Befriending Fear of Climate Change:
Friends’ Community-of-Practice Rekindles the Fire of Fox
We are standing at the threshold of a potential evolutionary leap in spiritual consciousness. In our lifetimes, a tipping point of the planetary population will have an unprecedented opportunity to let go of outworn ways of living that no longer serve us and our planet. We can help birth an emergent, more compassionate and environmentally resilient future.
Yet fear stands between many of us and that eventuality.
Quaker Pathways Forward—Rekindling the Fire of Fox, a Friends’ community of practice emerged from the recognition that evolutionary leaps in consciousness don’t happen by osmosis or external actions alone. Quakers from Bellingham, Washington to Tampa, Florida and from Ontario, Canada to Belize have therefore come together to hone our inner vision, and re-center ourselves in the fire of early Friends who took the mystery out of mysticism and lived their lives as transparent conduits for the Light.
Among our intents are to: 1) dissolve debilitating fears including fear of ecological destruction, 2) learn to experience still-point consciousness (the realm of light) on an ongoing sustained basis in our everyday lives, and 3) bring exponentially enhanced clarity into our meetings and activism.
Two (f)Friends, Howard Hawhee of Austin (TX) Friends, South Central Yearly Meeting (SCYM), and Christopher Sammond of Poplar Ridge Friends, NYYM share their community of practice stories below. —Pamela Boyce Simms
Don Beldur—Mr. Fear
by Howard Hawhee
Georgetown Friends: Austin, TX, SCYM
I’ve been trying to connect with my fear. We are invited in Quaker Pathways Forward community of practice conversations to personify, get to know, converse with, and even befriend our deep underlying fear.
I remembered a personage from early Spanish literature with a Basque name*, Don Beldur (Sir Fear, or Mr. Fear) and began to think of my fear as Don Beldur. The name borrows from the Basque language in which bildur means “fear.” I’m able to see his vague form sitting before me in the dark.
Last Sunday a couple of hours before meeting for worship, some Friends were in a small group for worship sharing (Liz from my community of practice group was there too). A Friend who I very much admire for her spirituality and activism (especially around climate change) talked about how she was having trouble finding that of God in the president and how it was probably fear that was impeding her from doing this.
I then decided to talk about something I usually keep to myself —about how I have felt for most of my life that North American society is based on imperialism and genocide, and that whoever is President is by definition our War Criminal-in-Chief—so that although at one time or another the progression of destruction might have a prettier face on it, it’s pretty much the same from one leader to the next. Therefore I really don’t have any more fear with this president as the figurehead than I’ve had at any other time.
The breakthrough for me came a couple of hours later when that same Friend came up to me and said something along the lines of “I have come to the same realization that you have about our society, but only recently. And I wonder how you have kept it together all these years emotionally and with sanity.” I said that, well, first off, this was just my country, the country where I live, and here we are. We are where we are, it is just what we have to deal with, and that I have no illusion about being in a fundamentally different situation had I been born and raised in a different country.
I did remark though that a kind of dread has come over me for the past few years: I wake up in the morning with this sense of an impending—something. I told her that this dread seems to have settled on the environmental catastrophe both current and impending. This fear is newer and overtook me more suddenly when I was older.
The Friend apologized for disturbing me with this questioning, but I told her that she had made me realize that I really am very OK sharing about this, this source of deep dread over the fate of our species and our planet, and this sense of accepting what our society really is, that I have come to be at peace with, without accepting it or giving up on changing it.
I’ve now somehow gotten to where I can dialog with the older fear that was perhaps the awareness of living in a society predicated on destruction and subordination, and shows me the way to personify and dialog with my newer fear of planetary ecological destruction.
We spoke in our last community of practice discussion about each of us bringing our own uniqueness and exploring our unique fear in the group. I realized that this is what we are doing in our monthly community of practice group, in Sunday’s worship sharing, and that this is what the Friend and I were doing last Sunday.
I have always known in my head, but perhaps am beginning to be able to feel with the rest of myself, that a community is possible around a cheerful, resolute, realistic response to impending global destruction and that we can build the emotional and spiritual basis for that among ourselves.
