I recently ran into 2 Quaker Friends at Atkins Farm in Hadley, MA.  Peter and Annie Blood are the founders of Quaker Song:

www.quakersong.org

Annie and Peter are two of the very few Conservative Friends I have met in New England, and my husband and I also attended a mini one day conference at Woolman Hill for Christ centered Worship, of which they were a part.  Anyway, long story short:  Peter has been teaching a class on Early Friends on First Day, and invited us to come and visit for the class.

We took the hour and a half trip to Mt. Toby Meeting, a beautiful little white building set on a few flat acres.  A small hill in the background, freshly painted climbing structures for the children…near all the things we love dearly in Western MA.  It’s not hard to strongarm us up for a visit to that area.  I sat in Meeting with dreams of burritos from Veracruzana and Chai Lattes from Essalon.

The children had not been to a Quaker Meeting in over a year, having been immersed in Orthodoxy.  However, we do live a very “Quakerly” life at home, and we still talk about Quakerism and its principles.  They know who George Fox is, Janka Fairy has her “Quaker Bonnet”, we read “Benjamin the Meetinghouse Mouse” in the Meetinghouse at Sturbridge Village.  They were VERY excited to be going, and could barely contain themselves the last 15 minutes of the ride.

We arrived just in time to sing two hymns with the pre-Meeting hymn sing.  About 15 people sat in a circle, and immediately made room for us in the ring.  The children were shy, but settled by the community singing.  The power of many voices is an amazing thing to behold, and the effect on children was mesmerizing.  We sing in a small circle every day as part of homeschool, but four of us can hardly hold a candle to the movement of 15-20 voices being raised at once.

Then, off to “intergenerational class”, the class Peter was teaching on Early Friends.  He was speaking on the differences between the various streams of Christianity at the time.  For instance, for the Catholic and Anglicans, CHURCH was the center of Worship.  For the Protestant, the SERMON was the center of Worship.  For the Quaker, the SPIRIT was the center of Worship.  Likewise, High Church made the Sacraments (Eucharist in particular) the main event of the gathering of the faithful.  Bread and Wine are literal Body and Blood (I had to calm my Orthodox Heart when I heard the giggled scoff, “Ritualized Cannabilism!” from someone sitting behind me….BREATHE…..)  In Protestantism, the main event was the teaching, which was done by select people to convey intellectual understandings of G-d to the faithful masses.  Early Quakerism, when looked at from our modern day perspective, can easily look like an “OTHER”…an alternative to what was already there, but something massively different.

I would argue that Quakerism, both in its early forms and its present day Conservative forms are not so much an “Other”, but rather a spiritualization of all these seeming disparate parts of a whole.  Quakerism is not defined by being “not Church” or “not sacramental”.  Nor can it be defined by being “not centered on the Sermon, or intellectual understanding of certain truths”.  Quakerism came along and spiritualized all these parts, bringing them into a WHOLE. 

Sacramentalism wasn’t thrown out the window.  Silence became the place where communion was experienced.  Daily lives stripped of their excesses under the Quaker Banner “simplicity” became the place where the Voice of G-d could be heard, where teaching and subsequent understanding could be acheived.  The Body and Blood of Christ found and still finds its substance in the innate power of turning our gaze towards the Inner Christ.  TRUE transubstantiation: this thing we do in our bodies elevates us to H-m, and transcends all material things, bringing us to spiritual communion.  It’s not cannibalism, it’s transformation.  I take on a picture of the Perfection I see inside, and my Flesh becomes H-s, my Blood becomes H-s.  It’s the beautiful picture of incarnation, how we can have both Divine and Human natures, that in the act of communion are not at war with one another, but are a seamless whole.  Unity/Oneness, whether found in the mystery of silence, or in the mystery of Eucharist stem from the same Seed, the same Source.

After discussing these ideas, we shared what we personally felt worship was.   My idea was that it was a place where we go, that often is a laboratory for things in our life, and we have the opportunity to bring them to the Light, to learn to sit in silence with these things…then hopefully bring that peace back into our daily lives.  Another man described a meditative state that transcends the things of daily life, and allows us to put them aside. 

Then, a young girl, could not have been older than 12-13, spoke up, “I think of worship like being with a Family.  We are all together, doing the same thing, but also doing our own things in a way.  We are doing our own things alongside each other.”  Oh, my mother’s heart lept and I nearly shed tears at how sweet and pure this young girl was.  I wanted to run and find her mother and beg her to tell me, “HOW DID YOU ACHEIVE THAT?!?!  TELL ME YOUR SECRETS!!!”. 

This little girl spoke the biggest piece of wisdom during this class…spoke the Truth that simply states what I was writing above: that Worship is like a family, all doing our own things alongside each other, and yet also doing the “Same Thing”.  It doesn’t matter that the woman behind me struggles with and laughs at the idea of literal Eucharist, it doesn’t matter that one person thinks that Worship is meditation, and another finds it in struggle.  We are family, because we all have the Seed of Christ inside of us.  We can all sit together and hold each other in compassion and love, instead of holding up lines of division to keep each other apart.  Instead, we can see these lines of division as points of individuality, the varying colour of rays that shine from a central Source. 

Most of my life’s spiritual journey has been trying to find the “right” coloured Ray to be, instead of focusing on Source.  I have allowed fear of my children not being “connected to G-d” to take over to such a degree that I have always felt more drawn to tangible expressions of Worship; more specific ways of following H-m.  Another young girl, blonde; all knees and elbows at that transitional time between being a woman and being a child, expressed her ability to “get back to Center” while sitting in a tree.  If she is angry, she goes to the barn to be with the animals, who don’t judge her for being angry, and she can return to Center that way as well.  Despite the burdens and emotional upheavals of adolesence, she has learned how to “return to Center”.  Do you understand what a miracle this is?!  That means this young teenage girl can identify, crave and recreate Center (peace, balance, wholeness, unity….)!  This is my greatest hope for my children, what I want for them more than any riches or successes.

Did these girls learn this sitting alongside others, learning how to be still and quiet no matter what was going on in their minds, their bodies, their environments?  I have so many questions for their parents, for them!  I have been so afraid that by not giving my children a singular and particular form of religion that I would destine them to apathy and rebellion.  I was afraid that without the rules and boundaries they wouldn’t grow straight…like stakes for a tomato plant.  But when I see these girls at Meeting (and a Liberal Meeting nonetheless….with even LESS particularity about “what it is” 😉  ), having such a strong sense of authenticity and meaning in life….I am forced to reevaluate my conceptions.

I don’t have answers, just lots of questions for myself right now, brought on by my time at Mt. Toby Meeting:

-Do I really believe that G-d H-mself can speak to and guide my children?

-Am I constantly expecting G-d to give me solid and intellectual understandings of H-m, instead of experiences of H-m that transcend the intellect?

-Am I allowing G-d to reveal H-s will to me, always looking and listening?  Or am I trying to march at the front of the line, controlling where it all goes?

-Do I tend towards control over love?

-Do I give my children enough depth and breadth to allow them to find their own Centers, or do I clutter them with form and expectation?  Likewise, do I give myself this depth and breadth, or do I panic when the form and boundaries seem unclear?

Next week, Mt. Toby Meeting is starting an “Obadiah” class.  My children LOVE Obadiah, so of course I am tempted to bring them.  Maybe I can find some way to do our own Obadiah class, mixed with Holy Week, finding the virtues in Obadiah that coincide with Annunciation, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Pascha…  If I can muster something together, I will post here.  If I can answer any of the questions I pose myself here, I will also post.  But for the rest of the day….I will try to return to my Center…heck, I will try and identify it!

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