Friday, October 17, 2014

Partner forever and always

This is part two of the talk I recently gave about Artsy Fatsy Saturdays as ministry during Quaker Quest at Cincinnati Friends Meeting. I shared part one last post.
In a different world, one in which I used to live, I would have the next five years of Artsy Fartsy planned. I don’t live in that world anymore. Ministry, this ministry, doesn’t work like that. I often wish that it did. However, when I look back and see where I have come, I understand that if Spirit had showed me where I’d be now, I never would have undertaken the journey. It would have been terrifying and overwhelming. I can only handle one step a time; Spirit’s wisdom.
I have funding and space through the end of this year and a boatload of kids clamoring to keep making art. When I knew I’d likely be losing my school space, a wise Quaker friend asked which came first, the school or the program. The program, I responded without hesitation. That gave me a clearer picture of my mission.
This has been a continuing journey of doing it my way, then standing back and letting God lead. For example, I assumed we’d fill all 16 slots the first year when we held an art day and registration. Eight signed up and six showed up the first session, all girls. And it was wonderful. We expanded more organically, adding kids as our reputation grew, parents began to trust and kids engaged more deeply. It’ still evolving and I spend a lot of time talking to new parents about the program. Funny, I have had a lot of kids and parents not so in need ask me about joining, and it just doesn’t have the same appeal for me. I want to work with the kids who need it most and have the least. That’s where my heart is.
I find that the Thursday afternoon before each session has become sacred as I make reminder calls to parents. I reserve a few hours because this is a time I get to really connect with parents, mention how their children have excelled, been creative or well behaved. I find they are starved to hear these things about their kids. And, I only tell them the truth. I also write each child a personal note every month, affirming them in some way, my way of seeing that of God in them, borrowing the phrase from Quaker founder George Fox, and helping them see it in themselves.
I seem to be constantly tested about whether I can surrender this program, which keeps my ego in check. My care committee also challenges me, asking if the program should change in any way. I try to be open to where I am being led.

Of course, there are days that I want to chuck it all. Like the one a few months ago when I learned a major funder had upped their grant three months and I’d had not way of knowing. I had a good cry and God moved me to ask Cincinnati Friends for more help, which they gladly offered. Some days I wish all I had to worry about was gathering the kids and making art. Those are often the days I run up to visit for some reason and become surrounded by all ages asking things like “Miss Cathy, when will I be old enough? Will Artsy Fartsy still be here next year when I get into fourth grade? Can my sister come? “ And I know there is energy to continue.
I have a vision for deepening this ministry to include: all of the mothers who could learn to relax and care for themselves through yoga; plant a community garden and teach families how to grow their own food, eat healthy and economically; get funding to build a community room laced with wifi and computers, etc.
And, if, for some reason, everything came to a crashing halt I would know I had followed my heart and could strip down to just being a good neighbor, perhaps just showing up, up there to make group art. Simply. No matter where this leads, I have been transformed. Just when I thought I was full, God stretched my heart a little bit more.
The words of John Woolman, an American Quaker born in 1720 who followed leadings at great danger and risk to travel among and befriend Native Americans and abolish slavery, have echoed in my heart during this ministry:
Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to … understand their life and the spirit they live in.” [The Journal of John Woolman. Vol. I, Part 2]
• When I live by listening to Spirit, how does my world change?
• If God showed me everything at the beginning, convincing me to tag along, how would I react?
• When has God's way proven infinitely better than the one to which I affixed myself?          
• What's it like to live one day at a time, in the present?                                                              
• How do I know when I have followed my heart?

neither my work                                                                                                                           nor my life is orderly
life, especially in                                                                                                                                 the spirit, seems so                                                                                                                  messy, random and                                                                                                      challenging
I often don't                                                                                                                                    feel up to                                                                                                                                               it; too many                                                                                                                      roadblocks                                                                                                                                     and obstacles                                                                                                                                    in the path
I use so much                                                                                                                              energy                                                                                                                                              trying to clear                                                                                                                                  them all
when that's                                                                                                                                       NOT my job
I forget I                                                                                                                                             have a partner                                                                                                                            forever and                                                                                                                               always

Listen to this post:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Giving me what I need

Last week, I talked about my Quaker ministry for our Meeting's first Quaker Quest session, intended to draw those interested in Quakerism  into an informal experience of our unique worship and community. Several people told me they'd never heard the complete story, so I decided to share it here, in the two parts in which I presented.
Eight years ago, seemingly out of the blue, my daughter’s teacher called asking if I’d help in the art room with 40 first graders armed with scissors. I immediately said yes and found that every third day that school year became a blessing. Especially witnessing that kids from my own neighborbood in subsidized housing could really shine when expressing themselves. Marginalized elsewhere, they could be themselves when creating.
And, I held that idea for six years. It continued to haunt me and I was prayerful and consulted other Quakers about this over the years. We call this discernment.
As the idea grew stronger, I took a silent personal retreat in the woods to sort it all out.  I was randomly assigned to a cabin called “Simplicity.” On the table inside lay a Quaker pamphlet on simplicity. As I began to read, I understood why I was placed here: to clear my heart and do what Eileen Prevallet calls “listening for the decision, rather than making the decision.” She writes that “it comes from an inner silence in which a delicate inner sensor is at work… you know when the call is for you, and when it is not.”
I came away confident that Spirit was now calling me to act on this leading. After obtaining 2 Quaker grants, I rented a studio in an old classroom in a neighborhood repurposed school. It was in walking distance of me and the kids and there was no question that this was the spot to begin. With a lot of help and prayer, I began to piece together a program. I’d had the name, Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, a logo and list of volunteers in a folder tucked away for years. This was really happening.
That was over two years ago and Artsy Fartsy has attracted almost 20 regular kids, funding from ArtsWave that also supports the area biggies such as the Cincinnati Opera, Ballet and Art Museum, the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board (no better way to build self esteem and resistance to peer pressure and negative influences than a venue for self expression) and Cincinnati Friends Meeting.
Our mission is:
To provide local, at-risk middle schoolers with a safe, imaginative environment in their neighborhood to explore creative expression, be nurtured, tap their creativity, connect, share themselves, be heard and affirmed and become more of who they are. This is a place they can relax, be kids and express themselves.
I’m not sure this could have transpired without my grounding in Quakerism, which, most of all, has taught me the value of silence and deep listening. I would have never heard the call otherwise. There were people of faith who would actually listen to what seemed impossible, crazy or out of the box. They listened and supported this ministry from the beginning … even when I didn’t know, exactly, what it was. I have also felt very accompanied on this journey by the legacy of other Quakers over time and in this Meeting stepping out. It’s what we do.
I was privileged this summer to spend time in London with a book written by a Quaker ancestor in 1661. I had heard about Dorothea all of my life, even though our family had long ago left Quakerism. I returned 15 years ago. There is only one copy of her book and her story of being led to the Religious Society of Friends speaks to how I feel about Quakers and their support of ministry to which I have been called.
I heard they were a people could lay down their lives for one another, that they were of one heart and one minde.”
So while Artsy Fartsy, on the surface, seems to be about art, it’s more about showing kids with next to nothing that they are loved, valued and children of God through action and not words.  It is connecting hand to hand and heart to heart.
Here’s a poem written when a poet visited our first year by a now 8th grader, who spent last year as a mentor:
Artsy Fartsy is the best
Artsy Fartsy will pass the test
Artsy Fartsy is so much fun
Artsy Fartsy is number one.
You don’t come to fart.
You come to make art.
So come on down.
Bring a crown and not a frown.
But if you do, Artsy Fartsy
will turn that frown upside down.
So come on down to that old school.
Come on and grab your stool.
Sit and help us paint the scene.
Sit and make some masks and
grab a cape made for a queen
You feel like art’s a boor [bore]
come on down and see some more.
Did you know that Yoga’s a form?
Go through a maze with your finger,
It’s a labyrinth.
Artsy Fartsy is the best.
Artsy Fartsy will pass the test!!
I think she speaks for all of us involved!
• When has Spirit moved me to action?
• How did I test the leading?
• How was I able to give it time, letting it mature?
• What individuals and/or community encouraged and nurtured me?
• What have been the fruits of this action?

in the quietness
of solitude and
the woods

I waited on God,

who wrote upon
my heart in words

a dark and restless

night strove to 
erase them

in response, I

was summoned
to the labyrinth

walking through
tears of fear
to reach the heart

how can I possibly
do this? I asked

it is just
too much

I looked up
to see Jesus
there with me

"I will give
you what you need"

Listen to this post: