Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

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Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

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Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

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Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

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Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

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A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

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Trails

Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

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Release the Fear of Suffering

I woke up this morning with a very clear message, “Release the fear of suffering.” I snuggled in with my beloved partner, Scott, and shared it with him. He then told me he was restless all night, convinced he was having a recurrence of chronic wrist pain. After work with a skilled physical therapist and healer recently, it had completely stopped, with only occasional twinges and some soreness if he used his hands a lot during the day. Finally, he got up and went to get his wrist brace. “As I was walking over to get it, I realized my wrist didn’t hurt. I must have been dreaming, afraid of the pain coming back.”

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Lying Fallow in this Season

The idea of “lying fallow” comes from agriculture. It is an ancient practice used by farmers to rest and restore soil. The idea is to take a field out of production, plow it under and let it lie fallow for a year or two. During this time, nutrients in the soil are renewed so the next crop planted will thrive. As I’ve observed nature, I’ve noticed lying fallow is not just for soil.

As the leaves fall, days shorten and temperatures cool, I find myself craving rest and quiet time at home. I long for spacious hours to draw inward and restore my energy after the exuberant activities of summer. I’m not the only one. The cat spends more hours curled in his baskets, preferably in the sun or on the heated bathroom floor. The bunnies and squirrels in the park appear less often, spending most of their time underground, only coming out when it is warm and sunny.

Yet, this seems to be the busiest time of year for social gatherings and community events. Our calendars fill up with holiday parties, get-togethers, lunches, dinners, coffee dates, shopping, and travel to be with family. Our mailboxes fill with annual holiday greetings and we have a list of our own to get out.

Something in me rails against this busyness which appears at the exact time that I want to be lazy, stay home and rest! In recent years, I’ve become more mindful of how I do this season. I examine every request that comes my way and ask myself if it is an absolute YES; if it isn’t, I politely decline. At times I make exceptions – sometimes what someone else needs is more important than my preferences. I strive to balance my energy, my Light, as Friends like to say.

This year I’m trying something new, a Retreat Day once a week. On this day, I keep my schedule free so I can stay at home and float through my day, doing that which restores me and allows me to settle deeply into myself. I’m an introvert, meaning that I need alone time to restore my energy after I’ve been out and about in our extroverted and busy world.

Here’s what I am noticing about my experiment: I am calmer, slower, more peaceful and thoughtful this season. Knowing I have a Retreat Day to look forward to every week helps me be more present to others, as well as to myself. The bucket I’m giving out of is fuller, so my giving is fluid and easy. I don’t feel drained, over-obligated and resentful. I know I will have the time I need to rest and recharge. I wonder what took me so long to give myself this gift of a day of rest! Like the fields, lying fallow restores me so I can nourish others with joy, and isn’t that what this season is all about?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

(The views expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting)