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It rained today in my Quaker meeting: sun showers that came, and went, and came again.

Today was a good one, when I felt that power of love that holds it all together for us humans, and for the rocks and trees and animals besides. When I felt that thing that makes the Quakers quake--or makes me quake, anyway, and makes my eyes run with inner sun showers.

Call it God. Call it gratitude. Call it joy.

It was my own fault. I sat down in my meeting, and I pulled out Uncle Walt--a book of Whitman's poems. And I turned to one I'd read for the first time just this week, and which I'd flagged to read again one day in worship:
O ME! O life! of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless-—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—-of the objects mean—-of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—-of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring-—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
And, well, that did it. I was awash in joy.

I did it to myself--well, with a little help from the Holy Spirit. I invited Whitman to come to worship with me today. On the other hand, Leonard Cohen walked in on his own.

I've heard it said, by some Christ-centered Friends, that Liberal Quakers don't give enough thought to repentence: that we are often too smug and self-satisfied, and we mistake a pleasant glow of self-approbation for the Light of God.

We need to let the inward Light search us, search us deeply, and show us our faults so we can amend them.

They may be right.

They may be right, but I can't tell. I can't manage fear or mourning or distrust, because I am too overflowing with joy. I can't hear very much over the sound of Leonard Cohen singing "Hallelujah":
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Ali said…
That song is possibly one of my most favorite songs of all time... so absolutely beautiful.

And probably the one I enjoy belting out most in the shower (plus, when I'm feeling tragic or weepy from joy, you can't tell which are the tears and which just the shampoo stinging my eyes ;).
In some ways the best thing about being Quaker is how nobody bats an eye when I get all weepy with joy.

(In my defense, I'm middle-aged. I can always blame my hormones... right?)
Linda J Wilk said…
Hello Cat!
Beautiful post, and with that picture and your words, you took me back to my first Quaker worship, when I knew nothing of Friends, but as a 17 year old troubled teen, sat with a friend through her meeting's worship watching the sun come and go with my prayers, listening to a spiritual discourse about Alice in Wonderland, marveling that God was truly there with me. Tears of joy? Oh yes! Blessings!
Hystery said…
This is beautiful, of course, Cat but I'm commenting here with a baby question. You can bring books with you to MfW? Why did no one ever tell me this? I've never seen it done before. It would make life so much more comfortable for my children if they could bring something to look at.
Sterghe said…
Hystery: By all means, your children--and you--can bring books or small crafts, etc. to help them along. That's a very common bridge at our MM for children who want to try MfW instead of child care for a while, in fact. Try to help them choose something that develops their spirituality and connection if you can.

And, it's OK for adults, too. I used to carry a copy of Faith and Practice to meeting so that if I just couldn't settle into worship, I could at least flip it open to something that might help me to do so! Inspirational poetry, a Bible if that suits you, etc. are well-accepted.

Recently, I learned to knit partly in response to a great discussion elsewhere about the value (for some) or lack thereof (for others) of doing simple, repetitive knitting or needlework during meeting. Knowing myself well enough to know I can get auditory information much better if I'm doing something with my hands, I wanted to try it--and I love it. I've been working on a baby blanket for my goddaughter during meeting ever since. And, when it's done, she'll have a blanket that was not only made for her, but made almost exclusively within the loving embrace of a welcoming and usually gathered meeting. I can't think of a better energy to share with her.

Side note: Whitman, F&P, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. = readily accepted in most meetings I know. Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Janet Daily = not so much. ;)

Thank you for a great post, Cat, and I hope you'll excuse my intrusion into your lovely blog!
Hystery said…

Thank you so much for your response. I know it will help my little ones (and me as well). I've always been afraid to ask, but the hospitality I find with Cat and her readers led me to ask.
@ Sterghe and Hystery:
Reading on the part of children, or by way of a kind of lectio divina, either with the Bible or with other texts, is in fact pretty well accepted at most meetings I know of.

