Ballad for a Friends Meeting

She sits in Meeting every day,
+++Her lifted face serene.
No strand of hair is out of place,
+++Her bearing’s like a queen.

Upon the column of her neck
+++Her head in balance rests;
Her tranquil beauty, classic-carved,
+++Great inner calm attests.

Each day she sits, contained and cool,
+++All secrets locked inside.
What can she know of loneliness,
+++Uncertainty, and pride?

I, sore beset and insecure,
+++Am struggling. I am weak.
From wealth of her tranquility
+++I long for her to speak.

I cannot see how, folded, closed,
+++Her thumbs rub to and fro.
Then, shockingly, “Oh, God!” she cries,
+++“I don’t know how to go!”

The tortured cry, so quickly stilled,
+++Awakes my startled fears
And grips my heart, as when-a child!
+++saw my mother’s tears.

If she is lost, so calm, so pure,
+++Then where is hope for me?
No voice of strength can speak through her
+++No Light shine forth for me.

The silence now is deeper still.
+++This hush I cannot bear!
A cry for help, a soul in need—
+++Is there no God to care?

And then a thought, a baby thing,
+++Stirs softly in my heart.
“You, too, know loneliness”, it says,
+++“And you must do your part.”

A stupid thought, an unformed thing,
+++Not worthy of such need.
How should I dare to break this hush,
+++Who’ve found nor God nor creed
to help myself—and yet a sense
+++of Presence wraps me round.

“Your turn to speak, my child,” it says.
+++“Just share this truth you’ve found!”
“First take your thought, this baby thing,
+++And hold it to the Light.

It has more facets than you know!
+++Its surfaces are bright.”
My throat is dry, my palms are moist,
+++My heart is pounding wild,
Yet stronger still, the clear command,
+++“Now! You will speak, my child!”

And suddenly the gates are loosed
+++And blessings overflow.
I pour out comfort from my heart
+++In words I didn’t know.

I see the lady’s crumpled face,
+++No Grecian marble now,
And as her tears and mine flow down
+++Our mingled spirits bow.

Once more, impassive on the bench,
+++My turmoil none can tell,
But like a child I run to God.
+++“Oh, did I do it well?”

“You do it well to let me use
+++Your hurt to help another.
I cannot keep your channels clear
+++Unless you love your brother.”

Editors’ Note: this 1969 poem is believed to be the earliest pairing of “hold” and “light” in the Friends Journal archives. The term “holding in the Light” wouldn’t become popular until the mid-1970s.

Barbara Reynolds

Bio adapted from Wikipedia: Barbara Leonard Reynolds (June 12, 1915 – February 11, 1990), was an American author who became a Quaker, peace activist and educator. In 1951, Reynolds moved with her husband to Hiroshima where he conducted a three-year study on the effects of radiation on children who had survived the first atomic bomb.In the early 1960s, she traveled around the world with atomic bomb survivors to show world leaders, first-hand, the horrors of nuclear warfare.

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