Sunday, February 04, 2007

First Day Wobblies

As always, when I got done with Quaker meeting this morning, I was surprised at how tired I was. I remember Peter, during our courtship, once writing me one of his patented drop-dead-sincerity letters. The emotional honesty and self-reflection were (as usual for him) uncompromising, and when he got to the end of the letter he wrote, "Ugh. 10:30 AM and I'm ready to go back to bed. Emotional honesty is hard work."

Quaker meeting is hard work, too, though work of the best kind, and I typically forget, from week to week, how draining it is. Not draining in a bad way, exactly--more like in the same way a good sweatlodge is draining. You know you need to drink plenty of fluids and treat yourself tenderly for the rest of the day... let the spiritual cleansing take hold.

I don't know if all Quakers quake, but I know that I do... often, after a meeting, my knees are wobbly. Anytime I hear another Quaker mention having a similar reaction, I'm reassured. I feel quite awkward and self-conscious about the ways my response to worship seems... what's the word? The Britishism "twee" comes to mind. But I think I'm really talking about looking or acting the way I imagine someone would look or act if they were trying to seem "spiritual-er than thou." I value the depth of the worship that sometimes makes me wobbly. And I value the tenderness of heart that sometimes results in my eyes going teary. But I don't actually relish the runny nose and wobbly knees. I am also wicked self-conscious about it.

I hate to seem maudlin. And, since turning 40, never mind going Quaker, I'm afraid I leak a lot. Long distance phone commercials can make me weepy, never mind going into that place of deep communion that sometimes comes in worship. I can get myself all tied up in knots over this, so it's incredibly reassuring when down to earth, no-nonsense Quakers like Jill H, describe feeling tired after meeting.

Maybe I picked this self-consiousness up among Pagans. Not that Pagans are (as Quakers sometimes seem to me to be) dressed in neutral tones in their emotional expressions. Quite the reverse--I have seen some amazing histrionics among prima donna High Priestesses in my day. And very often, the Pagan priests and priestesses I respect most deeply are, when not Carrying deity in a ritual, the most unassuming. It's like the old riddle: Q: how can you tell the elders in a group of Pagans? A: They're the ones wearing street clothes. The flowing robes and fancy titles, and the self-important airs, are the domain of posers. And I seem to have taken in a message about avoiding the appearance of drama. Not a bad instinct, in some ways, but an unnecessary straight-jacket at times.

I remember a recent Ministry and Worship meeting when Geoff L was reading aloud from a report on ministry from a member of the meeting. Our meeting does not record gifts in ministry... but if we did, we'd certainly record hers. As Geoff read her letter out loud to us, I found that it evoked for me a very strong sense of what I experience in worship, quite often in her ministry. I found that I had to do all kinds of mental gymnastics not to go weepy over it. So there I was, blinking, looking at the light fixtures, chewing the inside of my mouth... anything to keep from tearing up.

And then Geoff paused, and you could hear the emotion in _his_ voice. And I looked up, and, wow. Everyone was feeling it, and you could see it in our eyes.

What an unimaginable relief.

And this week, we had a meeting for worship that I, at least, was very deeply moved by. And I wobbled out for fellowship, and enjoyed talking to one fFriend and another... poured myself a truly horrible cup of tea, went to pour it out... and, in a chat over soap-suds, learned that R. was feeling dizzy. No big deal. Not coming down with the flu. Just a slight case of post-meeting dizziness.

There we all are, standing around, discussing jobs and kids and tea and coffee, washing up and scheduling meetings with one another, and how many of us are still vibrating, like plucked guitar strings.

I still feel really, really wierd about it. Outward and visible signs and all. It's hard to trust the people around me to be simply matter-of-fact, neither unduly impressed nor unduly wierded-out if some of the more prosaic aftereffects of worship are visible to the naked eye.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Having just posted this entry tonight, I happened to follow a link from QuakerQuaker to a new (to me) blog called The Friendly Funnel, where I discovered an entry that gives another echo of the whole "what it feels like" of Quaker meeting.

One of the very odd things about this is the way that there is this whole sub-population of people who deal with these experiences in the most straightforward way... when most of the rest of the world doesn't even have a clue what we're talking about.

Even Pagans, accepting as we are of experiences outside the ordinary, don't often manage that simple acceptance of our realities that I keep being astonished to bump up against among Quakers.

seeking chivalry said...

Wow. Thank you for this post.

That's exactly the kind of feeling I've always _wanted_ to get at a religious ceremony - of any sort - and haven't been able to. Thank you for reminding me that if I keep looking for it I _will_ find it, and for having the courage to speak out about it!

Catherine/Arachne said...

Wow. As a former Quaker, and a current Pagan going through a long, dark night of the soul, I really enjoyed this article. I wish, with all my heart, that our local Monthly Meeting was welcoming of those who are not Christian, because I truly got SO much out of Meeting for Worship and I miss it badly. I remember quaking with emotion after meeting, it was an awe-some experience.

You are truly blessed by being able to be part of both worlds!

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