You Don’t Want to Do This. Seriously.
If you're going to make an interesting claim about God or Jesus of Nazareth, I’m probably going to CHECK it OUT. I've studied Christianity, The Historical Jesus, Islam and Judaism (by which I mean each one got a semester of my undivided attention). I attended services at an orthodox synagogue (the women can’t sit with the men!), a contemporary synagogue (oh yes they can); participated in a service at a Buddhist temple and took a few Sunday classes at an Episcopalian Church.
I’ve witnessed a Mormon Baptism, talked at length with Jehovah's Witnesses, visited Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church and slipped into the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at both St. Martha and St. Mary Magdalene.
And that’s just my MAINSTREAM tromping around. Did I mention I went through a new age phase where I attended an Angel Therapy Retreat (ohyesidid), a Sacred Path Workshop and studied The Art of Spiritual Peacemaking?
SO WHEN I HEARD that there are QUAKERS in HOUSTON, it was only a matter of time before I had to check it out for myself. Only a matter of time before I popped in uninvited and unannounced. I did not email any questions, I did not send a Facebook message. I just picked a day to go.
That day was Sunday.
Not going to lie, I had my reservations walking in. It took me two months to work up the courage to go, because from what I read online, the service entailed sitting in silence FOR AN HOUR. WITH OTHER PEOPLE. And I wasn’t sure I could do that. Seriously. (I also mean I didn’t want to do that. Not for an hour anyway. Maybe 20 minutes tops.)
Also, there were my usual concerns about whether people would LEAVE ME ALONE and NOT LOOK AT ME.
But curiosity trumped anxiety, and Sunday I walked into the entryway of a Quaker meetinghouse blurting "DO-YOU-HAVE-A-BATHROOM" to the first woman I saw. (I drank a lot of water on my early morning run and got lost on the way to the meetinghouse. Bad combo.) The woman, tall, slender and dressed in Levi's and a short-sleeved plaid shirt, told me in a kind and quiet voice where the bathroom was, and when I returned, she smiled briefly and told me I could take a seat in the meetingroom. She said I need do nothing else, nothing at all.
I clomped into the meetingroom in with my way-too-loud platform shoes and fancy church dress. In my noisy world, I never knew those shoes were so loud. HOW would I know those shoes are so loud? In the quiet of the Quaker meetinghouse they were so stompy loud that I winced and mouthed the words “I’m sorry I’m sorry” over and over as I moved through the room to take a seat.
The fancy church dress was unnecessary. Most of the others were dressed in jeans or shorts, short-sleeved shirts and QUIET SHOES. I saw a nose ring and a middrift. Some tattoos. I mean, my dress was OK – there was one lady there in a sun dress and a hat worthy of the Kentucky Derby – but I definitely got the impression dressy dresses were not REQUIRED.
I took a seat on an oak bench with a sturdy blue cushion, leaving plenty of space between me and Some Other Woman. I looked down at the floor where my loud shoes finally rested. The floor was simple and plain, made of wide planks of sinker pine. The room was painted a soft white and was filled with windows from ceiling to floor – each window with a window seat and a sturdy blue cushion, so someone could sit there too. In the center of the room, cut into the ceiling, was a 12-foot square skyspace.
There was so much natural light in the room that artificial light was unnecessary. It was...beautiful.
A few minutes after I sat down, someone quietly shut the large maple doors to the room.
Three minutes in, I freak out. It occurs to me that I’m sitting on a bench in a room with a group of strangers and that someone has SHUT THE DOORS.
The voices in my head start making suggestions and asking questions. You’ll never make it an hour, you know that, right? WHAT are you even DOING here?
The voices start pushing harder. Are the doors LOCKED? Imeanmygod, Could you get out if you WANTED TO? I start to breath rapidly. My chest is tight. I feel panicked. Like I said, folks. You DON’T want to do this. Seriously.
By 3.5 minutes, the voices fall silent. It startles me, it's so abrupt. Like they were silenced mid sentence.
And in their place is…
I left that space on purpose, guys.
I’m not sure how you describe that moment in time when Holy Silence slips into your mind and quiets you down. That white space up there is my way of saying…it’s not a word thing.
Which may be the point.
No words in my head. No chattering. The room was quiet. My mind was quiet. I was quiet.
I’m not going to say that I felt quiet for the whole hour, but I felt quiet for a lot of it. And the Quiet Presence in the room – that remained the entire time.
I’m telling you guys. Quakers think that when people gather and wait expectantly in Holy Silence, God shows up.
And I’m telling you –
Sitting in that room I was pretty sure He was there.
But you wouldn’t want that, would you? Seriously.
You wouldn’t want to sit for an hour in a quiet, beautiful white room with no cell phone or computer or TV. You wouldn’t want to just SIT THERE when there was so much TO DO. You wouldn’t want to just wait there on the off-chance that God might show up. Right?
Because, you know, He might just show up. And then what would you do?