Literal Truth Department disclosure here: Batman is not a Quaker.
Not that that's a surprise to anyone familiar with the Dark Knight's career. Though he does not take life, he is a violent vigilante; and even in his life as Bruce Wayne, his life is not only a testimony to luxury, waste, and conspicuous consumption, his corporation, Wayne Enterprises, has numerous contracts with the Defense Department and the C.I.A.
So, lest anyone get the wrong idea here, let me say it straight out: Batman is not a Quaker.
Nonetheless, he attends New England Yearly Meeting of Friends on an annual basis, and Peter, at least, would be lost without him.
What I mean is this:
I've written before about how deep and rich Peter and I have both found the worship at NEYM, particularly in the Meeting for Business. The "Bible half-hour", too, despite a title that kept me away for the first two years attending NEYM, turns out to be gathered, rich, and full, and if I am not a convert to Christianity, I am a convert to attending this time of worship at Sessions each year.
Last year, in particular, I felt like even the casual conversations between workshops and over lunch were challenging me to find new depths within myself. I was aware of the Presence that gathered us together almost the entire time I was awake, and I found myself dreaming Quaker dreams at night. There was a lot of prayer, a lot of breathtaking song, and just a lot of feeling caught up and gathered into God going on for me... for both of us.
Spend too long at an unaccustomed altitude, and a newcomer to the mountains can get sick. Spend enough time deep enough in the oceans, and it's best to surface only very gently and gradually, to keep nitrogen bubbles from forming in your blood.
The spiritual world is like this, too. If I attempt to spend too much time in a state of spiritual profundity, I lose my balance. I start to get strange and distorted ideas of my place in God's (or the gods' if we're talking a Pagan context) universe. Up to a certain point, I can carry communion with the spiritual world gracefully, unselfconsciously, proceeding as Way opens, listening inwardly to the gentle tugs and leadings of the Light working on me.
Beyond that point, I get lost.
Communion with God in whatever form, after all, is largely about transformation of the self, changing to be in better, truer relationship with the Spirit. It's a deep and lasting transformation, from the inside out.
But, if I've been open to that Presence long enough, I start to outrun the quiet leadings that rise from that communion. I start leaning into my transformation, over-enthusiastically trying to second-guess what I'm meant to be and to do tomorrow. I start trying to hustle into being a better Quaker (or, back in the day, a better Pagan, a better worshipper of Herne or the Goddesss) from the outside in.
And that trick never works. It just makes me... stupid. Overexcited and stupid.
Or perhaps the difficulty is this: when I've been opened to Spirit long enough, strongly enough, I need to step away from all that brightness long enough to let the transformations within me... settle. I need to assimilate them into myself, so that they will stay and so that they will take the final shape they were meant to take, not mutate into something grandiose and unreal.
As plants grow and change in the night after their days of photosynthesis, ordinary human beings need a time away from the earth-shattering and soul-filling spiritual encounter. We need, at times, to remember our ordinariness.
And that's where Batman comes in.
Peter always brings a huge stack of comic books to NEYM. Me? I bring a laptop computer loaded with a silly, gaudy, addictive video game, filled with orcs and goblins and zombies for my pixilated alter-ego to hew down in droves.
Both of us, in other words, turn from deep reflectiveness and worship of the Spirit of Peace to comic book violence and mayhem.
So far, neither of us has been remotely tempted to bring all that violence into the dining hall at crowded meals. For whatever it is worth, we do not seem to need to introduce violence into the communal experience of Sessions in order to get our needs met.
But we do feel, both of us, a real hunger to step back from anything that feels remotely spiritual, at least for a few hours every day. And it's tough to get less spiritual than Batman, at least among Friends. (My orcs and goblins have to struggle to keep up... but we make do.)
I know there are those who are able to step back through music and the silly fun of the coffee house show; I know those who find it possible to get their breaks through a long bike ride or a hike. For me, these things, made as they are of the stuff of community life and communion with the natural world, are just other ways of seeing God. And sometimes, I find I must look away from God for a bit. I am not strong enough to bear Her presence, unbroken, for very long.
It was like that in the Pagan world, too, for those who are wondering. After a long enough time of ritual and retreat in the woods with Pagans, Peter and I would both begin to feel the itch for concrete under our feet. And the first junk food stop after a Pagan gathering was always deeply satisfying: the bright lights, the unnatural food, and even the cranky waitstaff were balancing and refreshing to souls that had had, somehow, just a little too much Nature than was good for us.
There's hope, however. I've noticed that not all Friends seem to need as much superficiality as I do to stay grounded and sane in the midst of spiritual encounter. The retreat at Woolman Hill, for instance, which felt so overwhelming and transformative for me, was at least deep and gathered for other attenders. And while I tended to stagger out of our sessions during breaks, feeling a need to slay an orc or eat some deep-fried processed potato food, I noticed that J, from our monthly meeting, was perfectly content to read in his Bible for a bit, and then re-enter prayer or worship alone.
J., in other words, was able to take advantage of the breaks in our work to deepen himself spiritually. He had acclimated to the altitude; or, perhaps it would be better to say that, like an experienced runner, he can run a marathon without needing to stop and walk every few miles.
Perhaps our human spirits, like human muscles, need to be strengthened before they are fit to run long with God.
I find it likely, judging from my own experiences, at least. And I will go on attempting to strengthen mine--I intend to become the best Cat I can for God. But, in the meantime, there's always Batman, ready to back me up when my strength begins to flag.
I will dare to be ordinary as I seek to grow into the Light.