Sometimes, in the business of our lives, windows open as fresh-breeze opportunities to return to our center. The invitation to be a speaker at the Earlham School of Religion 6th Annual Quaker Leadership Conference is such a window for me.
Nestled in an upper room of the Lauramoore Guest House and Retreat Center, I reflect on the gift of this time of deepening and centering. My life has been overwhelmed with the logistics of moving my ‘tribe’ across the State of Washington to our new home in Olympia. It is a time of enormous and contrasting life transitions. Our identical twin girls, born premature weighing less than two pounds each, have become adults, with giant spirits, stepping into their first year college experience. A precious 97 year-old elder who found respite in our family is moving into hospice care. The global consulting firm I co-founded–CNPS, LLC– is moving into a University research park in another state. There is little in my life that is not in the process of dramatic change.
The change journey is not always so dramatic. I climb a long, creaky, and dimly lit staircase at the 175 year-old retreat center. These very steps were climbed more than a century ago by Mary Birdsall, a Quaker leader in the women’s suffragist movement. Quakers, in the Religious Society of Friends know that the climbing journey toward social justice can be long and steep.
At the Leadership Conference there is no illusion that the positive change process is either fast or easy. These Friends (Quakers) lead organizations around the world engaged in finding ways to end oppressive practices, protect the environment, and imagine new and life-giving ways of being in the world. If there is a common thread, it is to journey through life recognizing the divine light that shines in every human being regardless of title or position in society.
There is a shared holy vision at this conference for co-creating a better world. It is a vision seated in the notion articulated by the Quaker scholar, Rufus Jones of affirmation mysticism. The mystical light at the end of the tunnel is found only in engaged action for peace and justice. There is no high-speed elevator. The staircase must be climbed if we are to reach the upper room.
In this company of friends I am lovingly called back to my center. This is precious time to remember who I am. I trust that my presentation on Relational Presence as it applies to Decision Making beyond Consensus give some nuggets of value to participants who are often engaged in divisive decision making processes.
My take from this conference is new and renewed friendships with people of depth and wisdom. Here, leadership is not a theory but about living into life-giving and transformative practices. From my precious time in the solitude of the upper room, I descend the staircase renewed to live into the values, articulated by the Quakers as testimonies, of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. Simplicity might well have lightened the truckload of possessions I moved across the State!
The moving bins are almost unpacked. I am opening a new chapter in my life. This is my time to design quiet places for deepening reflection. This is my time to be silent. And, it is my time to speak and amplify the voice for peace and justice. This is the twin aspects of the inner journey and outer manifestation. In Sufi teachings, this is Zat and Sifat – the two aspects of the Supreme Being. This is involution (Nuzul) and evolution (Uruj).
These are ascending and descending forms, that call to mind the biblical account and image of Jacob’s ladder–with angels both ascending to heaven and descending to earth. The staircase of divine manifestation goes both up and down. This is about simultaneously being both the knower and the known. Cris Williamson, a deepening voice in music, describes this as being both the changer and the changed.
I would love to meet and connect with you on this staircase of inner becoming and outer manifesting. Won’t you join me on this ascending-descending journey?