If we’re lucky enough to live long enough, we get to watch the miracle of babies turning into adults. And with that luck, we pay the price of watching tangible people in our lives turning into memories. And we watch those memories taking on lives of their own. A baby’s first word, a teen’s first love, anybody’s last wishes – these moments burst onto the scene, disappear, and then echo.
Our Quaker faith is a faith of waiting worship, of expectant waiting, of expectation that new revelation is at hand. In the news of the day, in the piles of dirty dishes, the videos of funny cats, the misunderstandings, the Pulitzer Prizes and Oscars and Emmys, the bonfires of garbage in town squares all over the world, the floods and epidemics, all the species endangered and vanished, the weeds that continuously clamor to be seen and accepted as real plants in the garden, the breakfast, lunch and dinner, the eternal starvation – in this flood of sensation, we wait for some sense of direction. Which can sometimes seem like trying to read the future in the entrails of a chicken.
However, as Viktor Frankl explains in Man’s Search for Meaning (rooted firmly in his personal experience surviving Auschwitz), “The fact remains that meaning . . . is completely down to earth rather than afloat in the air or resident in an ivory tower. . . The perception of meaning . . . boils down to becoming aware of a possibility against the backdrop of reality or, to express it in plain words, to becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation. . . [If] one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still change his attitude. . . As we see, the priority stays with creatively changing the situation that causes us to suffer. But the superiority goes to the ‘know-how to suffer,’ if need be.”
A growing subfield of neurological research is exploring the effects of meditation on human bodies and brains. Meditation has entered the mainstream of healthcare as a prescription for reducing suffering. Public conversations about the benefits of meditation offer opportunities for Friends to explain that our own form of waiting worship offers more than mere “relaxation responses” for metabolisms, heart rates, respiration rates, blood pressures, and brain chemistries. We sit in waiting worship together with the expectation that we might become aware together of “what can be done.” And that expectation, at times, in time, is satisfied.
“Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play. And never heed the tempest nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed Christ is over all and doth reign.” – George Fox, 1663