This is the second of my blogs on The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The first was essentially a book review (https://www.renofriends.org/the-book-of-joy/#more-5464). This second blog is about my experiences of cultivating joy using the practices in the book over the last six months.
We all have something to say about loss, because all of us have experienced it – yearning for what used to be, but is no more. And perhaps, as our years pass, we wrestle with the issue of loss even more, having chewed some of the gristle of life, as it were, not just the low-hanging fruit.
In the past few years, several members and attenders of our Quaker Meeting lost someone important to them – either through death or illness or into the obscurity of dementia. Others had moved, or lost or changed jobs, which entailed other losses.
Quaker Meetings often attract seekers, those who yearn for the mystery and comfort of a spiritual life but who haven’t yet found their spiritual home. There is something about the open silence of unprogammed Silent Worship – the heart of Quakerism – that seekers find welcoming, even liberating. There is no sermon, no lectionary, no spiritual music, so each person can experience the silence in whatever way helps her or him feel and understand the mystery of God.
Throughout the United States, there will be people missing from Thanksgiving tables this year. The pandemic has taken an astonishing toll, and there is scarcely a family that hasn’t lost someone. Along with those who died of Covid, there have been increased deaths from many other causes during the pandemic years, thanks to loneliness and stress. When we gather in a few weeks to offer thanks for the bounty of life, there will be empty seats in many homes.
Reno Friends recently gathered on Zoom in the sacred space of a Worship Sharing to tell each other what we all believed was most important about our Meeting. The pandemic spun us away from one another, and yet – through the efforts of many – we kept our community alive and busy by holding meetings, spiritual discussions, brown bag lunches, and even a Christmas party, all online. We learned to use Zoom, and figured out (through herculean efforts by our tech team) how to hold hybrid worship: in-person and online at the same time. We met outside for a holiday cookie-exchange, and even worshipped from the relative quiet of our shady garden on summer days.
It is Nominating season again, the time of year when our Quaker community tries to identify those who will serve as clerks and leaders of the Meeting in the coming year. Which raises an interesting question: What does it mean to be a leader in a Quaker Meeting? Technically, there are no leaders in unprogrammed Quaker Meetings, such as Reno Friends. Everyone is equal, and no one is in charge. But if there are no leaders, how does a Meeting organize to get its work done? How do Quakers determine how to worship, how to manage their programming and finances, or how to grow?
Last year I took a class at UNR on Qualitative Research which taught methods for conducting in-depth interviews. I was tasked with conducting two interviews about a sociological concept that interested me. Apart from my academics and in my personal life, I had been thinking a lot about my own life: what made me feel passionate, and what I might be here to do. I decided to take the project as an opportunity to interview two people that I thought would speak beautifully on the topic of “the meaning of life,” Rhonda Ashurst of the Reno Friends Meeting and one of the Buddhist priests from the Reno Buddhist Center, Rev. Shelley Fisher. At the root of this question was a desire to feel my soul a little and share an exceptionally profound idea with two incredible people.
Ever since the Quakers broke from the Church of England in the mid-seventeenth century, they have gathered for Silent Worship in plain rooms – ones usually bare of any religious art or symbols. This tradition has served Quakers well, as most Quaker Meetings still prefer simple rooms with few distractions.
Near the end of my two years of teaching in China, Volunteers in Asia (the organization that had hosted me) sent me materials about reverse culture shock. I was so excited about going home that I hadn’t thought about problems I might experience upon re-entry. In some ways, returning to “normal” life as pandemic restrictions ease will be a bit like returning home from a foreign land, and we might smooth the transition by taking time to consider the impact of the last year and anticipate what might come.