February 12, 2016

Simplicity and being a Quaker...


"Simplicity is the name we give to our effort to free ourselves to give full attention to God's still, small voice:
the sum of our efforts to subtract from our lives everything that competes with God for our attention and clear hearing."

-Lloyd Lee Wilson (1947), Quaker writer


"Simplicity"
Ambler, Pennsylvania


It's been a whirlwind.  The past couple of weeks have been anything but "simple".  When someone departs this world quickly, it is a blessing to them. But it leaves their family with spinning heads and emotions, struggling to regain equilibrium.  Such has been our life with the passing of my mother-in-law.  Shirley.

My husband's family is Quaker.  Members of the Religious Society of Friends.  Simply explained, Quakers generally believe that the experience of God manifests itself as an Inner Light that lives in every soul.  And that Inner Light should be cultivated individually. Without reliance on clergy, ritual, or even the Bible (they do not rely on the Bible, but rather use it as a tool for understanding).   Quakers commune directly, and simply, with God. There is true freedom in the simplicity.

Quakers also believe that God's goodness shows itself through good deeds.  There is a greater emphasis on the here and now by doing good, and less focus on the afterlife.  So a Quaker funeral service is a true celebration of the life lived. It is conducted in the same manner as a typical Quaker meeting...silently and simply. The goal is to thank God for the life well lived, and to help mourners feel God's love.  Just as in a Quaker meeting, mourners sit silently waiting to come into the presence of God.  In this living silence, they listen for the still, small voice that comes from God through their Inner Light. When the Inner Light moves you, you have the choice to stand and share...or to listen silently.  This is one of the most distinctive aspects of a Quaker meeting.  That anyone who feels moved by the Spirit to speak, feels free to do so.   Regardless of age, gender, or even faith. All are welcomed.

And so we gathered to celebrate Shirley.  In a room filled to capacity. Quaker and Non-Quaker. There was complete silence for the first few minutes (although, it seemed like the silence might never end because truthfully...I am just not use to sitting silently). But then the Inner Light began to show it's presence, and people were moved to share. It was present in those both Quaker and non-Quaker. I heard mourners stand and sing songs, read bible passages, recite poems and meaningful excerpts from books, and to tell personal stories and anecdotes. All in simple celebration of a life that was simply lead..."to do good". 

As I sat in silence, I also heard my Inner Light. I remembered one of my first (and probably most profound) memories of joining my husband's family. 35 years ago my "boyfriend" took me to his home to meet his family.  His two older sisters were home also that weekend.  We sat in the living room telling stories, and laughing.  I was learning so much about who he truly was through his family and their stories.  And then I left the room to get a drink.  As I returned I overhead his two sisters talking to themselves.  "Boy, she sure is NOTHING like Mom".  My future mother-in-law was not a part of this conversation or even in the room.  But my bubble was popped. This was someone I was never going to measure up to in their eyes.  It was just that simple.  And perhaps to protect myself, I put up a bit of a wall.  It was the foolish emotional response of a teenager.  But I realized in those moments of silent listening...there was a lasting effect that sprang from that moment.  A feeling of not feeling worthy or good enough.  And all because I overheard a comment that I'm sure wasn't even remembered by those who said it.

I listened to the celebration of a life well lived, full of good works.  A simple life that touched so many. And although unintended, perhaps that wall I put up resulted in a self fulfilling prophecy.  No, I am nothing like my mother-in-law.  But I believe I should be.  I am not Quaker.  But I can do more to live a life of good works.  I am not Quaker.  But I can do more to make time for silence and to listen to my Inner Light.  I am not Quaker. But I can do more to live in the here and now, rather than worry about the hereafter.  

RIP Shirley.  You lived life to it's fullest.  Yes, we were very different from one another.  But your life inspires me to be a better "me".  It's just that simple.






Here's where I "link up" today


(Join me on Tuesdays for Song-ography. Click on photo for a full description)

15 comments:

  1. This is so moving. Thank you for opening this door to your heart! I have often longed to experience a Quaker meeting...and this lovely description reminds me why. It's so interesting - there are things that have come up over the years...things that were said and that happened very early on when I was first meeting and getting adjusted to my husbands family, that had - for sure - formed some walls. I feel very blessed that conversations have been had and laughter has replaced insecurity over the years. It's so odd when two families try and merge - I'm sure you're discovering, as I am, the dynamic from a different perspective! I also love this notion of silence. And of listening to that inner light. Inner voice. It's one of the oddest paradoxes (right word?) in my life...because it's something that I seem to resist - and yet one of the things that nourishes me the most. Seriously - I really am my own worst enemy. Sending along hugs to you and your family - again, thanks for sharing your heart.

