Born again Quaker?
“Be still and cool in thine own mind and spirit.”
— George Fox, Founder of the Society of Friends
I attended Quaker Meeting in West Falmouth, MA, for the first time on Sunday. This new attention to the religious life came about when I discovered that on my maternal grandmother’s side, my first “American” ancestors, were born over 390 years ago, right here in Barnstable County, MA. Barnstable County has the oldest continually running Quaker meeting in the country — and a relatively small portion of my DNA possesses the genetics of the people who helped found it! What a revelation! Stolid and thoughtful folk, this handful of defects broke away from the Church of England and developed their own religious system right around the time Oliver Cromwell was massacring Scots, Irish, and Welshman and the rest of Europe was burning people at the stake as witches (or for being anything but Catholic).
Quakerism, or “The Society of Friends” as it came to be known, was based on radical ideas for the time: among other things, the equality of men and women, an openness and acceptance of different beliefs, and seeking God within oneself rather than God on high.
Unsurprisingly, these philosophies enraged many (especially the tax-collecting clergy). In England and in Massachusetts, Quakers were fined, jailed, condemned as witches, run out of towns, stoned, and in extreme cases, hung for their civil disobedience.
So, in my aversion to hierarchical and unmerited authority, Quaker Meeting sounded fascinating!
It is, in fact, fascinating, but it is also quiet. Very quiet.
At Quaker Meeting, no one stands on a pulpit, preaching from the bible. There are no boring songs to sing out of key. You just sit. And think. And listen to yourself breathe. And listen to the guy next to you breathe. And think some more. And shift uncomfortably in the wooden pew. And hear the lady behind you clear her throat, again, again, and again. And eventually, if you are lucky, you forget that you are sitting and the quietness feels like a meditation, and the people around you become part of that meditation, and you realize that there is a holiness in the silence; in this intentional reflection and quiet acceptance of those around you.
God — or whatever you choose to call him, her, it — exists within, around, above, and beyond us.
I suppose it is still a radical idea, but it’s also rational, realistic, and refreshing. I am not sure if I will attend a meeting again. They only gather once a month, and are a bit granola-y for my comfort level. Plus, I don’t think I could ever truly be a pacifist given my propensity for “fight” as opposed to “flight”, when threatened. But the hour of silence I spent in that quiet little meeting house on Sunday was a revelation.
It was nice to have a reason to just sit and shut out the noise.