Posts Tagged ‘Quaker’


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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I was going to do a load of laundry, but I thought that if I did that I would have to put them in the dryer and once they were dry I would have to fold them all. I decided to sit down and write you a note instead.

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Instead of blue, I ended up painting the back room yellow. I am second-guessing my choice of shades: Summer Sunshine appeared to be a lovely pale creamy yellow in the can, but it turned into a screaming bright yellow when applied to the walls…. By the way, I loved your description of the garden party. I first read, “She lives in a very modest house, but has a large backyard,” as “She lives in a very modest house, but has a large background.” After learning she had devised a fountain in her son’s wading pool, I decided I was right. That is a woman with a large background.

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Background music during dinner consisted of Anna banging on the piano and being told, repeatedly, to stop. After dinner we sang songs, because for some reason that’s what we do, mostly stuff like “You Are My Sunshine,” “You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”  We got louder and louder, until Holli called out, “Sit down flat in the wagon, children!” as we swung into my favorite bluegrass song, “Rain and Snow.”

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Snow fell overnight; it was just a dusting, but enough to cancel church, so Daddy took us on a hike. He’s been clearing brush to create walking trails that loop around through the wooded areas that border two large cleared fields on the other side of the creek. He’s doing that because he likes cutting brush better than walking on the treadmill. That evening we drove to Chapel Hill and had dinner at Robin’s, then on Monday evening we all got together at Holli’s for Brunswick stew. At dinner Clark told us that he had some sort of homework assignment due—an essay.  I was bored by the idea of an essay, so I advised him to write it in verse and then posed a question to the entire table: “What rhymes with ‘essay’?” Robin immediately responded, “Dessay.”

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I daresay you miss seeing the exciting news reports that come frequently out of the rural South, so I am enclosing a recent article from the Raleigh paper about a spate of rabid fox attacks. I liked the way the Animal Control officer described one particularly diseased fox as looking like Marty Feldman. He added, “That’s a furious form of rabies.” The piece goes on to describe how onlookers applauded (“Woo-hoo!” they cheered) when Animal Control finally trapped the fox.

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Fox4 News reported yesterday as breaking news that it had gone five hours without raining since Sunday. We feel like we’re living in a big green sponge. By the way, we thought of FOUR words that start with “dw,” if you’ll count “dweeb,” which is the first one both Susan and Nancy thought of. The others are dwindle, dwell, and dwarf.

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My dwarf rose-bush survived the move from Florida to St. Louis! In fact, we are all thriving. I went to the Quaker church for the first time this Sunday. The church is small, with pews arranged in concentric circles that face an empty middle area. The meeting is unprogrammed, so we sit in silent meditation unless/until someone feels inspired by God to say something illuminating. And may I just say, most Quakers still do not understand this concept, and they share all sorts of thoughts that could not possibly have been inspired by The Most High. I keep my mouth shut. Anyway, a member named Eleanor had died recently, so several of the other members stood up and shared memories of her. They talked about how she was so energetic—doing exercises up until the time of her stroke, at the age of 84. They said that she was very well-respected in the community; in fact, when the Pope visited, Eleanor was chosen to be one of a group of community spiritual leaders who met with him. Finally, a woman with a lovely British accent stood up and said, “Eleanor was such an inspiration to me. She had the ability to really cut through the bullshit. It was wonderful, wonderful.”

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…wonderful crop of tomatoes this year, and we’ve got squash coming out of our ears. The cucumber vine went absolutely berserk, possibly due to an over-application of Miracle-Gro.  The vine is climbing up the side of the garage, onto the rain barrels, and will soon be reaching for the nearest passing cloud. The vine is so dense that it’s difficult to see into it, but we did find two deathly pale, huge, bloated cucumbers. They appear inedible, although I believe we could use them to make dugout canoes.

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Dugout canoes have interested me since the fourth grade. Our class studied early American history, which included a section on native Americans. We wove simple baskets, read about Pocahontas, and learned how to make a dugout canoe. Filled with knowledge, I held forth at the family dinner table. Evidently my excitement was contagious, because that Saturday your granddaddy found a select piece of wood in the firewood stack and we commenced to make a small model dugout. He used a blowtorch, and we painstakingly burned and scraped and picked at the charred wood until we had a nice interior. He shaped the ends into canoeish points, and I proudly took my model dugout to school on Monday morning. Now it sits on my desk and holds my pens.

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My pen is threatening to run out of ink but let me tell you about Holli’s solo Sunday night. She was doing the verses of the song and the choir sang the chorus. She was singing as the choir came down the center aisle. She got through the 1st verse and completely forgot the 2nd—it was dark—but then she finally remembered it. Everybody thought that she was waiting on purpose to give the choir time to get down the aisle but NO! She just blanked out! They weren’t using music or she would have given the pianist a terrible time.

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Time for me to get dinner going, so I’ll sign off now. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Delia is in County Hospital and not expected to live much longer. She is not eating or even getting glucose (some people say glo-coat).


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Wahoo Day

Overwhelmedness has been in my thoughts of late: folk being overwhelmed by life going too fast, by family or financial difficulties, by too much e-mail in their in-box. … I guess if Quakers are overwhelmed, then nearly everybody is overwhelmed. – Wendy Clarissa Geiger

I met Wendy when I attended Quaker meeting in Jacksonville, and I still receive her semi-weekly e-newsletter on life and poetry. This morning, when the news was filled with an overabundance of nonpeaceful things, she sent the message I quoted above, and added a snippet of information that I found fascinating. The Burmese, Wendy told us, “have Wahoo Day—an imaginary day falling between Wednesday and Thursday when one can get done what otherwise cannot get done during a given week.”

Today is my own Wahoo Day. My summer work schedule alternated a normal  work week with a week of four 10-hour days and Friday off. I used my free Fridays to read, write, sneak up on the laundry, poke around in the garden, and have lunch with Ernesto. Sadly, as the University cranks up for the start of a new academic year, today is my last Wahoo Day of the summer.

I believe that if we had the will, we could figure out a way to insert a worldwide Wahoo Day into the calendar. Ernesto was talking this very morning about how Leap Years are calculated, and other interesting problems that plague modern day-keeping. Time is fluid, after all, and what a source of peace it would be!

But until Ernesto can apply his mathematics and computer programming skills to devise a Wahoo Day without it requiring an act of Congress, I bring you Wendy’s poem about overwhelmedness: “The Want of Peace,” by poet-farmer Wendell Berry of Lane’s Landing, Kentucky.

The Want of Peace

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.

I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.

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