Please note: This is a post from our week two Friend of the Week, Sussie Ingosi Ndanyi
“We are considering you to go to Chautauqua in New York State. Expect an email soon.” These words from one of the planners at the Quaker House at Chautauqua brought a sense of excitement within me. I had come to the United States over a year ago from Kenya and had not gotten an opportunity yet to visit this wonderful country. The thought of getting a glimpse of the topographical view of the various States across America as we take a road trip from Richmond, Indiana through Ohio, Pennsylvania into Chautauqua, New York was exhilarating. As I write this, I am sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of Quaker House, on 28 Ames Avenue in Chautauqua surrounded by huge trees providing a canopy of safety, imagining what kind of history these trees hold. Bikers are enjoying their uninterrupted rides; I see an elderly couple walk by hand-in-hand and marvel at their sense of joy. Yes, this peace of mind, I feel it too. The cool evening breeze is so refreshing for me, an international student currently undertaking studies at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana having come from Nairobi, Kenya. Chautauqua indeed is magical.
I think of the theme for this week- The Wild: Reconnecting with our Natural World, and I am coming to terms with the reality of how far we as a people have moved away from the essence of life in terms of relationships with our creator.
One night, I attended the symphony concert, the very first-time live performance in my life. In listening to the organ and orchestra I was transfixed at how a different form of music, distinctive from my African drums, that involves singing and high impact energy is a source of entertainment. As the orchestra played the music, marked by periodic silence and building up to a crescendo, it wove a beautiful, melancholy music and I was totally captivated by it. This was a whole new experience. Sometimes the silence in our lives, when we intentionally listen, gives breath to the music when we have a discerning ear. Sometimes those silences bring a precious and new appreciation to life. In that moment I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, I smiled, feeling the connectedness with others in the amphitheater, for what the Lord had allowed me to experience in a faraway country among a different culture from my own drum-frenzy African experience. What might appear as the diverse dissonance in music is an opportunity to lean in, to have an attentive ear and enjoy the music.
This was truly wild.
I liken Quakerism to a rainbow with various colors in the Universe, its diverse styles of fellowship, be it silent worship where we allow the inward spirit to minister to our self or listening to the spoken word via a Pastor and therein lies the voice of God or a mixture of both, brings a spectrum of varying traditions and cultural experiences together in worship to express our Quaker message to the world.
Beliefs are embedded in the community. There are Quakers of all religious backgrounds, races, education, sexual orientation, gender identities and classes. We believe that every person is loved by the divine spirit. I am an African Quaker, where worship involves listening to a Pastor espouse the message from God. My belief is in a personal relationship with my creator, God as a friend whom I continuously communicate to through reading the bible, singing, and listening to Him especially when I take solitary walks, in so doing, receive clarity in my mind. This friendship with Jesus is conditional: “you are my friends if you do what I command you” John 15:14.
As I continue to mature in my Christian faith, I am tendering towards a commitment to always speaking my truth-so help me God. I often say more than is helpful when I could instead be curious to listen to and learn from people making different opinions. Such instances are an opportunity to lean in, to pay attention to the music that creates tension and release, dissonance and consonance. This is what my experience at Chautauqua was all about.
I kept reflecting on my Social location that in rooted in an African Quaker religious hierarchical background where the men have dominance in the church and women leaders are few. The unmarried women or single female parent are rarely welcomed to this table of leadership nor are they invited to participate in policy making at Church, yet they form a majority of members
My mission is to provide a voice of this marginalized group, I long for the day when I shall witness a female as head of Church in Kenya. I know for sure an army, a workforce of dedicated committed young women, wholeheartedly serving the body of Jesus Christ is in our future. What gives me confidence to work in the vineyard is expressed in 1st Thessalonians 5:24 that, “The one who called You is faithful, and he will do it.” The only thing I believe I have beyond everything else, is my voice, to be used in speaking up, to say the things that need to be said. If you are conscious of how things work, how things move, you will always find a place where your voice is needed. You will find there will always be gaps and and in those gaps, your voice is needed.
Another tenet of the Quaker belief is the Quaker Peace Testimony. The short version States: “utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons.” The peace testimony has always been more than that. It is an active expression of our understanding of the nature of how we should live in this world: and I would dare say, how to reconnect with the wild world. This is lived out by:
- an understanding that comes from our experiences of meeting together in worship:– periods of collective quiet prayer and reflection.
- It is an evolving expression of an insight at the heart of our approach to faith, challenging us in every generation.
We call it a “testimony” because it is how we witness to the world about our beliefs. Our experience is that everyone can respond to and express the living spirit of God within us.
We try to live out our commitment to peace in our daily lives and in our work, individually and together. Sometimes, we set up and support long- term individual and collective Quaker action as an expression of our peace testimony. At other times, simply “bearing witness” to a different way, a way that affirms the value of all life rather than denies it through warfare, is all we can do as individuals. But this too is an important part of our testimony. Herein lies my query.
And therefore, today in Chautauqua, in the Year 2022, I probe myself as a Quaker, with a view to affirm the value of life with the query, How do I witness my life to this wild Natural world?
The call to action is more important now than ever before in this hurting world. As we clamor to be heard and be visible in this wild world, I am reminded of the words of a poem “Desiderata” written in the early 1920’s by the American Writer Max Ehrmann that call us to be calm and gentle. In part it says,
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence…. speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit”
May the reality of the gospel of accommodating (the other), the practice of meeting together in worship, the gospel of peace come alive in our spirits. Amen.