Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why I Keep Coming Back

My husband, the senior warden at the local Episcopal church, enjoys twitting me on certain aspects of Quakerism. Why, he asks, drive an hour and a half round trip to sit in silence for one hour? Surely, if Quakers care so much for the planet and value simplicity, they should foreswear the consumption of fossil fuels to get to meeting, and instead hold virtual Meetings for Worship where each of us stay home and quietly meditate in front of our computers, using Skype if we feel moved by the Spirit to share. In my ongoing effort at pretending to be a good Quaker, I take this in good part and refrain from suggesting that Episcopalians could just as easily stay home, read the service from the Book of Common Prayer, and listen to the sermon and sing along with the hymns on YouTube. They wouldn't even need Skype since spontaneous sharing is not a noticeable feature of the Episcopal Mass. No, such a thought has never crossed my mind.

Yet, on a perfect Spring day such as we had this past First Day, with God obviously and extravagantly present right here in my garden, the temptation to conduct my own private "Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Plants in Dire Need of Transplanting" was very strong. But, as usual, I found myself in my car (a VW Jetta TDI, 40 miles to the gallon) making the 45-minute drive to meeting where I sat with the good Friends of Goose Creek for the requisite hour, and once more drank deeply from the living waters that flow through Meeting for Worship.

Inside the meetinghouse, the deep silence of the adults was accompanied by the sound of the birds singing and the laughter and voices of the children playing outside. I could feel us being lifted and embraced by the Spirit, and I marveled at how we were all gathered in the great wheel of life where our own individual boundaries have no meaning and where life and death merge seamlessly. The silence was broken just once by an older Friend who spoke quietly and simply about how, even as we struggle to make sense of our individual lives, God is there to guide us in green pastures and beside still waters. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.

After the close of Meeting for Worship, I was moved to share a little of what I had experienced in that hour. Goose Creek is an old meeting and I spoke about how Friends have sat in silent worship there for more than 200 years, each generation listening to the laughter of its children. I mentioned some of the dear old Friends who were gone from our midst, but who were once the children laughing outside, bringing energy and joy to our little community. Then, in one of those moments that occur with such amazing frequency at Quaker meeting that I can not doubt that the Spirit is present among us, I was passed a card to read that came from a beautiful arrangement of peonies on the fireplace mantel. The flowers had been placed there in memory of a member of our meeting who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this week. Emily the child once laughed and played, she grew to become an integral part of the meeting, and when she passed away at the age of 97, she was buried in the burial ground across the road from our meetinghouse. The tangible presence of all the generations of Friends old and young, living and dead, pressed in upon us.

As we moved on to sharing joys and concerns, a much-loved Friend stood and revealed that he had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Just as we were about to hold him in the Light, the children - about 20 strong - burst through the door, filled with energy and health and high spirits. We paused as they joined their parents and then, sensing the presence of the Spirit, they, too, entered into that sacred space where we are palpably in the presence of the Divine, their gloriously bright flames of Life and Love turbocharging the healing power of our prayers. Together, the young and the old, the sick and the healthy, the living and the dead, became One.

As I drove the 45 minutes back from meeting, I carried with me that which I had experienced in the silence and after. My husband returned from his Mass, uplifted by the words of his priest and enriched by the power and beauty of the liturgy. In the cool of my garden, I weeded and dug and transplanted with God. To myself, I sang the words of the great medieval mystic Juliana of Norwich: "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."