I came to Quakerism as a spiritual refugee after being made to feel unwelcome in my family’s original faith community (long story).
And even though there are now few places where I feel more at home than in a Meetinghouse (that's my current one above), it took some getting used to. The kind of worship that Meetings here in the mid-Atlantic region practice is called “unprogrammed.” This means, among other things, that we arrive at Meeting and sit in expectant silence. And that sometimes, the silence lasts for a full hour.
When I first started attending Meeting, the hour felt like an eternity. I had a terrible case of what practitioners of meditation aptly call “Monkey Mind.” I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, or, worse, like I must be doing something wrong.
But slowly, slowly, week by week, year by year, I started to become more comfortable. My mind and spirit quieted down. I started to feel less like an imposter. So I was a bit taken aback when I returned to Meeting in the fall that year and felt like I was right back where I’d started. I recognized the feeling.
“I’m out of shape!” I thought, and that’s when the idea of spiritual flabbiness came alive for me.
When our son D was born, I immediately started bringing him to Meeting for Worship. Those Meetings spent with a tiny baby sleeping and snuffling in my arms may not have been among my most centered, but there was a different quality to the peace in the room.
When he was two, I talked with D about what people did in Meeting for Worship and brought him in, letting him stay for as long as he could be (relatively) quiet. (Some days, this was about two minutes, but we kept trying.) When he was three we started working on being quiet AND still (pretty much impossible, but a worthy goal)!
Now, as an almost five year-old, D has a developing sense of himself as a child of God, and he knows that he’s unusually good at being quiet and still when he puts his mind to it. “I have good quiet muscles,” he’ll say, and he’s right... he's up to about 20 minutes at a time now, I think.
Once we were both thinking about the practice of “settling in” to Meeting as something one needed to be in shape for, it was a short step to thinking about forgiveness in similar terms.
When I was growing up, forgiveness was in short supply. People in my family were often angry with each other – with good cause – and many of the apologies were negated by a trailing “but”… “I’m sorry, but you just…”
I wanted to try to change that in this next generation. So we’ve been talking with D for most of his little life about forgiveness… what it means, what it sounds like, what it feels like. That it’s as much about healing the heart of the person offering it as it is about helping the heart of the person accepting it. That both the offering and the accepting can sometimes be really hard. A few weeks ago, in the middle of impromptu livingroom wrestling match number 357, D miscalculated and accidentally launched himself full force at my head. (He weighs 41 pounds now!) His nose started bleeding, and my head felt like a gong. As soon as we got the cold compress on and the crying stopped, he looked up at me and said, “Mommy, let’s forgive each other quickly.”
Sounds like he’s well on his way to strong forgiveness muscles.
Which he'll probably need, once he figures out how many nudie bathtub pics I have of him. And that I've shared this one with the universe. :-)
(Thanks to the women of Mama Says Om for the springboard!)