Something else happened in my life during my web-absence. In the microcosm of several weeks’ worth of stress, it wasn’t as dramatic as the breast lump, but in the macrocosm of my life entire, it was quietly, absolutely stunning.
I became a convinced Quaker,* although I haven’t officially joined the Religious Society of Friends (but I will, this summer or autumn). Given that a central tenet of Quakerism is silent worship, anyone who knows me in real life will know that for me to attend an hour of silent worship every week or two and actually maintain the silence is a nearly unimaginable act of faith.**
So how did this come about, you may wonder? (and if you don’t, I won’t be offended if you don’t read any further. God-talk still makes me nervous, though I’m working on it.)
I was raised Roman Catholic by a very observant mother, although I’ve never been sure how much of her faith was based in the Divine and how much was based in the earthly organization of Catholicism. I went through catechism classes and all, like a good Catholic girl, and the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I attended daily Mass. I was asking myself at the time if I had a vocation,*** but I couldn’t get past the fact that women can’t be priests. Of course, humility and service are the basis of a vocation, but my emergent feminism couldn’t stomach the idea that one gender is inherently more humble than the other.
In college, I attended Mass for about another year or so. Then I trod the college path so familiar to church-raised young adults — learning new ideas, questioning old ones, and being entirely too hung over most Sunday mornings. I also began to question other Church positions in addition to not ordaining women — the bans on artificial birth control and premarital sex, for example (which I became concerned about around the time I started having regular sex), as well as the Church’s adamantly anti-choice position and its absolute refusal to consider condom use acceptable in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS.****
So I stopped going to Mass altogether. I still felt a need for spirituality, however, which I put down to the habit of weekly Mass. Eventually I learned about and practiced Neo-Paganism, which appealed to me because of its non-hierarchical structure, feminist values, environmental concerns, and really nifty paraphernalia. Candles, incense, statuettes, ancient liturgies — it was like a home Catholic kit! All of the ceremony, none of the guilt.
For me, that was finally the sticking point (the home part, not the no-guilt part; I’m all about lessening my childhood Catholic guilt). Neo-Paganism was a positive, transformative experience for me and key to my spiritual development, but something was missing. I was a solo practitioner and I missed the community of a congregation. In grad school a few years ago, I went to a couple of Quaker meetings after I’d learned that they had always accepted women as preachers–we read Margaret Fell, the “mother of Quakerism” in our rhetoric courses. But I eventually settled on a Lutheran church in Bowling Green (Ohio) that had a female pastor and an informal second service on Sundays and attended more or less regularly. When I moved to Storm Lake and went a few times to the Lutheran church here (same synod) I found that I wasn’t drawn to Lutheranism so much as to the particular pastor and service in Bowling Green. So I stopped doing anything religiously significant for a year or so.
In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, Anne Lamott’s thoughtful, funny, irreverent chronicle of her journey to (liberal) Christian belief, she describes the pre-conversion presence of Christ in her life as a little cat, padding quietly along behind her as her life approached its crisis point. Last fall, years after reading Traveling Mercies, I realized that the niggling religious-y tickle that had followed me since my teen years was not, as I had supposed, a deeply inculcated habit of church, but Christ,***** patiently keeping me company on my journey.******
This time, being the born academic that I am, I researched Quakerism and its American branches and simultaneously looked for a meeting in my area. I found one about 45 minutes away, the Paullina Friends Meeting. I attended, was welcomed, attended again, and again, skipped a Sunday or two, went again…..pretty much a repeat of my enjoyable Lutheran experience. But then, in my reading, I found this explanation of Quaker testimonies (root beliefs) and that was it. I was, in capital Quaker letters, CONVINCED. The truth resonated in me and I knew it and also knew where I belonged.
And so, I’m a Quaker. Not a very good one, I’m afraid, especially in the truth-telling department as I’m also a born storyteller of the Mark Twain, more-exaggeration-is-funnier school. The preceding entry on my breast lump, for example, was tough — everything reported DID happen, and if I exaggerated a bit for effect, I also DID NOT give into to my instinct to add extra funny things that didn’t happen but, you know, could have.
I’ll probably log again on spiritual things, or I may start a second blog about my spiritual journey and call it “Mild Oats.”******* or I may change the name of this blog to Mild Oats. Or I may do none of these things. We’ll see.
*From the Quaker Jargon Buster: Convincement – a discovery of truth,
as in “Quaker by convincement”, one who has become convinced of the
truth of the Quaker way. It is used to describe anybody who joins the
Society [as opposed to those born to Quaker parents — birthright Quakers].
**and evidence of God’s grace. At home, when no one’s around, I talk to the animals. If they’re unavailable, I talk to myself. If I were ever struck dumb, I’d learn ASL and sign to myself.
***and it turns out I do…as a teacher of writing.
****it seems as if these concerns all pivot around sex, but, given the Church’s white male hierarchy, they’re really about oppression. Except the premarital sex thing — that was about sex and my unrepentant having of it.
*****Quakers call this the Light Within, or the still, small voice at our center.
******And had I never arrived at journey’s end, which for me was a return to Christianity, would I have been damned? Nope, I don’t believe that for a moment. Faith and Grace are life-processes, not one time coupon redemptions.
*******You know, Quaker Oats? Except they’re not Quaker at all, but Quakers had such a fine reputation for square-dealing that lots of products took that name.