Friday, July 29, 2011

For Desiree

Recently, someone I admire and care about asked me to share a few words about The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakerism.  I'm shy about doing this.  But because Desiree asked, I'm going to try to explain my new faith practice, and how I came to this decision to worship with Friends.

I'm shy about trying to explain this because I really do not know enough to be an expert.  I graduated from Guilford College, which was founded by Quakers.  It was only after leaving school that I began to attend "Meeting For Worship."

In my childhood and for most of my adult life I was a practicing Catholic.  I never would have expected this of myself as a young person.  That I would discover a completely different way to worship and experience the divine working in my life.

This choice did not hit me like a lightning bolt.  I didn't wake up one morning and decide all of a sudden to change my religious practice.   In fact I was so comfortable with my usual routine of going to Mass on Sundays that visiting other churches made me feel lost and alone.

I feel I must apologize here, because there was an event, actually a series of events that I cannot write about here that influenced my decision.  Something very damaging happened to someone very close to me that affected my entire life.  In addition to that, after my divorce I wasn't feeling very "cozy" sitting in Mass anymore. 

Still, I kept attending our Catholic church, thinking that it was what I must do.  Then Elliot, who was three years old, piped up from his car seat one Sunday morning and said,

"I don't want to go to the Caffowick church today.  I want to go to my school church.

Now, if I was truly obedient and committed fully to being a Catholic, at that time I would have told my son that he has absolutely no choice in the matter.  I would have said that where Mommy goes, he must go.

But as I got closer to the big church on the hill with the stained glass windows, I found myself driving past it with no longing to go in.

Perhaps it was a disobedient act of defiance, but it didn't feel that way.

So Elliot and I went to our first Friends Meeting.  The Friends allowed him to play downstairs in the classroom that he was familiar with, while I enjoyed sitting upstairs.  I mean, I really enjoyed it.   After the message, the entire congregation sat in silence for thirty minutes.  It was absolutely the most peaceful experience I'd had since being a child.  I felt so comforted in the silence. I didn't feel ashamed of who I was or an urgent need to repent, confess, or to change.  I felt good.  And happy.

So I kept going back.

And the more I went, the more I learned.  I learned that Quakers have no official creed, but that they have social and religious testimonies.  The Friends (people who attend Meeting for Worship) are seekers of the Light (another word for God) and they believe that the Holy Spirit is accessible to each individual without intercession from a religious leader.  Even though the Spirit is available to each individual, they believe that our individualism will be brought under control and we will be gathered into community that seeks to know and live out the divine will.
The New Garden Friends meeting where I attend seems to fall into the category of Universalist Liberals, because by their example they say that Quakerism should not be limited to a Christian or Western understanding, so that they may be open to interfaith dialogue.

The Social testimonies that they agree upon are Community, Peace, Simplicity and Equality.

They also agree that all of life has the potential to be sacramental.  That God's love can be experienced in every aspect of life.

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