January 7 2019

Dear friend,

Did I drive you out of the meeting?  You used to come for a few months pretty regularly to the Wednesday night meeting and then I asked you a question, you answered, and disappeared.

Relying on our years of friendship I asked, I admit in a characteristically blunt fashion, “Since you do not know anything about Quakerism what brings you back to this meeting time after time in the coldness of the winter night? You cannot know what we are doing here.”

And then you answered, and left, forever. Be assured that I am maybe the only Quaker in the world who would have worded the question that offensively.  But then you answered and that answer has stuck around, and I have shared it with others saying maybe my friend just gave us our common denominator.

You said: “THE SHARED SILENCE.”

There is a Quaker way to use that silence, but I have no idea how many of us do precisely that. I like to say that I do. But I slide in out of vipassana meditation and when really digging find non-dualism a more useful approach than dualism. When I have conversations about your answer neither I, nor my Friends, come to any kind of a solution. Just puzzlement. Maybe we should be peddling this. “Come for the Shared Silence, do whatever you find useful as long as it does not violate the quiet, (reading does,) and if you would like, learn in time some of the Quaker way. Maybe all of it. Years down the pike you might sign up. Or you might become a Buddhist. Who knows? We will be happy to have helped.

There are problems with this.

The Quaker vision of the ultimate meeting is a “gathered” meeting. That means that the meeting sinks into a deep silence and we sit together “gathered” in the presence of God. How can we do that if many of us do not believe in God?

That is already the case.

At any of our meetings I would guess ten percent of the people there or more do not believe in a theistic God. So if we can have gathered meetings now, why not in the future?

Ah but, while I have been in deeply silent meetings, in fifteen years of attendance I have never felt I was in a “gathered” meeting. Could that be because some see the basic gatherer, “God,” as unbelievable?  What do you do when some of the sheep do not believe in a shepherd?

Your response has created quite a stir for me and I see no road to answering it. In the meantime c’mon back, friend. The shared silence waits for you.

I do too.

One of my responders to this essay, Bridget Fensholt, provided a road for answering the problem. To summarize her remarks I say:  Whether or not everyone in the meeting believes in God, nevertheless they are in the process of being moved by God, in the meeting and outside of it. So my problem is not a problem.