I know now that Quakers refer to people who walk in the door as “Seekers.” I’m not sure that always fits.
I stumbled into my first Meeting almost by accident.
One Wednesday morning I was helping a friend who teaches with the outdoors program at the Delaware Valley Friends School.
We were at Camp Onas, in Bucks County, Pa. A Quaker Meeting was part of the schedule for the day. So I went.
I’ve been an Outward Bound instructor for years, and I’ve learned that silence is rare whenever teenagers are gathered together. So it was a moving experience to sit among children and share a profound and respectful silence, broken only by a couple of short, thoughtful comments.
Was I was actively “seeking” anything? I’m not sure I was. But shortly afterwards I found my way to a couple of Meetings, at Race Street in Philadelphia (where I was working regularly with Outward Bound) and near my home in Annapolis, Md.
I’ve sometimes wondered if what I was looking for was the silence – the peculiar experience of silence as shared by a community. I find what happens in the silence of a Quaker Meeting to be remarkable. Sometimes it’s clear to me that others’ minds are focused on thoughts very different from my own. At other times an invisible thread seems to link me to other people in the room, as another worshipper gives voice to a thought that was already resonating in my own mind.
I don’t come from a Quaker background. I was brought up as a Baptist. I miss the hymns. There are elements of my upbringing that still resonate with me; a questioning of central authority, for example (despite the stereotype, Baptist congregations can be very independent), or an unwillingness to force children to declare a religious affiliation until they’re old enough to think for themselves. I find those leadings are important to Quakers too.
But what also strikes me is that Quakers live the lives they preach. I have a fiery commitment to equal access to education, to dignity and respect for the homeless, to justice for immigrants. In Annapolis, Quakers are involved in all of those causes and more – prison outreach, opposition to torture, water rights in the Middle East, peace and justice on the streets. I was looking for a community like this for years, and I didn’t know it.