"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
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)