Over Memorial Day weekend 2013, PYM Young Adult Friends met for a retreat at Haddonfield Friends Meeting with the theme: “Of Earth, Of Spirit: Quaker Stewardship & Eco-Justice.” Usually when I find myself writing about YAF events, it’s as a report: we had 22 young adults there; young adults led workshops on Environmental Racism and Sustainable Technology; we did service projects in Camden, NJ, and at the meetinghouse with members of Haddonfield. Those are all things I’m happy to share. I always feel blessed when Friends choose to spend their weekend in spiritual community (especially on a holiday weekend where we’re getting up at 7:45AM – out of the ordinary for many young adults!)
For this retreat, on a topic I care deeply about, I wanted to share a more personal reflection. The most powerful part of the retreat for me (and many others, judging from our evaluation responses) was our panel on environmental witness on Saturday evening. We brought in older f/Friends to speak about their witness and activism, and to dialogue with YAFs. I heard about the importance of having spiritual support, and of moving out of love – love of others, and of the world, and of Spirit. I heard moving stories of individual witness, of making big changes in the way you live to bring you into alignment with your values.
I believe that making personal changes bring me closer to right relationship with the planet. I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, I try to eat what’s locally in season, I compost, I don’t own a car. I have a long, loooong way to go. I’ve racked up a lot of airline miles; I buy things shipped from all over the world, made in working conditions I know nothing about. And I’m just one person. I get inspiration from others who live more sustainably, but I know there are many others who aren’t making changes. (Ironically, I’m aware of this most when I fly – going over so many tiny buildings and vehicles gives me a sense of the scale of the planet that I don’t get from hard numbers.)
During the panel one Friend spoke of her journey to action and leadership as coming from a place of deep sadness for the world. She came to a point when she recognized that the pain was anger, and it moved her into action. She found more strength and sustenance by working alongside others with the same goal. I recognize that pain for the world inside myself. I wonder how I can best harness that anger.
After having it repeatedly pop up on my radar at Quaker events for the past few months (always a sure sign I should pay attention), I’ve finally begun reading “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (subtitle: “How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.”) Already I’m feeling a greater sense of connection – countless others are feeling the same way that I am. I’m reading it along with another YAF, which can give me both accountability & support. There’s an oft-quoted Frederick Buechner line: “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m still seeking that place of action, but I’m on the journey, with others.
– Elizabeth Piersol Schmidt
Young Adult Friends Communications Coordinator