Given the right inward state, right action is inevitable.
By the time Little Rock Friends Meeting had gathered for our first meeting for worship in May, Friend Liz had already joined others on the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol to bring attention to the injustices in death-row inmate Richard Glossip's case and to the wider issue of capital punishment.
On the seventh, there were ten in the meetinghouse and four online. We are nearing the end of our reading and discussion of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives. The penultimate chapter is entitled "The Adventurous Life" and begins with a quote by Charles Carter, 1971, QFP, 26.39. Here it is in part: "True faith is not assurance, but the readiness to go forward experimentally, without assurance." This chapter was a potent springboard for rich and deep sharing and reflection.
On the 14th of May, all generations came together for singing, and Young Friends led us all in an activity called Kooky Quakers, a game in which three people collaborate on the drawing of a Quaker without being able to see the other two parts until after all three parts have been drawn. During second hour, another intergenerational activity took place in the Young Friends space while worship was happening in the front room. Some chips and bananas were spotted in the kitchen, but most forgot it was potluck day!
With so many Friends away to attend Arkansas-Oklahoma spring quarterly meeting at Lake Fort Smith State Park, the May meeting for worship with attention to business was skipped. Those present took part in an open discussion.
Meanwhile at Lake Fort Smith State Park's Kingfisher Lodge, Sammy led everyone down to the basketball court and for an hour of the millennia-old practice of Qi Gong while the air was still fresh and cool. Attenders also enjoyed time for fellowship, worship, worship sharing, a meeting for worship with attention to business, music, games, puzzles, nature walks, naps, and healthful meals lovingly prepared with sensitivity to those who don't eat meat or gluten. We were especially mindful of the absence of two Friends, a husband and wife, spending that weekend adjusting to hospice care for her.
On the 28th, between online and in person, we were thirteen in number, two in the Young Friends room, where (rumor has it) there is a sewing machine being set up for the projects that will follow the t-shirts. First hour was an interactive exploration of Compassionate Communication based on a recorded session led by Jim Manske focused on gratitude and empathy. All of Jim's offerings are free / donation-based for all. His website is pathwaystoliberation.com.
Monday was a day off for many, and we took advantage of our own grounds and generous late afternoon shade of the grand oak tree with a quickly organized picnic open to all; it came together beautifully.
"Have faith and the way will open." --Quaker proverb
At the beginning of April, Spirit was moving in ways of which we were not yet aware.
On the second, we continued our study of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives. We read and discussed the section titled A New Way of Working, which explores Quaker ways of doing the business of the meeting; creatively listening to one another in a worshipful fashion; finding clearness on important decisions; and conducting weddings and funerals. Outside, the purple Bearded Irises were at their peak where they are potted along the front walkway.
On the ninth, the intergenerational t-shirt project resumed in the back of the house while in the front the topic of what Easter meant to early Quakers was explored in worship sharing format. We are beginning to weave little 'Quakerism 101' segments into all we do, and in that spirit some worship sharing guidelines were shared ahead of time.
As we have recently switched up our monthly calendar, potluck was on the second Sunday while Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business fell on the 16th and will be held on the third Sunday for the foreseeable future. There were seven online and five in the meetinghouse, including one visitor, whom we wholeheartedly welcome. Our Friend from Perryville was able to drive in, and the Friend who lives in Crossett joined online, as did our Friend who lives in Edmond, OK. Sweet Mock Orange was in full bloom against the west side of the house, and the the bush that shields one side of the front porch is aflame with red roses.
After worship and time for us all to refuel with lunch, several Friends participated in the ninth annual Pilgrimage for Peace, of which Little Rock Friends Meeting was a sponsor. Our co-clerk Amanda Moore represented us by reading a segment of the names of those who died by violence in Central Arkansas last year. She was one of many peacemakers and activists from a wide array of religious organizations in this community.
