Sunday, November 30, 2008

As I walked to meeting this morning, sleet began to fall.  It made the sidewalk crunch with each step.  I had 15 minutes to get to meeting, which meant that I had to walk at a very brisk and determined pace.  But I passed an oak tree along the way that stopped me dead in my tracks.  The leaves were large, lobed, and late-autumn-crisp.  They hung from the branches like so many fish scales, or papery hands.  As I passed, I heard the sleet hitting the leaves and tumbling down, making the entire tree ring.  It was a sound I had never encountered before:  feathery, sibilant, shimmering.

As I sat silently in meeting, I was suddenly slapped with a feeling of disconnectedness.  I felt profoundly disconnected from everyone else in the room.  I felt alone and alien, as if I were in a room full of meditating atheists in this liberal college town.  Quakerism's reluctance to exclude anyone suddenly weighed in heavily on me, and I somehow felt the cloud of diluting universalism suck all spiritual vitality from the meeting.  I felt for the first time like I wanted to run away, like I was being pulled into a Godless void.

And then I heard it.  I heard the sound of rising wind, and the sound of sleet falling onto the trees outside.  The meeting's sounds of breathing and shifting seats and rustling clothes expanded into the liquescent sounds of air and ice and leaves.

I was being pulled into something, I'm sure.  But not a Godless void;  far from it.  It was a space where God was wholly and elementally present, and my sudden discontents melted away.  I could feel that my fellow sitters and I were all worshippers, all listeners.  A woman stood to remind us that the beginning of the Advent season tells us the joy of waiting.  I shifted my hands so my palms faced up.  These words passed through my head again and again:  "Be still and know that I am God."  

My good friend once skipped meeting to spend First Day morning in the woods.  To her, the trees are just as full of God's presence as any Quaker meetinghouse.  Today, I heard God remind me of his presence, and his voice sounded like breathing and wind and shuddering leaves.

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