Interview with Judy Inskeep
You know, there ARE different kinds of Quakers. Some Quakers have pastors and an order of service. There are Evangelical Quakers who send out missionaries, which has resulted in a large number of Quakers in Kenya and our founder, who lived in seventeenth-century England, said that we each can communicate with God, with Christ. He put a lot of emphasis on Christ, although our branch of Quakers today doesn't.
- Today we live such busy lives that many people appreciate the silence (in Quaker meetings) for its own sake as well as an avenue to reach the divine.
- two young people spoke at a plenary session of several hundred people, each describing an epiphany, a moment of spiritual realization. The terminology they used was an "Ah Ha! Moment.” I don't remember in detail what they said but I remember the emotion with which they spoke. The girl was almost in tears. She had to make a great effort to regain control and continue with what she was saying. I was impressed by their poise and their spiritual grounding. I haven't seen that much in our meetings.
- My problem is that I try to do too many things. I see all this work that needs to be done and I think That's something I can do. but there are so many of those that I start feeling a little pulled apart. It's a work in progress.
I've tried to pray more for God's presence and guidance rather then for a specific thing to happen
Before beginning a meal, we have a few minutes of silent prayer. I ask God to use the meal to benefit me and to benefit the work God wants me to do.
- I believe that God can hear us. I'm interested in the Deist Theory: God created the world according to certain laws, and decided that the world is going to function according to those laws, without any interference from God. Sometimes I feel that makes sense. On the other hand, if you believe that, how can you believe that God answers prayers? I believe that God does hear us, and does answer, although the answer may not be at all what we think we want.
- I believe that the Kingdom of God is here now, and we have access to Divine guidance to lead our lives. What happens later is up to God, and I don't need to worry about it.
Ann: In what spiritual tradition were you raised ?
Judy: I was born a Quaker. My parents and grandparents were Quakers.
Ann: So it's in every cell of your body?
Judy: I hope so.
Ann: Where were you raised?
Judy: Mostly in Washington D.C. I also spent time in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and other parts of Maryland, and Pittsburgh.
Ann: May I ask how old you are?
Judy: I am 63, soon to be 64.
Ann: Well I'm 68 so we're contemporaries. I find the interviews are very different as I interview different ages. When I interview people in their 30's they are very zealous and they are really trying to learn but I sometimes don't hear the same depth and the beauty of some one who has really been on a path-or even many paths. Sometimes people have to change. You have followed that tradition your whole life. Is your husband Quaker as well?
Judy: Yes, he became a member some years after we married.
Ann: And children? You have children. Are they Quakers?
Judy: They are members of our meeting. Our daughter is attending a Unitarian Church because there isn't a meeting within good reach of where she lives. Our son is active in a yearly meeting group called "A Circle of Young Friends.” He says he likes everything about Quakers, except their religion, so he usually doesn't go to meeting for worship or participate in any local meeting.
Ann: But the principles of being a Quaker he can follow?
Judy: Yes. He likes the people and what they do.
Ann: Have you ever lost faith with tradition of being a Quaker?
Judy: As in become "disillusioned?”
Ann: As in become "disillusioned,” yes.
Judy: No. I don't think so. That may be because I haven't had great challenges in my life.
Ann: Have you studied any other spiritual paths?
Judy: Not in any detail.
Ann: Even lightly? What perhaps did you dabble in or look at?
Judy: Well, I read a book by a Quaker who became a Catholic. I felt that I understood more about Catholicism after having read the book. At a conference I just attended, I participated in a workshop about "Quakers and the Historical Jesus.”
Ann: That's a fascinating subject.
Judy: Yes. And the workshop expanded my interest in it. But as far as studying what it would really mean to be a Methodist or a Presbyterian, I haven't done that.
Ann: This was a big conference? How many people were there?
Judy: Around 1400 I think. From all over the US, and some from Canada.
Ann: Really? Where was that located?
Judy: It was at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Every year it's at a different place.
Ann: Was it a good experience for you?
Judy: Yes. I enjoyed it very much-not only the workshop. There's a lot of other things going on; interest groups, speakers, fun things like Broadway singing, "Round" singing. I love singing. There was folk dancing and country dancing and there were movies.
Ann: The whole being got fed?
Ann: Who have been your spiritual heroes or heroines, either in being a Quaker or developing your own spiritual path, your own life path? Who comes to mind?
Judy: The first person who comes to mind is Elizabeth Watson, a Quaker writer who has written books about biblical characters (individuals mentioned in the Bible). One is called DAUGHTERS OF ZION in which she gets inside the head, so to speak, of Sarah, Rachael, Rebecca and Leah and writes their stories. Of course, she adds a lot to the biblical account but it all makes sense, it all hangs together. She also wrote WISDOM'S DAUGHTERS about New Testament women; the woman who anointed Jesus, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, using the same technique. She presented various chapters at different workshops and elicited people's feedback as to how it struck them. She was going to use the term "Commonwealth of God,” for example, instead of "Kingdom of God" and a South African woman said, "Please don't use that word. It has really negative connotations for us.” So she changed it to "Community of God.”
Ann: That was nice. What stood out about those women she was writing about that touched your heart?
Judy: Well, I liked the woman at the well and the woman who anointed Jesus. I have done dramatic monologues on them. That's something I like to do. Write a monologue based on either a Quaker or a Biblical character and recite it in costume. Those two spoke to me.
Ann: Can you say a little more about that? What was special about those women?
Judy: A lot of it was the way the story was written. It made Jesus a real person, someone I would like to sit down and have a conversation with, and the stories made so much sense. The women were sympathetic characters, who acted in ways I could easily understand.
Ann: Where they any different then women today? Have women changed?
Judy: I think women's expectations have changed as well as their circumstances. As for their basic character, I don't know. I would have to think about that.
Ann: I have been with people who I would say are maybe a little more primitive but our basic instincts are about protecting our family and love and community. Humanity continues to pass these values from generation to generation.
Judy: Yes. I think it's there.
It's people I have observed doing whatever they are doing in their lives, more than what I've read. There's a man in our meeting; for example, who is very active in the ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE project. It is a three-day prison seminar program with the goal of showing prisoners that there is a choice in how one responds to any given situation. The response does not have to be a violent one. These workshops mean a great deal to the prisoners.
Ann: Have you been to the prisons?
Judy: I used to go, once a month or every other week in the late 70's, to a worship group at Taconic State Correctional Facility. This was before I started working full time. I'm still writing to a man I met there.
Ann: That is a long relationship.
Ann: In the 70's and 80's I taught a program called "New Directions" at both the Bedford and Taconic State Correctional Facilities. It was longer than the alternative to violence program. It was a wonderful program and consistent. I was there for seven years at Taconic and Bedford (New York). I think the word got out to the prison population it was a good program and these were trustworthy people. It is a wonderful way to serve.
Judy: I think this man devotes his life to it. It's the main thing he does and I try to support it here and there. Sometimes he'll call me up when they are having a community workshop at the meeting and ask if I can put someone up over night or can do supper.
Ann: What's his name?
Judy: His name is Fred Feucht.
Ann: I may have met him many years ago.
Judy: That kind of thing that impresses me. Seeing what people do with their lives. A man named Gordon Browne used to be head of the Section of the Americas of the Friends World Committee for Consultation. That's an international consultative Quaker group that doesn't have any official authority but tries to maintain connections among various kinds of Quakers. Gordon was a staff person at the office in Philadelphia and then he was the "Clerk,” which means a non-staff person who leads the committee. He's written a few booklets I've read and seems to me a very spiritual person who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace and greater understanding. I am somewhat familiar with Rufus Jones. He was one of the major Quakers of the 20th century. I've read his book about his childhood, which I think is titled, A SMALL-TOWN BOY. There's a video that has been produced on his life which I found very impressive and I want to read his biography.
Ann: What's the difference between being a Protestant, Christian and a Quaker or is that a good division? I really don't even know. You tell me.
Judy: It may be that Quakers encompass a broader range of belief because we don't have a creed. We don't require people to believe certain things. I think that's a major difference.
Ann: Your services, to me, are so different from Christian, Protestant or Catholic-where there are certain rituals that are always preformed, certain music and readings. The Quaker meetings that I've gone to there was a reading in the beginning, then "sit and quiet" and then there was discussion, sometimes not. It was very different.
Judy: Often there's no reading. A meeting will start off with unprogrammed worship and silence, and when someone feels there is a message to be shared, he or she can share it. You know, there ARE different kinds of Quakers. Some Quakers have pastors and an order of service. There are Evangelical Quakers who send out missionaries, which has resulted in a large number of Quakers in Kenya and our founder, who lived in seventeenth-century England, said that we each can communicate with God, with Christ. He put a lot of emphasis on Christ, although our branch of Quakers today doesn't. I started to read a book in connection with the workshop I took at the recent gathering that talks about the Historical Jesus on the one hand and the Christ of Faith on the other. I've been interested in the Historical Jesus for many years. I think I've tended to dismiss the Christ of Faith as something different-not authentic. This book emphasizes that the Christ of Faith is experiential. People have experienced him. So therefore I conclude he has to be authentic. Then I thought-of course, that's what the early Quakers were talking about. George Fox said, "Christ has come to teach his people Himself"; he was talking about the experience of Christ's presence, the "Risen Christ,” who doesn't get mentioned much in unprogrammed Quaker meetings today.
Ann: No, I haven't heard that a lot. I haven't been to many meetings, maybe 5 or 6. I did very clearly feel spirit there and that it was an easy place to be in silence and to access Spirit or Light.
Judy: I think, in the beginning, there must have been less silence and more preaching. Preaching is what actually conveys most of the message and silence is an avenue to get there. Today we live such busy lives that many people appreciate the silence for its own sake as well as an avenue to reach the divine.
Ann: So there needs to be some knowledge and some teaching before you go into the quiet? I certainly found that in my life. As a young woman, if I was asked to just sit and be quiet it would have been harder to access Light/God and studying has made it a lot easier.
Judy: It can be threatening to people who are not used to it. Some previous orientation is certainly helpful.
Ann: Then there's the big meetings where all sorts of different kinds of teachings and experiences occur and you come home fed and in a totally new place. .
Judy: The Gathering I just attended was mostly of Friends from (unprogrammed ) meetings like mine. It's sponsored by the Friends General Conference, which is an umbrella group of mostly unprogrammed meetings. The Evangelical Friends and Pastoral Friends don't usually belong to this group. But Friends World Committee does try to provide communication so we can at least all talk to each other and it sends visitors to yearly meetings. I have attended an Evangelical yearly meeting-that was an eye opener for me.
Ann: How different was that?
Judy: There was a lot of emphasis on Christ and on their missionary work. Also, two young people spoke at a plenary session of several hundred people, each describing an epiphany, a moment of spiritual realization. The terminology they used was an "Ah Ha! Moment.” I don't remember in detail what they said but I remember the emotion with which they spoke. The girl was almost in tears. She had to make a great effort to regain control and continue with what she was saying. I was impressed by their poise and their spiritual grounding. I haven't seen that much in our meetings.
Ann: I remember while studying many years ago, going to Washington and there were Quaker classes in Simple Living. We did street theatre and went not as Quakers, but willing to learn. There was a lot of teaching and action and certainly the mystical. It was a real learning for me and I held that information as something I wanted to incorporate in my life. That isn't so much Angelical, rather service orientated. The Quakers are famous for that aren't they?
Judy: Perhaps so. I think that "Simple Living" is something we all aspire to, not in the sense of poverty, but rather of being spiritually centered so that one can set aside time each day for "lectio divina,” or focused spiritual reading, followed by meditation and then action that comes from a spiritual center. I feel that I should try harder to make this a regular practice.
Ann: It takes tremendous discipline. I'm sure you've done some of it-that's the richness.
Judy: It's a work in progress. My problem is that I try to do too many things. I see all this work that needs to be done and I think "That's something I can do." but there are so many of those that I start feeling a little pulled apart. It's a work in progress.
Ann: That is the challenge of America, or at least here on the East Coast. I'm sure wherever there is a city there are so many demands and expectations, possibilities and connections. I feel that way myself so if I stop, I feel bad. I think "What are you doing sitting?"
Judy: Yes. You should be out there running around!
Ann: But the doing becomes empty if you don't have that active "center" as well-so it's a dance. A wonderful dance, an exciting dance and it has static electricity-that's for sure! Can you speak about any spiritual insight you had that you felt was from the Divine that was a help or assistance you? Whether from a birth or a death, some kind of crisis where your faith has come in and became an anointing for you because of it?
Judy: Some such moments, I think, are probably very ordinary. I remember one day, about 15 years ago, I felt really depressed-I wasn't even sure why life seemed really sad. I think I was cleaning the bathroom. All of a sudden I felt a lifting; as if a weight had been taken right off me, as if I had been brushed by the presence of God and things looked much better.
Ann: Uncalled for directly? Or had he (God) been called?
Judy: I don't think I had made a direct petition. There were a few other times when I felt I had to do something I didn't think I could do; I prayed for help and then felt empowered. I don't know if that actually answers your question.
Ann: It does. I do believe that's a possibility for everyone. It's not something that you can demand or expect and yet it does come, if you're in someway open in asking. In doing these interviews, I've discovered some times people might not be asking or studying and it will come. It's not anything you can tie down and that Presence is available. I love people to hear and know that whatever path you're on, somehow that can come.
Judy: It has been said that, "God breaks through into our lives."
Ann: That's a good term.
Judy: It can happen whether you're asking for it or not.
Ann: Cause you can demand it in some ways; I'm going to pray so many times and I want this to happen and then nothing happens. For myself, I think I was praying for the wrong things.
Judy: Well, I've tried to pray more for God's presence and guidance rather then for a specific thing to happen or else I pray for a person. I have some friends who are having difficulty so I pray for them. I haven't seen evidence that it's helped but it can't hurt.
Ann: Have you seen any evidence that prayer works through your community or the larger Quaker community? Is there any teaching about prayer being important?
Judy: I don't think we teach that enough. Teaching tends to be informal. Individuals can go to Powell House, the Yearly Meeting Retreat Center, and also Pendle Hill, The Quaker studies center outside Philadelphia. At both places weekend or weeklong seminars are offered on specific topics, and people go to Pendle Hill for a semester or year of study as well. At our Meeting we have Bible study and adult religious education, which have been somewhat sporadic, but we are trying to make them more regular.
Ann: In somebody's home?
Judy: No, they are usually on Sunday before Meeting or at "Rise" of Meeting (after worship). As far as prayer working, I think of that in terms of my own experience. Perhaps that is a rather narrow way of looking at it. I ask for help and I usually get it. Of course, the community as a whole needs to be doing this too. When we have our meeting for business, we consider it a Meeting for worship at which our concern is business we believe that church affairs should be addressed in worship, in which we seek God's guidance.
Ann: How about guided in your own life? I know I've had certain crossroads and it's been very specific what I should do. It wasn't easy. It's not like the door just opened and now this is what's going to happen, more this is what you are going to do. Have you ever had that?
Judy: I think that has been the case in terms of jobs.
Ann: Tell me about that.
Judy: Jobs just presented themselves to me
Ann: Wow. And you really felt that was a divine connection?
Judy: I think it may have been. I'm not sure I've ever had to go out and look for a job. Once I answered an ad and found a temporary job but my principle jobs have just appeared on the doorstep.
Ann: Really. What do you do?
Judy: Office work, mostly. I worked for quite a few years at Grace Church in White Plains. That church has a strong outreach program to the homeless and hungry. I liked playing a part in that outreach. My title was Secretary but I was more like an office manager. Then I found out about the Administrative Assistant position at the Quaker United Nations Office in the city and thought, "I can do that." I applied it and got it.
Ann: It was just like, "Boom"!
Judy: When we lived Chicago I was a caseworker for the Department of Public Aid. I found out about it through a conversation I overheard and just butted into, because it was so interesting. Two women were talking; one was a Spanish teacher. She gave me her phone number and I called her but I got her roommate. She was the one who was a caseworker. Some how we got talking about that and she told me how to apply for the job. I did, and I got it.
Ann: That's lovely. So, you were led, the door opened and there it was. I sincerely believe that things like that happen because of our spiritual path. Can you think of any experiences that have taken you to the edge of despair and has your religion helped? Has being a Quaker helped?
Judy: I can't think of any at the moment. I think I've had a rather easy life.
Ann: That's wonderful.
Judy: Yes. People have died-my parents and in-laws but they were older people. It was not unexpected. If my husband were to die now, that would probably be such a moment.
Ann: But then you would have community around you.
Judy: Oh yes. I have a lot of support at the Meeting.
Ann: That's so important, I think, to have community. That takes different shapes at different times in our lives-the communities.
Judy: I think it's important too. I have been in correspondence with a friend whose wife died, and I sense that he doesn't have enough of a support community. It's so necessary.
Ann: This prisoner, inmate, who you have been writing to since the 70's. He must be on the edge of despair. Is he in for life?
Judy: It's 25 years, which will be up in 2006. Sometimes I think "What is he going to do when he's released?" He'll be an old man with no money. I worry about that on occasion.
Ann: What kind of support can you give him if he's in despair?
Judy: A sort of companionship through the letters, and occasionally some material support. Once and awhile he'll ask me to go buy something and send it to him. I think there's a great deal that he doesn't say in them. If he were in despair, I don't think he'd want that to come through.
Ann: Is he Christian?
Judy: He's been attending a Quaker worship group in the prison. As a matter of fact he was Clerk of the worship group at the institution where he was before being transferred the last time.
Ann: When I taught in the prisons, if he's got 25 years, that means that most of family has dropped away. Has that been true for him?
Judy: His father continued to support him, but has died. He has a sibling or two, but I don't think there's a lot of contact.
