Past Gatherings of Friendly Mystics
Beginning in 2013, gatherings of Friendly Mystics have been held each year. Reports from each follow this list.
2013 Sharing Our Stories: The First Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics, June 12-16, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana (click here for Proceedings)
2014 A Mystic Call: The Second Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics, June 6-10, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana (click here for 2nd Proceedings)
2015 Touching God Together: The Third Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics, June 12-16, Quaker Hill, Richmond, Indiana (click here for Proceedings)
2016 Western Quaker Mystics Retreat, February 4-7 in Berkeley, California
2016 Immersed in Prayer: The Fourth Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics, September 30-October 4, 2016, Chicago, Illinois
2017 Answering the Call: Ministers and Elders Colloquium, October 6-10, 2016, Chicago, Illinois
Ministers and Elders Colloquium
Invitation: For this four-day event we are using the term “colloquium” rather than “retreat.” Its definition in this context will be: a conversation, a dialogue, and a formal presentation of papers. We will be looking back to a time when such conferences were held at Quaker Hill at Richmond, Indiana, with invitations to seasoned elders and ministers from all four branches of Quakerism. The consultation was hosted by the Earlham School of Religion over a few years inviting the most seasoned elders in the Religious Society of Friends in the 1980s to participate in considering a selected theme. Louise Wilson, recorded minister of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, was one of the main presenters at a consultation held in 1985 which was attended by Maurine Pyle. We are recommending that her autobiography be a pre-reading for each participant as a means of connecting us with the traditional Quakerism of the 20th Century. Much wisdom about discerning spiritual gifts has dissipated in the 21st century, but we are “under the weight of a concern” to restore the practice of eldership in our times.
Twenty-nine of us gathered at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Chicago October 6 – 9, 2017. Experienced ministers and elders were invited from a number of the branches of Quakerism, the diversity of which enriched the gathering. The two planners and one of the group leaders fell sick at the last minute. Other Friends stepped up at a few minutes’ notice. Those of us who like everything planned were a little cranky, but we marveled at the miracles and mischief of the Holy Spirit manifested among us. Some Friends expressed concern about the diminishment of the Christian base of the Religious Society of Friends. Other Friends shared their sense of signs of renewal among Friends that gave them hope. Full Proceedings has been published for those who want to buy a hard copy. Go to lulu.com and search for WCTS. It is available for free download here.
Fourth Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics
The Cenacle, Chicago, Illinois, September 30 - October 4, 2016
Western Quaker Mystics Retreat --- 2016
Mystics Gathering Epistle, Berkeley, California, February 4-7, 2016
We mystics, twenty of us in all, write to you from the beautifully remodeled Berkeley Friends Meetinghouse in Berkeley, CA. We came together from Alaska, Washington, and Northern California for a What Canst Thou Say gathering guided by Elaine Emily of Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting. Our group was eldered by Sally Kingsland and Judith Schumacher-Jennings also of Strawberry Creek, who created a container for this journey toward a deepened mysticism among Western Quakers. We began by honoring the Chocenyo, the native stewards of this land who are still here.
We worshiped for four days, at times in silence and also while eating, sleeping, playing, walking. Tears came. We were gentle with ourselves and tender with each other. We payed attention to our waking and sleeping dreams and made space for Spirit. We did not discuss theology. Rather, we shared our experiential faith with one another and we felt Love move among us.
We were thoughtfully placed in triads to share our stories as mystics. Some spoke this story for the first time; others have shared this story for decades. Elaine reminded us that the stories can be told again and again. Probably no two tellings will be the same, growing as the storyteller grows, changing as life changes. They need to be told. They bear what is essential for our life together, calling us to our source, our center, our core. In trying to find words to describe the ineffable, we join a long lineage of people trying to tell the story of God’s mystery. We are humbled and strengthened by the task.
Through journal writing and partner sharing, we answered these three queries:
1) What does it mean to live your life as a mystic? How has the mystical become (or not) habitual?
2) What hinders or blocks you from living fully into such communion?
3) What encourages or draws you into a fuller communion with Source/The One/ Teacher/ Core/Spirit?
Led by our pied piper with a clay flute and watched over by the sculpture “Ascension,” we celebrated the fruits of our journey in song, memoir, art, poetry, and video. In this trusted space we learned of each other’s experience with birth, death, heartache, being pushed by Jesus, growing deeply in unexpected ways.
