Foundational Stories 9/28/2022

This summer I began writing about my foundational stories. This was in response to a Quaker friend urging us to think back on the beginnings of our stories. Then about how our stories evolved, and what they look like now. That led me to write many stories about this evolution.
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I’ve been looking forward to describing the current state of my foundational story. The article below about Cai Quirk is remarkably similar to parts of my story now.

My foundational story is related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. This combination has remained a powerful, yet evolving, influence throughout my life. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography. These three things came into play in many ways throughout my life.

I continue to rely on my Quaker faith to guide these decisions. Sometimes the guidance is clear. Other times either I’m not discerning what the Spirit is telling me, or there isn’t anything new to hear. It’s all too easy to stay on a path we are comfortable with, to the extent we might not hear, or might ignore leadings that say we need to change direction, to do something we are uncomfortable with. One thing I was blessed to realize early in my life was the times I took risks resulted in significant growth. Which led me to search for ways to take risks.

The reason I invested in the idea of the evolution of my foundational stories is because I’m feeling I might need to change how I think about and put into practice faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. I don’t have a way to know how many people read my blog posts but have a better indication of how people see my photography. My impression is that more people see my photographs. I’m sensing I should “focus” more on photography to express my spirituality and encourage more people to work to protect Mother Earth. Although the main reason I write so much is to try to organize and clarify what I discern about my spiritual life, and what that means, how to put these leadings into practice, how to practice hope.

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.


I recently found the article “Cai Quirk Invites Friends to Expand Our Faith” by Emma Hulbert, FCNL, July 12, 2022. Cai Quirk speaks about faith, risks, and art.

“One of the pieces of Quaker witness I have been carrying in the world for many years now is around gender diversity and using art and storytelling as a way to explore that. This is some of the ministry that I carry.”

Cai Quirk 

Cai Quirk (they/them or ey/em pronouns) shared this reflection with FCNL staff in a late-June Zoom lunch, along with the ways Spirit has been leading them to explore gender, faith, and nature through art.

Cai is a life-long Quaker. After years of spiritual deepening through writing poetry and creating self-portraits, Cai will soon release their first book. “Transcendence: Queer Restoryation” includes words and images that offer an expansive understanding of faith.

In speaking to FCNL staff, Cai showed many of their self-portraits, focusing especially on those exploring gender in the natural world. “I was finding new ways to create new stories that are empowering,” they told us. “Through these self-portraits, I found how far I can go in following Spirit. A lot of these photos were very freeing and empowering and have given me more connection to Spirit.” Cai explained that nature itself holds some inherent queerness; “Even when society tries to erase queer stories, they are still there in the landscape.”

Growing up Quaker, Cai learned the history of the social disruption inherent in Quaker faith. Yet today, Cai has noticed that only certain kinds of social disruption and ministry are accepted within some circles of Friends. “My art is an invitation to see how Spirit invites us all in different ways,” they said. While not all Quaker communities can feel welcome to those who rock the boat, social disruption and rage can be sacred as well. Changemaking occurs in many ways for many different people, and Cai is working to create more spaces where this kind of expansion and ministry are accepted, where more people can exist as their true selves.

“If I change myself to match society’s conventions, then I am not being authentic, I am not being faithful to Spirit,” Cai told us. Can we as the Religious Society of Friends expand our ideas of faith and community to invite everyone in? What would it take to seek and live into that welcoming Quakerism moving forward?

“Cai Quirk Invites Friends to Expand Our Faith” by Emma Hulbert, FCNL, July 12, 2022

There is that of God in every being. We support those of all gender identities and sexual orientation. And respect and will endeavor to use the pronouns each person identifies themselves by.

Approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2022

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