On the 23rd, we continued learning about compassionate communication with that Sunday's focus on empathy. On the 30th John gave us a repackaged version of the winter quarterly presentation by Sister Cecelia Brickell, a member of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, and a Benedictine monastic. John reports having been impressed with her story, entitled "Silence and Simplicity in the Benedictine tradition," in part because she reminded him of Quakers he's heard who've spoken or written about a "prolonged seeking of God's will." He was also struck by the manner of her presentation--her kindness and her openness.
Here is one of the excerpts John shared from her remarks that February day:
In our meetings all are encouraged to share respectfully and reflectively whatever they feel the spirit is leading them to say. During that time we do not respond, or form response in our minds, or at least we aren’t supposed to; we LISTEN. Then we consider all that has been said silently and prayerfully come to a consensus. Even in our communal praying of the liturgy of the hours we take short quiet pauses between the psalms and readings in order to consider what God has said to us, and how we are to live God’s word at this time in our lives.
During the announcements and pastoral concerns period at the end of worship, Liz gave us an update on the Richard Glossip case in Oklahoma, which our meeting is closely following. She also reported that over $800 has been raised for the ongoing care of the animals of our late friend Rex D. Friend; the horses, donkey, and ponies were taken in by a kind couple nearby. We also got news this day that Friend Elise, after a period of sitting in the Light to discern the direction her life will take has felt led to move to Little Rock in order to participate more fully in the life of the meeting. As you can see in the photo, the first to receive this spectacular news could not stop beaming. The phrase 'way opens' came up more than once that brilliant April day.
The winter tree Resembles me,
Whose sap lies in its root:
The spring draws near
As it, so I Shall bud, I hope, and shoot.
~ Thomas Ellwood, 1639-1714
As winter drew to a close and spring arrived, a few Friends were hard at work behind the scenes calling contractors for bids, appealing to insurance agents, sending around flooring and countertop color samples for opinions, cordoning off the mess, putting up signs around it, and taking care of all the details that in the end allowed us all to gather once again in our almost hundred-year-old meetinghouse by the end of March. We offer our deep appreciation for the time and energy they expended.
And while the sap had not yet risen in the trees outside, and potlucks could not yet resume, there was much business to be seen to for the meeting--primary among them the coming together for the writing of our yearly State of the Meeting report to South Central Yearly Meeting, which was tackled by those gathered online and in the front room on the 12th. Meanwhile four Friends participated in an intergenerational activity in the back of the house creating our next t-shirt designs to help us become more visible in the community.
Though the kitchen was off limits, Zoom and the moving of an electric tea kettle to the front room allowed first-hour discussions to continue all month, with Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light being the focus on the 5th, and our continuing journey into Compassionate Communication being led by David on the 26th. We were very pleased to be joined that day by a Friend who has been active in our meeting without being present for quite some time. She joined via Zoom from another town in Arkansas.
Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business took place on the 19th, and afterward we were delighted to welcome a newcomer who had driven all the way from the Hot Springs area for spiritual communion in the absence of fellow Druids in this state. We peppered her with far more questions than she got to ask us!
Liz Lesher, joining online from her home in Oklahoma, reminded us of the fundraiser for the animals of the late Rex Friend that have been taken in by a kind couple up the road from the ranch from which Rex used to join mid-week worship--often accompanied by his old white horse, Sweetie.
Outside, purple irises in pots out front began unfurling their flag-like petals while decades-old wisteria vines twisted and arched over mossy stone walls, dripping in clumps of bell-like blossoms.
a post by guest writer Lizzie Lesher
So many of us knew Rex as a Friend, as an attorney, and as a friend. His life was brimming over with support for those in need. His spiritual concerns and outreach touched people from all walks of life.
What you may not know is that Rex returned home each evening from the professional world of OKC to a welcome from his grazing animals. “Sweetie”, his much-loved white horse, took evening walks alongside Rex for many years and ‘joined us on Zoom’ from the field where Rex would often sit for mid-week Meeting.
“Sweetie and Friends” – as seen in these photographs – have happily been adopted by a local couple who have land in the Luther area where Rex lived.
In memory of Rex, Friends at Little Rock Meeting are led to donate to the upkeep of “Sweetie and Friends”. Your donation will be very gratefully received.
