the spirit? Searching thru prayer this time finally helped and prompted me to visit repeatedly and come to know another active spiritual community, while at the same time being loyal to the home community, i.e. Covenant Christian Community. When others or maybe just one person felt I was ready, (Seekers have some organized and mysterious ways of keeping track of their shepherds or potentials) she invited me to join the procession of recommitted persons. Well, I did not feel fully ready and said not yet. I was proud of myself that I could say “no” for the self-assurance that I built through my life in the U.S. prepared me to say Yes from my choice, being fully conscious to what yes means and not because of an invitation only. I had to commit before I recommitted. Later I realized that recommitting is not to Seekers Church per se, it is recommitting to God and incidentally through this community because there is that of God in each of you, but I was not ready for such a large undertaking. I had to deal with issues of loyalty, and moving out of a comfort/discomfort zone to another somewhat unknown. In either case race is an issue when one makes it, after all did I not live with and amongst white folks in Philadelphia? And yes, on rare occasions it was an issue, but mostly I got absorbed in observing, learning listening and the wonder of it is that none of these negative racial connotations were attached to it. I thought and felt that being born in Africa made me easily part of the family. I learnt that you cannot hide from others what you represent outwardly to them. I think it was his adopted son who said at Gordon’s memorial service that he found it hard to believe that he was white.
My story book call was surprisingly revealed through several visioning exercises at Covenant Christian Community when in trying to find direction as to the future of Covenant and its members, I learnt at one session that I had something to do in /with South Africa. I thought it was strange, but more was to come. Jackie and Jean’s presentation led to an invitation by Jackie who barely knew me but who was prompted by an angel and the rest is history.
Shortly thereafter Learners and Teachers decided to sponsor a class on Call Now. I was already in a mission group and life was alright but there was a vacuum and I needed to open my eyes to see the glimpses of truth. Is this a call or as a project, and at my age? The word Call Now caught my attention and I did not miss a single class or homework; I understood and felt comfortable asking for clarity. I asked questions and responded, and this time I even prayed for me and those in the class because those were part of the instructions. I did look forward to every class and when I took the survey and re-took some of the questions because I thought I may have not answered accurately, I got the same total. Know that you cannot escape God’s assigned work even if you try because God works for one through those chosen ones! Every bit of what I needed for my journey was incorporated in that class including those who chose to be in it. Later, Marjory extended the class for whatever reason, and got us to see some real hard stuff, exposing me to my fears hidden under the banner of boldness and excitement. It felt that I was temporarily in two mission groups and both were heralding this call. I felt so blessed, yet sad for the ones who did not have an active call upfront. It was a honeymoon with reality. I had the hard task of asking for money and I got it. I needed more and I was told to go prepare and we will find what you need. There was a lot to do and my mission group was so understanding. You have to be in the right mission group I suppose!
I tried to be the authentic progressive development person and not impose myself or my ideas right away. I thought one week would be enough of getting to know you, listening —-while hearing that we need to have a meeting. Wonderful coming from them, but in reality nothing was happening, so here I was building frustration. Talking with Jim my colleague and listening to his tales were helpful, but not satisfying with my results oriented way of being. What was happening was I was in a state of being cool enjoying the smiles of the little ones and their developing fondness for me as they greeted me – except for calling me white) for a while and expecting that we would be acting rather than me listening only to complaints. I missed my daily prayer and meditation with Bill first thing in the morning after Garrison Keillor and Krista Tippet on Sundays. My excuse was that I had to be in the dining room for breakfast at 7. By day 10 my annoyance and frustrations were building that I literary went on bended knees to pray in an inward journey manner. It was not enough to rely only on my point person or mission group and others – I had to personally learn that time is spelled differently in different areas. Note, the saboteurs that I was warned about! I gathered those who were around and had an initial meeting on their vision and goals as portrayed on the wall. I did not have 6 months to just play about or hang out. So I decided to ask the manager and the rest of the staff to come up with an agenda that they feel is important for the growth and the development of Othandweni. Life suddenly opened up and we had a chartful of 18 items, not counting my own. We had 4 solid meetings, but I needed to be there for a year.
Since mid. September I think I have been in the process of nurturing a new call – (am I call crazy?) or I should say a call in the formation. Even though much of it is to my liking, especially as it is paid work, there are some parts that are a test of the limits of compassion and are grist for the mill. Turning this into sacred work brought in a different awareness to the job and my ability or inability to handle the emotions. Being able to speak my mind or better still speaking truth to power adds a growth element to my being. I still need God consciousness in a powerful way, the support of my husband and mission group, as real calls will make their demands on one. With special guidance and my mission group, I am thus feel blessed in the present and I have been told that I don’t have to hang in there but to try it out for 3 months, take a day to reflect and then make a decision.
I thank you all for listening. As I tried to read the lectionary for this week I could not find anything that spoke to what I wanted to share (I did get approval to deviate!) except to say I don’t believe that the other 9 lepers were not grateful, they just might have been a little lazy or tired to return to thank Jesus. So I shall end with a thank you to each of you who have in some manner showed your love and caring and who might have inadvertently contributed to my growth and to my journey to Othandweni for you acted out of God consciousness. I hope that in my own way, you have felt my love for you too. Amen