Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chapter 6 -- The Quakers

Chapter 6

The Quakers

Be still and know that I am God. -- Psalm 46:10

A few days later, early one Sunday morning, Jeremy was walking along the outskirts of Newhope, Tennessee looking for a place to worship when he noticed a water tower poking up through some trees. It was such a curious sight that he stopped and stared, and after a few moments felt drawn to it. He made his way into the trees, and had wended through a couple hundred yards when he came into a small clearing where the water vat was mounted atop a sturdy fifteen foot base. It was very cleverly engineered, with two pipes extending down, one ending in a shower head controlled by a short rope, and the other in a faucet.

He was impressed, and his widened eyes surveyed the rest of his surroundings. There was a modest structure that looked like it could be a three or four room home. The water tower, which was uncovered to catch the rains by which it was fed, was at the corner of a small lawn. There were two long picnic tables which appeared able to accommodate about thirty people or so. There was a grill low to the ground over a fire pit, and a compost heap beside a small vegetable garden. The air was very soft and peaceful, and he was about to take a seat on one of the benches when he noticed a flame flickering in one of the windows. He moved closer and saw that it was a candle sitting upon the top of a wooden cross.

He wandered around the side to the front of the building, and saw the three words painted in large letters beside the door that explained everything: Quaker Meeting House. On the other side of the door hung a small sign, upon which, in beautiful calligraphy, was printed: Peace and Light Within: All Welcome. Sunday Worship 10:30.

As it was nearing that time he decided to wait and join, and was about to return to the back and take a seat at one of the tables when a woman approached and said: “Good morning, friend, and welcome. Are you here to worship with us?”

“I am,” Jeremy replied, offering his hand.

She shook it and answered: “Welcome. My name is Minnie Quipp.”

“Jeremy,” he replied. “Thank you.”

She opened the unlocked door and beckoned him to follow her in. “So what do you know about the Quakers?” she asked.

“Very little,” he answered. “Truthfully, nothing.”

“It’s actually quite a lovely faith,” she explained. “If you’d like to lend a hand I’ll give you a little primer while we set up.”

There was a main room furnished only with a bookcase and twenty five or so chairs. She looked in there then led him to a room at the back, which he quickly recognized as a nursery. While they straightened up the tiny desks, the scattered toys and the playpen, she explained: “The Religious Society of Friends was founded by a man named George Fox in England in the sixteen hundreds. It was more than a century after the reformation, and with the variety of Protestant denominations, and the continued corruption in the Catholic and Anglican churches, he decided to start preaching on his own. He believed that just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two diamonds identically cut, so does each person have a unique relationship with God, and that priests and preachers telling you what to think and how to worship only got in the way of the individual’s relationship and development.

“He was particularly taken with the scriptures where Jesus refers to the disciples as his friends, when he says, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.’

“His message caught on, and he quickly attracted followers, who referred to themselves as ‘Children of the Light,’ and ‘Friends of the Truth,’ which was later just shortened to Friends. George Fox and many of his followers were imprisoned by the church on numerous occasions for blasphemy.

“How did the name originate?” Jeremy asked. “Why are you called Quakers?”

“George Fox claimed it was a term of derision used mockingly by a judge, when Fox told him to ‘tremble at the word of God.’” She led him back to the main room and they started setting the chairs in a rough circle. “Anyway, we just refer to each other as ‘friends,’ and we worship together by sitting in silence for an hour.” She glanced at the clock. “Which hour commences in five minutes.” As if on cue, the congregation began filing in. Besides himself and Minnie, there came in eleven men, eleven women and seven children.

They quietly said hello to one another, then seated themselves in the circle and when the clock struck ten fell silent. Some looked up, some looked down, and some closed their eyes in meditation and prayer. After fifteen minutes two women led the seven children into the adjacent room. Jeremy didn’t feel anything extraordinary nor revelatory, but he spent so many hours of his life in silent contemplation that it only seemed like he had an audience for what was a normal activity.

Nobody was moved to stand up, speak out, or do anything but sit, and at eleven o’clock one man stood up and the rest followed his lead. They remained in a circle, and one woman said: “Please hold Susan Martay in the light, as she recovers from her painful surgery.”

