December 2020

Query: How can my practice of deep listening to the Spirit help me listen to my neighbors?

December 6: FDS Zoom Planning Meeting and Fellowship, 11:00am
December 6: Called Meeting for Nominations, Strawberry Creek Process, 1:30pm
December 13: Second Sunday Zoom Worship, 11:00am
December 13: FDS Tree decorating and hike, 2:00pm
December 20: Meeting for Business, 9:00am
December 30: Deadline for Newsletter items


A Matrix of Light: a Web of Connection
Since the pandemic limits physical contact, I’ve been thinking about how we connect on a spiritual level. In a recent Meeting for Worship, as I listened to others share, I began to visualize points of light connecting with other points of light. Intrigued, I later started a drawing, and discovered that it’s not just a matter of straight lines from one person to another. As the lines overlap, it forms a tapestry, a web of Light that we create together to sustain ourselves and others. So, this is my holiday gift, becoming aware of the many ways I belong to and connect with the human race. I am so very grateful for the Love and Light we share as we grow together.

—Nancy Wood

ADULT RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: The Local Impact of Slavery
David Johnson
The second program offered by the Adult Religious Education Committee on racism focused on the local impact of slavery, and its influence on the development of the Celo Community, Camp Celo, Arthur Morgan School and the local civil rights movement. Facilitated by Jennie Boyd Bull, the panelists shared their experiences in both written documents and oral presentations. Following the panel’s discussions, the audience of 23 people asked presenters about their area of experience and study. The entire zoom gathering was recorded and is available to anyone who would like to listen.

Peggy and Clark Tibbits shared about the life of Colonel James McDowell who bought 1700 acres in what was called White Oak Flats around 1839. McDowell, an educated, wealthy widower from Marion, brought a young woman with him, Hannah, with whom he had 6 children. Hannah Haney was very young (16-17 years old) when she moved with James McDowell to what is now Celo Community. She is believed to be black or of mixed race. Their house, and McDowell’s burial site, near the Celo Cemetery, is but a few yards from six graves marked only by flat stones. It is assumed that these sites are the burial places of some of the slaves. Hannah was a tenacious young woman, and despite being illiterate, fought to own the land that her husband owned after his death. It took her nearly 18 years to regain it legally. She held the land from 1872 until 1876 when her step-son William, possibly through Jim Crow laws, regained title. Both Hannah Creek and Hannah Branch Road bear testimony to the life of Hannah Haney and her influence on this area.

Joyce Johnson offered a rich narrative about the development of Celo Community, Arthur Morgan School, Camp Celo and shared the struggle the African American community faced around integration. Their effort was aided by members of the Celo Community especially the Ohle and Barrus families. The Celo Community constitution (1937) had declared that” no person is excluded because of national or racial origin”, setting the stage for future decisions and actions concerning equality for everyone. Of particular importance was the formation of the Burnsville Education Project by the Ohles among others, and its association with the NAACP and AFSC in bringing a lawsuit against the Yancey County Board of Education, forcing integration in 1960. Yancey County was the first among North Carolina Public School Systems to be integrated.

Earlier than the 1960 Yancey County School integration, Bob and Dot Barrus, having joined Camp Celo in 1955, began recruiting African American children for the camp. There was some local concern by the community regarding the integrated camp. Two employees of the camp, however, came to know the campers and helped the local community to accept these changes. At its formation in 1962, the Arthur Morgan School, founded by Elizabeth Morgan, had an integrated student body and it was felt that Camp Celo’s experience had helped facilitate the integration of the school.

Gib shared some insights into the present issues of transition of power, life as a young boy in a Quaker household in Celo, and some reflections on the struggles that contemporary African Americans had in North Carolina not so many years ago: Contrasting the current difficulties in transition of the presidency, the integration of the public schools in Yancey County went off peacefully despite the fierce struggle that preceded it. Describing his early life, he said “growing up as a child in a Quaker household in the ‘60s, the civil rights movement was like the air we breathe…it was just part of what we did…part of my everyday understanding”. Reflecting on all that has happened over the course of the anti-racist movement from slavery to the abolitionist movement to the present day, he wondered “ What are our next steps…what part of this is still white privilege..what are we still blind to [with regard to white privilege]…how can we use history to see where we go?

