Monday, November 29, 2010
twenty-third visit: Nov 28th 2010 Quaker, Friends General Conference
The Religious Society of Friends of Pittsburgh
4836 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213
Spending some amount of every day in a quiet state is pretty essential to me. It's just how I am. Much of it happens in my studio. During an artist's talk, I remember Sigrid Sandstrom, a painter, saying that she never plays music in her studio, ever. "It is always quiet in there, for the whole twelve hours each session. It's the only way the answers will come," she said.
The Religious Society of Friends of Pittsburgh meets in a gorgeous old house in a fairly residential area. Worship occurs in the room that was originally the home's art gallery. It's in the back-corner of the home, outwardly surrounded on two sides by trees and garden, set at a lower level than the rest of the house, down a half-flight of stairs. Approach the meeting room "quietly and gently," a sign reads. Worship begins as soon as the first person enters.
I feel that "silence" is not the right word to use here, as for me it implies an absence, and is too much of a command. The quiet gathering here is that of "alert attentiveness" and serves to ground, and to center the community in order to experience the presence of the Spirit. The services of this congregation, as often is the case in the Friends General Conference, are not lead by a pastor. Worshipers themselves provide the sermon. Unplanned divinely inspired messages are spoken. Worshipers are individually responsible for discerning whether the message is intended to be shared aloud with the other worshipers. Sometimes the worship hour may not include any spoken words.
During this particular service, four messages are spoken by three different people. Two concerning the importance of remaining open to perceive all things, even things that may be considered negative (in reference to the saying "hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil) ...the importance of perceiving and absorbing our surroundings completely, including the good and the bad; not to miss opportunities to respond peacefully to inequalities and unfortunate situations. The other two messages concern the difficulty of tending to the problems in our individual lives while reserving energy and time to offer help to others and make a difference in the world.
An appointed member signifies the end of the worship hour by shaking hands with those near by. Queries for personal reflection are read. Questions concerning commitment to non-violence and pursuit of peaceful solutions and peaceful responses use the words "creative" and "creatively."
After the service, while talking near the reception table, heavy with homemade pies, cheeses, breads and salads, I learn that Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers are united in their commitment to peace. I mention that though my mother was raised a Brethren, I had never heard her speak of this specifically.
"Yes well, it's really the ONLY way Quakers are related to the Mennonites and Brethren: through commitment to peace. But I see you already have a dove of peace on your dress. What are you going to add for us... to represent your visit here?"
Many people ask me this during my visits. The truth is that sometimes it takes a day or two of quiet thinking before the answer comes.