Sunday, December 7, 2014

Quakers: Where, When, Now

"There is an experience of the eternal breaking into time, which transforms all of life into a miracle  ..." Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

I have read many posts about the Quaker past, mostly positive about the glory days, and many posts about what Quakerism's future might be, most of them bleak and depressing. Two nights ago I experienced Quakerism's Now at an Olney Friends School coffeehouse. When I was there, living in what Thomas Kelly would call the divine center,  it came to me, hardly for the first time, that we worry too much about the past and future.

Olney coffee house. "The possibility of the experience of the Divine presence, as ... present fact ...transforms and transfigures life. ... This is the central message of Friends."

The Now is good. There's nothing new in that statement. In one of my favorite posts in recent months  someone stopped to appreciate what he loved about being a Quaker right in the here and now.

If we would simply dwell more in the Now, Quakerism's past and future would take care of themselves. (Let the dead bury the dead. Don't worry about what you will eat and drink but look at the lilies of the field. (Stop and look, really look, at the lilies.)). Haven't we heard this before?

The coffeehouse took place in the Olney dining hall amid the painted metal radiators, exposed pipes and double doors to the 1939 gym.

Christmas lights lit the coffeehouse in Olney's dining hall.  "Within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself." 

The dining hall was and is simple, functional, unpretentious. It doesn't strive to be more than it is. It makes a good coffeehouse.

Audrey in a long floral skirt and bare feet, played and sang folk songs on the guitar. She brought the past with her and made it the present. She could have been from 1965 or 1975 or 1995. It  didn't matter.

Audrey played folk guitar. What year are we in? The Eternal Now. "This is the first fruit of the Spirit--a joy unspeakable and full of glory." 

Some young men, Chinese and American, performed in a rock band. They sang "Do you know what you're fighting for?" They could have been singing that 40 years ago. Did they know war they were singing about? It didn't matter.

Do you know what you're fighting for? "Why want, and yearn, and struggle, when the Now contains all one could ever wish for and more?"

Fireworks from Youtube showed on a movie screen. The fireworks came from all over the world, Hong Kong and Dubai and Qatar and other places They were beautiful, stunning sometimes, with great bursts of purple or flashes of white light filling the sky. The fireworks could have been celebrating the coronation of an eighteenth century king, but they also celebrated the coffeehouse.

Roger shared some chocolate mousse with me. I drank some coffee. Jamie, one of the teachers, came over and said kind things to me. I listened to the music. I felt at peace.

Is an Olney coffeehouse Quakerism? I don't know. The school is Quaker. Most of the students aren't, but some are. All I know is that many, many times over the past six years I have gone to events at Olney or just sat in the parlor and listened to a student playing Beethoven or Chopin on the piano. In those moments,  I have experienced something I wished I could bottle and pour out all over the world.

If we are simply being, not striving or using gimmicks, not worrying about the numbers,  not telling people what Quakers used to be or should be or must be in the future, then we are being Quakers in the world and Quakerism is alive and well. As long as we just keep doing it--being together as Quakers-- and trying not to fix it or glitz it or grow it or preserve it in a jar, we are alive. Because then we experience peace and wholeness, and we carry that out, "unspeakable, profound and full of glory," even if just for an eternal moment, into the universe.