Thursday, October 22, 2009


Anyone who has sat through a “moment of silence” knows that awkward, it should end right about now moment. Most of us are uncomfortable sitting silently with a group of people – so uncomfortable that our minds aren’t focused on the power of that moment, but on when it will end.

Here we miss the easiest and most simple opportunity to experience the spiritual side of “when two or more are gathered”. Why then are we so uncomfortable with the experience?

Any moment of silence is a stopping or ceasing of the onward pace of our lives. Perhaps we associate that stopping with the ultimate ceasing - as if activity reinforced our existence, but inactivity was its death. The truth is inactivity is the sister to activity. Both are necessary in order to have a balanced life in the same way breathing in and breathing out has purpose.

If we could get past that awkward moment and persist long enough to settle into that silence with our fellow travelers we would discover something more powerful than the pace of our lives – we would discover its immediacy and the spiritual Presence that is always with us in our haste.

This is why Quaker Meeting for Worship has such a special meaning for me. In that purposeful silence – when each and everyone seek the same Source with the same focus – something magical happens.

In 1996 I attended a Quaker Conference held on the University campus of UMASS in Amherst, Massachusetts. One evening the Meeting for Worship contained almost 300 people. We sat in silent worship for nearly an hour before anyone had the “leading” to speak. The person who did share said one of the most profound things I had ever heard in my life.

“When it is so silent, and I am so full, it is not because something needs to be said, but because something needs to be lived.”

Simply put, if we took the time to get past the discomfort of silence we would experience the fullness of emptiness. In our logical minds silence is emptiness – our worst case scenario for what happens after life – and noise if fullness. That’s just the point. We need to be empty to receive. When we are full of “noise” nothing gets in; not even “that still small voice”.

It is our discomfort with silence that keeps us from staying with it long enough for our spirits to learn the difference. Sitting silently with other people is the most basic form of worship. When we can let that void exist among us it will naturally fill with God’s love, because that love is the pervasive force behind everything that ever has been or ever will be.

So do yourself a favor. Wait a little longer. The result will surprise you.

© 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Frank Bunker Gilbreth

There are things we do every day that give us a sense that “all’s right with the world”. An orderliness that allows us to face an otherwise chaotic world we can't control. For some it’s mediation, for others it’s exercise, and for yet others its a walk in the morning stillness. For me it happens in the shower. As a matter of fact I have been showering exactly the same for nearly 40 years.

It all started when I watched a movie made in 1950 called “Cheaper by the Dozen” starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. Clifton Webb plays the father, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, an efficiency expert who in one particular scene carefully instructs his children in the proper way to same time and water in the shower. Don't ask me why this made such an impression on my 15 year old mind. Let's simply accept the fact it did. From that time forward I followed those instructions as if they had come from my own father.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s based on the principle that water flows downhill.

1) Shampoo hair – rinse thoroughly
2) Suds up wash cloth
3) Scrub face, chin, neck, and behind the ears
4) Rinse face so as not to get soap in eyes
5) Continue with left arm then right arm
6) Followed by the stomach (etc here)
7) Continue to back left side the right
8) Followed by right leg then left leg
9) Then left foot and right foot
10) Finally by holding the wash cloth over the right shoulder reach behind and grab the tail of the cloth with the left hand and use an up and down sawing motion to wash the back.
11) Rinse out wash cloth and thoroughly rinse from head to toe.

I realize this may seem silly or even a bit peculiar, but it does give me a sense of stability and order in my life and I figure whatever it takes to face the day . . . it’s alright with me!

© 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Sputnik ruined my life.

I was three years old in 1957. I wasn’t interested in world politics, international tensions, or the pace of scientific research. I was working on the transition between walking and running without falling down. It didn’t matter to me that the kid next door could already do it.

After Sputnik the emphasis went on kids who excelled in math and science. Like a grow your own astronaut program. I was never good in math or science.

In my way of thinking you didn’t need to understand the principle of trajectory to make a good hit on a hornets nest with walnut or understand E=mc2 to hit a homerun during a neighborhood baseball game. I had something more valuable than mere scholastic aptitude - I had imagination. (Ok, my teachers referred to it as daydreaming.)

My book reports seldom resembled the original story. Common objects became extraordinary in my hands. A dirt clod was a perfect mortar shell. A stick with just the right fork could easily become a gun.

My mother worked for the Navy and would bring home those official looking plastic retractable ballpoint pens with “US Government” stamped in white ink on the side of the black barrel. This made an exceptional spaceship, which I would to launch through the “silo” of the ink reservoir hole of my wooden flip top desk at Shawswick Elementary School.

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, Weewah, Weewah, Blast Off!” The rumble of the engines drowned out my teacher and her blackboard instructions.

The Captain of my spacecraft sat in the fat end of the pocket clip, the black plastic barrel was the fuselage, and the metal ink reservoir was the solid rocket fuel. Whenever the ballpoint was engaged I was ready for battle with any antagonistic extraterrestrial (their spaceship was inferior and usually resembled a pencil).

That experience successfully created in me what I affectionately refer to as my “pen fetish”. Refillable retractable pens are my favorites. It’s not uncommon for me to refill a pen over and over and over.
A while back I was at the laundry mat. When my washers finished, I put down my writing tablet and pen, and transferred my clothes to the dryers in the usual manner. I sat back down at the folding table I had commandeered and realized my favorite pen was gone.

I should tell you here that I have this sort of sixth sense about the location of my pen. As a matter of fact its safe to say that I know where my pen is at all times. If a friend or co-worker picks it up to jot down a note or a phone number I watch them carefully to make sure they don’t walk off with it. So I was pretty sure I had indeed left it on the folding table, but on the off chance that I had it in my hand when I had swapped my clothes, I went over to the washers and next the dryers and performed an extensive search with no success. Then reality struck. Someone had stolen my pen.

I scanned the laundry mat for suspects. No one in particular stood out. I decided to use the well-worn technique my mother had always used in such cases – guilt. I walked around the laundry mat and with all the sincerity I could muster asked each and every person if they had seen my pen, loudly bemoaning my concern that if I had mistakenly dropped it in the dryer my clothes would surely be ruined. After completing circuit of the room I went back over to my folding table and waited.

Several minutes later a young boy of about eleven approached me. He held my pen in his hands and sheepishly asked if it was mine. I said it was.

My first thought was to throttle the little “varmint”, but I held back. I thanked him for helping me find it and told him how much I appreciated his help. He nodded a thank you and went back over to the other side of the laundry mat to sit down by his mother who smiled her approval of his actions.

It was pretty obvious that this boy had never seen an pen worth more than twenty-five cents before. A blue BIC “globber” was probably the best pen he had ever had. Now I was the one starting to feel guilty. I knew I had another pen in the glove compartment of my car. It was identical to the one I was using only the barrel was green and the lettering was worn.

I went out and retrieved it and brought it over to the little boy.

“Here, I had an extra,” I told him. “I thought you might like it.”

“Wow”, he said as he held it with both hands.

I felt pretty good about myself after that. I went back to my writing. When I had finished my laundry chores (folding and stacking and matching socks) I placed my clean clothes back into their baskets and, just before I was about to leave, leaned back to look into the other room.

There sat the boy with the retractable pen erect on the seat bottom. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, Weewah, Weewah, Blast Off! Up it went in an arcing motion that I clearly recognized.

I had to laugh at myself.

© 2009