How I became a Christian Quaker
Exposed to elements of Christianity all around me, I hungered for Faith ever since childhood. After college, I worked for a Catholic nursing facility in Ohio. One day while sitting and holding a disabled woman’s hands while moving through the last decade of a rosary, saying the prayers she could no longer voice herself, a co-worker stopped to watch. I finished by taking the patient’s hand in mine and making the sign of the cross together.
“That was so beautiful. I didn’t know you were Catholic,” she told me as she walked with me to my next appointment down the hallway.
“I’m not, but she is. I’m just helping,” I responded. And I remember to this day how I wished at that moment that I had Faith, and felt that the woman I had helped, unable to speak, too unsteady to hold the beads and feel them one by one during the ritual, brain-damaged to the point where she couldn’t raise her hand to her own forehead, was somehow better off than myself.
And I remember when my job running group homes sometimes meant taking one of the clients to an African Methodist Episcopal church, for a three-hour gospel service. The service was exuberant—people “got the spirit” and literally threw themselves down at the altar, or broke down in tears in the pews and were led to the front by their neighbor. The music, the energy, was astounding, and I stood there in the membership of over 800 swaying people, placing my illiterate client’s hands on the passages referred to in the service, bewildered that such an emotional world could surround me on every side and still leave me with nothing more than an appreciation of their beautiful faces while they contemplated God’s spirit moving them.
My Grandfather often took me with him to his Methodist church. We sat in “his” pew, where black-bound, gold-lettered Bibles he donated were held in a rack on the back of the forward oaken bench. He was active in his church, taking turns as greeter, sometimes sitting on the board that managed the rental house the pastor didn’t need. We ate lunch afterwards in the basement, sharing the wonderful, important talk of a small town’s occupants, while eating from the expansive pot luck buffet.
I longed to really belong with these people, any people of Faith. There was a sense of family, a comforting presence when I visited the Hindu Temple, the Korean Temple, a Baptist tent revival, a Catholic passion play. But after trying synagogues and temples and all manner of holy houses, I just didn’t believe. And I just couldn’t lie and say I did.
And it mattered. I felt saddened and left out when in funerals, listening to the bereaved who were comforted by their calming faith. And again in a coffee house when I discovered the young couples near me were actually a church group, discussing the curriculum plans for their students, filled with excitement about puppet shows, describing pouring plaster-of-Paris “Roman coins.” Even church rummage sales, when eavesdropping on conversations about upcoming summer bible camp and fundraisers for a new roof, I was like a waif in the window, watching the wealthy dine on fine food they ate every day. They were not aware I would have eaten scraps from the floor beneath their feet.
My grandfather’s minister offered me an associate membership at his Methodist church. This was a kindness, he knew I was practicing Zen, but also knew of my search for—something more.
“I think, the most important thing is to keep attempting to have a relationship with God,” he told me. And in his simple statement he actually offered me the answer, gathering into a few words and a single sentence, the secret key that made my entire life change, but the epiphany was yet to come.
One day years later, a friend and I were walking together. I asked her to “sum up” her beliefs for me—what was God, in her words? As she was raised Mormon, and followed many feminist philosophies, while a student of Middle Eastern Culture, I was curious about how she blended these very different traditions. She answered, and we discussed various rituals and practices. Suddenly, she told me about a place of worship to consider for my search, a place I’d never considered before.
“You sound a little like my Quaker friend, the things you are saying,” she told me.
“Your what?” And we spoke of what she had heard from her Quaker friend.
I studied, and asked questions.
That next Sunday morning, BooTheCat laid on a folded blanket by his favorite bird-o-vision window, tail flickering while he sang to the creatures alighting on the feeders. At the same time, I was sitting in a plain room in simple clothes. This Meeting for Worship without a minister, without decorations on the walls, without music or hymnals or collection envelopes, fit me, was comfortable, was quiet and still.
That first visit, I closed my eyes, no stranger to meditation, but this was different, this Sitting and Listening. This was a brand-new experience. I had a vision.
Years before, I suffered from a re-occurring nightmare about hitting a deer with my vehicle. During the day, the man I loved would berate me, eating away pieces of my self-esteem and my belief in all good things. Graduate school was limiting my meals, stealing my sleep, demanding my every moment. Reflected in my dreams, my painful days conveyed my sense of impending danger. I would swerve, the deer would jump and crash through the windshield into my lap, injured, thrashing violently, injuring me. Years later, when I felt safer, I dreamed I swerved, and the deer stood still in the darkness while I passed him, slow motion, as he watched me. We passed each other harmlessly, but with distance between us, unable to touch, untrusting even to blink.
More than ten years had gone by since I had swerved in that final dream. The first time in the meeting, my vision had the same deer, and this time, we were in a meadow together. I sat upon green grass, wearing a full, dark wool skirt and had a shawl around my shoulders. The deer was beside me upon the ground. I stroked his head and neck, kindly and gently, feeling his pulse under my fingertips, his ear brushing my cheek softly. Then he got up and bounded silently away. When I opened my eyes, I felt a sense of Peace, deep and tangible, and used the sleeve of my turtleneck shirt to wipe away my hot tears. I told no one for months, not even my husband. Only God, I felt, could know how to send me that message, unique and individual, that told me He knew my heart, had always known my heart, and that Listening in this manner would bring me Peace.
That was nearly three years ago. I am now a full member of the Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio, and a licensed Christian Chaplain, as well. I will mark two years of being Plain in October, 2008, and that is another whole story! (If you want to read about how I became Plain, that is posted on the Blog as well).