Upon closing on the second day we entered a Great Silence that we brought home with us and carried it through worship the next morning. Some found this easeful and others were challenged to face what is there when outward sound ceases. We were taught that the brighter the light, the clearer the shadow. In shining the brilliant light we create together, we expose the shadow side, which can frighten and threaten to break us. But as we see what comes out, we turn it to the light over and over. In this turning we are healed. We are released.
We ended our time together on the third night by offering blessings and commissions to each other, with word, with touch, with energy. We sat across from each other, partnered with each member of the group in turn to experience what it is to give this gift and what it is to receive. Our final morning was spent in extended Meeting for Worship with Berkeley Friends Meeting. We settled in with their nine o’clock worship and stayed deep through the hour break and continued into eleven o’clock worship. The sun shone through the yellow glass, pouring over our gathered worship. Spirit covered us, allowing us to be both fragile and strong.
We will return from here to the tribes from which we came, those families and spiritual homes that make up our communities. But we, this particular group of mystics, have become a clan. We are each other’s people now. Across geographical separations we are connected by our stories and by the Spirit, which flows through all we do and all we are. We will continue to sit with the challenge of navigating the liminal space we inhabit while existing in a physical, seemingly rational world. We will continue to live into our bodies, listening for the wisdom found in our lived, visceral experience. We will pray and we will be faithful to the leadings of the Spirit, trusting the still small voice to guide our actions, big and small. We will be human and we will be Divine.
Deeply in Love, Mystics Gathering
The Youth Program Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting sponsored youth to attend the Western Quaker Mystics Retreat held on February 4th-7th at Berkeley Friends Meeting. Miriam Florentino reports:
The Western Quaker Mystics Retreat, sponsored by “What Canst Thou Say?” held at the Berkeley Friends Meeting on February 4th through the 7th was a special time of gathering of individuals who came to share, be encouraged, and experience the Mystic way. I was fortunate and honored to be able to participate, thanks to your sponsorship and assistance. I was in awe of the vulnerability, openness, trust, and deep listening that took place during this time together. I was reminded of how Spirit works and manifests in many different ways in people’s lives and grateful that Spirit moves and is ever present in our lives. I gleaned a deeper appreciation and importance of having communities to share and support in our spiritual paths. It was humbling to hear of folks’ stories and the courage they had in discovering, navigating, and understanding their mystical experiences and gifts. I felt the connection of ancestors laying spiritual groundwork for those who came after and appreciative of their faithfulness to listen and engage with Spirit. I was inspired while hearing these stories and felt held by the legacy of those who shared. It was profoundly meaningful to me to see the inter-generational nature of our gathering and the valuable asset of this shared space. The beautiful inner workings of these exchanges was grounding to my own experiences and a blessing to be able to see that I was apart of a larger community of mystics, however each person defined it. I felt heartened, as a young person, to continue to explore and be present in my own engagement with mysticism. I felt enlivened to convey and encourage other young people to share their spiritual stories and how beneficial doing so can open opportunities for growth and inquiry. I loved learning how Quakerism has a rich history of mysticism and felt that those who gathered were part of this heritage, though some of us came from various spiritual backgrounds. I graciously thank the Youth Program Committee for sponsoring me, along with a few others, to be able to attend this gathering. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and experience; I know it will be one that I cherish, reflect on, and continue to impact my spiritual journey. Attached you will also find an epistle written by another attender on behalf of all those gathered to share with the larger Friend community about the conference.
In Peace and Light ~Miriam Fiorentino
Third Gathering of Friendly Mystics --- 2015
Touching God Together: The Third Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics was held June 12-16, 2015, at the Conference Center at Quaker Hill, Richmond, Indiana. This gathering was facilitated by Elaine Emily.
Epistle from the Third Gathering of Friendly Mystics
Greetings to Friends everywhere. We gathered in God’s loving embrace for this year’s retreat titled “Touching God Together: The Third Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics,” sponsored by the mystical journal, What Canst Thou Say (WCTS)? The retreat was held June 12th to 16th, 2015, at the Conference Center at Quaker Hill, Richmond, Indiana, and included Friends from 14 states, plus Belize.
