I began attending Quaker Meeting at a time of darkness – it was both Winter Solstice, and I was struggling with life transitions. My husband and I had recently moved to Washington from my hometown in Missouri. Six months prior to our move, my grandfather had passed away. I struggled with my sense of family in the face of loss, and home in the face of moving.
My inner turmoil progressed over the course of moving – knots in my shoulders, stomachaches, grinding my teeth at night. I experienced a depth of despair I’d never known before. I cried often. It was hard to put context to my experience until much later. At the time, everything felt turned upside down.
I felt responsible for my own well-being and believed it was up to me to hold everything together – and I felt inadequate. It was as though I decided not to use a cart at the grocery store. Once I picked up one thing, I dropped another. I wished for something larger than myself that could hold my contents.
Though I struggled to understand my grief, I knew this time in my life was a rite of passage, a call to adulthood. Still, I felt overwhelmed.
The Christmas after our move, we attended Meeting in my husband’s hometown. There, I met a young man who had recently finished his seminary degree. He said he wasn’t sure where he’d end up, but he was a feather and God was the wind. Doesn’t it feel like you get the rug pulled out from under you sometimes? I said. Yes! He replied. But underneath the rug, God is waiting for us with a big pillow.
I carried the image of the pillow with me after that. At the same time, I began to meditate. In the act of making space for quiet, I found an antidote to my struggling. While my life felt tumultuous, there wasn’t tumult in this moment. If I could live in the moments that make up the days, I could find a way out of the chaos.
I was brushing my teeth one evening when I realized – suddenly! – I could never be truly lonely because God is always with me. Just as suddenly, I was back again, brushing my teeth. I tried again to conjure the same knowing feeling, but certainty is a slippery fish.
Much of my spirituality is borne of my mom’s influence – she has had a mindfulness practice for many years. Where my mom has created a patchwork of spirituality, however, I sought a unified tradition. I understood that, for me, seeking a spiritual tradition from a different culture would feel like appropriation.
So, while I didn’t grow up in a church, and while immeasurable trauma exists in the wake of Christianity, I understand the Christian tradition to be my birthright. It has been in Christianity that my forebears have sought solace and guidance. But I didn’t join the congregations of my grandparents. I turned, instead, to my husband’s faith, the Friends.
Within the unprogrammed branch of Quakerism, I have found my foundation in a Christian tradition, with a direct emphasis on quietness, on present focus. My meditation has helped me recognize the presence of God that is always with me, if I only stop to notice.
Instead of believing I hold the reigns in life, I am learning, in Isaac Penington’s words, to “give over [my] own willing; give over [my] own running.” By listening in my heart, instead of traipsing after my mind, I am able to rest in the expansive presence of God. ~~~
Emily Gray is currently a student at the Evergreen State College. When she’s not studying, she can be found writing, knitting, hiking, or doing shape note singing with her husband. She travels between the Midwest and the Northwest often and considers both places home. She attends Olympia Monthly Meeting (NPYM).
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