What follows was originally intended to be shared with a small circle of fellow Quakers. But as the writing unfolded, it took on a more general relevance, which is why it’s now appearing here. An earlier post, Two Roads, traces the ongoing influence of my Quaker family background. Another post, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, explores the evocative similarities between the lives of George Fox (who founded the Religious Society of Friends), J.R.R. Tolkien (who wrote The Lord of the Rings), and Carl Jung (whose Red Book is discussed below).
For those unfamiliar with Quaker ways, and especially with the unprogrammed branch of the Quaker family tree, meetings for worship last about an hour and are mostly silent. Now and then a Friend may offer a brief inspirational message. These sharings are often called vocal ministry.
This is the final portion of a story that begins here.
Tom Hungerford was born in Winslow, Arizona in 1916, shortly after Arizona became the 48th state. He died at Light Morning at the dawn of the new millennium. Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.
Yet in the brief interval between when Tom took his first breath and his last breath lies a span of some 30,000 days, each of them a tapestry woven of stories. Thus did J.R.R. Tolkien speak of a tree of tales in a forest of days.
In this concluding portion of Choosing To Age In Community we’ll see that Tom was deeply influenced by two books, The Razor’s Edge and The Comforter; that he loved a little cabin in the woods called Snowberry; and that a chance viewing of a movie freed Tom from a trauma he’d been carrying since World War II. Since he was always a traveling man, we’ll close with the story of how Tom ended his days at Snowberry, and finally traveled on to who knows where.
This is the final post in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.
Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?
This is a revised version of the third and final reflection paper I wrote for an 18-month School of the Spirit program called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.” My application for this program is here. The first paper, Two Roads, starts here. The second paper, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, starts here.
Between Two Worlds
This paper explores the probability that we are a species poised between two worlds. It suggests that on the threshold between sea and land, inner and outer, heaven and earth, we receive liminal gifts from a mysterious Gift-giver. For this is what liminal means: on the threshold. Although the luminous offerings we find on such thresholds are not always easily received, they are the ultimate source of our charisma, our callings, and our special friendships.
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In the middle of the night I’m walking along a beach on the North Carolina coast. Bare feet on wet sand; the soothing sound of surf to my right; the long row of beach houses to my left. Some are dark. Others have a lamp or two still burning. A few are decked out with security lights.
“The inner light alone makes us feel secure,” I muse. “Security lights feed our fears.”
The mid-September night sky is clear. The waning gibbous moon behind me casts the distinct shadow of a walking man on the damp sand in front of me. It mimics me perfectly.
Sirius has climbed above the eastern horizon, faithfully following Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades. Moonlight plays across the surface of the receding waves. Looking more closely, I smile to see the faint reflection of Sirius there as well.
The waves keep breaking; I keep walking. Slowly I slough off the constraints and conceits of this present time. The beach houses, lights, and power lines fade away, leaving a solitary human doing what our species has done for thousands of generations – walking at night by the edge of an ocean, hearing the same sounds, seeing the same constellations, marking the same phases of the moon.
After trauma had pummeled George Fox, Carl Jung, and J.R.R. Tolkien into becoming story orphans, after they could no longer find meaning or purpose in the outside world, they turned to an inner world. There they encountered murmuring voices, kaleidoscopic images, and transformative visions. They journeyed, in other words, into the magical realm of the myth-spinning mind.
Then they had to make sense of what they saw, felt, and heard in this extra-ordinary reality. They had to put their strange encounters into perspective, to translate and incorporate them into the context of their times. The new stories they were later able to tell were surprisingly well-received.
This continues a three-part series of posts which began here.
Just as the loss of story is essential for children outgrowing shoes or adolescents going through a rite of passage, so may collective upheavals be natural and needful. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,16 defines paradigms as broadly agreed-upon theories. Examples of current paradigms include the heliocentric theory, the germ theory, the theory of plate tectonics, and the theory of quantum mechanics. Prevailing paradigms get so firmly fixed in the minds of their adherents, however, that they often seem less like theories and more like reality itself.
Yet everything changes, and the human capacity to conceive the inconceivable is overrated. Anomalies start to appear even in well-established paradigms. Soon they multiply, until the paradigm becomes so riddled with inconsistencies that the map is no longer a reliable guide to the territory.
This is the second of three reflection papers I recently wrote for a program offered by The School of the Spirit. My application for this 18-month program, which was called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” can be found here. The first paper I wrote, “Two Roads,” ishere.
What follows was submitted in September of 2019. How can that be? Surely far more than a year must have passed since our class gathered at the Franciscan Spiritual Center outside of Philadelphia for our fourth residency.
My sense of time — not to mention my sense of reality — has gone topsy-turvy since the coronavirus pandemic circled the Earth. For most of us, the pre-pandemic normal is no more; and whatever the post-pandemic reality may turn out to be, it has yet to appear. In this tensioning interval, many of our former assumptions and certainties are being deconstructed.
That’s why Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans feels increasingly relevant. As tumultuous and disorienting as these times are, they aren’t unprecedented. Stories are maps of meaning, and we are hardly the first generation to be shorn of our stories.
This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.
Time slides by. It’s December, 1995. Twenty years have passed since Season of Changes was published and Wax Statues was germinating. I have just returned from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. And I’m coming apart at the seams.
In the summer of 2018, I began an 18-month program offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” My application to this program, which was called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, can be found here. During that year and a half, we were to write three “reflection papers,” on themes that were largely self-chosen. This two-part post is my first paper.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood…” Robert Frost1
Two strands of what might be called destiny have shaped my life. Both have been with me since birth. One is from my father’s side of the family and concerns the Religious Society of Friends. The other is from my mother’s side. It pertains to a visionary community called Light Morning, which has been my home for the past forty-five years. These two roads have sometimes intertwined. More recently, they’ve been pulling me in opposite directions. But whether conjoined or in opposition, the Quaker and Light Morning force fields generate deep undercurrents of uneasiness whenever I consider just how strongly family, genes, and/or fate have determined the trajectory of my life.
Last week’s post (which can be found here) started to explain why we were given the name Associations of the Light Morning. This week’s post continues that exploration.
Names Given and Taken
When I was born, my parents named me Robert. My father’s father celebrated the arrival of another grandchild with a cross-country telegram. But he was puzzled by my name. “Robert?” he asked. “Why Robert?”
Grandpa’s confusion was understandable. Children were expected to be given family names. He was Henry Wilder Foote II, named after his father who had died young. My father inherited the name Caleb Foote IV. Genealogy was important to Grandpa. Family names sustained and strengthened a family’s sense of identity.
My parents met and were married on the west coast in 1942. Far from their east coast families and freed from the constraints of family expectations and traditions, they were married on a lonely beach in southern California. It was just the two of them, plus a friend who was a minister, standing before the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Three years later, in San Francisco, they named their firstborn Robert.
What’s in a name? Two friends of mine renamed themselves when they were young adults. Maxine became Naomi; Karen became Olivia. Two other self-chosen names gave America’s cultural stew pot a good stir. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X and Cassius Clay renamed himself Muhammad Ali. The names these four people had been given at birth no longer fit. So they took new names and assumed new identities.