Our annual gatherings emphasize being a welcoming space in which to share our stories of faith and mystical experience. Unique to this year’s gathering, WCTS engaged Quaker Spiritual Director Elaine Emily to guide the retreat activities in a workshop format for the first two days. Herself a mystic, Elaine employed a butterfly metaphor to describe our mystical journey. The journey of a caterpillar takes us into the cocoon where we become “goo,” unaware of our intention to become butterflies. “We are short of people who can walk us through that. We need to share what we know and encourage each other to be the most outrageous butterfly, to be what God wants us to be.”
Elaine helped us to explore the questions: What does it mean to live your life as a mystic? How has the mystical become or not become habitual? What hinders or blocks most fully coming into communion with God? What encourages or draws you into full communion with God? We were challenged to accept who we are and our role in the spiritual evolution of humanity by each stating “I am ____, a child of God, a mystic, and I have been called to give voice to my experience.” As the words traveled the circle, the power that filled the room was palpable.
Several Interest Groups were offered: “Mystical Experiences Involving Jesus,” “Sound Waves from a Crystal Bowl,” “Sexuality and Spirituality,” and “Encountering Evil.” A hot topic at mealtimes was, “How can we bring our mystical experience to our Friends meetings?” During free time participants were drawn to each other, identifying another who could speak to their condition. One participant told of a near-death experience and shared with the group the message that there is no need to be fearful of judgment because we will all be received with love. Mike Resman shared his new book titled A Contemporary Mysticism, and K. Maia Tapp gave a multimedia presentation of the longing and life of the planet titled “Prayer of the World.” We began to recognize these offerings as a way of impregnating a caterpillar society with the hope and the pathway to a butterfly future.
Our closing activity strongly challenged the edict that so many of us had long integrated into our being: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Using a contra dance format, retreatants formed two lines facing each other. One side offered a blessing to the person across, then moved down the line, so that each person blessed and received blessing from every person. The murmur of multitudes of blessings became the background music for the one each gave or received, and we each felt enriched and supported to go forth renewed.
Following Sunday lunch we said good-bye to the few who didn’t remain for the two days of extended worship sessions, which began that afternoon. Spirit was indeed present, as three issues that had failed to find resolution at the two previous gatherings were spontaneously resolved. Elaine Emily’s program potently responded to the previous year’s discussions around the question, “Am I a Mystic?” The second issue had been the feeling that this group should be “doing something.” The impact of focusing solely on nurturing and supporting one another throughout this 2015 retreat made it clear that no other “something” is needed.
The third issue was the leading that had arisen in the first gathering that this group was to “Name the Spiritual Condition of the World,” a calling that had inspired conversation but little naming. As we entered extended worship, the “Prayer of the World” continued as a theme in worship with messages describing our human impact upon Earth, including the specific example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (thousands of square miles of plastic in the ocean) which led to a lament and a chant to Yemaya, the Yoruba goddess of the ocean. One participant said she felt this heart-felt worship fulfilled that leading to name the spiritual condition of the world.
Two participants shared about having a sense of William Penn, and a sense of his guidance that theChildren of the Light are much more free to speak now than in the pastand have a part to play in the coming times.
One participant said, “As the extended worship continued, I had a sense of the Meeting, a growing awareness of the unfolding love and support surrounding us, including ancestral support. The experience was crystalized in the two sung messages, first the anguished lament over the environmental damage to earth, and then the lullabye, ‘Hush Little, Baby, Don't You Cry.’ For the first time I truly felt that although Earth has a pile of garbage, we are all held in love, a love that, even with all that is wrong, will carry us into the future.”
The entire retreat was transformative for many participants. One said, “I had prayed to God for a support group for my mystical experiences because I had felt raw, lonely, and vulnerable. This weekend, like the butterfly metaphor, brought me from that raw, lonely state to feeling loved, with a strong trust and closeness to God. It was a safe place in which to share to my experiences. In the Meetings for Worship I felt God’s presence all around me, like when I have had out of body experiences.”
It was unanimously agreed WCTS will sponsor a retreat again next year, when we will continue to lovingly listen to and support one another and wait together in worshipful silence to receive God’s guidance. The planning committee has decided that the next Gathering of Friendly Mystics will be held in September or October of 2016 at the Cenacle in Chicago, which is a Catholic retreat center near public transportation. Information about the WCTS journal, and future retreats is available at whatcanstthousay.org.