Ann: Is there a Quaker meeting that goes into Bedford and Taconic?
Judy: I don't think there are worship groups there now. When I was going in the late 70's the worship group was sponsored by the quarterly meeting (an association of local meetings in the same region) there are a number of prisons in New York State that have worship groups where Friends from local Meetings go. Usually it's a very small number of outside people that go but even one or two is helpful.
Ann: That is very helpful. There were all different kinds of groups that went in when I was there, a great deal of teaching-if not academically, then caring supporting and listening. I found those groups were extremely important. But it's very hard to get people to commit to prison work. It's not easy work.
Judy: I think people fear it will be grim and depressing.
Ann: What spiritual practices do you follow yourself as a Quaker?
Judy: Well, I try to set aside a little time in the morning to read. Right now I'm on George Fox's LETTERS, or selections from them, followed by a little meditation. The two days a week I work, I don't manage to do this. There's so much to do, as we've already said. That's something I aim for, and I go to Meetings for worship on Sunday. I also read the FRIENDS JOURNAL. That feels like a spiritual practice because the articles in there are so enriching. I also pray before I go to sleep if I don't fall asleep too soon.
Ann: Although they seem small, they build up to a large amount of information, because it's consistent. I think one of the most important things in any spiritual practice is that even if it is 2 minutes, 5 minutes or 10 minutes-you do it consistently. As you say, some days you can't.
Judy: Somewhere I saw an article, or maybe it was a review of a book about incorporating spiritual practice into your routine. It shouldn't take more time. The other day when I was walking home from the train, I remembered a friend who had asked me to pray for her so I spent my walking time doing that. That's probably the kind of thing the writer had in mind; making more effective use of the time you have.
Ann: I've been using stopping at red lights as time to pray. Sometimes it's 3 minutes or 5 minutes or an extended period if I'm stuck in traffic. Instead of getting upset I go into prayer. Whether it is gratefulness or praying for somebody or just trying to open. Everyone has those pockets of time-a young mother, when she's dropping kids off at school or coming back, an executive when he's on a plane. I believe those things are helpful too. It's a consciousness that there is more.
Judy: Before beginning a meal, we have a few minutes of silent prayer. I ask God to use the meal to benefit me and to benefit the work God wants me to do. Someone wrote an interesting thing about being on the Internet. You know the sites for Hunger and Breast Cancer and the Rain forest? It pops up when you connect and you can click on the site and someone donates a cup of water or funding for a breast cancer exam. You have to wait while this is happening. The writer mentioned that while she is waiting she prays for the people who are hungry or on the Breast Cancer site, she prays for the people who are hungry and for the women who have Breast Cancer.
Ann: That's a high thought. Sometimes you just sit there and get agitated. That's a nice thought like using those little spaces for the highest order rather then agitation.
Judy: I try that sometimes.
Ann: I'm going to try that. I'm on the computer all the time and there's always the wait. I don't have DSL so it's not quick. That's a nice thought.
Judy: We don't have it either. I think it's $50 a month. My husband wants to get it. We should pay $600 a year because we are impatient?
Ann: If you were using all that time for prayer then it would really be a loss. I did a study with Thich Nhat Hanh and he said even when you turn on the water you pray before you turn it on, and for all the people who dug the wells and set the pipes. Then you ask for a blessing of the water and that is just so nice as well. It's so calming. Washing the dishes, you pretend each dish is a baby Buddha or baby Jesus when getting agitated about having to do dishes-very subtle little things, and very sweet.
Judy: Yes, that's beautiful. Although, I can hardly imagine getting agitated about doing dishes. I don't mind doing them at all. I use that time to think about what I am going to do next, what I'm going to teach for school. Some of my best thinking gets done in the shower.
Ann: You learn to use that time wisely. When you're preparing food you put love into the food rather then just preparing the food because people are hungry. You can actually feel the love in the food when you eat it. There are so many meals. I'm alone but had a big family and all I used to do was cook. If you do it as a meditation and a service it's a whole different thing. In your meditation, is it just to be silent or do you use a mantra or any kind of symbol.
Judy: It's silent. I may read one of George Fox's Letters and think about what he said. I pray for increased light on whatever the subject is he's been talking about.
Ann: So it's like contemplation?
Ann: Certain meditations you are supposed to empty your mind, which can be quite difficult to do. In the prayer, when you're doing Quaker Meetings, it's a whole hour. Is that time of reflection or is it a time of silence?