Please email Lizzie Lesher at: email@example.com
Let her know you would like to donate.
Lizzie will provide her address to which payment by check can be mailed.
Checks should be made out to: Elizabeth M. Lesher
Lizzie will be responsible for writing the donation check.
Lizzie, and her granddaughter, Charlie, aged 8, (a true animal-lover) will hand-deliver the check and report back.
To the ad-hoc planning committee organizing this year's weekend in a state park accessible to Friends across two states, Winter Quarterly Meeting 2023 got shortened to "WQ23". A couple of things were different this year. For one, staying at our beloved Dwight Mission--which has changed ownership--was not an option. For another, those with years of experience planning and executing the weekend gathering had begun sharing knowledge and expertise with those willing and eager to learn the ropes.
Because the group camp can be hard to find in the dark and because phone and internet connectivity can be spotty in those hills, a map was sent out weeks in advance to guide Friends down the winding road to the group of six A-frame cabins and community building we had rented. Kelly set off early to put up signs and get keys. At the office, with an hour and a half till they closed, kind Christal behind the counter offhandedly mentioned that said winding road had flooded as she cheerfully highlighted in yellow an alternate route on a dim copy of a copy of a map. Kelly looked down at her watch and did the math. Would a mass emailing catch everyone in time? Or would carfuls arrive after the office had closed? Would they turn back at the ROAD CLOSED sign? A ranger with keys to hand over was already waiting at the site. There was just enough time to send an email with a snapshot of the makeshift map and its as-the-crow-flies new route penciled in before entering the internet dead zone. Back in Conway, Treasurer Tommy came to the rescue by divvying up a list of phone numbers to ensure all travelers knew about the detour.
Over the next hours, as darkness fell and the Wildlife Management sign serving as a crucial landmark became harder and harder to see, more than one traveller called to say they were lost. Surely a sign warning of explosives and the need for a hardhat meant they had gone astray, right? "Keep coming," Jan overheard Kelly saying into her phone. "Yes, I know it says 'authorized personnel only'. Yes, I know it mentions explosives, but keep coming. Just keep coming that way."
The Friday evening of any AR-OK Quarterly is marked by unstructured activities such as getting settled in cabins, loading up the snack table, hugging and visiting with those we haven't seen in months.
Saturday morning, after breakfast prepared by Stillwater Friend Jan, helped out by the Norman contingent, Friends shared memories, anecdotes and feelings for the late Rex Friend. One Little Rock Friend woke up feeling unwell and spent the whole weekend isolated. Fortunately, there was a cabin to spare.
When there was still no sign of main speaker Sister Cecelia Brickell of St. Scholastica Monastery at 10:30, some began to worry that she had not received the message of the detour. Well, she had received the new map but found herself nevertheless on the blocked road. A quick phone call got her sorted out, or so we thought. Soon enough another call came. "No, you are on the right track. Yes, it does say mining land. Just keep coming." The situation became an apt spiritual metaphor. Kathleen and Kelly walked out to the intersection to wave her in and were in the right place at the right time to witness a herd of fifteen or more White-tailed Deer bound through the forest, splashing across a creek one after another.
Sr. Cecelia was soon seated among us as we listened to the story of how, when, and why she became a Benedictine Sister. Her talk was utterly engaging, and it was a sheer delight to have her among us for her talk and to break bread with us afterward. After Sr. Cecelia explained how Benedictines use silence and how they arrive at decisions, one Friend concluded, "So you are the Quakers of Catholicism!" She responded, "We don't have a monopoly on that."
After lunch prepared by Norman Friends, there was time for naps, hikes, more visiting, and work on the jigsaw puzzle. In the late afternoon we came back together to take advantage of the fact that Mary Linda McKinney was among us, having driven in with her husband, Mark Wutka, from Nashville where they are members of the Meeting there. On one table, the February 2023 issue of Friends Journal lay open to her article The Divine GPS. While the men's cabin hosted a workshop on the death penalty, the main building accommodated everyone eager to learn about Faithful Meetings from this School of the Spirit program facilitator. Mary Linda launched her talk by giving us a query. What is it we each find ourselves hungry for in our meetings? The answers we shared were in some cases eye-opening, such as when the large number of Norman Friends discovered they are all yearning for the same deepening of intimacy and community.