And knitting, quilting, embroidery, and darning old socks are well-accepted at meeting for business, too--in NEYM, at least, the annual sessions business meeting is as well-seeded as a poppyseed bun with all the fiber crafters who are present.

Of course, meeting for business is properly a species of worship, too, and, while I am a near-constant knitter, I do find myself dropping my work into my lap during any difficult discernment work, or when the clerk's table asks us to hold them in prayer... and, often, during memorial minutes read aloud during the meeting. I find that there is a limit to the depth of my centering with knitting in my hands, so when the business meetings are most in need of Spirit leading us, I set it aside... and I've never brought knitting to meeting for worship. Not only isn't that done in my meeting, but it would not feel right--it would limit my ability to hear that inward Voice, not augment it.

(And Sterghe, I'm delighted you chimed in! Good to hear another set of experiences!)
Sterghe said…
:) Thank you, Cat, for sharing your space!

Before I even say anything else, I realized that signing in to Blogger hid my name in order to display my Google/Facebook ID. That's fine, since I use Sterghe all over the internet, but please let me introduce myself (to anyone who doesn't already know me) more openly: I'm Weavre Cooper, of North Branch Friends in Pennsylvania, USA.

There. Back to the conversation. :)

Knitting during worship ... with a bit of experience now, I've found that long row after long row of identical stitches is generally helpful for my ability to center and connect. I usually find my hands coming to rest once my spirit does, and that's OK, too; it's a bridge for me, not a destination. Also, I wouldn't try anything that required a pattern or even counting, in this context. Perhaps because getting information that's said out loud can be challenging for me, I sometimes knit a little more if someone offers more than a few words of vocal ministry, but my focus remains on the message, not the knitting.

Times I do focus on the knitting: (1) when the image of my goddaughter snuggling into it, safe and loved, enters my consciousness; then I tend to focus that imagery into the blanket to allow it to "absorb" that kind of energy, and (2) on occasion, when the act of creating, or of ordering the yarn, or of connecting the stitches, or something like that, itself offers a seed that grows into a message (usually, but not always, unshared) from the silence.

My meeting's been fine, even a little interested, with the idea. I've not done it elsewhere, so I have no firsthand information about how other Friends would respond.

What are your thoughts?
Hystery said…
I have long felt that crocheting was a form of meditation for me. Weavre's words resonate with me. I have never seen anyone in any of the three meetings I attend reading or knitting or crocheting. Or if I do I do not remember. I am glad to know it is commonly accepted because it seems such a good thing.

As for being a liberal Friend who does not feel repentance, that seems a rather arrogant thing for a Christ-centered Friend to think. I cannot imagine someone saying it in your presence, Cat. I cannot imagine someone hinting that you are smug or that you lack true spiritual depth. Sadly, too many times this week I have heard that we who are not Christ-centered are not bathed in the same Light. I have felt repentance, joy, fear, love, and exhilaration beyond words in the presence of that which I call Beloved, Holy, and Ineffable. What an easy thing it seems to say that because other souls do not sing the songs you know, it means they do not love music.
Mary Ellen said…
A lovely post and lovely conversation to come into. I would personally not be settled or centered by working with my hands during worship, but I've peeked at the Psalms (loaded on my Palm PDF device) on occasion to find a phrase to carry with me into silence. Meeting for Business - making tiny mandalas in the margins of the budget can help me stay in my chair, but when we have some deepening to do, it works best to focus on breathing and close my eyes. I'm not bothered at all by others' worship practices, as long as they aren't majorly rustly or clicky. Now - the "repentence" thing - I think I need the leverage of joy to be strong enough to repent. That is, I need the absolute assurance of the loving Presence in order to joyfully let go of habits or states of mind that are obscuring the light in my life. It might be a temperament thing; perhaps some souls need to do the purgation first. I can only speak for myself.
Sterghe said…
One more interesting thought on this idea. Apparently my son Tommy has a friend (male Young Adult Friend) who * always * crochets or knits during meeting. He brings a selection of yarn in a bag, and turns out at least one small item, usually a hat, during meeting; the item itself is whatever he feels led to make. Then he gives it to someone, very often someone who attended that meeting, also as he feels led. Sometimes that turns out to be someone whose day was just tremendously brightened by being unexpectedly gifted with a handmade item created during meeting. Other times, the recipient seems a little surprised and confused, and he tells the person that he's sure he should give the hat to this person, but that the intended end recipient may be someone they'll get it to--such as a client at some organization where they'd choose to donate it.