Judy: Well, there too, we should empty our minds and be receptive to whatever God may send. Although, if that seems too difficult, you can start by praying for somebody who needs prayers or you can look around you and see if anybody looks troubled and pray for that person. I try to picture a sense of community. And sometimes I visualize a painting called "The Presence in the Mist.” Have you ever seen it? It shows men and women sitting in a Quaker Meeting. I'm not sure what time period it is. They are wearing the plain dress so it's probably 100 years ago. You can see this shadowy outline of Christ in the mist of the people.
Ann: How did Quakers form? How did they change from being traditional Christians? Was it Fox who received an anointing?
Judy: Well, Fox was a traditional Christian and he felt that Christ was central, that the kingdom of Christ was already here and that we can live in it. Christ, or the Seed, or the Light, or the Truth-he used a lot of different terms-is within each individual. The people who were dissatisfied with the State religion gathered together, or were already gathered into Groups, and Fox preached to them. Many of them decided that his message was what they were looking for. If you're asking how we became different today, I don't know enough about history to answer that. I think in the century after Fox, Quakers became inward looking and concerned about keeping themselves pure from the world's moral corruption. They no longer went out and preached on street corners. They drew apart and had less of a direct connection to mainstream society. Your question deserves a better answer then I can give.
Ann: No. That's a great answer. It seems to me, through the Quakers I know, that you have a higher value on service.
Judy: I think we got past the keeping-to-ourselves stage. I was reading something that suggested towards the end of the 19th century younger Quakers wanted a change in the general outlook, so they worked to bring Quakers more into the mainstream, in the sense of taking action in civil society. The idea of service grew out of that feeling.
Ann: I have interviewed nearly 12 religions. All mention how important service is. Is there a specific amount your supposed to tithe?
Judy: No. The monthly Meeting sends out letters to its members and attendees saying that our budget is such and such an amount, and we welcome contributions. People send whatever they are moved to send.
Ann: That's nice. No a specific amount?
Judy: No. Although personally, I feel that tithing is a good thing, and for some time I have wanted to try it, but it seems too difficult, so I'm waiting for further light on the subject.
Ann: Donate when you want to donate-is how you do it?
Judy: Well, I made out a schedule for the year. When I was working, I decided that every time I got a paycheck I would give to a good cause.
Ann: Well that's tithing.
Judy: I don't think it amounts to 10%; probably very far from it.
Ann: Still, you're committed to give and it sounds like in your work you give a tremendous amount anyway. You're a person of service-just looking at you I can tell. That's probably why you got all those jobs. They said look at her-she'll work hard.
Judy: That's a nice idea. Thank you.
Ann: I get that presence when I'm sitting with you. I can ask you and trust that it would be done-and it would be done well. That is also service. That is more then just a 9 to 5.
Judy: I do like to do a good job. When I've taken on too much, that's hard.
Ann: Absolutely. It's hard to cut down.
Ann: Can God, does He-I don't like to use just a male term because God is beyond male or female-really hear us if we pray? What's your personal belief?
Judy: I believe that God can hear us. I'm interested in the Deist Theory: God created the world according to certain laws, and decided that the world is going to function according to those laws, without any interference from God. Sometimes I feel that makes sense. On the other hand, if you believe that, how can you believe that God answers prayers? I believe that God does hear us, and does answer, although the answer may not be at all what we think we want.
Ann: Are we talking about something that is so beyond anything that we can really hold in our minds? I totally believe that we have free will and there is intervention at times, but it can't be demanded or expected.
Judy: In support of the other theory we can say that actions have logical consequences. If we do something, and it has a consequence, you can't necessarily expect that prayer will relieve us of that consequence.
Ann: Good or bad.
Ann: Can you talk to me about your spiritual community? Is it important to you and in what ways?
Judy: Yes, it's very important. We've been at Purchase, NY meeting for over 30 years. The first time we went there I felt welcome. We thought we'd try several meetings in the area, but when we got to Purchase, we didn't look any further.
Ann: Your husband felt the same way?
Judy: Yes, I think so. The members and attendees have changed over the years-almost a complete turnover from when we arrived. Whenever anyone who's been at meeting for sometime moves away, we think we can't possibly get along without that person-and then somehow we do. People come and go, their spirit continues. I know that if something catastrophic happened or something difficult I needed to face, I could ask for help and get it. Whenever we're not on a trip we go to Meeting on Sunday. It's important, not just for the worship, but to see the people. It's a place where I feel that I belong and people care about me. Also a place where I can be useful, and contribute to the community.
Ann: That's a long time.
