“In the beginning . . . ” This phrase opens both Genesis – the first book of the Bible – and the Gospel of John. To say, “Let’s begin at the beginning,” is to say “Okay, let’s get to the heart of the matter, let’s get to the root of this.”
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.
I have always longed to be part of a community. But it has become clear to me lately that “belonging” depends on being accountable. I do not mean this in a quid pro quo sense, like an accountant balancing the books. I mean this in the sense of family members being accountable to each other, where they care for each other, and they all contribute as much as they are able.
The language we necessarily use shapes our experience of the everyday world as a world of “things,” objects that we view from the outside. This is the case whether the “things” are apples, worlds, ideas, relationships, plans, or even the entire universe. We view and manipulate “things” as if we face them from a separate, outside position in which we seem to live.
With an unmistakable sense of mystery, a special kind of Knowing comes to me. This Knowing has come on dozens of occasions, sometimes touching me after prayerful intention and sometimes randomly, an act of pure grace. It seems very much like the “precognition” or “telepathy” that is studied by researchers into the paranormal.
My paternal grandfather was a stern, strait-laced Ohio Quaker. My father, his eldest son, lived out most of those values in his own life, including the traditional Quaker repudiation of armed conflict. Yet at the outset of WWII, the youngest son of the family – my Uncle Clinton – chose to join the Army. My father evidently tried to dissuade his younger brother from joining the Army.
I found myself in the south of England recently for work. Saturday night, I learned with both amusement and envy that within a half hour’s drive of my hotel, there were four Quaker meetings to choose from. Of the closest, I picked the one that I thought would be smaller, more of a country meeting.
In the fall of 2015, my long-time friend Helen was about to move away from her family farm in Northern Ireland, where she had lived near her brothers for the previous seven years. My husband Tom and I decided to join her there and to visit some of the Quaker heritage sites that she had often described remembering from her childhood.