When I was a little girl and my non-Quaker grandmother wanted me to pipe down, she would say, “Quaker’s Meeting has begun. No more laughing, no more fun.” I obviously never listened, but enjoyed the quaintness of Grandma’s axiom. The Quakers must be kind of quiet and shy, I thought.
I’ve been a non-quiet, non-shy practicing Catholic for 28 years, and for the most part I’ve loved my religion. But as a pretty liberal human being who enjoys condoms and thinks her gay friends should be able to visit their partners in hospitals, I have issues.
But I love Jesus. His story is incredible and I think we should all follow in his path. The Bible is truly an amazing book to read. I love to curl up with the Gospel of John just as much as I do OK! magazine, and for basically the same reason. They’re both fun reads.
For years, I toyed with the idea of becoming a Quaker, knowing nothing about Quakerism. In my mind, Quakerism was the religion that Jesus would have chosen for himself. I know that it’s peaceful, that Quakers believe that God lives in everyone and that God can be found in everything in our lives, and that they believe in social justice like it’s nobody’s business.
Maybe that means I’m a Quaker! I thought.
I would tell people this at parties and consider clicking “Quaker” when filling out surveys, without having any idea what Quakerism was. It was fun and dreamy. But I wanted to know if it was really for me. So, I did some research, decided I should actually go to a Quaker service, and found the closest Meetinghouse for the Religious Society of Friends.
I woke up on a cold, rainy Sunday morning to attend my first meeting. Shortly after I entered the room, the door shut behind me and I had a second to take in my surroundings. There were about 15 people inside, none under the age of 40, and the seats were arranged in a way that made me feel like I was in an M.C. Escher painting. The benches were set in a circular pattern, spiraling to the middle, where there was nothing. No pulpit! No altar! No symbol of any kind! I heard a sound that could only be described as the creaking from the opening credits of “Are You Afraid Of The Dark?”
But in “Are You Afraid Of The Dark?”, people talk. Within seconds of the door closing, I realized that nobody was going to say anything.
Quaker’s Meeting has fucking begun, NO MORE LAUGHING NO MORE FUN.
This made me worry that Grandma was correct about other things, like that girls shouldn’t wear pants or that Kathie Lee Gifford was really coming over to her house for supper.
I know from my research that Quakers sit to wait to hear from God, so that is what they were all probably doing. Here is what I was doing: thinking about sex, food, a Deadmau5 song, Disney World, worrying about money and wondering how the woman in front of me styled her hair so perfectly. It must have been a wig. Trying to think of God at a Quaker Meeting is like trying not to think of a green elephant at a green elephant meeting. It’s impossible! I don’t think I have the patience to wait for God.
At one point, I considered getting up to leave. A woman in an adjacent row had the same idea, but the door would not open. We were trapped! But then, I told myself that leaving early was probably a bad idea anyway. I didn’t want to report back to people, after having missed out on the last 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes could very well have been the part where the Quakers stood up and had a Deadmau5 dance party.
“Don’t they have Deadmau5 dance parties at the end?” Someone would ask. “I have been a Quaker for 58 years and they always do that. Always.” And then I would have to call that nice, old Quaker lady a stinking liar.
After 45 minutes, an elderly man in the middle of the coil stood up. He could only say about three words at a time without taking a breath.
“How can we … be sure that … our children … are speaking to God? How can we … be sure that … we encourage them … to speak with God?” He said this about 20 times, in about 20 different ways.
I wanted to stand up and say, “THAT IS A REALLY GOOD QUESTION.”
Because in essence, I was a child in the Quaker faith. And I wanted to know how to speak to God. I am doing something wrong, I thought. Tell me what to do. I don’t happen to know a lot of young sprites jumping up to join the Quakers (I was was the only one I knew). How WILL they get their children and grandchildren to keep doing this? Sitting in silence? When there are video games and Facebook and people to cyber stalk?
But nobody answered. The man sat down and we continued our silence, I started thinking about oxblood skirts, until finally, when the hour was up, a woman stood up and said, “Good morning, friends.”
And everyone stood up and left. Some people stayed behind for some announcements and introductions.
After this, Catholic mass seemed like a blast-o-fun party. I actually appreciate that Catholic mass is led by a priest, a man whose job and life mission has been to study the life of Christ and then clue me into it. I don’t WANT the floor to be open up to just anyone. A cracked-out Best Buy employee could have walked in and started talking about touching babies’ butts and I guess we would have had to sit there and listen. I like songs! I enjoy being in a beautiful place. I love gaudy crosses and elaborate, stained glass windows. I enjoy participating in the Sacraments like they are FourSquare badges. One of my favorite parts of mass is when we shake hands and say, “Peace be with you” to one another. That portion always ends with my heart racing, and a big smile on my face. It makes me feel good. And I love that if I go to mass every weekend for three years, I will have heard the entire Bible. It’s like a little secret treat for the loyal church goers.
I understand that I did not become an expert on Quakerism by Googling some stuff and showing up at one meeting. I know that there is a lot more for me to learn. But this has been my experience, as a Catholic with curiosity, who realized that maybe she wasn’t evolved enough to be a Quaker. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it would have been for Jesus either. Yes, it is driven by peace and light and harmony, but Jesus was an agitator, a free-thinking badass. He fought for revolutionary, progressive ideas and violently knocked over the tables of the temple money changers and made people go WHAAAA?! with his radical ideas about casting the first stone and the Sabbath. He spoke and was a leader and bossed people around. He also let his constituents celebrate Christmas, God bless His own soul.
I’m still looking for answers. Especially to the question, “How do we encourage our children to speak with God?”
How do we do that?