Joanna Flynn
The year 2020 has brought many changes to our lives. First Day School has not met regularly since March. We had a lovely gathering in August for a Peace Day Ceremony led by Mari, but we have been separated for most of this year. Our regular holiday play is not happening, and well…WE CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

So, here’s our plan:
-December 6th, 11:00am: Zoom worship and planning for tree decorating
-December 13th, 2:00pm : Tree decorating and hike!

FDS families, please look for emails for details. Newsletter readers, look to next month’s newsletter for picture(s) of our gathering!

What is your favorite hymn during this season (when we celebrate Winter Solstice, Hanukkah and/or Christmas), and why?

Annie Barrus
“Angels We Have Heard On High.” I love the chorus; I love to hear the
harmonies we weave together as we sing.

Chip Poston
These days I really like the modern hymn, “Christmas Morning” by Ross
Flanagan. The reason I like it is because of the emphasis that Christ’s Spirit
dwells within all people, which is at the heart of the Quaker faith. “He’s man and
he’s woman, he’s old and he’s young/He’s Buddhist and Christian and Jew/She’s
wealthy, she’s poor and she’s black and she’s white/And, oh yes, the Christ child
is you.”

Mari Ohta
These songs that we sing at preschool are special this time of the year. They
are songs about light and darkness. They are fun to sing and also give me
Through the light of truth
Love found its birth
Wills to unite
Heaven and earth
(sung as round)
I walk with my little lantern
My lantern is going with me
In heaven, the stars are shining
On earth, glows my lantern for me
The cock does crow, the cat meow
La bimba la bomba la bin
The lights grow dim, we must go on
La bimba la bomba la bon (song cut)

Donna and Bill Idol
“Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright.” The 8-day vigil
at my mother’s dying-bed was nearing the end. The night
deepened; the complex mother-daughter cocoon unspinning. And
the exquisite sacred melody of Bill’s and my much loved “Silent
night, holy night” began humming through me. For hours this
perfect end-of- life lullaby connected us all in the great mystery.
“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” Bill and I
celebrate Winter Solstice, enjoying the solstice version: “Brings the winter to comfort and heal, Rest your spirit in peace, Rest your spirit in peace!” And, “Wherever you go, I will go” from the Weston Priory Monks is supporting Bill as he contemplates leaving family in Vermont to return to home and community in Burnsville/Celo.

Catherine Reid
In New England, where I grew up, winter nights are far longer and
darker than here, which makes the solstice, marking the return of the
light, even more significant. How I welcomed those new minutes of
sun, which I could feel throughout my body. This song, meant to be
sung as a round, remains one of my favorites of the season.

Holding Someone in the Light
Given the number of people we’re holding in the Light these days, both individually and collectively, this description, supplied by Joyce Johnson, seems timely. It’s from Marcelle Martin and appears in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice “Over the years, praying for others and holding them in the Light has become a frequent practice for me. I’ve explored many ways of doing it. Sometimes I address a mental request to God for the health or well-being of another, acknowledging that I don’t fully understand the situation and that I’m really asking for the best for that person, whatever that may be. Often, however, my prayer doesn’t include mental words or any specific requests. Sometimes I visualize that person filled and surrounded with light or imagine them being held by God or experiencing radiant health, peace or joy. On other occasions, I visualize the light within them—divine love and wisdom—shining brightly. Often my prayer feels simply like love, without images; I focus on
the other person in a tender, grateful way from the place of my own deepest connection.”

Bob Johnson: An Artist in Praise of What Is

Catherine Reid
I first met Robert (his “city” name, he says) at a Wilderness Society
function, where we’d been invited in our professional roles as artist and
author. Though it was crowded and loud, in my brief moment with
him, I sensed a serene and centered presence. It was a surprise, after I
moved to the area, to learn that he lived nearby, that he attended
Friends meeting, and that he was part of several bird counts (along with
Jennie Boyd Bull and Charlie Hodshon), which I subsequently joined.
Some of my sweetest memories of him are climbing back in the warm
car, after a chilly stretch of standing still and listing all the birds we
heard or saw, and hearing his big curiosity about the natural world and
the stories we tell about it. I experienced the same after meeting for
worship, when he always had an interesting, unexpected question for
me and always a new sighting to share. That’s the Bob that still comes
through most clearly—attentive, thoughtful, curious—even as he approaches the last months of his life.