The second half of our late afternoon workshops block gave Richard Tiffany an opportunity to explore how we are showing up for social justice and what road blocks we face. He started us off by recounting the challenges he faces as NIMBY sentiments hinder his ability to continue offering a safe place for unsheltered individuals to camp.
Fayetteville Friends provided supper, and Tina was able to squeeze in the Dwight Mission tradition of sharing a favorite poem. John Coffin led an energizing game, Noël facilitated folk dances from around the world, those who brought musical instruments were magnets for those who love to sing, and the forecast rain continued to hold off, allowing for use of the fire pit.
Sunday morning overnight steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker and leftover fruit salad hit the spot. We gathered for worship, and Karen then clerked the Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business as we all continued to feel the hole left by Rex. Friends are asked to ponder who among us might be called to serve as clerk of our AR-OK Quarterly Meeting, as well as to expect a phone call from Karen should the SCYM nominating committee spot within you gifts you may not have stopped to think could be of value to us all.
Before we knew it, our time at Lake Wister was coming to a close. Everyone pitched in to get the camp looking as clean as we found it, leaving lots of time for chatting, hugs, and prolonged goodbyes in the parking lot. See you at South Central Yearly Meeting in April!
Home is where the heart is, and Meeting is wherever Friends gather--whether on Zoom while a contractor guts and rebuilds a kitchen, squeezed into the front room with an electric kettle, or three and a half hours away at our AR-OK Winter Quarterly. And while Quakers around the world can and do come together as viable and vibrant monthly meetings rotating among Friends' living rooms, in spaces rented from other faith groups, or in buildings they own, we are grateful to be one of the meetings that has managed to acquire a beautiful old house as our physical home. We acknowledge those who planned and labored long and hard for this: a meeting space of our own. And so we take seriously the job of stewardship of this resource. Such sentiments arose many times in the month of February as we felt deep gratitude toward all who pitched in, especially for the Friends doing the lion's share of work: gathering bids, dealing with contractors, getting input on color choices, and so much more. Without a full complement for a House and Grounds Committee, Friends stepped up with recommendations of trustworthy, competent contractors who are desiccating damp wood, eliminating mold, sealing leaks, insulating pipes, propping up piers, installing new flooring, and more.
Relying on the technology that proved so valuable during the pandemic, we were able to meet via Zoom February 5th to continue our study of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives.
The following Sunday was a blended meeting with some of us accepting our co-clerk's invitation to use a beautiful old house in Conway for that week's worship and business. At that meeting, Friends were united behind a decision to change our monthly schedule. Beginning in March, potlucks will take place on the second Sunday of each month while business will be worshipfully handled on the third Sunday.
On the 19th, thanks to work by Sister Joy, we were able to gather in the meetinghouse in spite of the kitchen still being under renovations. She very thoughtfully moved the electric kettle, put up signs directing Friends around closed areas, and made the space clean and welcoming. Online and in person, we then continued our course on compassionate communication led by David Schoen, with this week's installment focused on love and based on Robert Gonzales' book The Spirituality of Nonviolent Communication.
The last weekend in February found us geographically divided as eight came together (four online) for our usual worship (first hour was an open discussion) and five travelled to Lake Wister State Park in Oklahoma for the AR-OK Winter Quarterly Meeting. That retreat will be covered in a supplemental blog post soon.
Other tidbits of news include the following:
For Little Rock Friends, January was a month in which we shared with each other our aspirations for the coming year. It was also when we learned of the death of our dear Arkansas-Oklahoma Quarterly Meeting clerk, Rex Friend.