I'm not good enough, by any stretch, to turn out a beautiful hat without thinking too much in an hour or so, so I'm a long way from this. But I love the idea that the ministry this young man is repeatedly led to share during meeting is something so very tangible, selfless, and loving.

And, thank you to Hystery and Cat for the incentive to mention this to my threads and hear this neat anecdote!
"I think I need the leverage of joy to be strong enough to repent."

Mary Ellen, thank you! That's a lovely way to put it.

One thing is for sure; I don't think the times I'm caught up in joy in a meeting are a sign of my unique wonderfulness. And I'm not being facetious when I say that Friends who wonder if Liberal Friends need to focus more on repentance and inward searching (or, rather, allowing the Light to search us) are perhaps right.

For certain, I am at least as arrogant as the next privileged, overeducated middle-class white lady out there.

But sometimes the Spirit says, "Joy." And I hope that I at least have the strength to remember those times, and even in the midst of whatever repentance I may find myself in one day, remember to "stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."

It is such a gift, such an unearned and amazing gift, simply to be alive. And there are times when celebrating that is enough, and more than enough, and even, at times, all that I am asked to do.
Oh, yeah--though I don't use knitting or spinning at times when I am centering into worship, I do find that--and I feel awfully self-conscious about this, because I'm sure it looks so precious, but, well, it helps, actually, so I do it anyway--placing my hands over my heart is helpful.

For those of you who may be acquainted with Reiki... my Reiki almost always comes on at those times. And my worship seems to deepen.

(Just, please believe me when I say I do this in spite of how it looks, OK? Really, really, I am not trying to look all pious and prayerful!)
Jeffrey Hipp said…
Jessica and I have been reading Whitman to one another before bed as of late. Much of Leaves of Grass is Scripture for me. I look forward to our finding this one!

An interesting side-note about repentance -- it's a greatly misunderstood word. For full disclosure, I should declare myself a one of those Christians who thinks he and his fellow Liberal Friends need to repent more.

The Greek word used for repentance in the Christian Scriptures is "metanoia", which you can translate in a whole bunch of interesting and illuminating ways: “To change one’s heart.” “To change direction,” or my personal favorite: “To put on a new mind.” It doesn't translate into "beat yourself up and feel really, really bad."

I change my heart from hiding behind fear to living in joyful faithfulness.

I put on a new mind, so that I may see and honor the gifts of love, beauty, and truth God has given me.

It's not about the guilt -- it's about the transformation. And transformation leads to joy. And thankfulness. And shouting Hallelujahs.

I think the fear and sadness reported in the classic Friends convincement stories might be a noteworthy and natural side effect of having your inner furniture re-arranged, but they aren't the crux of repentance -- the transformed life is.
Oooh, Jeff! Wow!

"I change my heart from hiding behind fear to living in joyful faithfulness.

"I put on a new mind, so that I may see and honor the gifts of love, beauty, and truth God has given me."

Well, with that definition of repentance, set me down for that. That totally speaks--maybe not to my condition, but to the condition I desire.

