Friday, February 18, 2011
February 18, 2011 ~ Day 71
This morning I decided to check out the local Quaker meeting, something I have been meaning to do for a long time.
When we moved into our neighborhood last week I discovered a small Quaker meeting chapel just a short drive from our home, about three minutes away.
We are Unitarian Universalists and our children typically attend the Unitarian Sunday School, but this weekend my husband took the little ones to visit their grandparents so my morning was free to expand my understanding of faith.
I am very drawn to the beliefs of the Quakers, particularly their commitment to peace and social justice. Like Unitarian Universalism, it seems to be a faith of people who think a lot about the world they live in and how to make it a better and more equitable place.
Last year when I was fairly ill I spent a few days reading A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert L. Smith and was quite inspired by his description of Quaker values: simplicity, service and common sense.
If I am understanding it correctly, Quakers believe that no-one needs to intercede on their behalf with God, that it is a direct conversation between the heart of man and his maker.
One of my dearest college roommates was actually married in a Quaker service to which we were invited but were not able to attend. I have always imagined their service as a true union where two people who love each other make their vows and proclaim their love with their own words, in their own manner - deciding for themselves (rather than waiting for a priest or minister to determine) when they are at last married.
Ever since we missed her wedding several years ago, I have hoped that someday I would visit a Quaker meeting and find out more about Quakerism. Today I happily attended a gathering.
This was the setup:
I walked into a room with chairs placed in a circle, with no-one at the head and no-one at the back. There were probably about thirty people all told, most of whom were over the age of fifty. I take this not as a sign that Quakerism is an 'old' faith but more a sign of the community in which the meeting room is located.
Noticing that the others were seated, I took my seat and began to pray.
Here are the rules of the meeting ~ The meeting is open to all. When people arrive they sit and meditate or pray, opening their hearts to receive God's wisdom. If a person in the meeting is moved to stand and share his or her revelation, they do so. At the end of the time of prayer (about an hour?) there is a time to share joys and sorrows, and then a time to attend to the business of the church.
I have never participated in a shared meditation before, the closest thing I have come to it would be taking yoga classes where everyone engages in Savasana at the end of the practice. It felt a little strange at first to be seated with my eyes closed praying in a room full of strangers who were also praying, some of them with their eyes open. Honestly, I wondered how I would stay awake, being tired from a very long week of moving while taking care of three children.
It was a very peaceful time though, I must say. Far removed from the general chaos of my daily existence, I was able to settle gratefully into the silence and try to locate my center. I've never been good at meditating and it was hard to keep my head still and free of thoughts, but I tried to be open to whatever divine radiance might be in that room.
I can't say that in the course of the hour I came across any life-changing revelations, but I was struck by one of the "joys" shared by a woman in her late forties with long reddish hair. "This is a small joy," she said, "Which is actually a larger joy. There is a little hummingbird that lives outside of my door. Last night's rainstorm was so intense I worried that it would not make it through. Yet this morning, the bird was there and had made it. I couldn't help but think, if *that* is possible in this often dark and dangerous world, anything is."
At the end of the meeting they invited me to stay for lunch and conversation, but alas - there were three little children waiting at home to be played with, cared for and nurtured.
As I drove away from this hub of kindness I reflected on their ardently expressed concern for the homeless, their upcoming work in Africa, and the concerns that one member raised about the efficacy of trial by jury in our society ~ about the lack of willingness he found amongst his fellow jurors to keep an open mind and try to see the opposing point of view. All in all, it was a very interesting morning spent with decent folks whose heart is definitely in the right place.
Waiting at the stoplight on the corner to turn my truck toward home, I looked up to see an older woman with a group of her friends who suddenly started to dance. Under the Sunday sun, on the street corner - laughing and dancing in the broad daylight with her hands over her head. She must have been at least fifty years old, but her face was luminous and she and her friends were giggling like teenagers. They clearly had a joie de vivre which, somehow, fit my morning just perfectly.