A few people softly said, “Amen.”

Then a man said: “Please hold Francis Vytano in the light, as he struggles to support his family.”

A few people softly said, “Amen.”

Another man said: “Please hold Charles and Elise Tertulli and their children in the light, as they struggle to pay their mortgage.”

A few people softly said, “Amen.”

The man next to Jeremy turned to him, offered his hand, and said, “Welcome, new friend. My name is Richard. Who are you?”

“Jeremy,” he answered.

“I hope you feel comfortable, because we are glad to have you,” Richard said.
Minnie came across the circle, took Jeremy’s hand and said: “We will be having lunch out back in a few minutes, and you will be our guest.”

“How could I say no?” he answered.

After a couple minutes of mingling, the group made its way outdoors, with Minnie leading Jeremy by the hand. He was surprised to see all the food on the tables and a fire crackling in the pit where little more than an hour before had been nought but the empty serenity of a Sunday morning.

“Where did all this come from?” he asked.

“It’s pot luck,” she explained. “Everyone brought a little something and dropped it out here on their way in to worship.”

He marveled. “I wish I had something to offer.”

“I’m sure you will,” Minnie replied. “There’s more to a meal with friends than food and drink.”

Mere moments later several women had everything readied and began serving. Jeremy fixed a plate and sat down with Minnie, and several others.

“So where did you come from and how did you find us?” Minnie asked.

“Well, I came from Massachusetts. I’m actually an ordained Roman Catholic priest, but I have a lot of questions about my church. I guess you’d call it a crisis of faith. I’m wandering around looking for…I’m not sure what. I guess just looking.”

“Well, we’re delighted that you found your way to our humble house of worship,” Minnie piped.

“As am I,” he answered. “It was purely by accident, but quite a happy one.”
“Howso?” Richard inquired.

While motioning to it with his hand, Jeremy said, “I noticed your water cistern sticking up through the trees from the distance, and was drawn to it by curiosity.”

“I never foresaw it attracting worshipers when I erected it,” Richard said, “but I’ll take the result.”

“The rainwater, the compost, the garden,” Jeremy observed. “I admire your respect for the earth.”

“As goes the earth, so go her children,” Minnie said. “So we consider tender regard for nature an indirect form of self-respect.”

“There is a Native American expression I’ve always tried to live by,” Richard said, then spoke it: “Every step upon the earth should be a prayer.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Jeremy said, raising his water glass in toast, “and I’ll take it one further: People should walk around on their knees.”

“Many of us already do,” Richard observed.

“Hands raised to God with the knees bowed upon the earth,” Jeremy said. “Our father and mother…another meaning of the fifth commandment.”

“I’ve never considered it that way,” Minnie confessed.

Jeremy said: “The full commandment is: ’Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. ‘ And Jesus said: ‘And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.’ Who then can be the mother, but the earth? Jesus also said, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ The spirit comes of God, and the water is of the earth—of that father and mother are we born.”

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,” Richard added.

“And he lends it to us, and we should treat it as sacred and precious,” Minnie finished.

“Jesus also said the tribulations preceding the end of the world would be like a woman in travail,” Jeremy continued. “A mother who is about to give birth to the church, the Lamb’s bride.”

Minnie’s friend Marilyn had been listening in, and said: “If you’re interested in the Father Mother divinity relationship, you should go visit the Shakers. There aren’t very many left, but there is a small group of them living together in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. They maintain an authentic a Shaker village there, and some women got together there to revive the religion.”

“You don’t say….” Jeremy wondered aloud.

“They got their name because they were ridiculed for being ‘Shaking Quakers,’” Minnie explained.

“It’s just a few hours from here,” Marilyn added. “We drove through there last month.”

“Then it’s decided,” Minnie declared.

“What’s decided?” Jeremy asked.

“We’ll take a ride there tomorrow,” Minnie said. “Because unless you’ve got somewhere better to be—or anywhere for that matter—you’re sleeping in my guest bed tonight.” Before Jeremy could even consider the offer, she sealed it. “Done.”

Jeremy swallowed a sigh of resignation and accepted his fate with a smile.


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