Thanks for that one. And, as they say on the Wiccan side of the street, "So mote it be!"
Hystery said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Ellen said…
Wow - I'm glad I stopped back again, because I can only append a fervent "amen to that," Jeff. But it is sometimes a fearful thing to drop the old, outworn, constricting (familiar) things in my life.
Sterghe said…
Wow--thank you, Jeff, for sharing your powerful words. Now I have lots of great thoughts tumbling around in the wake of your post!

I think I'm going to start my mornings, for a time, with your definition:

"I change my heart from hiding behind fear to living in joyful faithfulness.

"I put on a new mind, so that I may see and honor the gifts of love, beauty, and truth God has given me."

Thank you!
Liz Opp said…
Jeff, so great to see you here! And since I'm getting ready to do a workshop about dirty words that make Quakers wince, I'd like to add "repent" to the list and refer to your comment here. Would that be okay?

As to other reflections I've been having about this post and its related comments, I'll be adding those next.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Liz Opp said…

I have a few thoughts that aren't yet reflected in the comments... I hesitate to bring them up because in one important way, they diverge from the sentiment that is here, which has drifted a bit from the beauty of what you shared in your post originally.

...I am one of those Friends who believe that the sense of the corporate worship is... not harmed necessarily, but somehow undermined or made less intense... when Friends are engaging in different activities during worship.

I say "activities" because that is what I see or observe or have heard about:

Some Friends are journaling.

Some Friends are doing hand-work (knitting, cross-stitch, etc.).

Some Friends are reading.

Some Friends [have told me they] are doing a form of Buddhist meditation...

Cat and maybe a few other readers know this about me, that I offer these comments with great tenderness, and a healthy dose of care, too:

The thing is, I "get" that we as individual worshipers want to center down during waiting worship, and we want to use whatever tools and methods will help us do that--as individuals.

When then, if ever, do we lay aside our concern for the quality of our individual worship and add our Light to the developing sense of corporate worship?

Or perhaps they are one and the same and I am missing something...? I certainly experience them differently!

Or maybe I am just too disconnected from the worshipful intention of the Friends engaged in specific activities, and so I find their activities distract me from my own engagement of the corporate worship, at least at times.

Here's another question that rises for me:

If corporate worship is the same as when many individuals come together to worship at the same time, then why do Friends talk about, write about, and yearn for a gathered meeting?

I explore this theme in an early post I wrote in 2005, about coming together at a dinner table and listening intently to our Dinner Guest...

I continue to worry about what visitors believe is "acceptable" during worship if there is seldom an explicit explanation of Quaker worship--the active form of listening for God together by stripping away all that is NOT God.

I hope I am making some sense. It's a touchy subject for me, obviously. And I hope my sense of care for how I explore it comes through.

I lift these questions up because they have not left me for a few hours after reading Cat's post and the subsequent comments.

I'm sure I'll return here and read with a tender heart your responses...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Hystery said…
We have not seen people reading and crocheting and I do not know that I would wish to do so except that I feel that if several people were crocheting, I would be able to do it too and center into worship quite well. I do not know that I could do it if I were the only one crocheting. That would feel weird and conspicuous. Reading is another thing. In reading, I am deeply engaged with the words, not necessarily with the Spirit. However, I think that reading in worship and/or doing handiwork of some quiet kind might be quite good for children. We do not have a first day school and it is difficult and tiresome for people who are very young to sit listening to grown-ups breathe through their noses, clear their throats and shift in their seats. When I was a child, I was expected to sit quietly in worship service from my toddler days on but Mom always had crayons and quiet activities for us as we gradually transitioned over time into a mature ability to meaningfully engage in the service.
@ Liz,
Liz, thanks for adding your perspective. In my mind, there is a difference between using a brief reading as an assist to centering down at the beginning of worship, and continuing to read throughout meeting. I also feel different about knitting, crocheting, etc. in worship (as opposed to worship for business OR Pagan group trance work, interestingly enough); I am wondering if the distinction I feel lies in establishing exactly that sense of gathering, and of Friends' worship as a communal and not an individualistic practice, that you describe.

