Bioregional Quakerism—The spiritual face of Lake George
December 4, 2015 § 2 Comments
I seem to be starting a new thread on what I will call bioregional Quakerism. I started a first essay, as is usual for me, with some dense theological exploration of where the revelation of Quaker earthcare witness comes from. But I would rather start with a story instead, something that happened to me that illustrates part of where I want to go with this thread.
The annual sessions of New York Yearly Meeting take place in a YMCA resort on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. One of the most popular and spiritually enlivening features of NYYM’s summer sessions is the daily worship sharing groups, many of which take place outdoors in tents or in pavilions with 360-degree window views of the lake and the mountains. During one of these worship sharing sessions sometime in the early 1990s, I had a vision.
I saw—and felt—a female human face lying supine, gazing up at the firmament. The face was female, mature, maybe in her late 40s, but in fact timeless in her presence. She was transcendentally beautiful in her features, which were deeply expressive of her character, beyond what words could utter. I wish I could express how drawn to her I was, how profoundly moved I was by the sense of her presence and her wisdom and her beauty. She was Lake George.
Her eyes were open. Her eyes were always open She was always in regard of the sky above, with eyes she could not close.
It was nighttime and it was raining, in my vision. And the rain fell with the force and the sound of tiny steel pellets plummeting into the water, an awful and awefull sound. And overlaying this hideous thundering hiss I heard a scream, a sustained soul-shaking keening that was both high in pitch and rich in timbre. Lake George was screaming.
Because the rain was acid rain, and it was falling into her eyes, which she could not close. And she was going blind, losing sight of the firmament she had gazed upon for untold millennia.
I found I was shaking—I was quaking. I was overwhelmed with sorrow and grief, with anger and despair. I think I may have moaned out loud.
Against my expectation, the vision continued even after I had become aware of it. In spite of my self-consciousness, the pain just deepened. I became more and more in unity with her suffering, for a while. In time, though, probably not very long, the vision faded. I was released from most of the emotional immediacy in the experience. But not all of it. Not ever. Writing now, even, some of that grief comes back.
This experience was shamanistic Quakerism—the riding of revelation on a Quaker spiritual practice to deliver, not so much a prophetic message as a prophetic relationship. I felt transcendentally united with a natural feature of creation in its capacity for communion with the human. There was a message, too: stop acid rain from killing the lakes of the Adirondacks. But it was the relationship that felt transformative; it was the communion that had reforged my soul; it was the Lake’s capacity for communion with a human that had blown my mind.
In subsequent posts, I want to explore this capacity for communion with nature—on the part of nature, on the part of the human individual, and on the part of the human—the Quaker—community. I want to explore the possibility of what I will call shamanistic bioregional Quakerism.
Some of the things I know I want to touch on:
- collective, communal communion with creation;
- spiritual ecology and land-based spirituality;
- sacred places, and holy places;
- earth science, earthcare witness, and shamanism;
- bioegional reinhabitation; and
- the “nature” of religious experience.