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Posts Tagged ‘Faith and Practice’

Vilhelm_Hammershøi_-_A_Room_in_the_Artist's_Home_in_Strandgade,_Copenhagen,_with_the_Artist's_Wife_-_Google_Art_Project

Vilhelm Hammershøi: A Room in the Artist’s Home in Strandgade, Copenhagen with the Artist’s Wife – 1901

My earliest memory is really only a fragment of a memory. I was about three years old, and a realtor was showing my family a house.  We walked down a hall, where sunshine came through the doorways of adjacent rooms and fell on the hardwood floor in distorted rectangles. I walked down the hall holding one of my parent’s hands (I’m not sure which), trying to step from one block of sunshine to the next.  The sun was so bright at my feet that if I looked up to see where I was going, everything seemed dark.  So I kept looking down. It was as if nothing existed but me, those blocks of sunshine, and the hand that held mine.

Sometimes I feel as if I should be able to enter that memory into a search engine and,  after a spell of sputtering and whirring, receive links to sites that lend it a deeper meaning, or at least connect me to places that would enlighten and delight. Instead, when I type in a phrase—let’s say, “blocks of light”—I end up with a list of things available for sale. In this case the list included an iTunes app and sustainable resin building panels. So I adjusted my search and used different combinations of words:  bars of light, sunlight on the floor, shafts of light.

And slowly, I did begin to find more enlightening information.  The first satisfying stop was Parabola magazine, which had Richard Whittaker’s interview with artist Jane Rosen.  Rosen paints and sculpts nature, especially birds. Best of all, the light in her studio changed her life:

RW:  Well, I wanted to go back to where you mentioned earlier something about this bar of light that falls into your studio. Now you said that this bar of light has…

JR:  It changed my life. I always had studios where there were no bars of light coming in because that kind of light changes everything, completely washing out the pieces. And at first, I was very upset with the lighting…. All day from dawn until dusk you get extremes of light bouncing all over and it was interfering. Then, just sitting in this chair day after day, week after week… what started to happen was I started to listen to the light. I started to catch the light at various moments where the light would inform what the height of the piece needed to be, or the turn of the head. I started seeing the light as a help rather than trying to control it. Being in relation to the light was a big thing!

Jane Rosen: "Birds/Gamut" installation view, 2006Glass and marble mix

Jane Rosen: “Birds/Gamut” installation view – 2006

Being in relation to the Light is, in fact, a Quaker thing, so I went to Faith and Practice and found this from Hugh L. Doncaster:

“Each one… has the responsibility to seek, and seek, and seek again where the Light is leading.”

I was happy to continue seeking—and am marvelously glad I did, because I came across a music CD with the magnificent title He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms The CD is by a Canadian group called A Silver Mt. Zion, sometimes known as Thee (yes, thee) Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band. Now, that was interesting because my parents attend (and I grew up attending) Mt. Zion Baptist Church! I then learned that the album is lead guitarist Efrim Menuck’s tribute to his late dog, Wanda. My sister has a late dog whose name was Wanda!  Also Efrim was born two days before my 11th birthday.

The names of the songs on the Silver Mt. Zion CD are equally enchanting:  “Broken Chords Can Sing a Little,”  “Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs,” “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning,” “Blown-Out Joy from Heaven’s Mercied Hole,” and (of course) “For Wanda.”

For a moment I thought there was another song on the CD, more prominently featured than the rest, called “Play Your Music From the Cloud.”  Then I realized that was an advertisement for the Amazon Cloud Player and nothing to do with angels at all.

Finally, another splash of light fell across my path this morning when I read the latest post by Gerry in his wonderful blog, That’s How the Light Gets In:  “Scientist reveals how the light gets in.”  Take a look. I am particularly fond of the final stanza of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” which was the source of Gerry’s blog title. It seems rather Christmassy, too:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Follow your own light wherever it leads.  But try not to confuse it with the advertisements.

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Late-blooming cardinal vine

Shortly after we moved to St. Louis, my Quaker friends from Jacksonville sent me a copy of Faith and Practice, the Quaker guidebook.  It includes short, usually one-paragraph stories from Quakers beginning with George Fox in the mid-1600s and continuing through today.  Quakers believe that we all learn things that can be useful to others, and this is their way of collecting that wisdom into one place. I’m going to share my favorite piece from it in a bit.

But first, let me just say that the Jacksonville Society of Friends was a wonderful group, perhaps because it was so choice. Usually there were only six to ten persons in attendance. They met in the library of a private boarding school on a pretty wooded campus. The first time I attended, I drove onto the campus and was almost immediately faced with a choice of unpromising roads, none marked. An elderly gentleman in a golf cart was nearby, apparently serving as a gatekeeper.  I asked him which way I should go to attend the Quaker Meeting. 

“Follow me,” he said, and his golf cart lurched forward onto a straight and narrow way.  We wound confusingly and very, very slowly past several charming vintage buildings and quite a lot of in-process new construction, dirt piles, and orange perimeter fencing. The road was unpaved—or possibly it just appeared to be unpaved due to all the construction-related earth-moving.  I followed the golf cart for what seemed like several miles, ending in a tiny parking area in front of a small library. My guide waved a hand and lurched forward again, heading in a circle, I presumed, that would lead back to the front gate.

The library was a single large room. All of us worked together to shift tables and clear an area where a variety of stationary and rolling chairs could form a circle. This circle, snugly tucked into the center of the room among the displaced library tables and desks with computer monitors, had a view of double glass doors that opened onto a back deck and a thickly wooded area.

The Jacksonville Friends Meeting practiced an unprogrammed type of worship, no minister required. Quakers believe that all Friends have the Light of God within, so they often gather in silence to listen meditatively for God’s voice. If anyone feels called to share the Light, that one may do so.  I admit there were times when the silent meditation seemed to stretch on forever, and I became concerned that instead of the Light of God, the sound of my stomach growling would break the peace. It might not have been audible; nearly every week one or several of the computers would jolt awake with a high-pitched hum. Perhaps they meant to introduce a little quiet singing into the Meeting.

One week, when the silence ended and we greeted each other as if suddenly arising from a refreshing nap (as indeed I was), one of the Friends said, “I wanted so much to say something, but I knew it was not from God. It’s just that I opened my eyes for a second, and saw a big raccoon on the deck. He stood up on his hind legs, pressed his front paws against the glass, and looked right in at us. I wonder what he thought.”

I wish I had opened my eyes at the right time so that I could have enjoyed the sight of the raccoon peeking in on a Quaker Meeting.  But there you are; whenever there is something happening, my eyes are sure to be tightly shut.

Here is my favorite passage from Faith and Practice, in a chapter titled “Experience.” It was written by Elizabeth Yates in 1976:

(5 a.m.)  Something is happening around me: the dark is less dark, the silence is less deep. Even the air is changing. It is damper, sweeter. Morning is at hand. Light will soon come flowing over the edge of the world, bringing with it the day. What a gift! Whether wrapped in streamers of color or folded in tissues of mist, it will be mine to use in ways that I can foresee and in those that are unexpected. The day will make its own revelation, bring its own challenge; my part will be to respond with joy and gladness.

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