Youth at Western Quaker Mystics Retreat

Youth Report by Miriam Fiorentino

The Youth Program Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting sponsored youth to attend the Western Quaker Mystics Retreat held on February 4th-7th at Berkeley Friends Meeting. Miriam Florentino reports:

The Western Quaker Mystics Retreat, sponsored by What Canst Thou Say? held at the Berkeley Friends Meeting on February 4th through the 7th was a special time of gathering of individuals who came to share, be encouraged, and experience the Mystic way. I was fortunate and honored to be able to participate, thanks to your sponsorship and assistance. I was in awe of the vulnerability, openness,  trust, and deep listening that took place during this time together. I was reminded of how Spirit works and manifests in many different ways in people’s lives and grateful that Spirit moves and is ever present in our lives. I gleaned a deeper appreciation and importance of having communities to share and support in our spiritual paths. It was humbling to hear of folks’ stories and the courage they had in discovering, navigating, and understanding their mystical experiences and gifts. I felt the connection of ancestors laying spiritual groundwork for those who came after and appreciative of their faithfulness to listen and engage with Spirit. I was inspired while hearing these stories and felt held by the legacy of those who shared. It was profoundly meaningful to me to see the inter-generational nature of our gathering and the valuable asset of this shared space. The beautiful inner workings of these exchanges was grounding to my own experiences and a blessing to be able to see that I was apart of a larger community of mystics, however each person defined it. I felt heartened, as a young person, to continue to explore and be present in my own engagement with mysticism. I felt enlivened to convey and encourage other young people to share their spiritual stories and how beneficial doing so can open opportunities for growth and inquiry. I loved learning how Quakerism has a rich history of mysticism and felt that those who gathered were part of this heritage, though some of us came from various spiritual backgrounds.  I graciously thank the Youth Program Committee for sponsoring me, along with a few others, to be able to attend this gathering. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and experience; I know it will be one that I cherish, reflect on, and continue to impact my spiritual journey.  Attached you will also find an epistle written by another attender on behalf of all those gathered to share with the larger Friend community about the conference.

In Peace and Light ~Miriam Fiorentino

Western Mystics Gathering

Epistle, Western Mystics Gathering

by Mystics Gathered in Berkeley CA

Berkeley, California,

February 4-7, 2016

We mystics, twenty of us in all, write to you from the beautifully remodeled Berkeley Friends Meetinghouse in Berkeley, CA. We came together from Alaska, Washington, and Northern California for a What Canst Thou Say gathering guided by Elaine Emily of Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting. Our group was eldered by Sally Kingsland and Judith Schumacher-Jennings also of Strawberry Creek, who created a container for this journey toward a deepened mysticism among Western Quakers. We began by honoring the Chocenyo, the native stewards of this land who are still here.

We worshiped for four days, at times in silence and also while eating, sleeping, playing, walking. Tears came. We were gentle with ourselves and tender with each other. We paid attention to our waking and sleeping dreams and made space for Spirit. We did not discuss theology. Rather, we shared our experiential faith with one another and we felt Love move among us.

We were thoughtfully placed in triads to share our stories as mystics. Some spoke this story for the first time; others have shared this story for decades. Elaine reminded us that the stories can be told again and again. Probably no two tellings will be the same, growing as the storyteller grows, changing as life changes. They need to be told. They bear what is essential for our life together, calling us to our source, our center, our core. In trying to find words to describe the ineffable, we join a long lineage of people trying to tell the story of God’s mystery. We are humbled and strengthened by the task.

Through journal writing and partner sharing, we answered these three queries:

  • What does it mean to live your life as a mystic? How has the mystical become (or not) habitual?
  • What hinders or blocks you from living fully into such communion?
  • What encourages or draws you into a fuller communion with Source/The One/ Teacher/ Core/Spirit?

Led by our pied piper with a clay flute and watched over by the sculpture “Ascension,” we celebrated the fruits of our journey in song, memoir, art, poetry, and video. In this trusted space we learned of each other’s experience with birth, death, heartache, being pushed by Jesus, growing deeply in unexpected ways.

Upon closing on the second day we entered a Great Silence that we brought home with us and carried it through worship the next morning. Some found this easeful and others were challenged to face what is there when outward sound ceases. We were taught that the brighter the light, the clearer the shadow. In shining the brilliant light we create together, we expose the shadow side, which can frighten and threaten to break us. But as we see what comes out, we turn it to the light over and over. In this turning we are healed. We are released.

We ended our time together on the third night by offering blessings and commissions to each other, with word, with touch, with energy. We sat across from each other, partnered with each member of the group in turn to experience what it is to give this gift and what it is to receive. Our final morning was spent in extended Meeting for Worship with Berkeley Friends Meeting. We settled in with their nine o’clock worship and stayed deep through the hour break and continued into eleven o’clock worship. The sun shone through the yellow glass, pouring over our gathered worship. Spirit covered us, allowing us to be both fragile and strong.

