Category Archives: Stories-Quaker

A “Carpet of Light” for a New Year

Here is an array of candles, lit during worship at Chapel Hill Friends meeting in North Carolina, on the night called Christmas Eve, 2017.

I first took part in such a ceremony at State College Friends meeting in Pennsylvania. The event was quite simple; it began after dusk, with the meeting room unlit except for a single candle on a large table, covered with highly reflective aluminum foil.

Out of the silence,  as moved, Friends came to the table in ones or twos or family groups, and each lit another candle, which they placed on the table; they spoke if moved, then sat again in the silence.

From the first time I experienced it, the way the whole room was progressively illuminated, seemed in fact to glow, as the number of flickering flames increased, was very moving to me.

In a way it was a visible, wordless, yet eloquent evocation of Quakerism at its best: a motley, seemingly haphazard collection of candles of witness, more diverse than we outwardly seem, mainly anonymous and individual, somehow joining together to become more than the sum of the parts. 

This time, at the end of 2017, a year which for me has been very heavily shadowed, often deeply gloomy, and yes, dark, the full array became something of an encouraging signal for the year ahead. (Let’s hope!)

At State College Meeting, we were told that this custom had originated in Berlin, shortly after the end of World War Two, when the city was still devastated in the wake of bombing and and combat. I pass on the story we were told below, knowing it mainly as an oral tradition:

How the Christmas Candlelight Meeting Began

Berlin in 1945 was a devastated city, bombs had destroyed most of the homes and buildings and things were in terrible disarray – children without parents and homes, shortage of food and shelter — all of the terrible consequences that accompany war.

Ilse and Gerhardt were a Quaker couple with three small children who suffered terrible hardships during the war — she (a school teacher) because she defied the authorities ‘speaking truth’ and Gerhardt because he had a Jewish father.

They were homeless and spent many months searching for shelter for their family. While doing so, they were willing to have other homeless orphans join them simply out of compassion, but with the knowledge that with each additional child, there would be less to share among their own family.

They eventually found a bombed-out building that gave them some shelter from the cold winter days and nights. The children slept in Army blankets in the clothes that they wore during the day. Taking turns, Ilse and Gerhardt would search for food to feed the always-hungry children that grew daily in numbers.

Once in returning with a loaf of bread, a hungry soldier asked Ilse for a piece. With reluctance, she shared the bread, only to find upon returning to the children that a Quaker care package had arrived with nuts, dried fruit and chocolates.

On Christmas Eve, Ilse and Gerhardt felt terribly sad about having so little to share with their extended family, but they were determined to make the Eve of Christmas a joyful event for themselves and their children. It was then when they and the Berlin Quaker Meeting conceived of the idea of a candlelight service as we now know it.

By that time, the meeting had been assigned space in a mansion that had been confiscated during the war. Their large room had little furniture and, have course, no Christmas tree. However, nearby was a stand of fir trees and from these, they cut branches and carpeted the floor with green cuttings. They had a good supply of candles and gave one to each child.

They began the meeting for worship with a single candle illuminating the darkness of the winter night. One by one, after lighting the candle from each other, the children gave the best and only present that they could — they shared their talents that God had given them.

One little girl had just learned to whistle and tried her best at ‘Joy to the World’. An older child had composed a poem thanking Isle and Gerhardt for their compassion. Many shared memories of their own families, making everyone a bit sad and happy at the same time.

As more children lit their candles, Ilse said the room was turned into a carpet of light (licht teppich in German). After everyone shared their talents, they sang the wonderful Christmas songs that we still sing about God’s gift to us and the hope of Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward everyone.

That sharing became a tradition in the Berlin Quaker meeting that continues today. Years later, an American family visiting Berlin experienced it while living in Berlin and also introduced it to the Live Oak Friends Meeting in Houston, TX. It has migrated to some other meetings from there.