I do think it hurts the worship when we are all doing different things. I do not think it hurts the worship to begin with individual "doors into worship," even when those spill into the meeting itself. But there does need to be a releasing of those individual practices as we deepen into community.

I note that my practice of knitting in meetings for business does seem to be bounded by the relative need to be actively gathered in worship; if I'm listening to a report from the grounds committee on repairing the driveway, my needles are up and clacking. But if we are attempting to discern the will of Spirit for our meeting in terms of how we will proceed with a minute of concern, or an issue around our kids' programming, or any of the other issues that take some deep listening, the needles drop to my lap without even thinking about it.

I'm not saying this is how it is for others, or how it ought to be. But it is what I find.

As for the small secular distractions, whether it's a fidgety child or elder, a ringing cell phone (so embarrassing! so common!) or sitting next to someone who seems clearly NOT to be attempting Friends' worship, but some other thing entirely... I find that inwardly embracing the humanness, the sweet fallibility of the other person, often deepens my worship as much as the original distraction may have lessened it.

Of course, my sense is that my monthly meeting is particularly good, at this moment in its life cycle, at going deep into the communal well of listening to God, so I am very well supported in that practice. It would no doubt be far harder in a meeting where those who were bobbing along at the surface, engaging in a secular substitution for Friends' worship, or doing a very individualistic something else, were in the majority. (In fact, on the occasions I have found myself in such company, I have had a very hard time indeed staying out of becoming flat out uncharitable and judgmental--something I'm pretty sure is not what Quaker worship is meant to be!)
@ Hystery:
We have often, at my meeting, had the practice of bringing our First Day School kids in for the last ten minutes of meeting. (We chose the last ten minutes, as a meeting, on the theory that the meeting is likely to be most centered in worship at that point... and therefore, that the kids would experience Quaker worship at its best among us, not its weakest.) And it has often been a practice of having small hand crafts and twiddlies--pipe cleaners, etc.--on hand for the kids to use as they sat in silence with us.

We've gone back and forth about that as a meeting, with some members thinking we are underestimating our youngest members. After all, time was when there was no such thing as First Day School, and all Quaker kids would be with their parents on the benches every First Day, as a matter of course. And by only exposing them to a limited time of worship, or by handing them something to twiddle with, are we giving them the message that worship is not for them? Others see the practice as more benign, as a good thing.

In any case, it is customary for kids who feel curious about the grown up meeting (or led?) to join us for the full hour if they choose. And it has certainly been deemed acceptable for them to have access to a book or a small stuffed animal or such if they choose--though not all do. Some stay the full hour; others leave to return to First Day School when their tolerance for silent worship has been reached.

Another local custom of our meeting is what we call our "Blue Moon Sunday," in which it is actively expected that kids will attend silent worship for the full hour. Some families choose to stay home that week, because either the adults or the kids don't feel that it is appropriate for them. Sadly, some adults typically stay home that week, too, feeling that the worship will be less deep because of the presence of fidgeting kids.

But for many of us, it has become a high point of the year. Lately, we've taken to having some of our older, pre-adolescent kids take on the task of greeter that morning--something normally handled by an adult member of Care and Counsel--and for being the person who starts the introductions and announcements after meeting. I, personally, absolutely adore those occasions! I love seeing our younger members in a new light, and watching them grow into new roles in our meeting. It's also the custom for the First Day School and our Young Friends to create and post around the meeting room various placards with queries--something we don't ordinarily do, but which, coming from our kids, I relish.

All of these practices have arguments pro and con; all of them are subject to much discussion and deep discernment on the part of our "supercommittee" of Care and Counsel, Ministry and Worship, the nursery, First Day School, and Young Friends committees. I doubt there is any single right approach, and even at a meeting of our (relatively) large size, there are always complaints and things we can't quite seem to pull off.

