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!”
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.
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?
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.
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.”
I love the fresh opportunity the New Year brings, but this January I’m going to try something different when it comes to resolutions. Instead of worrying about my appearance (especially losing those last pesky pounds), I’m going to focus on resolutions for my spirit.
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.
But in the central innermost region of our minds there shines one pure ray of direct Light from the very Throne of God; one ray which belongs to each one individually; which is for that one supreme and apart; the ray which shining from the heavenward side of conscience, and so enlightening and purifying it, must of necessity dominate the whole being.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909
Have you ever wondered how Quakers center down and open to the Light? How they sit patiently for an hour in silence, waiting for messages from the Beyond That Is Within? In April, Reno Friends gathered for a worship sharing to explore these questions.
Reno Friends Meeting is currently taking a hard look at how we interact with each other. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of discernment in our Meeting life. Discernment is a process dear to Quaker hearts, and an important tool to figuring out the proper path for both the Meeting and ourselves as individuals. But what does discernment entail, and how does it differ from judgment?
Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence. During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence. Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.