Representatives from neighboring Quaker congregations get together four times a year to check in on each other and events in their home meetings. The practice, called Quarterly Meeting, has its own clerks, treasurer, and other officers, as needed.
In the past, it was a big event. The smaller meetings, in fact, would not have their own worship that Sunday — everyone would be off to wherever the Quarter was gathering. I suspect much of it was a family reunion, one filled with a holiday spirit.
Nowadays is a different matter, especially as we struggle with finding a better fit between our Monthly Meetings (the local groups that worship each week but conduct business once a month) and our much larger Yearly Meetings — in our case, New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.
These photos are from a session of Dover Quarterly Meeting that took place in the newly renovated West Epping meetinghouse.
At the time, my faith was somewhere between agnostic and logical positivist – and vehemently anti-Vietnam war and anti-Christian. Yet when someone asked, “Where do you think you’ll wind up, as far as religion goes?” I blurted, “Probably something like Zen-Quaker” – this, when I had little idea of either practice or, for that matter, the way that becoming a yogi a few years later would lead me to join Friends first and ultimately Dover.
Those who open themselves and admit this infusion subsequently become the object of This Love. A lover gives to the beloved, regardless of response. Building on the ancient Quaker metaphor, the Light transforms the Seed as the object of This Love. Awakened, the beloved completes the circle.
I see this awareness suggested in 1 John 4:
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. … If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby, know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. … God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect.
In the course of John’s epistle, we can substitute “light” or “give light” for “love” without losing of meaning – although “love” does direct action more fully than “light” initially does.
When I graduated from college, I hardly expected to survive past my mid-thirties, and the way things were going, maybe I wasn’t far off the mark. On the other hand, I never anticipated the turns this journey has taken.
I had envisioned myself either returning to my hometown and writing for a newspaper that no longer exists, or else working in the heart of a large metropolis with its range of concerts, galleries, lectures, and theater, possibly after going back for a law degree. Of course, neither way opened, but the ashram route did. I, who started out somewhere between agnostic and logical positivist, was now on a spiritual pathway that would lead me to our meetinghouse.
Traditional Quaker worship holds the expectation that the Light, or Christ, in our presence, will reveal something. (A fitting description, light revealing.) Perhaps, too, this Light will open something, much as seeds in the springtime react to sunlight. This Light may even erupt in prophetic utterance as vocal ministry. This Light is to energize us and make us fruitful, much as sunlight does to plant life.
Suppose I had gone to law school, after all, or married my college sweetheart, for instance? Or stayed in the Midwest all along, and how would that have shaped my spiritual growth or writing? The truth is that I never would have ventured into yoga or from there into Quakers.
For that matter, the memorial service falls between a liturgical rite and an event with a eulogy or two. Quaker focus is on the spiritual growth of the individual and the resulting service to others. Our candor often leads to laughter as well as tears.
Initial encounters, however, can be quite the opposite, especially for people of our times. Our minds race, make to-do lists, become agitated; our bodies fidget. We are easily distracted, want to turn the dial, flip the page. On the job and in our homes, we multitask, dividing our attention from the actions and experiences we’re engaged in.
What we find, though, is that meditation is somehow easier when performed with others. In Christian tradition, Jesus said,
Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name [that is, power], there I am also.