 

 

“Cultural Appropriation” & “Pathway to Freedom”

Been hearing & reading a lot lately about “cultural appropriation” & how awful & widespread it is.
I’ve been musing about this all week, while sitting in on rehearsals for “Pathway to Freedom,” out in the woods of Alamance County NC.
Here, at the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre, an interracial cast is preparing to perform the only ongoing play about the Underground Railroad. On July 13, “Pathway” will open its 23rd season. The cast has been working hard every day,

Continue reading “Cultural Appropriation” & “Pathway to Freedom”

New Resistance Reading: “Our Society. Our Future: Resist!”

“To every thing there is a season,” says the biblical sage Ecclesiastes,

A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away . . .
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,”

and I would add,
A time to endure, and a time to resist.

As I write, in early 2017,  in the United States, such a time of resistance is upon us.


This new collection (now available in paperback and on Kindle) is for those who have been through “a time to lose” — losses that, as I write, are far from over. Some of these losses will have to be endured for a time, perhaps a long time.

Yet if so, they are not to be endured in passive, compliant silence. Continue reading New Resistance Reading: “Our Society. Our Future: Resist!”

The Party That Went On Too Long

The Party That Went On Too Long

  Seat belts were only for airplanes when I was nine, in 1951. So one day I leaned over the back of the front seat, to ask a question of my mother, who was driving. 

The radio was on, and a news report had just finished. The announcer had said something about the Communist Party. 

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This party had been mentioned before, in other news reports I had begun, just barely, to notice. We had no TV yet, so it was all scattered words without pictures, which gave rise to my question:

“Mommy,” I said, “how can a party go on so long? Continue reading The Party That Went On Too Long

From “Meetings” — Life, The Woods, & The Chainsaw

From “Meetings” — Life, The Woods, & The Chainsaw

Autumn 1966: While at Friends World College, for one studytravel journey we piled into the school’s Volkswagen buses and headed for Vermont, to the farm of a friend of the Director named Bert. Bert had left the city to become an early back-to-the-lander; but he was no laid back hippie. His farm was well-organized and productive.

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It was autumn, and we arrived well after dark. In the morning, I went outside, looked around, and reeled back in astonishment. I had never seen New England fall foliage before: the hillsides and even trees nearby all seemed alight with a kind of psychedelic aura that was almost audible, loud purple, operatic orange, roaring red and buzzing neon yellow, so overwhelming it seemed like it must surely be illegal. Continue reading From “Meetings” — Life, The Woods, & The Chainsaw

Sample A Quaker Mystery: “Murder Among Friends”

Sample A Quaker Mystery: “Murder Among Friends”

What’s a holiday break good for if not bingeing? Not on booze or pills, but the foods of the season, and then either some classic video — or even better, some good escapist fiction. 

Which brings me to A Quaker Mystery: Murder Among Friends

It’s summer, 1991, shortly after the first Gulf War. A Quaker conference is gathering at a Friends-founded college in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to see if the various branches can learn to get along. Quaker Bill Leddra has just arrived with Eddie Smith, who’s Clerk of the Lavender Friends Fellowship.

On the way, they listened to a fiercely homophobic radio sermon by the Rev. Ben Goode, an empire-building rightwing preacher based nearby. Goode’s thundering about “taking back America from the perverts” set them both on edge. And then . . .?

Murder-Cover-w-CEF-Selfie-SM Continue reading Sample A Quaker Mystery: “Murder Among Friends”

A Quaker Christmas Story: Candles In The Window

A Quaker Christmas Story: Candles in the Window

– Part I

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A winter view of Pendle Hill from the Yorkshire Dales, England[

This Quaker Christmas story takes place in the  village of Settle, Yorkshire, England – 12th Month, 1814. In those days, candles in the window were not a peaceful sight . . . .

Abram Woodhouse was late, and he knew it. But even so, as the daylight faded he climbed the path up Castleberg hill on the north edge of Settle.

Continue reading A Quaker Christmas Story: Candles In The Window