Janna Kane, P.T. Barnum, Fox and me.
“Ben Lloyd is part George Fox and part P.T. Barnum.” That’s how someone described me, or how someone said someone else described me. I like it. Years before I heard that I named this blog Showman/Shaman, to describe just the same paradoxical whole which is me: spiritual seeker, relentless promoter, Quaker, actor, introvert, exhibitionist.
Today in meeting for worship God grabbed me by the heart and lifted me to my feet. All of the signs of ministry were there: elevated pulse, psychic unrest and excitement, tingling hands and fingers. But I had no idea what I wanted to say, except this: I wanted to pay tribute, finally, to my spirit-sister Janna Kane, who died last month.
I met Janna at my former meeting, Haverford Friends Meeting. We were about the same age. She had Mediterranean features: deep brown hair, olive complexion, and haunting mysterious eyes. When moved, she would rise in meeting for worship and sing. Usually, when someone sings in Quaker meeting, they sing familiar hymns or one of the favorites from the “Quaker songbook”: This Little Light of Mine, The George Fox Song, Amazing Grace. Janna would rise and sing Joni Mitchell, or a folk song from a singer/songwriter she knew, or an African American spiritual. Then she would pause as we absorbed what had just happened, and then speak about why she was called to sing that particular song on that particular first day. Often, her experience of giving ministry moved her to tears. At first I felt embarrassed when she sang, until I was shown that what I was feeling was vulnerable. Janna opened me up to the world of feeling in worship, which was such a precious gift, since Quaker worship can be such a dry, intellectual experience (“I read in the New York Times yesterday . . . “) Through Janna, I came to understand that the most powerful ministry in meeting for worship is felt, rather than thought of.
Janna and I bonded. She loved my children, who grew up in that meeting. And she shared my fascination with the ways performance creativity and spiritual experience share so much in common. She participated in an exploration I offered there, called “Meetings for Theater”, in which participants were encouraged to experience ministry offered out of worship as a creative, performative event. I later wrote a paper about this exploration which was published by Cambridge University Press in the U.K.
Most of all, Janna was my dear friend, confidant, spiritual counsellor, gossip sharer, and venting recipient. I asked for and received several clearness committees at Haverford, and she was always on them as I worked through various life-issues with Friends. And when I helped the meeting offer Quaker Quest, Janna was an enthusiastic supporter, and one of our speakers.
About two years ago she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By that time I had moved on to my currant meeting, on the opposite side of the Philly suburbs, I was navigating a divorce, and trying to sustain White Pines Productions, the small artistic nonprofit I founded. So I was not a major part of her journey with cancer. I saw her twice for lunch over the last two years, and got updates from my friends at Haverford. She went into hospice in June, and died in July. At our last meeting, a lunch last fall, all she wanted to talk about was my love life – typical Janna, let’s get right to the juicy stuff. Interspersed, I gingerly asked about her situation, and, like many cancer patients, she balanced a hopeful narrative with a calm and realistic assessment of her condition. She knew her prognosis wasn’t good.
Sidebar: one of the only things that eased her physical pain, which was intense, was medical marijuana. So please – let’s just make it legal so we can study its remarkable properties, and offer it to those who are suffering like Janna did.
From the day I learned of her death last month, I knew (or thought I knew) that I wanted to speak of her in meeting for worship. But just as Janna had shown me so many times, I didn’t rise unless I felt something, and as much I loved her, I didn’t feel like speaking about her, until today.
My ministry was about the 20 years I have been attending meeting, and then becoming a Quaker, and the Friends who have shaped me in my faith, and then Janna. Then I cried and sang a part of a song to honor her. I sat back down, dizzy, overwhelmed, when my phone in my pocket started vibrating. I almost never take my phone with me into meeting for worship, but I had begged off a professional engagement today so that I could be at meeting. This engagement held a chance of fiasco, and so I had my phone. It was my assistant texting me, alerting me that, just as I had feared, a small fiasco was looming. So just after speaking in meeting for worship, I hurried out of the room and onto the front porch, where I talked my assistant through the necessary steps to avert fiasco. Then I returned to the room, embarrassed for having left so abruptly after speaking, and wondering what my Friends thought of me.
So no, it wasn’t “Janna calling.” But it was a divine affirmation of my life and calling, part Fox, part Barnum, existing right next to each other and changing because of their nearness. For those who choose to believe, life can be se experienced as a pattern, constantly elaborating, constantly combining, constantly appearing and disappearing. I am called to witness to those people and events which transcend logos, and become eros. And I think Janna would have laughed at me after the meeting, and said something like, “See? This is your life, Ben!”