“Silence is so accurate.” ~ Mark Rothko
In my last post, I set the intention of laying out my connections with religion and faith over the past few decades and how my inner health (or lack thereof) drew me to the toxic aspects in a fairly predictable pattern.
My spiritual autobiography, as it were, will not be told in a chronological manner, but a thematic one. In each portion I will attempt to draw out the good lessons learned as well as the things that I have since discarded for various reasons.
In the early years of my first marriage, I was desperately searching for a spiritual identity. I had been raised in the Episcopal church but had traveled all over the map in terms of faith communities in my teen and young adult years. I even spent a year with a well known missions organization and lugged home a whole trunk full of crazy theology during my time there.
My first husband was raised in a Southern Baptist family (which as I’ve mentioned previously was also alcoholic and abusive) and went along with my quests initially, I suspect to try to distance himself from his parents a bit.
I had some friends from high school who had become Quakers, and of course because it was something different, I was intrigued. I read George Fox’s writings, the Journal of John Woolman, and many other early and more modern Quaker writings with great interest.
My sister and her husband had also been drawn in to this group of friends and we attempted to establish a type of community although many of us lived in different towns and even states.
The “leaders” of this group were the father of my high school friend and my friend himself. There were major red flags from the beginning. The father had a very checkered career in various church settings and had been chucked out for reasons of liking women other than his wife, among other things.
Enter a group of impressionable young folks, including me with my dysfunctional back ground and fear of authoritative father figure types and Boom! You’ve got yourself a cult, I mean community. The authentic Quaker teachings that drew me from the beginning such as listening to the voice of God within me and peacefulness, were drowned in the made up hierarchy.
This group moved to Guam to set up a more permanent community and we only saw them when they were home for visits. The increasing dominance of the father’s role was becoming quite apparent in things like “home visits,” in which the leadership would visit someone they felt was in error and attempt to coerce them to confess their sins.
Eventually the group fell apart and even my high school friend could no longer tolerate his father’s control and left both Guam and the community. So much damage was done during those years, but I did retain a love for what I believe to be the most important element of Quaker teaching: Silence.
I start each day in silence. It is truly the best part of my day and where I feel most connected to God. Silence is a safe space within me. Silence is where I have clarity, love, joy, without strain.
I love the Rumi quote that says “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”
In the eastern Orthodox church we have the practice of hesychasm, or contemplative prayer, which is sometimes easy to forget among the beautiful but verbose written prayers of the church. I am sure that there is a lesson on balance between the two.
If I had to pinpoint a “takeaway” from my couple of years of involvement with the makeshift Quaker group, I would say this: Theology is only as effective as the health of those practicing it. Although some of the core tenets of Quaker belief are equality between men (and women) and listening to the voice of God for oneself, my lack of boundaries and penchant for abusive authority figures made me easy prey. And I want to point out that this group was definitely an aberration in terms of Quaker practice. I have been to several other Quaker meetings that did not have any of these abusive elements.
Still, I am grateful for lessons learned during this time.
And I learned to practice silence, which has remained a bedrock of my faith practice.