Local members and attenders were pleasantly surprised when F/friends from Caddo Area Friends Meeting, a preparatory meeting under the care of LRFM, were in town and able to stop by to worship with us on the first day of the new year. We shared with one another our aspirations for ourselves and for the world in the coming year. Some chose to put those thoughts in writing for this blog.
A deep flash freeze left many homes with burst pipes, our meetinghouse included. At times such as these, we are grateful for the technology that allows us still to conduct business, hold discussions, and worship together, as we did on the eighth of January.
In the days following, just as we were preparing to welcome him as our guest speaker on the 15th, we received news of the death of Rex Friend. Within days there was an outpouring of love and expression of deep grief on the celebration of life Facebook page set up by Laura, Rex's daughter. Little Rock Friends spent the first hour on the 15th sharing memories of Rex as well as moving forward with the work he had planned to guide us through on that day: writing letters in support of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip's clemency bid, which comes at the end of a years-long campaign to save this man's life--a task with which Rex had been deeply involved. After watching this short video about Mr. Glossip's situation, we decided as a Meeting to compose a letter to the Oklahoma pardons and parole board in memory of Rex D. Friend. Liz Lesher, who lives in Edmond, agreed to deliver our letter by hand by the deadline--at least two weeks before the clemency board would convene in February. With David and Amanda having volunteered with editing and legal support, Liz later said that Spirit guided her in writing the following on behalf of the meeting:
Rex's memorial service was held on Friday, January 20th, at Edmond United Methodist Church. A live stream allowed us all to be present for the moving and very honest tribute.
Sponsored by Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement, a Just Communities of Arkansas Initiative, Arkansas Day of Racial Healing provided a rich slate of events and many opportunities for us to come together for racial healing all week long beginning on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. John and Kelly were two who reported back to the wider meeting after participating in some of the week's activities.
On the 22nd, we used our first hour to continue reading Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Your Life. For those who were present and participated, much of the focus was on the holiness of the everyday.
The end of the month found us continuing our journey of learning compassionate communication. Working from the book The Spirituality of Nonviolent Communication by Robert Gonzales, David led us through an exploration of honest expression.
With our AR-OK winter quarterly meeting now one month away, the planning is well under way. All are welcome to join us at Lake Wister Group Camp for one or both nights and any or all of the four community meals. Cost is $30 per adult, kids eat and sleep free. Register HERE, pay on site.
If the first two weeks of December were a bit routine, the last two were anything but. On the first Sunday we continued our study of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives, with Aster serving as facilitator for that discussion. Second Sunday we held a Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and the following worship hour brought out a couple of Friends who normally join only by Zoom. With two Friends joining virtually, one all the way from Edmond, OK, we were eleven in all that day.
The culmination of much planning was the seasonal gathering on the 18th. Those who had volunteered to shop for the family whom we have helped for several years now brought the wrapped gifts. (After our gathering, those were delivered to that single mother and her five children.) With Friends joining both in person and online, we totaled 17 adults and four kids! The Young Friends lit candles; each child present received the gift of a book selected by our Young Friends program director, who also presented us with two additions to the library. Featured in both a gift book and new library book was Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, nonviolence, and Gay rights. He was also a Quaker. Titles given to the children or procured for the library that day include Syria's Secret Library by Mike Thomson, Troublemaker for Justice: the Story of Bayard Rustin by Jacqueline Houtman, and picture book A Song for the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the 1963 March on Washington by Carol Boston Weatherford.
Young Friends led us in two intergenerational crafts. We made Shrinky-Dinks using colored Sharpies, plastic sheets, and a toaster oven, and paper chains.
The potluck that is becoming a third Sunday tradition coincided with the festivities.
After the meal and good conversation, a few sang carols and other songs from Worship in Song: a Friends' Hymnal.
One family drove in from their home in the shadow of Spring Mountain. We were so happy that they and others who cannot often make it to the meetinghouse were able to join us this day.
At the end of December, a flash freeze resulted in a burst pipe and flooded kitchen. In times like these, we are grateful for the technology that allows us to come together virtually, which is just what some of us did. Those who joined online on the 25th shared on the topic of simple gifts.
