Photo credit Canned Muffins
When we lived in Maryland and I was a cyclist, a friend I bicycled with was a Quaker. We’d ride 40 or 50 miles together through the hills of rural Maryland, and she’d tell me about Quaker Meeting.
“There’s no central figure — no pastor, no sermon. Everyone is equal. We sit in benches in a square, all facing the center of the Meeting-house room. There’s no altar.”
This was unlike any religious service I’d been to or heard of.
“Nobody speaks,” she said. “The room is silent. If someone feels moved — by the Spirit, by God — they stand and share. Then they sit and the room is silent again.”
I liked the sound of this. Silent. Contemplative. Spiritual. Equal.
“We call each other Friend,” she said.
I liked the sound of this, too, and I told her so.
“You want to come with me some time?”
The following Sunday, I could barely breathe through my nose. My nasal passages were constricted, swollen, blocked. Otherwise I felt fine, and we splashed through puddles on our bikes on a dreary, rainy morning. The Meeting-house was warm and dry, and Shelly and I found a seat on a smooth pine bench. There was a piano next to us in the corner, and a mother and her children played lively hymns, plinking, singing, and laughing. The room was filled with the healthy chatter of Friends seeing each other again.
At the beginning of Meeting, which nobody announced, a silence fell on the room. The shift was swift and complete. I inhaled through my congested nose, and suddenly my passages cleared. In the silence, I could breathe — freely, clearly.
For several minutes I heard only the occasional creak of a bench. For several more I sat in contemplative silence. I lost track of time. Had we been sitting for ten minutes or forty? Through the window across the room, I watched evergreen boughs drip in the rain.
To my left, in the rows of benches against the wall adjacent to ours, a man stood.
“On our way to Meeting this morning, we rushed around, stressed about work from the week, about the laundry, the groceries, the muddy footprints in the hall. About getting to Meeting on time. My wife and I had short tempers as we tried to get out the door.”
The room waited. Quiet. Listening.
“On our way down the steps to the driveway, I saw a spiderweb. In the shrubs next to our porch. It glistened with raindrops. Its beauty, its slowness shut down the hurry in my brain. Full of imperfections – a torn thread here, a difference in spacing there — it was perfect.”
He paused, thinking of the spider web.
“A spider had slowly, and without distraction, built its home here, and the morning had decorated it with droplets that shone like diamonds. Straightforward and simple, an unfurnished home for a spider, its elegance stopped me in my tracks. It reminded me of the wonder of this world we live in, and to not be blind to it.”
And he sat down. I thought about what he said. About my own tendency to get caught up in details, tasks, to-dos that clutter my mind and my life. About moving too fast, juggling too many things that ultimately distract me from the business of living.
Meanwhile, spiders slowly spin webs of silk. Creatures find or make shelter. They eat. They reproduce. They exist in the world.
All around us, beautiful things are happening.
The remainder of the meeting we sat in silence. Shelly and I splashed through puddles again on the bike ride home. I listened to the splishing sound the water made when my tires swooshed through a puddle. I saw the beauty in the rain that dripped from my slicker visor. I breathed freely through my nose.
I liked these new Friends.