His is a life abundantly full and rich, much of it described on gallery websites and in catalogs of his shows—his childhood in Venezuela, his apprenticeship as a young man with such painters as Mark Rothko and Karl Knaths in Provincetown, his immersion in the late ‘60s counterculture of California as he completed an MFA, his stints teaching art, his years creating “ inward looking surrealistic paintings,” his eventual arrival in Celo in 1972. Also well documented is the “midlife crisis,” as he calls it, when he realized it was time to leave abstract art behind and focus instead on painting what he saw in nature. (His advice to others struggling between making art and making money: “Do what comes from your center.”) His decision to stick with a focus on nature was confirmed when Roberta Smith, an art critic with the New York Times, chose one of his new paintings for a show.  That early success also affirmed the genius of the method that he continues to use to this day.

To create one of his paintings, Bob immerses himself in whatever place he’s been drawn to, in whatever country he’s chosen to explore—from Nepal to Peru, Tasmania to Panama, Alaska to Ecuador and dozens of countries in between. To prepare himself, he reads about the local habitats, he talks to local people, he wanders on foot until he finds a scene that attracts him, and then he gets to work. He begins by sketching particular highlights—a bird, a tree, a fern, a frog—careful to get the details and the colors just right. (The color chart he developed—and that others covet—is made up of every combination of paints from a set of twelve watercolors. It allows him to identify exactly what he’ll need to mix when back in his studio in order to get the right green of a wood duck’s head, the blue of a bottle gentian, the red of a cardinal flower). In addition to his drawings, he makes notes on other things he sees and senses, and he gathers stories that people tell about the land. In the paintings that he creates from the sketches, the things that he highlights—a fish, a leaf, a flamingo—are perfectly rendered though not to scale, resulting in landscapes that he refers to as narratives and others call surreal. They’re also whimsical, mystical, and celebratory, as each captures the experience of being fully present to a place.

It may be that practice of being wholly present that made Bob feel at home in Quaker meeting. “It’s a great way to be with people without having to talk,” he says. “The sense of community is deeper.” It has also provided a chance to articulate his personal theology. “I consider myself a pantheist,” he says. “I believe that the world is the body of God, the physical manifestation of God… Everything is imbued with the Sacred.” He doesn’t believe that God is necessarily good or moral; nor is God a tribal concept or the result of human invention. “God just is,” he says. It took the words of a nephew, an evangelical Christian, to help him define a larger goal he hadn’t yet understood of his art. As Bob recounts the story, he asked his nephew, “What is the purpose of life?” The reply, “To praise God.” “Whoa, that’s what I do!” Bob says. And then he gives it a bit more context: “I believe the ultimate purpose of art is to glorify God. Even if the subject is ugly or distasteful, the act of putting one’s observations into an aesthetic form is an act of praise of what is.”

The culmination of Bob’s last five years of work—the “praise of what is”—began with a visit to each of the forty-two state parks of North Carolina. The eighty paintings that resulted will be shown at Cameron Museum in Wilmington (opening in February 2021) and at Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville (opening in September 2021). Sketches from his notebooks will also be available for sale at the park represented in the drawing. Given his diagnosis of the terminal illness, amyloidosis, he knows he might not be present for either show. He’s still sketching and painting, however, and going camping with his wife and fellow artist, Forrest (“we can sketch for hours without talking,” she once told me, “and it’s wonderful—the language of love.”) He’s also welcomed a steady stream of friends to tea at 4:00 by the fire circle outside their home. His message to most of them: “Don’t worry about a memorial service. Go instead to one of the shows!”

The other message visitors receive is the feeling that radiates from him of joy, of acceptance, of peace. It’s almost as though his years of immersing himself in an experience, patiently and carefully paying attention to the essence of the  moment, have prepared him well for this final stage of his life. It is what is, he might say, and it is glorious.

To see examples of Bob’s work and read more about his life, visit his homepage: or Blue Spiral Gallery:

To hear a talk he gave at Warren Wilson College, “Robert Johnson: Environmental Painter”