It hasn’t been for lack of suitable material: my son’s rapidly growing, frequently outlandish vocabulary (which tonight expanded to include “pastaaaaaaa!” with a little growl); my evolving sense of race issues both personally and communally in our new neighborhood; the astounding–and I do not exaggerate–fact that our house has remained neat, clean, and under control for five entire weeks with nary a hiccup longer than two days; continued frustration over being over 30 and not yet living my ‘real life,’ complete with ‘real job’ and ‘real house’ and continued self-flagellation over feeling entitled to those things when most people don’t have them and can never expect to; and in general my increasingly complicated relationship with my own aging process, mortality, the mortality of all people, and my incredulousness over the passage of time (see out comma freaking);
and becoming a Quaker. That I may be able to talk about.
Two weeks ago at the end of the IC Meeting for Worship I voiced my intention to form a Clearness Committee, which is a group of people that are supposed to help me discern my readiness for Quaker life and its appropriateness for mine. After happy murmurs from the meeting the clerk kindly explained that I would need to send a letter addressed to the meeting stating my intentions and that at the next Meeting for Business a Clearness Committee would be discussed.
Probably all that I will need to write is something like, “I wish to ask the Meeting to form a Clearness Committee to help me determine whether or not membership is appropriate at this time,” but I find myself writing a much longer letter in my head, one that contemplates the many paths I’ve wandered on and how they’ve intersected and intertwined in the need for a particular kind of community striving for the kind of life I yearn to live but have never been able to on my own.
I suppose it really does relate to this turning-thirty business (which I did a whole year ago; the plan was to take the year between 30 and 31 to set into motion all the changes I wanted to make permanent, and then start living them at 31, which is simultaneously hilarious, ridiculous, and wonderful). When I picture the best version of myself–gentle, strong, compassionate, giving (but from a place of strength, not doormattishiness), respectful and protective of life in all its forms, practicing peaceful and mindful living–that person is closest of all to the prototypical Quaker. I know myself, and I know that I will become what I am near, and the best thing I can do for myself it to be near what I wish to become.
I have learned in the past few weeks that the outward practices of Friends–peace and social justice work, silent meetings–drew me in initially, but less tangible aspects of Quaker life are beginning to anchor me to it. There are so many tendrils from which to choose, but tonight I am thinking about the best kind of flexibility: like the yoga instructor soothingly explains in the video I used in college, encouraging the yogi through the tree pose, “you may sway. trees sway. get more grounded.” Quaker flexibility allows for the winds to blow wherever they may (and the metaphor is intentional–Friends emphasize the Holy Spirit, which is almost always referred to as a wind in scripture), for the demands of each age to be accommodated as God leads, but always, always the Friend is deeply rooted in tradition, scripture, prayer, and community. To me Quakerism is like Unitarianism with a root system: gentle, accepting, flexible, and firm, sure, and–in a way I cannot yet articulate–uncompromising (indeed Quaker decision-making is always based on consensus, not on a democratic majority-rules ethic. One does not compromise so much as one moves with surety). Because of this rooted flexibility, Friends have never excluded or marginalized women (hard to do anyway when everyone in the meeting–elders included–is completely and equally able to receive the Holy Spirit and to share its leadings with the meeting), were against slavery from the start, have been involved in every major peace movement since their genesis, accept and celebrate alternative sexual expression, and more recently, have taken a lead on environmental issues.
Friends are not ordinary liberals. Though they take up many liberal social issues, they are less prone to the hypocrisies of liberal life because their practice is to continually examine their own real and potential hypocrisies (in a wonderful moment at the last Meeting for Worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting, a man spoke of his normally-gentle father’s horrible response to his brother’s homosexuality and how it reminds him that every generation has its blind spots, and of his intention to seek out what his were, and wondered if one of those blind spots has been the way we have persisted in abusing the earth and its inhabitants).
And then there are these moments of strangeness in which I feel alienated from a tradition that is so different from my own, wondering if it will ever feel perfect–as it does in small moments during meetings–and if it should. I wonder about the absence in this country of Quakers of color, especially given Friends’ inclusiveness, and wonder if that’s a blind spot, too, one that I may be right to give voice to…wonder not only if the Friends are right for me, but if I am right for them, if I have something to give as well…
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