Last year our family joined a small group that focuses on sharing real life together, while being intentionally vague in defining the spiritual nature of our gatherings. This allows room to get to know one another for who we are, not for the answers we give to carefully crafted study guides. It is a safe environment in which to question openly, to ask honestly, and to share freely. My soul has been longing for something new, and the fundamentalist Christian world I came from ceased having all the answers. I’ve soaked up many books touting new ideas on faith, doubt, and searching for God. So a friend from this small group suggested we visit a Quaker meeting together.
I am a prototypical extrovert. I draw energy from activity and people. I struggle to focus on any singular item, am always fidgety, and am rarely quiet. While I’ve learned a lot about introspection from my wife, I was intimidated by a communal hour of intentional silence in expectation of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
An hour of quiet reflection sounded peaceful, but would I get anything out of it?
When we arrived a handful of people were sitting quietly in the meeting room, which was set up squarely with long benches. After sitting, I closed my eyes to pray, while more people quietly entered. Nothing came into focus. I looked around the room, noticing the intentional blandness of it, clearly to avoid the distractions that I was looking for. I bowed my head, and still nothing. I looked around the room and counted people, calculating the male to female ratio, then looked down to the floor.
A woman stood up and shared a short, simple message. I expected this. A Quaker website said persons may be “moved to offer a message.” I avoided facing her, as suggested by the website. With her message not resonating, I went back to looking at the floor.
Another woman stood up and spoke about peace and how hard peacemaking is. She talked about her work, how fulfilling it is and the abundance of such projects, but she has no peace. Her dad was moving to hospice, and peace was disrupted for her father, for her family, and for herself. She affirmed that we all long for peace, but we rarely reflect on how hard peacemaking is, the sacrifice required, and the burdens we still have to carry.
This message hit me to the core.
It shocked my soul with memories of watching my grandfather’s health deteriorate, such as when he told me “I can’t wait until Thanksgiving to see you,” and he meant it. When I got the call about another stroke only weeks later, it was for peace that I drove ten hours round trip to see my grandfather one last time. And it was peace I received when I lay with him on his bed, after hearing him weep when told I had arrived.
I thought about what peace means in my home with two preschool-aged children. As our daughter approaches kindergarten, she pushes against all boundaries, and, as parents, we struggle to push back appropriately. Our son, almost three, bounces between copying his sister and antagonizing her, not understanding the line between fun and fight.
I thought about the spiritual peace my soul longs for. For the first time in a while, I felt regret for not reading the Bible, wishing I had a psalm or gospel parable to meditate upon. But within moments, a couple of verses from Psalms and Matthew came to me. No longer antsy, and with closed eyes, I focused on these areas of peace and new angles to approach conflicts.
A few others spoke, some briefly, some more at length, but none was either enlightening or disruptive to the quieting I felt. I began to grasp what Friends mean by being “visited by a spiritual presence…drawn from a deeper well…illuminated with a brighter light, [letting] those impressions dwell in you.”
The meeting concluded when someone turned to a Friend, shook hands, and said, “Welcome.” All were asked to introduce themselves, and visitors were welcomed in unison with a warm, authentic “Welcome, Friend.”
I found this Quaker experience to be thrilling. The most profound impact was my desire to prepare for the next meeting by reading the Bible. I haven’t had that desire after leaving a worship service in a long while. I also found no need to fret about doctrinal statements or worship style and had no fear of being recruited into ministry opportunities. Instead, as a visitor among Friends, I found a community prepared to seek, jointly and humbly, an experience with the Holy Spirit through expectant waiting.
I left seeking more.