Judy: I think eventually we will move to one of the Quaker retirement communities in Pennsylvania. One is being built here in New York, but I think we may not be able to afford it. We would leave Purchase and go to some other meeting. I'm not really worried about finding welcome elsewhere. I guess I do worry a little about leaving the tasks I'm committed to do at the Meeting.
Ann: What do you do at the Meeting?
Judy: I'm a new co-clerk of the meeting. The clerk is the person who chairs the business meeting and has a larger-than-average share of the ultimate responsibility. We have two co-clerks to make the job easier, with staggered two-year terms. I'm on the First Day School Committee, which is about children's religious education, and I'm a member of our Peace and Social Witness Committee. I do coffee hour every once in a while. When I retired, I started working on our library in the hope of getting a committee going. I was hoping to energize some other people, and then step back myself. That hasn't happened yet. I'm on the Scholarship Committee. That has a flurry of activity once a year. I'm also on the Committee for the celebration of our Meeting's 275TH anniversary. I know no one should think that he or she is indispensable. If I move away they will get along without me.
Ann: There's going to be a big hole. That's a lot of work you're doing. It may take a little while for several people to take over what you have been doing and they will.
Judy: Sometimes holes don't get filled very well either. A friend, who moved away, loved gardening and would bring flowers to the meetinghouse and put them in the worship room for Sundays. When there was a wedding, she would do these little vases and put them around on the windowsills. It looked so nice. Nobody does it now. But we get along without it.
Ann: What a sensitive touch. I can see why you don't have a lot of time.
Judy: Apart from the meeting, I also sing in a Community chorus and coordinate a very small Amnesty International group that meets once a month. I'm on yearly meeting committees too (the statewide organization of Quakers).
Ann: Very full. How many people are in the Purchase community? Judy: On an average winter Sunday, we have maybe 50 people including children.
Ann: Well that's a big, big meeting. I've gone to the one in Mount Kisco and there may be 5, 6, 8. Very small.
Judy: That's the little stone house in the woods?
Judy: That one is small.
Ann: Very beautiful. Fifty is a very big turnout.
Judy: Purchase (NY) is one of the larger Meetings in the quarter. Maybe one of the larger meetings is the Yearly Meeting. I'm sure the ones in the City, in Brooklyn and 15th St., are larger.
Ann: How many would they have? 50 or 200 also?
Judy: They might have 100. I haven't been there often.
Ann: Is Quakerism all across the country, in every part of America?
Judy: There are areas where there are very few Quakers; where there isn't a meeting within reach-some parts of the Midwest. The interesting thing is, in some places, there's an unprogrammed Meeting and a programmed Meeting in the same area, so you can choose your style. There are unprogrammed Friends who can go to a Friends church and feel comfortable there; others would not be able to do that. And vice versa.
Ann: You may not be able to answer this but how many Quakers would you say are in America?
Judy: A few decades ago I heard there were 115,000. There are 132,825 in Kenya, 373 in Cuba, and 30,000 in Bolivia-but the latter figure is only the three yearly meetings The Friends World Committee is in touch with. There are another six at least.
Ann: Its roots are American, right?
Judy: The missionaries to those countries were programmed and Evangelical Friends from the U.S. They remind me of the first generation of Quakers, who traveled extensively with their message. Quakerism got its start in Britain.
Ann: The roots are Christian.
Ann: How about other locations?
Judy: In addition to Britain yearly meeting, which has 16,468 members, there are small meetings in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and a few in Russia.
Ann: So it is international?
Judy: Yes. There's Friends in Japan and Korea and other African countries. There's some exciting work going on now in Burundi. There's a trauma and healing reconciliation project because the war there was so devastating. I think there's hardly a person living there who doesn't know someone who was killed. There's a lot of healing work to be done.
Ann: Beautiful outreaches everywhere. That's wonderful. What do you, if you want to answer personally or in the Quaker philosophy, believe happens to us after we die?
Judy: If there is a general Quaker belief, I think it would be that the spirit continues to exist and is in communion with God. I don't have definite feelings on the subject myself. I believe that the Kingdom of God is here now, and we have access to Divine guidance to lead our lives. What happens later is up to God, and I don't need to worry about it.
Ann: That's very freeing. I'm going to ask you one more thing. Why do bad things happen to good people?
Judy: I haven't read that book.
Ann: Well, that book doesn't say too much. I've read that book. But it's interesting, as I've been talking to different people-the different philosophies. Actually I shouldn't say that. The stories are different, but the bottom line philosophy seems to be very similar. Why do you think as a Quaker, things happen to good people?