*Literary note: The passage is from what is probably the earliest work in Spanish for which we have an attributed author (Gonzalo de Berceo), entitled Milagros de nuestra Señora (Miracles of Our Lady.) The line is: “don Beldur lo levava, ¡par la cabeza mía!” roughly translated as “sir Beldur led him on, I swear upon my head!” Beldur borrows from the Basque language (bildur in modern Basque), and it means “fear.” Unlike in other languages one doesn’t say “I am afraid” (as we do in English) or “I have fear” (as in many other European languages), but simply “I am fear.” Perhaps this also encouraged me to personify fear as don Beldur.
Our Generation’s “Lamb’s War”
by Christopher Sammond
Poplar Ridge Meeting, NYYM
During the Obama administration, our nation changed many of the structures of our society. Health care was made available to all. We agreed to structures limiting the worst excesses of the financial “industry.” We created institutional changes which made discriminating against people of color, LGBTQ persons, and women more difficult. We committed to a framework of energy use hoping to avoid making the planet uninhabitable to humans, not to mention a wealth of other species.
While we changed the structures, we did not really change the culture. In fact, shortly after Obama’s first election, forces on the Right quite intentionally worked towards a cultural shift in the opposite direction, actively denigrating empathy, and lifting up and celebrating selfishness as a cultural virtue, as expounded by Ayn Rand. This effort at shifting the culture gave birth to the Tea Party movement, and here we are today, with most of the structural shifts of the Obama years negated, and then some.
As I have held questions about how to respond to the divisiveness, the fear mongering, the racism, and the tsunami of lies and half-truths characterizing our nation’s political life at this time, I have been clearly and deeply called to go deep, and to join the many, many people of faith who are seeking to bring about the necessary shift in culture, a shift in spiritual consciousness, which is necessary if we are to survive as a species. And, like my Quaker forebears, I know that work to begin within myself.
Friends of the first one hundred fifty years or so understood themselves to be fighting what they called “The Lamb’s War.” They were playing the ultimate “long game” of seeking to bring the entire planet to the experience of the Inward Christ, the Seed, the Light, that all might be guided by that Life and Light which guided them. And, their first effort in that “long game” was indisputably to let that Light of Christ work upon their own souls and consciousness, showing them where they were out of alignment with that Light. They sought to be, and were, transformed, and then went on to lead transformed lives.
The current battle against fearmongering, xenophobia, racism, sexism, the active and intentional undermining of truth, and the denial of the perilous juncture we have come to as a planet, is our generation of Friends’ Lamb’s War. That spiritual warfare has as its goal not just an exchange of the players in the political landscape. It demands of us a change of heart inwardly, and a change of consciousness, a shift in culture, outwardly.
One of the ways I am being faithful to that call has been to participate in the Quaker Pathways Forward: Reclaiming the Power of Fox community of practice (I much prefer the original title “21st Century Quaker Revival,” for I see that is what is needed in Friends, and what the world needs from us.) In that program led by Pamela Boyce Simms, Quakers across the continent have been working toward a shift in consciousness; a shift in what energy we hold our body/mind/spirit moment to moment. We are using techniques from Pamela’s diverse toolbox, borrowing from neuroscience and contemplative traditions.
It has been transformative, and syncs well with my Quaker practice. My wife, Barbara, says she is living with a different person, and has signed up to be part of the second cohort of thirty or more.
In the early 1800’s, enslaving another person was thought by the vast majority of Americans to be right and good. People from Africa were deemed not fully human, which made it conscionable to enslave them. Those who disagreed with this cultural norm were considered deviates. A change of consciousness was needed. In the early 1900’s, women were considered too feeble minded to make intelligent political judgements without the guidance of their husbands. The idea of women voting seemed utterly absurd and against God and (literally) mankind. A change in consciousness was necessary.
In the early 2000’s, the earth is still seen as a “resource” to be exploited and extracted from, and humans see themselves as outside of the rest of creation. The shift to where we know ourselves to be a part of the intricate web of creation, and that God calls us to nurture and preserve that web, is the shift in consciousness before us. This is our Lamb’s War. We may not realize its fruition in our lifetimes, but the call is before us, loud and clear.
For information on how to participate in the Quaker Pathways Forward—Rekindling the Fire of Fox: Community of Practice, email [email protected]