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    1. Here in the Philadelphia area there are so many Quaker Meetinghouses. I would guess it would be similar up in the Boston area? Altho I am not a member, the whole Quaker ideology intrigues me.

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  2. What a moving celebration of life and spiritual tradition. I hope your husband, you, and your family are being comforted by the memories of your mother-in-law!

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  3. I have never been exposed to the Quaker religion, only through TV or movies. I am sure the services given for your mother-in-law had to be full of love and enlightenment and a celebration of her life. I think we all need to sit in silence and listen to that inner light or as I call it, the Holy Spirit.
    Thanks for sharing this most intimate post.

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  4. It cn be comforting to have a strong faith at times like these. Thank you for sharing at #thursdayfavoritethings. Pinned and tweeted!

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  5. I am sorry for your loss. I hope that you and the rest of your family find comfort in the coming weeks and are gentle with yourselves. Blessings upon you all.

    I struggle with faith, and have since I was a child. My grandfather was one of the founding members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and while we never had a direct conversation about my lack of faith, he once said to me, "As long as you keep asking, the answer will eventually come. Ask frequently and ask regularly, and you will know when you are meant to know." I am still asking, still listening, hopeful that he was right.

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  6. Kathy, this is such an interesting post that only made me want to know more. You aren't Quaker, but is your husband, is he practicing or not? How did you raise your kids, was it ever an issue? You don't have to answer any of these, but this is where my mind went. I've never known or even heard of a modern Quaker, so thank you for sharing. Very interesting and most important a reminder to do good now. To do good to others, and to serve beyond your family.

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    1. Hey Brooke. Yep, most people just thing of the old guy in white wig who dons the packaging of "Quaker Oats"! haha. Truthfully, so did I before I knew my husband's family. Geographically, Quakers and their heritage are very prevalent in Pennsylvania (the Philadelphia area in particular). In my county alone I think we have 8-10 meetinghouses. There is also a rather large selection of Quaker schools (open to all faiths). To answer your questions, because Quakers believe in no ritual, need for clergy, and that everyone has that Inner Light (God) within them...when it comes down to it you really do not NEED to be in a church to commune with God. My in-laws actually lived 2 hours from their Meeting, so weekly attendance isn't always possible.

      When I first met my husband and he mentioned "Quaker" I immediately thought of Amish and Mennonite (because we ARE from Pennsylvania afterall! haha). However, I learned that other than being Christian there is absolutely no similarity. Altho we don't attend meeting, my husband IS a practicing Quaker in it's beliefs. Our kids were brought up a combo of Lutheran and Episcople. It was never an issue, because we are all Christian..we just approached it differently.

      Having said that, I will be honest and say that one of my personal stumbling blocks with going to Church is the feeling of a disconnect. I find myself getting too involved in the process, rather than the message. Listening to prompts and responses, when to stand up and sit down, the hymns that seem robotically sung without much thought, the pastor who seems to be only reciting, the rituals. Mind you, these are only MY thoughts and not any rant on others. All of which Quakers do not believe in. You go to meeting, prepare your heart, sit in silence and wait for the Inner Light (God) to speak to you in your thoughts. You my stand and share...or you may sit and be silent with your thoughts. Quite honestly, it is having more appeal to me the older I get. Since I have so many Meetings in close proximity to my home...I am seriously considering attending as I know my husband would be very happy with that.

      Hope I answered your questions (they were all GREAT by the way). Please feel free to email me at kmcblackburn@gmail.com if you'd like to learn anymore. I am NOT an expert on the Quakers by any stretch of the imagination...but I AM an expert on "me" :).

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  7. I am incredibly moved by your homage to your mother-in -law . Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and emotions. A life well lived and to do good... a reminder to us all.

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  8. I am so sorry for your loss. This post brought me to tears. So beautifully written. I wish I could give you a big hug.

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  9. Kathy,
    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I will keep your family in my thoughts.

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  10. I'm so sorry for the loss your family endured recently. You've been in my thoughts. And thank you for sharing all these thoughts. I never really knew the distinctiveness of Quaker worship/theology. May God give you all peace as you heal and seek.

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  11. I've had to sit and digest this beautiful post Kathy. Again, I'm sorry for your loss. I never new exactly what a Quaker was until today. I too thought more on the Amish side. Maybe I could be a Jewish Quaker...but probably not. The way of the Quakers is pretty much how I live my life. Religion was always such a struggle growing up and seems to be a source of contention in my house at the moment. You write so honestly.

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  12. Oh Kathy, what a beautiful post! Suddenly loosing someone is always more difficult than when we find ourselves waiting for it because we know it's coming. The simplicity of the Quaker lifestyle...sounds so familiar to me...and how I actually live. Still, it sounds as though the day and the moments of that day were simply beautiful. Big hugs to you as you go through this time in your life. Regretfully, I am far too acquainted with it.

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