Jane Furnas was the scheduled speaker at semi-programmed meeting for worship on December 18, 2016.
“Joy to the World” is my favorite Christmas carol. It may even be my favorite song, period. And my favorite line in the carol is “Let every heart, prepare him room!” The thought of multitudes of people, heeding the same call to ready ourselves for the love that is the message of Jesus, the message of God’s presence among us, is electrifying. I imagine the grand commotion of sweeping aside the fear, despair and conflict that has piled up in the corners of life to make room for the great promise of restored hope and healing.
About 3 weeks ago as I was driving home from Meeting, the lyrics of “Joy to the World” popped into my head and I started singing. But when I got to my favorite line, I stopped cold. The thought immediately preceding me bursting into song was the recent comeuppance of a coworker. In that breath I had the sharp awareness that not only had I made no preparations for the celebrated arrival, but for what seemed like a long time, I’d made no preparations for any arrival.
The deep grief at the anniversary of a dear friend’s death, the implosion of a high profile work assignment, anxiety about what 2017 could hold for our country and the world, and the tormenting public discourse that appeared to becoming normal, had set me silently to building my own private wall. There I was on Highway 100 heading north with a boarded up heart.
So, who to consult to deconstruct a wall? Who speaks in terms of spirits without borders? I really needed George Fox.
I am no George Fox scholar, but I was drawn to George Fox at this juncture because I knew of his faithfulness to the divine possibilities of our nature, and his unshakable expectation that our actions toward one another can be informed by a direct relationship with God. I knew that Fox found in Jesus a source of first hand revelation – a true presence accompanying him in his daily discernments. Electrifying!
I sought out works by and about Fox, including his journal, written during the last of his 8 imprisonments (for charges of blasphemy, vagrancy, trouble making, failure to remove his hat before a judge, and refusing to take an oath of allegiance). It was not uncommon for George to be in uncommon relationship with prison guards, clerks and justices, in that through their interactions with George, many expressed a dawning respect for George and an appreciation of, and in some cases, a movement towards the ways and beliefs of Quakers. George was imprisoned in Launceston Castle, thrown into the lowest dungeon, called Doomsdale, from which, George is told, few return alive as it is usually reserved for witches and murderers. On the wall of the dungeon George wrote, “I was never in prison that it was not the means of bringing multitudes out of their prisons.”
I felt my wall deconstructing.
Let every heart be opened and made new. I was reminded of a scene from about this time several years ago when I was visiting my Cousin Bill who was recovering from a stroke at a nursing home. A troop of Girl Scouts had arrived as I was leaving, and they were walking through the halls singing carols. At one point, an elderly man in a wheel chair, wedged in a doorway reached out his trembling hand towards them. As the carolers passed, the smallest girl, perhaps even a little sister of one of the Scouts, dropped her song book and walked over and took the man’s hand in hers and stood with him a good while. He did not speak. He beamed.
A query: Have I prepared my heart to answer to that of God in everyone? Do I keep my head and my gaze clear to see the outstretched hand in the busy hallway?