What simple gifts came into your life in 2022?
Of all the Quaker values represented by the acronym SPICES, how often do we bring conscious attention to the last of these--that of being good stewards of our planet? In November, we gladly juggled calendar items to take advantage of the presence of our regular visitor from Baton Rouge Friends Meeting, Cpt. Dean Wilson. We thank him for his willingness to share with us his knowledge and experience as a longtime environmental activist and executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a non-profit and member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Founded by Dean in 2004, its mission is to protect and restore the swamps, lakes, rivers, streams and bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin for future generations. The almost hour-long presentation to a full house was fascinating. If you would like to help Atchafalaya Basinkeeper in their quest to preserve this irreplaceable ecological treasure, visit their website. There you will find a donation button and many videos showing the vital work they do.
On the sixteenth, after chanting and worship, we had our “third Sunday” potluck. Roasted vegetables, hearty breads, veggie chili and crunchy salads were nourishment to the body while fellowship fed the soul.
Also in November, regular attender Kelly shared with us a budding Quaker tradition of interfaith chanting that she experienced at a workshop during the Arkansas-Oklahoma spring quarterly meeting and again at the fall quarterly meeting. We have Tony and Patsy Martin of Roanoke Friends Meeting to thank for planting the seeds of this spreading custom of making a joyful noise, as Tony calls it. One of the chants for which we joined our voices was this passage from Hafiz that Tony has recorded for all to use.
Save the Date
Speaking of quarterly meetings, it’s never too early to save the date on your calendar to join 20-30 other Friends from our two-state area for worship, workshops, communal meals, and enjoyment of a gorgeous natural setting. Little Rock Friends Meeting is pleased to host the AR-OK winter quarterly meeting at Lake Wister State Park in Oklahoma from February 24th to 26th, 2023. Stay tuned for details in another month or so. The cost will be nominal, and ride sharing is encouraged.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we--like so many other faith groups around the world--found that we could still come together virtually. It turns out that virtual togetherness via Zoom was not, in the end, just a second-rate substitute for face-to-face gathering to be cast aside as soon as lower COVID case numbers allowed for the reopening of the meetinghouse. We discovered that Zoom was an invaluable tool for accessibility, one that allows those kept home by illness, injury, disability or a great distance of miles to participate in the life of the Meeting. At the same time, many of us yearned once again for hugs, handshakes, and hot soup. Thus as the numbers of active cases in this county began to fall, we found ourselves seasoning from month to month the decision of whether to reopen the meetinghouse.
The path back to meeting in person has not been linear. Thanks to a decision to make Zoom and a box full of peripherals a permanent part of our meeting, we have found ourselves able to respond nimbly to unexpected spikes in cases in the state as well as to very localized flareups, such as happened in October. It was not easy to make the call to cancel the 'third Sunday' potluck so soon after having scheduled that for each third Sunday.
Happily, we found many other ways to continue building community in the month of October. We continued our journey in learning Compassionate Communication under the guidance of David. Being able to communicate in a non-violent way and connect in empathy with those we meet certainly strengthens community. On the third Sunday, Aster led us in discussing chapter one of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives. Aster is a devoted builder of community; he offers his zines around town and to all who pass by the literature table in the meetinghouse.
A discussion on the history of our monthly meeting led by relative newcomer Jenn on the twenty-third started the flow of a wellspring of knowledge from older generations to younger ones on the roots and founding of Little Rock Friends Meeting.
Not only does our Quaker community stretch across time from founders to newcomers and across Zoom to bridge distance and other barriers, but it is a building block within a wider Quaker community. Every three months we have the opportunity to meet up in a beautiful setting with members of the other Friends Meetings and worship groups scattered around this two-state area. The first Sunday in October found three from Little Rock Friends Meeting missing from our midst, as they had travelled to Lake Wister State Park to spend the weekend worshiping, learning, singing, dancing, and breaking bread with Friends from Green Country (Tulsa), Stillwater, Fayetteville, Norman, Oklahoma City, and beyond.
What does community mean to you?