Friday, March 23, 2018

Practicing Mysticism in the World

ESR Board of Advisors Clerk Dwight L. Wilson delivered the following message during ESR worship on Thursday, March 22, 2018:
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Robert Walter Weir

Jesus was my first hero. I expect him to also be my last. One of my favorite stories is of him in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, "If it's possible, remove this cup." We don't read the answer; it is implied. This is almost universally true in the Gospels. Jesus prays. By his actions we learn the answer.
I write modern psalms directed to the Holy One. I am a mystic who, like Jesus, receives my answers in organic surround sound. From the Spiritual Source I act out my response. This has been true since in nearby Middletown, Ohio I became both the first conscientious objector I had ever met and the first black protester I knew to take complaining to the streets. From the activation of spirituality I am happy to say I have photos of my three young grandchildren demonstrating separately at multiple sights in California and Kansas. One person is an aberration. A second generation is a trend. A third generation is a family tradition. As Jesus' brother said, "Faith without works is dead."

Jesus was an itinerant common-unity mystic, not a cave-dwelling mystic or lounge chair memorizer of memories. He also did not confine himself to contemplating other people's ideas. Continuing revelation, a cornerstone of those who are convinced God is neither dead nor retired behind the clouds, says even in these dark ages you and I have direct access to the Holy One.
My goal also is to be in constant contact with the Holy Spirit while always moving. I am nobody's savior, but I am a person who wants to honor my uniqueness: black and Quaker. That it includes a great deal of reading and researching from various sources is a part of who I am. In meeting for worship or hospitals, living or board rooms, police or corporate offices, The Spirit is always waiting for you and me. I try to increase the times I arrive in a timely fashion.
Tuesday I spoke of my work holding cardiac babies for the past 7 years each Monday in Mott Children's Hospital. This practice starts my week because babies come directly from the Holy One and remind me of my former purity. They have no artifice. Although many have had operations even before birth and nearly all have had at least one open heart surgery, their courage is boundless. Their living witness and sometime death--we lose about 30 a year-- sets my week's tone. Also in most weeks, I'm going to:
1. write historical fiction about the antebellum period in the United States, insuring in my series "Esi Was My Mother," or my short story book, "Kidnapped," that the African-American voice is heard about life both in the south and the north where racism was nearly as codified. Whether millions read it is not the point. My job is merely to make it available.
2. work on my manuscript "Whispering to Babies," insuring that one day others may read how to soothe babies and calm their own bombarded souls.
3. use Facebook to correspond--beyond likes--with more than 1200 friends. I reach out and touch each "friend" at least 3 times a year. Almost 300 I do so at least once a month. My wife says I'm pastoring. Since I help them through job loss, relationship breakups, death and dying and actively mentor 15 from California to Europe and Australia who am I to disagree?
4. serve as an Ann Arbor Human Rights Commissioner, insuring that the rights of all people are respected.
5. work on police oversight, insuring through over 2000 volunteer hours in the past three years that all people, especially blacks and LGBTQ are protected from those who are licensed to take life and often exonerated of outright murder by Internal Affairs, grand juries, and the politicians to whom they report. With two cousins who have been killed by the police and two policeman nephews I bring a special perspective when I sit down with police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, council members and ordinary people. As an aside, did you know although blacks are only about 13% of the population, 40% of the crimes blacks commit are against blacks? Did you also know that 40% of crimes whites commit are against blacks? Yes, all people need to know Black Lives Matter.
6. work with the Interfaith Roundtable, insuring that my non WASP neighbors are respected and welcomed into all spaces that are "The Lord's and the fullness thereof."
7. work with other members in our congregation who support our meetinghouse as a sanctuary, insuring that those targeted by ICE know victims not only have a friend in Jesus but also a friend in Friends.
8. Co-Chair a Wayne State Medical School study on anti-prostate cancer. I'm a 6 year survivor.
9. Facilitate an interfaith anti-racism group.
In some weeks I also work with the homeless and on gun control efforts.
I do all of these things as a Christian, following Jesus, the itinerant mystic who kept his ears open for the Holy Spirit's leadings. Sometimes I want to say, "If it's possible, remove this bitter cup. Nevertheless, thy will be done."
As did Jesus, my wife practices Judaism. Diane is an attorney with a 50-60 hour work week. Yet, as I did while a Headmaster, Dean and Executive Director she averages more than 8 hours of weekly community service. We may not pass the eye test: 6' tall and 5' tall; classified black and white; wearer of Buckeye gear and wearer of Wolverine gear--but we are an equally yoked spiritual couple of grandparents who do like the Doobie Brothers sang, "Take it to the streets."
Neither of us is a saint. Like my face, our souls have many freckles. We are servants who have a call to keep.
I close with Psalm 100 from my book, "Modern Psalms in Search of Peace and Justice."
I am forever an initiate
being introduced
into Your special society.
Help me bear witness
as a man of courage,
following the lead
of the Master.
Thank You
for not hazing me
when I lose my way home.
Nothing stays the same as it was.
I have never been
in this present moment.
You have been and are everywhere.
Make me the human
You intended.

From 2002 to 2009, Dwight Wilson was Head of Friends School in Detroit, a PK-8th grade Quaker school founded in 1965 and dedicated to “offering superior education to students of all races, religions and incomes.” Prior to his work at Friends School in Detroit, he served as executive director of Mariana Bracetti Academy in Philadelphia and as Dean of Students, Assistant Upper School Director, and Chair of the Social Studies Department at Moorestown Friends School. Early in his career, Dwight served as General Secretary and Executive Director of the Meetinghouse Fund at Friends General Conference. He is now retired and spends much of his time volunteering weekly for Mott Childrens Hospital, Meals on Wheels, S.O.S., where he tutors homeless children. In addition, he serves on the Boards of Interfaith Council for Peace Justice, SafeHouse (domestic abuse prevention) Center and the Earlham School of Religion. Several times a year he donates blood to the Red Cross and assists at Arbor House (for homeless families).

Wilson received his B.A. magna cum laude in history and sociology from Bowdoin College and a M.Div. degree in theology and counseling from Bangor Theological Seminary. He has been invited to the White House on three separate occasions, first by Lady Bird Johnson after being selected one of the top teenagers in America, a second time by Jimmy Carter after being named one of the most influential religious leaders in America by Christian Century magazine, and most recently at the request of the Bush administration to participate in a summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools.

Wilson currently attends the Ann Arbor Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and attended Moorestown Meeting when he lived in South Jersey. A devoted Quaker, he has been deeply involved with Quaker organizations throughout his life, serving on the National Board of the American Friends Service Committee, chairing an advisory committee to the President of Haverford College, and serving as Trustee at numerous institutions over the years, including Friends World College and Rancocas Friend Academy, Medford Leas Retirement Center. Wilson has been an invited speaker at Yale University, Sidwell Friends School, the University of Virginia, Stanford University, Friends Central School, Guildford College, Brooklyn Friends School, and at conferences organized by the Friends Council on Education, the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS), and the Independent School Association of the Central States (ISACS).

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