Download the Proceedings to read about what happened at our third gathering. To order print copies, go to lulu.com and search for What Canst Thou Say. It is available in two versions, a hardback in color and a paperback in black and white.
June 6 - 10, 2014, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana
Building on the deep and joyful sharing we experienced while gathered last year, we met in fellowship, worship and expectant waiting. For two days, we shared about our spiritual journeys, attended participant-led interest groups, socialized and worshiped together. The following two days we responded to a leading that arose in the first gathering that we are led to "name the spiritual condition of the world." We felt we should start by seeking to name our own spiritual condition and that of our religious community.
Epistle from the Second Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics
Greetings to Friends everywhere from the Participants in “A Mystical Call: The Second Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics,” organized by What Canst Thou Say (WCTS) which is a Quaker journal, a meeting for worship in print.
During our first annual gathering in June of 2013, a leading arose to “Name the Spiritual Condition of the World.” Over the course of the year by blog and email, we discerned that before we could name the spiritual condition of the world, we had to name our own spiritual condition.
Just as at the first gathering, we met at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana. We were housed in student housing and the College furnished meals and meeting rooms. It was a homecoming for some participants, who had attended Earlham College in earlier years. The first two days repeated the structure of the first gathering sharing our stories. Each included worship, small group worship-sharing, and an ongoing art exhibit. The gathering served us by providing a safe space to share our mystical experiences, which some felt was not always comfortable in their home meetings.
There were no plenaries, committee meetings, or Meetings for Worship for Business. But instead we focused on sharing our stories. Meeting each other has built relationships among mystics coast to coast and brought old friends together.
Participants were invited to create Interest Groups. Topics included: Meeting for Healing, Refiner’s Fire, Dreams and Such, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and Why I Live in Belize and Other Stories of Healing.
A highlight of the gathering was an Open Mic night that featured original poetry, stories, and singing. Toward the end of the evening, as a performer began her healing dance, music was spontaneously added, and everyone got up and danced.
We worshiped with Clear Creek Monthly Meeting at the Stout Memorial Meetinghouse on campus. Following lunch we said “good-bye” to the few participants who did not stay for the extended worship, and those remaining gathered to begin the work of naming our spiritual condition.
It was Pentecost Sunday afternoon, and we met in the second-floor Coate Library, which we christened “The Upper Room.” Over the next two days in extended worship and worship-sharing, one by one we spoke from the silence. As one participant summed it up, “I went to this meeting of mystics who don’t want to be called ‘mystics,’ who want to do something, but they don’t know what that is, and they want to do it again next year.”
Download the Proceedings to read about what happened at our second gathering. To order print copies, go to lulu.com and search for What Canst Thou Say. It is available in two versions, a hardback in color and a paperback in black and white.
Sharing Our Stories: The First Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics
The first gathering of Friendly Mystics was held June 14 - 16, 2013 at Earlham College with 44 Friends attending.
The gathering served Friends by providing a safe space and many opportunities to “share our stories” with one another. Sharing our mystical experiences, which is not always comfortable in our home meetings, helped us to become more certain that God is living and moving within and among us.
Friends gathered in meeting for worship, small groups, interest groups, during an open mic time, and informally over meals and during times open for conversation. There were no formal presentations and no business meetings.
Small groups were formed and met together three times during the weekend, exchanging experiences from participant’s spiritual lives. Trust quickly grew, and people were able to open up about aspects of their lives they rarely reveal.
Participants were invited to bring topics and these were used to form interest groups. The topics covered a wide spectrum, as they ranged from doing tasks, such as planning for next year and writing the epistle, to talking about topics that are usually taboo, such as experiences of spirits and how to relate to a person who is evil. Also included were topics that commonly speak to Friends, such as reflections on early Quaker quotes and the association of religious wounding to the spiritual health of the meeting.
During an open mic activity on Saturday evening, a heart-warming plethora of art, music, dance, song and writings were shared.
Time was built in between activities for socializing, and many friendships were formed. The gathering brought old F(f)riends together and built relationships between mystics from coast to coast. Many people were very grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many others in a safe, relaxed setting.
Download the Proceedings to read about what happened at our first gathering and to get to know us better! To order print copies, go to lulu.com. It is available in two versions, a hardback in color and a paperback in black and white.
Read our greetings to Friends in the Epistle
Download the list of Interest Groups
Read the Story behind "Sharing Our Stories"