Sunday, 2 August 2015

Reflections of a spiritual leech

I attended Quaker meetings for a couple of years during a turbulent time in my young adulthood.  I had three outside reasons for this:
1) My own church had just dumped its third minister, and I was a bit fed up with the power struggles.
2) The Resident Fan Boy had lost both his job and his mother.
3) I was teaching ESL and felt in need of an anchor of some sort.

I had inside reasons as well, the chief one being the nourishing and healing nature of the Friends Meeting for Worship.  Over the two or three years I attended, I did my best to conform with the rules of the Meeting: entering the hall quietly and promptly, taking a seat in the circles (I prefer the outer circle, of course, not being a Friend), and only speaking when I felt moved to speak.

The moment I wait for is the palpable one when the Silence takes over. At the appointed time, the quiet chat dies away and I feel the Silence, which drops gently over the group like a golden net.  This sounds alarming and oppressive, but it's the opposite.  When I first began, I did feel moved to speak on a number of occasions, but I grew to treasure the rare meeting that passed in absolute silence.

Why did I stop?  A number of factors:  An eccentric lady who, like me, wasn't a Quaker, but attended regularly, took a sudden dislike to me.  (To this day, I suspect she had me confused with someone else, and besides, she died some years ago.) I missed the music and interaction of the Unitarian Service.  (Unitarians occasionally have Quaker-style worship, but can't resist the urge to speak.)  I became a mother, and, being more familiar with Unitarian Religious Education, opted for that.  Besides, I wasn't a Quaker.  Becoming a Quaker is an enormous commitment.

But, oh, I missed the Meeting for Worship!  About five or six years ago, I took the meandering bus ride to the Meeting in Ottawa's Glebe Neighbourhood.  I was in a period of despair and alienation and needed a spiritual fix where I knew I would not be cornered or questioned.  I sat in a far corner, felt the familiar envelopment of the Silence, and wept silently throughout the hour, slipping out before the greeting.

This summer is the first that I've come to Victoria without younger daughter.  A crisis, which I may find the courage to describe some day, overtook us in June, but I had decided long before that we need to explore ways for her to experience the independence she craves.  She and the Resident Fan Boy will join me in a couple of days, and until then, for the first time in more than twenty years, I can decide how to spend my day. This Sunday I was free to make my way to the century-old Meeting House.

I half-expected to spend this meeting in tears as well, but although I felt fragile and withdrawn, the golden net descended, and I felt the peace rub against my cheekbones.  My hands seemed to become part of the surrounding air. I remembered the New Testament story of the woman with the "issue of blood" who was convinced if she could only touch the gown of Jesus, who was surrounded by a milling crowd of supplicants, she would be healed.

Is that what I am?  A spiritual leech without the commitment to Quakerism, but taking the healing anyway?  This morning, I didn't care.  I sat observing what has changed and what has remained the same.  The gathering is older, and no one began the meeting with a reading.  No children, but this is a summer meeting, so that is not so unusual.  The faces remained as kind and the clothing as simple as I remembered, although I recognized no one.  I held mental images of those I love and those who are a trial to me "in the Light", as the Friends put it, and asked for healing for myself, my daughters, and my ailing friends.  If the Friends felt the power draining from the circle, they gave no sign.

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