I’m moving things around this weekend in preparation for next week’s “week of silence,” (more on that later), which means today I get to introduce you to my friend Tim McGeary.
I actually had the pleasure of meeting Tim over fried chicken and shoe-fly pie when Dan and I were in Amish Country back in March. Tim, (who is not Amish by the way), is a contributor for the Burnside Writers Collective through the "Purpose-Driven Centrist" column, as well as an occasional blogger.
Professionally, Tim leads the Library Technology team at Lehigh University, is on the editorial board for theCode4Lib Journal and has published seven articles and given over 20 national and regional presentations on library technology topics. He lives in Bethlehem, PA, with his wife Andrea and two adorable children. (I know. I’ve seen pictures.)
When Tim emailed me to tell me about his recent visit to a Quaker meeting, I asked him to turn his message into a guest post. I’m planning to attend a gathering of Friends next Sunday and am working on scheduling an “Ask a Quaker…” interview for September, so I figured we could all be inspired by Tim’s fascinating encounter with The Religious Society of Friends.
A Visitor Among Friends
by Tim McGeary
Last year our family joined a small group that focuses on sharing real life together, while being intentionally vague in defining the spiritual nature of our gatherings. This allows room to get to know one another for who we are, not for the answers we give to carefully crafted study guides. It is a safe environment to question openly, to ask honestly, and to share freely. My soul has been longing for something new, and the fundamentalist Christian world I came from ceased having all the answers. I’ve soaked up many books aiming new ideas on faith, doubt, and searching for God. So a friend from this small group suggested we visit a Quaker meeting together.
I am a prototypical extrovert. I draw energy from activity and people. I struggle to focus on any singular item, am always fidgety, and rarely quiet. While I’ve learned a lot about introspection from my wife, I was intimidated by a communal hour of intentional silence in expectation of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
An hour of quiet reflection sounded peaceful, but would I get anything out of this?
When we arrived a handful of people were sitting quietly in the meeting room, setup squarely with long benches. After sitting, I closed my eyes to pray, as more people quietly entered. Nothing came into focus. I looked around the room, noticing the intentional blandness of it, clearly to avoid distractions I was looking for. I bowed my head and still nothing. I looked around the room and counted people, calculating the male to female ratio, then down to the floor.
A woman stood up and shared a short, simple message. I expected this. A Quaker website said persons may be “moved to offer a message.” I avoided facing her, as suggested by the website.
With her message not resonating, I went back to looking at the floor.
Another woman stood up and spoke about peace, and how hard peacemaking is. She talked about her work, how fulfilling it is and the abundance of such projects, but she has no peace. Her dad was moving to hospice, and peace was disrupted for her father, for her family, and for herself. She affirmed that we all long for peace, but we rarely reflect on how hard peacemaking is, the sacrifice required, and the burdens we still have to carry.
This message hit me to the core.
It shocked my soul with memories of watching my grandfather’s health deteriorate such that when he told me “I can’t wait until Thanksgiving to see you,” he meant it. When I got the call of another stroke only weeks later, it was for peace that I drove 10 hours round trip to see my grandfather one last time. And it was peace I received when I laid with him on his bed, after hearing him weep when told I had arrived.
I thought about what peace means in my home with two preschool-aged children. As our daughter approaches kindergarten, she pushes against all boundaries, and, as parents, we struggle to push back appropriately. Our son, almost three, bounces between copying his sister and antagonizing her, not understanding the line between fun and fight.
I thought about the spiritual peace my soul longs for. For the first time in awhile, I felt regret for not reading the Bible, wishing I had a psalm or gospel parable to meditate upon.
But within moments, a couples verses from Psalms and Matthew came to me. (AWANA may actually have had some positive influence on me, after all.) No longer antsy, and with closed eyes, I focused on these areas of peace, and new angles to approach these conflicts.
A few others spoke, some shorter, some longer, but none were enlightening, nor disruptive to the quieting I felt. I began to grasp what the Friends mean by being “visited by a spiritual presence … drawn from a deeper well... illuminated with a brighter light, [letting] those impressions dwell in you....”
The meeting concluded once someone turned to a Friend, shook their hand, and said “Welcome.” All were asked to introduce themselves, and visitors were welcomed in unison with a warm, authentic “Welcome, Friend.”
I found this Quaker experience to be thrilling. The most profound impact was my desire to prepare for the next meeting by reading the Bible. I haven’t had that desire after leaving a worship service in a long while. I also found no need to fret about doctrinal statements or a worship style, and had no fear of being recruited into ministry opportunities. Instead, as a visitor among Friends, I found a community prepared to jointly and humbly seek an experience with the Holy Spirit through expectant waiting.
I left seeking more.
When was the last time you were visited by a spiritual presence?