Feeling the Quaker Meeting Connection
I never finished telling you about the Quaker Meeting. The first half of the Hour of Silence was spent counting random objects, and it seemed as though the Meeting had gone on all week. After dodging the Island-Car Laser, I had tried everything to make the time go by: counting slowly to one thousand, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to myself, trying to name all seven Dwarves and as many of the characters from The Addams Family that I could think of. Still, only twenty-eight of the allotted sixty minutes of spiritual bliss had reluctantly clicked over from Present to Past.
At last, someone stood up. Quakers speak during their worship if they feel that the Spirit has led them to do so, and apparently the Spirit was pulling a skinny, middle-aged guy to his feet. I was delighted to have the distraction.
“Friends,” he said in a soft voice that nevertheless was designed to penetrate the impressive collection of hearing aids in the room, “I’ve been thinking recently about Time. My father passed away a few months back, and that got me to pondering what Time is all about. When I was growing up, my father’s lifetime seemed infinite, even though I knew it wasn’t. But now it can no longer seem infinite. His equation has been completed, with his year of birth on one side and his year of death on the other. Anyone who cares to, can calculate the exact number of days that he was allotted here on Earth. We didn’t know that number until he was no longer with us.
“So when I spend an afternoon raking leaves or building shelves in my workshop or playing board games with my kids, I know now — more than ever — that I have spent a precious commodity on that activity. I won’t get that day back, and I have only so many days at my disposal. So how best to spend them? Raking leaves isn’t bad — it beats watching television or cheating people out of their money. But maybe the best way I can spend my little collection of days is by talking with God and trying to listen to what He has to say. A day spent in that way cannot be wasted.”
And then he sat down.
Hmm. OK — cool. Spend your days well. Not exactly Nostradamus or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse here, but relatively harmless. Tragically, though, these words of deep, Spirit-led wisdom weren’t enough to make the clock’s hands move around any faster.
All right: You’ve Morticia, and Gomez, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Cousin It, and I think the daughter’s name was Wednesday….
Eventually, I ran out of time-killing tricks, so I just sat quietly for a while. Naming the Addamses is one thing, but when I found myself trying to run down the regulars on The Hollywood Squares reruns, I knew it was time to turn off the brain for a bit.
So I just sat, basically scoping out the insides of my eyelids. I thought about trying to see how long I could hold my breath, but I figured that passing out on the floor of the Meeting House would be considered bad form. So I just sat.
A funny thing happens when you stare at the inside of your eyelids. All of a sudden, your vision shifts to a place inside your forehead. You don’t have to try to make this happen — it just does. I figure it’s just your eyes wanting to relax their focus a bit.
So I stared at the inside of my forehead. Not really, of course, but that’s what it feels like. Basically, you don’t see anything but darkness and faint swirling colors that are probably left over from the Big Bang or something.
I tried for a while to make the colors all go to purple. That works — you can actually control the colors that you see in your mind when your eyes are shut. Try it sometime. It’s a great way to kill time when you’re not allowed to do anything else at all.
It was while I was playing Purple Phase with my brain colors that something weird happened. I had everything under control, except for some stubborn blue streaks in my peripheral mind-vision, when I suddenly realized that I couldn’t move. Actually, that’s not quite right. I could move, but I was unable to want to move. My arms were limp at my sides, my legs weren’t tapping or twitching or anything, and I became aware that to move any part of my body would mean giving up something. Breaking something. I don’t know what the “something” was, but I really didn’t want to shatter it. So I accepted it and didn’t move.
I don’t know how long I was like that. I stopped the color game because it took too much concentration, and I just Occupied. “Existed” isn’t the right word, because I don’t know what it means to exist on that level. But I knew that I was somewhere, spiritually/emotionally/metaphysically/psychologically speaking, and so I just hung out.
I didn’t think of anything at all. I didn’t think about God or the plight of the poor farmers in Upper Uxbridge. I didn’t think about the resurrection of Jesus, the escape of the Chosen People from the Pharaoh’s clutches, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife” didn’t cross my mind for an instant. It wasn’t a particularly Christian moment. But it was really kind of nice. It was very relaxing, somewhat liberating, and definitely mind-bending. Altered consciousness and all that. Pretty cool stuff.
The continuous illusion that we call Reality crashed back in all at once, when the nice Quaker lady in the pew in front of me grabbed my hand. We shook hands, and she said “Good morning.” That snapped me back to this planet, and I realized that there were tears on my cheeks, even though I didn’t feel terribly sad about anything. I soon discovered that the hand-shaking is a Major Quaker Ritual when the Meeting is over, requiring you to shake hands with everybody who is conceivably within reach. I shook hands with Meg, Henry, and about three dozen other people, all the while suspecting that the shared experience of worship is rivaled by the shared germs and viruses that are passed around a crowded Meeting House during the mandatory hand-shaking exercise.
But I’m still not sure of what happened to me in there. The last half-hour of the worship service vanished in the single beating of my heart. I was definitely not asleep, but I was definitely not tuned in, either. I was Somewhere Else for a while, and even though I can’t say that God was There with me, it was kind of cool to leave this universe for a few minutes.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Gemstone: That’s what it’s all about, Van. That’s what Quakers strive for when they worship in Silence. A little stronger connection to God would be nice, but otherwise, you made it. Not bad on your first try.
Comment — SunTanDude: Awesome, man! I felt that way once, from 1977 through the early ’80s. Then I had to get a job. Never got the buzz back. Still bums me out.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.