How to Attend a Quaker Meeting for the First Time

© David Morris/flickr.com

 

In the old meetinghouse
you will see rows of benches
on which Quakers have been sitting
for years,
decades,
lifetimes,
generations.

             You decide to sit alone in the back

People will smile at you,
a quiet, closed lip smile. 

Smile back in kind.
You don’t want to seem too eager,
don’t want to frighten
the rare and peculiar Quakers.

You will notice the bench contains no liturgy
no songbooks
no Bible.

             You can rise and kneel on cue
             with a Catholic Mass after fifteen years’ absence
but you’re stuck here with
no hints
no instructions
watching The Friendly Persuasion was not enough

Worship begins with
each person softly settling
like a hen on her nest,
preparing for the long haul
of nursing something precious to light.

Quiet your fingers,
close your eyes,
try to think of something spiritual
or of nothing at all.

             This will be tolerable for about twenty minutes

Your brain will rebel
and you will spend the next twenty minutes
composing your grocery list
and then you will have to make it
through twenty more minutes.

Quaker meetings last an hour,
and by the end you will know

             how many acoustic tiles line the ceiling
how many seat pads are stacked by the door
how much you wish you’d grabbed a seat pad
how uncomfortable your left shoe is

Someone may speak during worship,
slowly, as if reading
newly-written words.
Do not answer back,
this is not a discussion.

 The speaker has been prompted by the
Spirit,
Truth,
Presence,
Inward Light,
Indwelling Christ.

             Quakers have a lot of names for God

Listen to the words spoken.
They may be directed

             (and here’s the miracle)

to you,
just what you need to hear
right now.

Or not.
             t’s a crapshoot

 

Eventually,
the eldest person
will sit up straight
and shake hands with
the person nearest them.

 People will shake hands with you,
smile more widely,
ask polite questions.

             You can leave whenever you feel like it

             You can return whenever you feel like it 

to this space,
and to the silence and Presence
that is unlike any experience
you’ve ever had.

             You can return and belong

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