Seeking

Wilm. Meetinghouse, pencil
Wilmington (De.) Meetinghouse, pencil sketch by Mason Hayek

We gather near evening to honor two-hundred years
Of Quaker worship in our Meetinghouse,
Two-hundred years of listening within these walls,
Of waiting on the Lord,
For That-of-God-Within to speak
And to urge speaking,
Two-hundred years
Of First Days[1]
On the handsome, uncomfortable benches
On the simple and beautiful wooden floor,
Of seeking spiritual gathering
Bringing each within.

I know little of the Quakers two centuries past,
Only their stories told in First Day School
And the fact of men and women dividing
In early Meetings for Business:
Desiring equality without men’s domination;
Otherwise the history accompanying me at sunset
Is the history I lived.

As dusk nears
I return to childhood within these walls;
I hear the ministry of Weighty Friends,
Their timbre and cadence,
The “thee” and “thou” a few still spoke,
The names now heard as forebears.

We children sang before Meeting for Worship,
And after, all sang together:
“As we leave this friendly place,
Love give light to every face.”[2]
I loved the singing more than silence.
We rarely sing now.

In the peaceful twilight
I see my parents
As my father clerks our Meeting for Business,
As my mother’s ministry radiates that of God within,
As we three worship on the bench we always chose.

I slip into the years
When children came to our home
To create treasures to sell
At the fair held each November;
And then I was Mary or an angel in the Christmas play;
On Easter, we children gave everyone pansies;
In First Day School
We formed salt maps of the Holy Land;
Our Bibles were presented when we were nine—
I chose the King James Version—
Faith and Practice[3] was a gift for high-school graduation.

Today’s children in our Meeting
Have their own traditions,
But few of them are mine,
And the adults’ traditions
Are—for me—loosely fitting,
Often unfamiliar.

Around me in the darkening Meetinghouse,
I see Friends who are friends
And others who are strangers;
How uncomfortable
That mine is the older generation now;
My peers serve the congregation and our neighbors,
But I do not:
My life is elsewhere;
The Meeting kindly welcomed me,
Returning after time and alienation,
But I remain a ghost from another era.

[1] Quakers traditionally refer to Sunday as “First Day.”

[2] “As We Leave This Friendly Place,” lyrics by Vincent B. Silliman, 1935.

[3] Faith and Practice is a book containing Quaker principles and queries for contemplation.

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