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    I’ve been thinking about mysticism, about this desire for unity with God. I’m also thinking about Betty.

    Grace Baptist Church was the center of my family’s social and spiritual life as I was growing up. We were an “if the doors are open” kind of family. My dad was a deacon, my mom a Sunday school teacher and deaconess (the women poured grape juice for communion and set up for potluck; the men collected and counted the money). Grace Baptist was filled with typical 1970s white churchy people. Some were kind, some brusque, some gossipy, some gentle, some judgmental and preachy. I had a sufficient number of models for how I did not want to be. There were also folks who embodied love and generosity. I think of Dan and Marie, who hosted many youth group activities in their small, modest home, filling us with popcorn as we played charades or sang Maranatha songs to the strum of their son’s guitar. And Wayne who drove the church bus all over town to pick up the non-drivers for events. He gave of his time so that nobody would feel left out.

    Betty, though, is the person I think about the most. She was the wife of Don and the mother of Linda, who was a few years older than me, and Roy, who was my age. Betty was what is now called developmentally delayed but back then everyone just called “slow”. Nobody seemed to treat her differently because of her intellect and I just thought of her as Roy’s mom. What I remember of her is her sweetness and cheerful willingness to do everything she was able to do to serve Jesus by caring for her community. If too many things were happening around her, she would sometimes get flustered but I have no memories of her ever snapping or raising her voice. I remember her as an always kindly presence with her simple, generous spirit.

    I can get caught up in ideas and notions about mysticism and self-emptying, unity and Oneness and everything in God and God in everything. I say I don’t like theology but in truth, I think about it all the time, I just don’t want to argue about it or have other people try to convince me that their understanding is the right one. I have lots of ideas about what God is and what reality is and what may or may not happen when we die. My ideas are synchretic [coming from different belief systems] and really, very head-y even though I also feel them inside me, too.

    So I have a practice that I have just coined the “Betty Test”. Betty was not able to understand complex ideas. Her theology was basic. In her very simple way, she personified the love of Christ. I sometimes will try to consolidate one of my lines of thinking and then hold it against my image of Betty. Really, to pass the Betty Test, the core of the notion has to be about love. My desire for unity with God, for submitting myself for God to use, is this my ego being all smarty-pants or is this helping me become who God created me to be? Could I take this notion into the kitchen of Grace Baptist church and find it useful as I wash dishes next to Betty as she dries?

    I often feel a lot of insecurity about my lack of education and atypical ways of thinking and being, especially in (generally highly educated) Quaker circles. Sometimes I really do need to have my ego reassured of my worthiness and adequacy. But then also, my ego was given to me, as was everything I am, by God. So, my ego gets bolstered and then when I feel secure enough, I need to be reminded that it is not about me, that I am about God. I think that’s what Betty does for me. She reminds me that we are about God when we put God’s creation-our neighbors, our earth, our communities, those in need-first.

    Su PennSu Penn

    Mary Linda, I’m so glad I found my way here, at the tag-end of the month, and read this. Your reflection on Betty, on theology, and on ego is lovely.

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