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.

A Journey to One World, One Creation

Pleasant Mountain
Pleasant Mountain

Owl, Hawk, and Heron—
Benevolent messengers—
Fly with me to the mild woods,
The welcoming leaves and flowers
Along a Pleasant Mountain trail;
In a clearing I find Brother Simon,
A friend I knew in Italy;
We dance holding hands;
Francis and Clare make the circle four,
And songbirds rest on our shoulders.
As we dance, our numbers grow
Until all the world’s people sway on the melody,
The harmony,
While the Earth spins in our circle’s center.
Above us, the Sun waltzes with the Moon;
Our dear ones in spirit smile in witness.
Alone again, Simon and I hug in comradely caring,
Tearful but comforted.
And then Simon, too, is gone;
Lifted into trance on the drumbeat,
I remain with everyone.

Waltzing with You

Sunset 2

Twirl me through the mist
Into the darkness
Under the stars;
Swirl through the heat waves
Cooling under the Moon;
Reach up with me
Following you,
Your lead, your warmth,
Profound and reassuring;
Flowing, drifting on summer,
I close my eyes
And fly on feet floating on triple meter,
Curling once more
Into encircling melody.

Lack of Preparation

How did I grow so old,
I, who was meant to stay sweet and young forever
And studied hard to be an excellent child;
I am sorry that through my lack of vigilance
I have become what I am not prepared to be.

(Note: My parents never tried to keep me a child, but I tried to find my place out in the world by being a good girl—in spite of a rebellious streak.)

A Writers’ Day in Philadelphia

As I walk to my car
I clutch a thermos of caffeine
To quell the sleepless hours;
A robin sings its morning-in-spring melody
In the cool May air,
Clear after yesterday’s clouds;
My friend and I set out for Philadelphia,
Where so much was
And cannot be again.

And yet the city welcomes us;
Driving up Broad Street,
I honor memory’s shrines and sanctuaries,
The scenes and sites
My dearest ones and I well knew
When we were three
And then when we were two.

Now with my lovely friend
We also are a treasured two
Joined for an adventure
Honoring one other,
Creativity,
Courage,
And the felt but silent cheering
Of those beloved in our hearts.

Jubilee Day

“Glory to God, Glory to God,”
The sisters sing,
And I sing, too,
Putting to music
Words feeling foreign alone.
When I hold my faith,
It is a candle flame
Beneath the blazing star
Of the congregants’ knowing.

I believe in God,
I speak of God
And pray to God:
God is creation,
Is love, is energy,
Is all that is good,
Is part of everyone,
Even when the Godliness
Is charred and buried
In the struggle and dross of living;
I see God’s symbols,
God’s elegance and eloquence;
I pray to my dear ones
Who are with God,
Pray they are with God,
Pray they are themselves,
But who, really, is this God,
And do I truly believe or merely beg
And hope?

And who is Jesus?
Here I have less trouble
For I know him as a man
Who lived the essence
Of his God of goodness within.
But is communion more than reenactment,
A tradition to remind us
Of Christ’s goodness and his sacrifice?
And was the sacrifice He made
More than illustration of his Godly ways?
I do not know
And so have not yet found full faith.

I love to sing the hymns:
They join me with the Universe
And those I love
Who are residing there,
However, wherever
They may live and be.
But even in church and with the congregants,
I am conscious, as so often,
Of my isolation and my oddity;
I would reach out to others
With vigor and self-reliance,
Giving the love I feel or want to feel,
Offering pleasure and courage and strength for their days;
And I do smile and hug and say how I am pleased to see them—
And I am pleased—
But then I curl up inside the awkwardness
Tangling my spirit,
Impeding reaching out
And even reaching in.

Pathway

I travel a path through the trees,
A golden path of leaf-filtered sunlight—
The clearing lined with beauty and decay—
A trail of hidden destinations,
Lonely when walked alone
Without companions
And seemingly without belonging,
Yet when I feel love, send love,
Into the trees, the clouds, the stars, the universe,
Love shines back on me
Though fear and fatigue
Feel more tangible, more present;
I strain to see where the path is taking me
And forget sometimes where it began,
Has been;
The rain comes;
Flowers bloom and die;
I run ahead
And circle back,
Throw myself on a boulder
To wail my misery,
But when I stand again
And look within,
The light has returned
And my companions are with me
As I am with them,
And even in the moments of lightning
Striking the ground at our feet,
Even as thunder recalls us to misery
Asking concern and kindness,
Our stepping into brambles
To comfort suffering creatures
And one another, strangers and friends,
The Moon bathes us in healing warmth
And the Sun pours out its rays;
So I will continue
Following my path,
Absorbing the steps and scenes,
Including the beasts that threaten,
Along the miraculous way.