We will return from here to the tribes from which we came, those families and spiritual homes that make up our communities. But we, this particular group of mystics, have become a clan. We are each other’s people now. Across geographical separations we are connected by our stories and by the Spirit, which flows through all we do and all we are. We will continue to sit with the challenge of navigating the liminal space we inhabit while existing in a physical, seemingly rational world. We will continue to live into our bodies, listening for the wisdom found in our lived, visceral experience. We will pray and we will be faithful to the leadings of the Spirit, trusting the still small voice to guide our actions, big and small. We will be human and we will be Divine.

Deeply in Love,

Mystics Gathering

 

 

 

Epistle from the Third Gathering of Friendly Mystics, “Touching God Together”

Greetings to Friends everywhere.   We gathered in God’s loving embrace for this year’s retreat titled “Touching God Together: The Third Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics,” sponsored by the mystical journal, What Canst Thou Say (WCTS)? The retreat was held June 12th to 16th, 2015, at the Conference Center at Quaker Hill, Richmond, Indiana, and included Friends from 14 states, plus Belize.

Our annual gatherings emphasize being a welcoming space in which to share our stories of faith and mystical experience. Unique to this year’s gathering, WCTS engaged Quaker Spiritual Director Elaine Emily to guide the retreat activities in a workshop format for the first two days. Herself a mystic, Elaine employed a butterfly metaphor to describe our mystical journey. The journey of a caterpillar takes us into the cocoon where we become “goo,” unaware of our intention to become butterflies. “We are short of people who can walk us through that. We need to share what we know and encourage each other to be the most outrageous butterfly, to be what God wants us to be.”

Elaine helped us to explore the questions: What does it mean to live your life as a mystic? How has the mystical become or not become habitual? What hinders or blocks most fully coming into communion with God? What encourages or draws you into full communion with God? We were challenged to accept who we are and our role in the spiritual evolution of humanity by each stating “I am ____, a child of God, a mystic, and I have been called to give voice to my experience.” As the words traveled the circle, the power that filled the room was palpable.

Several Interest Groups were offered: “Mystical Experiences Involving Jesus,” “Sound Waves from a Crystal Bowl,” “Sexuality and Spirituality,” and “Encountering Evil.” A hot topic at mealtimes was, “How can we bring our mystical experience to our Friends meetings?” During free time participants were drawn to each other, identifying another who could speak to their condition. One participant told of a near-death experience and shared with the group the message that there is no need to be fearful of judgment because we will all be received with love. Mike Resman shared his new book titled A Contemporary Mysticism, and K. Maia Tapp gave a multimedia presentation of the longing and life of the planet titled “Prayer of the World.” We began to recognize these offerings as a way of impregnating a caterpillar society with the hope and the pathway to a butterfly future.

Our closing activity strongly challenged the edict that so many of us had long integrated into our being: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Using a contra dance format, retreatants formed two lines facing each other. One side offered a blessing to the person across, then moved down the line, so that each person blessed and received blessing from every person. The murmur of multitudes of blessings became the background music for the one each gave or received, and we each felt enriched and supported to go forth renewed.

Following Sunday lunch we said good-bye to the few who didn’t remain for the two days of extended worship sessions, which began that afternoon. Spirit was indeed present, as three issues that had failed to find resolution at the two previous gatherings were spontaneously resolved. Elaine Emily’s program potently responded to the previous year’s discussions around the question, “Am I a Mystic?” The second issue had been the feeling that this group should be “doing something.” The impact of focusing solely on nurturing and supporting one another throughout this 2015 retreat made it clear that no other “something” is needed.

The third issue was the leading that had arisen in the first gathering that this group was to “Name the Spiritual Condition of the World,” a calling that had inspired conversation but little naming. As we entered extended worship, the “Prayer of the World” continued as a theme in worship with messages describing our human impact upon Earth, including the specific example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (thousands of square miles of plastic in the ocean) which led to a lament and a chant to Yemaya, the Yoruba goddess of the ocean. One participant said she felt this heart-felt worship fulfilled that leading to name the spiritual condition of the world.

Two participants shared about having a sense of William Penn, and a sense of his guidance that the Children of the Light are much more free to speak now than in the past and have a part to play in the coming times.

One participant said, “As the extended worship continued, I had a sense of the Meeting, a growing awareness of the unfolding love and support surrounding us, including ancestral support. The experience was crystalized in the two sung messages, first the anguished lament over the environmental damage to earth, and then the lullabye, ‘Hush Little, Baby, Don’t You Cry.’ For the first time I truly felt that although Earth has a pile of garbage, we are all held in love, a love that, even with all that is wrong, will carry us into the future.”

The entire retreat was transformative for many participants. One said, “I had prayed to God for a support group for my mystical experiences because I had felt raw, lonely, and vulnerable. This weekend, like the butterfly metaphor, brought me from that raw, lonely state to feeling loved, with a strong trust and closeness to God. It was a safe place in which to share to my experiences. In the Meetings for Worship I felt God’s presence all around me, like when I have had out of body experiences.”

It was unanimously agreed WCTS will sponsor a retreat again next year, when we will continue to lovingly listen to and support one another and wait together in worshipful silence to receive God’s guidance. The planning committee has decided that the next Gathering of Friendly Mystics will be held in September or October of 2016 at the Cenacle in Chicago, which is a Catholic retreat center near public transportation. Information about the WCTS journal, and future retreats is available at whatcanstthousay.org.