But in a way, that's encouraging. We are all trying, large meetings and small, to find ways to honor and engage our youngest members... while balancing them with the needs of their (sometimes cranky and cantankerous) elders.

A lot doesn't work well. But we keep trying. And sometimes, the kids themselves have wonderful things to offer us by way of answers.
Hystery said…
In the larger meeting we attend, there is a First Day School and the kids leave after fifteen minutes and then come back in for the last several minutes which gives the meeting some 30 to 40 minutes between the exodus and the re-entry. But as far as I can see, the First Day School is not of much use except as a convenience. In our home meeting, there is no First Day School so the children sit with us until they cannot sit still at all and then we slip out. I hope we are not too disruptive in our comings and goings. I nod at the children and we rise from our seats and slip out. Unfortunately, we have no place to slip to so that makes it awkward and inconvenient for us but I'd rather they be part of the worship for as long as they can than be segregated by age group and taught bland liberal well as the lesson that worship is for adults.
Sterghe said…
Just a couple quick thoughts to share during a quick break in which I peeked back in to this thread:

My own experience (recent only) of knitting during meeting: It helps me both to center as an individual and to connect to others in worship, and that's good for the energy I bring to the rest of the group, too. As I mentioned before, as I settle into worship, my hands generally still of their own accord. As an educator fascinated with the ways human minds learn and process new material in general, I'd now like to explore the parallels and connections between how people center for worship, and learning styles/learning differences. But, I'll have to shelve that thought for another time.

Children in meeting, etc.: Our very small meeting made an explicit and strong commitment to the care and education of our children, recognizing this as central to our meeting's health and growth despite our small size. Until this year, we had someone to teach First Day School during adult discussion, leaving child care simply an option during meeting for worship. This year, though, we didn't have sufficient volunteers to manage that schedule, as both my teenage children wanted to participate in adult discussion during a Q101 series. We suddenly realized, though, where we were boxing ourselves into a corner, and saw a solution: we provided child care during adult discussion, and First Day School during MfW; my son offered to miss MfW to do this, as he really wanted to be part of adult discussion. It wasn't ideal, but the reality is that there's no separate activity for children if there's no older person willing to miss something to do it.

Our children have been greatly enjoying PYM's "Quaker Kidz Bring the Peace!" curriculum recently, and I'll add an enthusiastic voice of support for its ideas and approach. Tommy starts First Day School with a very short (5-10 min) period of worship, and then they carry out the day's plan. They return to MfW for the last 5-15 minutes or so of worship, and I agree with Cat that bringing them in for the end of worship seems generally more desirable than having them miss that already-gathered feeling.

Tommy's pointed out that kids tend to let go of themselves faster, and that he's sometimes (not always) felt a strong, spiritual presence as a gathered group during the kids' own shorter shared worship before their lessons.

This is an interesting thread!
I'll just add that one commitment our meeting has made to our kids is that I believe our only paid position is the head of our child-care program. Adults do assist and volunteer with First Day School, and you are right, that always means someone must miss meeting for worship.

That's the reason why it was decided we would hire an outside person--not a Quaker--to care for the littlest children, pre-nursery school age. That way we can always offer that basic support to parents of young children, and no member needs to miss worship.

We're a relatively large meeting (for Quakers) with usually about forty--sixty or so adults in attendance on any given week, and of course a larger total membership than that. That makes it financially doable for us, and it might not be for all meetings.

We do still struggle with the balance between kids' programming and simply bringing kids into worship, and we struggle more with programming that helps us to retain adolescents and families with teenagers.

But that's a thread for a different day, perhaps.
Hystery said…
My sister and I spoke today and as so often happens, we were unconsciously ruminating along similar lines. She's been reading a book called Contemplative Crochet by a Quaker. Here's a link:

Contemplative Crochet
kevin roberts said…

Exodus 18:3 And her two sonnes, of which the name of the one was Gershom: for he said, I haue bene an alien in a strange land.

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