I recently attended an Episcopal service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a ceremony filled with thundering organ music, priests in crimson robes, and prayer after prayer. It had been years since I attended a religious service with so much pomp and finery, and I admit it was moving. The gorgeous stained-glass windows and soaring arches of the cathedral, the echoing hymns of the choir as it processed down the long aisle, the haunting recitative of the prayers. The only thing missing was silence.
I was there to witness the ordination of my niece, who became an Episcopal priest that morning. My family, it turns out, casts a wide religious tent. There are Congregationalists, Unitarians, Quakers, Episcopalians, Methodists, Jews, Catholics and atheists. In the Episcopal Church my niece finds a richness in worship that inspires her and opens pathways to the divine. I understand that: many prefer to worship through song and repeated prayer, or find solace and wisdom in sermons and liturgical readings.
For me, however, the absence of the silence is unsettling. Halfway through the service, I closed my eyes to allow my mind to bend inward toward the place where I find God. I am deeply proud of my niece, but I found I could not participate in the sacrament of communion, even though I had the opportunity to take the wafer and blessing from her hand. The Quakers rejected priests and sacraments nearly 400 years ago. Once I learned to “wait silently in the Light,” I’ve never again hungered for more traditional worship.
Still, it was a stirring service, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It reminded me how important it is to appreciate and respect the ways other people and religions reach for God. The British Yearly Meeting has an appropriate query about this: “Do you work gladly with other religious groups in the pursuit of common goals? While remaining faithful to Quaker insights, try to enter imaginatively into the life and witness of other communities of faith, creating together the bonds of friendship.”
At the end of the day, we all walk our own spiritual paths, and the variety of our choices provides a wealth of experience. How lucky we are to be able to make our path our own.
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting
email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting