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by Janice Stensrude
published in What Canst Thou Say? No. 75, August 2012.

In 1994, Celestine Prophecy, a badly written but excitingly told modern parable, hit the bestseller list. At one point in the story, the main character has an experience of the connectedness of all things. In a rush of vision he sees the first molecule, then the building of the universe in all its parts, one event tumbling quickly into the next. He has an experience of unity.

In the early days of my New Age search, I laid with my breast against the earth and pressed myself against giant trees in attempted hug. I talked to plants and birds and lizards and flies and cats and dogs. I felt some sort of connection in each and every one of those instances, but I never had the Celestine experience—a sudden epiphany, a lightning bolt of understanding that was an experience before it was words.

My feeling of unity has come slowly, growing with me as I grow spiritually. Unity is very much tied in with my meaning-of-life search, the gradual recognition and acceptance of my place as a tiny cell in the gigantic organism that is creation. Joining a Quaker spiritual community pushed me forward as I joined with others to practice the advice of George Fox:

Be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.

I moved from my home in Houston, Texas to Australia in 2002. A year later I attended my first Quaker meeting. The meetinghouse was only a block from my apartment—but a very remarkable block. There was a picture in one of my childhood fairy-tale books of a maiden climbing an ice mountain, wearing shoes with high, spiked soles to keep her from sliding backwards. Thatís what I imagine I looked like that day, walking the incredibly steep uphill incline in my thick-soled comfort sandals with their safety-grip soles. The metaphor of that uphill climb—a climb that I was to make once or twice a week during the next eight years—did not escape me. Someone that morning said they had seen me trudging uphill and thought I must be a on the way to meeting in my ďQuaker grayĒ (an unknowing and unconscious choice).

My Australian Quaker meeting was home to several remarkable women who had lived into their nineties (and one or two who passed the century mark). I once heard one of them remarking that she aimed not to tolerate others, but to respect them. I liked that. I thought how much more I appreciate being respected than being tolerated. I was inspired to raise my self-expectations, seeking to abandon my self-satisfied practice of toleration and meet the challenge of respecting those from whom I kept myself separate.

It is not always easy for me to recognize ďthat of God in every one,Ē even though I truly believe it exists. I have developed a personal process that I use when I feel a resistance to generating that love and will to accept another. I visualize the two of us standing at a distance from one another, each with the light of God in our center; then I visualize the light in me reaching out and connecting with the light in them. Sometimes I imagine a conversation; sometimes I see us bathed in the healing white light of the Christ. The more I practice this, and the more it succeeds, the more I find myself in tune with every one and every thing.

Yet it does not always work. The first time my dandy little magic process of connection and acceptance didnít work, it didnít work in a really big way. I was painfully stuck for several years.

I was still living in Australia, and I had become increasingly angry about how the country of my birth was being run. I felt betrayed, just the way I had felt when I attended a court hearing many years ago, where I had the personal knowledge to know that witnesses were lying. ďBut they canít do that, can they?Ē But they can and they did. They did lie in court, and my country was being run by someone who thoughtlessly played at being a leader—making war and making rich people richer, turning his back on peace and justice.

I canít think of anyone who needs prayers more than someone who is trying to run a country. I abandoned my unsuccessful attempts to quell my anger and connect with this unknowing personís light, and instead set out to pray for him. Just words. Thatís what my prayers were, just words. I was painfully aware that my anger (fear in camouflage) steadfastly stood in the way of any truly felt prayer.

Over the next few years, it ate away at me, and I repeatedly pushed it out of my mind—this idea that I needed to connect, forgive, accept . . . respect. Eventually, I came to see that this individual represented my fear of a way of thinking that was shared by many people in my country, came to recognize that these people, too, had fears. Aside from a small number who are addicted to power, these were people who feared my way of thinking, just as I feared theirs. At last, I could at least envision a small dim light through a gray fog. This must be what itís like for someone to finally face a childhood tormentor and find him to be a powerless, shrunken old man. The fear is gone, but itís still a long way to forgiveness, tolerance, respect.

Looking back, I can see that my struggle harkened a breaking down of the satisfaction that I felt when I first thought I had achieved what so few have—perfect love for my fellow human beings.

Early Quakers believed in the possibility of achieving perfection. Thatís an unpopular notion in this nobody-is-perfect era, yet I have come to share that belief. I now see perfection as another expression of creation, another manifestation of the Big Bang—things expand, explode, and reassemble over and over and over again.

Perfection happens millions of times a day, I think. I see it as happening in milliseconds, outliving its moment, then popping up somewhere else in an equally brief flash of brilliance. The point in striving for perfection, then, is not so that I may draw slightly nearer the impossible, or even that my descendants may one day achieve it—but that I may know it again Ö. and again and again.

In other words, I donít think that perfection is something that we must strive for, knowing that we will never reach it, but something that we celebrate over and over as it darts through our lives. And thatís where I am with my perfect love. I strive constantly for it, not because I have not achieved it but because I yearn to achieve it again . . . and again and again.

I donít really have to, once and for all, accept, tolerate or respect anyone. But I do have to yearn for it so much that it is bound to happen. Each time I capture that millisecond of perfection, I really am better—as an individual and as a cell in the larger body of society. To quote the wise sage Roseanne Barr, ďYou can always get better. No one can stop you from getting better.Ē

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