Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A good morning with Friends

Yearbook photo, next to
William Penn's hitching post.
Telling people you went to a Friends high school can be like playing Who's on First.

Me: "I went to a Friends school in New York."

The other person: "I wasn't asking about your friend's school. I was asking about yours."

When you say a Friends School is operated by Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends), people aren't sure what to make of that either. I only knew one or two Quakers at my high school, Friends Seminary. Actually, a good percent were Jewish.

So what about the Quaker part? The philosophy guided our school. Quakers believe in the inner light in everyone and in working for peace and social justice. It is hard to say it without sounding corny, so I'll send you to the Friends Seminary website.

When I was in 10th grade, the school organized a bus trip to Washington for a silent vigil around the White House to protest the Vietnam War. That is the kind of thing we did. Silence is another key component of a Friends education, specifically the one-hour silent meeting for worship that we had every Wednesday in the meeting house. There is no program; you sit in silence, and if you are moved to speak, you stand up and begin. This website has a good explanation of Quaker Meeting.

Meeting house, left, and Friends Seminary
My mother said that as soon as we went into the beautiful historic meetinghouse on 15th Street and Rutherford Place, she knew it was the school for me. The school is one of some 80 in the country; the Obama girls attend Sidwell Friends. When I reconnected with friends from Friends who live in the Valley, we hardly skipped a beat. My friends from Friends are like family.

Wherever I live, I usually find a Friends meeting. For example, when I lived in Brookline, I went to the Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

Some time ago I went to the Mount Toby Friends Meeting in Leverett, but I hadn't been for a while. Sunday mornings I usually either go to a spinning class at the Holyoke Y or a yoga class at the Hampshire Regional Y in Northampton.

I bring this up now because in the past two weeks I went first to the Friends Meeting in Northampton, and then this past Sunday to Mt. Toby. A friend from Friends and I had talked about wanting to go together, and I was curious about the meeting in Northampton (on Center Street) because I pass by it all the time.

Given the terrorist attacks of the previous week, it seemed like a good time to go sit with the peaceful people. So that is what we did. He wasn't available, so I went by myself to the Mount Toby meeting. It is easy to find – it's on Route 63 – but, if you know me, you know I can get lost in South Hadley. I misread the directions and took one wrong turn, which led to another, and another, with Siri being of no help and saying, infuriatingly, "I'm sorry, I seem to have lost my Internet connection."

I got there about 20 minutes late, but people were coming in and out anyway, so it didn't matter. Just coming into a place like that, I could feel my blood pressure drop. We sat in silence, with some people standing up to talk – mostly about the terrorist attacks – and then, after an hour, each person turned to his or her neighbor, shook hands, and said, "Good morning." Then people went around and introduced themselves, with newcomers like myself receiving a warm, "Welcome." Afterwards, I chatted with some members over coffee.

 Here is the description on the website: Mount Toby Friends Meeting is a welcoming faith community. We come from many different religious backgrounds, including birthright Quakers, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Pagans, and those with no previous affiliation. Believing that every human being shares in the universal Light, we join together each Sunday to create an expectant silence where the spirit may enter. Our Meeting is “unprogrammed,” which means that there is no formal order of worship, but those who are moved by the spirit can speak. Thus we all are ministers as well as attenders.

Friends education gave me the gift of being able to return to meetings and feel connected and gain a sense of inner peace wherever the meetings are. The gym will be there the rest of the week. My friend from Friends and I are going to return.


Scott Miller said...

All these years and I had NO IDEA that was William Penn's hitching post!!!!!
There are no formal Quaker meetings in Lewisburg, but a few folks over the years have held meetings now and again. I remember not being able to sit quietly very well at Friends, but now embrace the silence whenever I can. Thanks for sharing, especially at this time in history.

Ronni Gordon said...

I think it was William Penn's hitching post! Yeah, I probably squirmed a lot too and now that I think of it I looked at the window panes a lot, but I'm glad that we had that. Hope you have a good Thanksgiving.

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