Judy: Well, my answer is, I don't know. However I've been impressed BY Elizabeth Watson's spiritual journey in regard to that question. Her daughter was killed in a car accident. In her long process of recovering from that-as well as someone can recover-she did a lot of meditation on that question. Her conclusion, As I understand it, was that there is such a thing as "Random Disaster" which God doesn't control, and God grieves with us when bad things happen. Now, to my way of thinking, this leads to the conclusion that God is not omnipotent-and that's a little scary. But that's where I am right now.
Ann: How about all the wars that happen and so much disaster? There are good people there and bad people too.
Judy: I would go back to the "logical consequences" I mentioned before. People act in certain ways. It's going to lead to war. I think there's a lot of education to be done to try to get people, countries-especially the U.S.-to change the way we act. To act in ways that lead to peace.
Ann: That's really important. What can we as American, U.S. citizens, do to create world peace?
Judy: I've heard it said that if you want peace in the world you have to be at peace with yourself. I think that's where we start. I'm on a couple of those Legislator Alert lists that ask you to write Senators and Representatives. I do that, if I have time.
Ann: To really take action?
Judy: Yes. I've thought of joining Christian Peacemaker Teams or Peace for Gates International to go short term, to a place of conflict like Columbia. I don't know whether I'll actually do that.
Ann: That's a possibility for people. It's one of the options that we can do, and the Quakers do take action-like your Ministry.
Judy: I read in the paper that there's a church in Westchester that sends people to Nicaragua to do construction and be ambassadors of good will.
Ann: It's in Katonah.
Judy: What's the name of it?
Ann: It's a Presbyterian Church and a Methodist Church is also aligned with that as well. They have exchanges. I think many churches, synagogues, and places of worship do exchanges.
Judy: I went to Nicaragua in '89' with an Ecumenical Sister parish project.
Ann: Where did you go?
Judy: We spent about 6 days in Managua and 6 days in the State of Nueva Segovia, in the northern part of the country. There's a town there called EL Jicaro, and two churches in Yorktown had a relationship with the church in that town. They sent material aid and visited.
Ann: Why is it better for a person to go, not just send money?
Judy: Because you can see that people in other countries are not so different from us. They are people who want to survive, to be in charge of their lives, and to have a better life for their children, just as we do.
Ann: Did going help?
Judy: Well, we didn't do actual work. We were a friendly presence, putting a face on the aid-that was the way it was expressed. I think the fact that we cared enough to go meant something-to go and see for ourselves.
Ann: And your consciousness is expanded, same as going into the prisons. You don't know if something happens.
Judy: Yes. It certainly was a learning experience for me.
Ann: You probably came back and did some talking with your church.
Judy: Yes, and I wrote a report, and sent it out to a number of people in the Yearly Meeting.
Ann: It touched a lot of people.
Judy: I hope so. I sent out a letter initially asking for funding to help me go, and then I sent the report to all those people who contributed.
Ann: That's something important. Whatever your community you can find action. You can find a way.
Judy: Of course, there are things to do right here. Another thing I've thought of doing, but haven't yet for lack of time, is joining literacy volunteers-teaching somebody how to read.
Ann: I've done that.
Judy: Was it rewarding?
Ann: It was very rewarding. I actually taught monks and the nuns at a Buddhist Monastery. It was very difficult because they were from all over China, and had all kinds of different dialects. English is incredibly difficult. They wanted me to teach 20 people, and I knew immediately that was impossible. I put an ad in the local paper asking people to assist, and was able to assign one person to two monks or nuns. That way they could move at the pace that worked for them. I was there every time and I filled in whenever anyone didn't show up. As I said, it was very rewarding.
Judy: You're an organizer.
Ann: Yes. That's what I am. I am an organizer.
Judy: You were teaching English as a second language rather then actual literacy.
Ann: Yes, but I used Literacy Volunteers material and they came and were my advisor. Is there anything else that you would like to say? This website is going out to the world. Is there anything you would like to say to that kind of a public in closing?
Judy: I think that having a religious community is a key factor in a happy life. When I hear of something bad happening to people I know or read about, who doesn't have that, I wish they did because it would be a little easier for them. I can hardly imagine living without a spiritual community. I don't think I would move, at least not permanently anyway, to a place where there weren't any Quakers. I would feel there was a gap. Of course, I realize that life is unpredictable and all this is subject to change. But, that's the way it looks now.
Ann: Thank you very much for your time.
Judy is a loving and gracious woman whose dedication to her spiritual values touches many aspects of her Quaker community. One would be amazed at how much she is able to accomplish with the fire of her faith.