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Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 26th of Ninth Month, 2021

Speaker: Gretchen Castle

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18

I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:22-24

For I am convinced that neither death,

nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from

the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

  • It is indeed a blessing to be here with you this morning at West Richmond.

  • It is indeed a blessing to be among Friends this Sunday morning, as it is a blessing to work among Friends every day of the week.

  • It is a blessing and a privilege to be part of the global Quaker family – my own little part of a great big piece of connective tissue.

  • It is a blessing to be working at the roots and around the world on issues of peace and justice and climate change and all of that – right along side everybody who wants to see a better world, and as Quakers do so well – I really love how we never stop – we never give up – and we keep marching toward that Light that we can see.

But (breathe) I want to take this blessings theme down a notch – and say actually, I woke up this morning, I opened my eyes and saw the sun peaking through my window. So I slid my feet over the edge of the bed, I sat up, and when my feet touched the floor, I knew I was alive and I thanked God allowing me to see another day. This Day! I am here. Here. Here at home in Richmond.

I was born in Richmond, in Reid Memorial Hospital – yes, the old hospital, otherwise I would be considerably younger! My father, David Castle was pastor of First Friends Church, yes, the old church, otherwise, again, I would be considerably younger! But I did love the old brick parsonage there and even though I was 5 years old when we left, I can draw a house plan from memory. It was home.

I attended Stout Nursery School. I remember tobogganing down what seemed like a big hill at the time and is barely distinguishable as a hill today. Surely the hill has shrunk since then! My family moved to Indianapolis and then Iowa, but I returned to Earlham and thoroughly enjoyed my four years here. One of many great memories was again sledding down a great hill, this time, in the cemetery on food service trays which we nicked from the dining hall as soon as the snow began to fall. Coming to Earlham was also coming home.

I was very happy providing a home for my growing children. We had an old stone farmhouse, and I delighted in filling it and surrounding us with precious things. In the yard under a big pine tree, my daughters created what they called ‘the Ground House’, which provided hours of creativity and fun. They made their own little home, complete with garden and rooms.

We all have memories of home, of making spaces our own, of finding what we need when we need it to feel a sense of belonging and comfort. Whether from our childhood and/or later of our own creation, we find ways to feel safe, to welcome others into our lives, and to settle into an inner peace and contentedness.

So, I have come home to Richmond. Delighted to rekindle friendships and memories and connections with those who knew my family. It is very precious, indeed.

It has caused me to think a lot about a new sense of home which grew out of my service to Friends around the world.

In 2012, I was looking for work, and remembered seeing the then General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation at a fundraiser in New York a year previously. I had forgotten about it until one day when I had a very sudden and clear image of the letters FWCC in front of me. Right there, clear as day! Now, I am a big believer in receiving signs, but they are rarely that clear! From the web site I learned the application for General Secretary was due by midnight the same day. So, I did what any normal person might do, I sat at the computer til midnight and sent it in JIT, just in time.

A couple months later, my partner, David and I were flying off to London for my 2 days of interviews with 5 Friends from 4 continents, and 5 countries (Northern Ireland, England, India, Kenya and the US), the staff, and the presiding clerk. I was offered the job the next day, while touring the Tower of London, trying to contain my squeals of delight.

David and I set about for the next months doing everything on the top of the high stress list: we sold our house and two cars, attended college graduation for one daughter, and moved daughter number two into her college dorm two states away. We got rid of the contents of a 5-bedroom house, put family China and a few other things into storage, shipped essentials and a lot of books to London, and off we went with a suitcase each start a great adventure.

We proceeded to make a two-bedroom London flat just off the high street, two blocks from the tube station: home.

What I did not expect, and this is what I really want to tell you about, is that my faith experience deepened, and my experience of traveling among Friends, caused me to discover my true home. I felt comfortable in the world, I became a citizen of the world.

And for me, God inhabited it all in a way that has given me real peace and comfort. I can say very simply that God is my home. And whether I had returned to Richmond or whether I moved to Timbuktu, I would know that I was already home. I am at home in the world because God is my world, ever-present, comforting, protecting, inspiring me with a freshness that I have read about in the bible, but had not previously known. Through God all things are made new. Each day, wherever I am, I feel the sweet touch of God, reminding me to be grateful, to be forgiving of myself and others, and to keep working in every moment to be more loving.

As I traveled among Friends, making such loving and precious connections, I gained a new sense of being a citizen of the world, less tied to place. I felt the deepest love for people I met, grateful for the sacrifices people made to give me food and a warm bed. Grateful for the meaningful friendships and the late conversations, listening to whatever was on their hearts. I was especially grateful for the opportunities to worship with Friends in whatever ways they found nourishing. And I found the variety of worship so moving, even as I would enter a huge cathedral and cry to think people built this for the glory of God. It has been crystal clear to me that any way we worship, any way we express our love of God is life giving and beautiful. God gave me an open heart, and all the sweetness that comes with it. I am clear that this all comes from God.

Our reading from the Book of Psalms this morning reminds us that God is ever present, and we cannot hide or escape this. God is ever present, no matter who we are, no matter where we go. Before we speak, God knows what we want to say. When we cross the farthest sea, God’s hand still leads us. Even the darkness is as bright as the day, the Palmist says, ‘for darkness is as light to you’. We remember that this was one of George Fox’s favorite verses, and a concept well used by Quakers.

We are reminded that it is God who made us. God who knit our parts together. God who made us his home. Because of God, we are fearfully and wonderfully made! Made from the depths of the Earth and brought into the days that take shape in the form of a life. We might consider our lives, our bodies, our physicality as God’s home. A way for God to inhabit this space, not just earth space but also our spiritual space, as we navigate all that we are here to learn and experience in one lifetime.

During my 9 years traveling among Friends, I grew in the sense that I am never alone because God is with me, in me, comforting me wherever I am. I rarely felt the old longing to be home, because it was as though I was carrying home with me. God was my home. God is my home.

David and I have an inscription in our wedding rings. It reads, “May love bring you home”. As Billy Joel’s lyrics go, ‘Wherever we’re together, that’s my home.” This song was in my head often in the last few years, as my idea and need for home changed.

Returning home to Richmond makes me very happy… and I realize I was already home before coming back. God is my home, my refuge, my comfort, my all.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and life. And God within each one of us just draws us ever closer to each other and to the God we experience through each other.

We are already home. We are already home….

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Photo of Gretchen Castle, Earlham School of Religion, 2021.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This document is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws. Reproduction and distribution without permission from the author is prohibited. © 2021 Gretchen Castle. All rights reserved.

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