Epistle from Young Adult Friends Retreat
I don't know exactly when this event took place, but it was evidently quite recent, and it sounds like it was very valuable. I am encouraged to see such thoughtfulness and deep seeking among these Friends. I hope we will see the fruit of their seeking and struggle emerge as they become increasingly active in the Society of Friends and some of us codgers recede a little.
We write to you from Brooklyn’s meetinghouse in New York City during a time of retreat and exploration. Here twelve Young Adult Friends gathered for a conference titled Faith and Practice: Finding Yourself Quaker. We came together Friday evening and remained with each other in the Spirit of worship, play, and sharing until the rise of Brooklyn’s Meeting for Worship on First Day. The hospitality afforded by the meetinghouse space was greatly appreciated, and we were grateful again for having such a welcoming environment in which to join. During the time spent together we have experienced fellowship, nourishment, and support in seeking our paths. The whole of the gathering has been full of gratitude and connection.
Friday evening Friends were encouraged to consider different aspects of Quakerism, and together we collected a list of words that rose in us as we thought about what Quakers are. The list held ideals, ordeals, hopes, and truths. It contained Continuing Revelation and Committees, Seriousness and Lightheartedness, Questioning and Affirming Christianity, Political Awareness, Quaker Guilt, Mysticism, Silence, and Joy. Even as we took it down, we knew that no list could ever be long enough to explain it fully. No list could capture the gestalt…and so we moved to questions.
During the late evening of Friday, and throughout the day on Saturday, we asked and grasped after Truth. We wondered who we were and asked it aloud. Then we wondered what we were if no one agreed. We took pride in our heritage and history and wondered about our future. We struggled with the idea that some are Quaker because of the community it provides and others because of the spirituality. We want to know if one can be had without the other. Would either be complete? We asked if there was a right way to worship; if we should, or could, draw lines to define us; and whether or not there was any joy in worship. We asked what the Divine was. We asked if Divine was. We wondered and we wandered. And we did it all together.
Though we all grapple with difficult questions, it is not as common for us to do this work together and aloud. We found that there was power in speaking these questions into the space and in trying to answer them together. The atmosphere was live and our conversation flowed smoothly from one thing to the next. And yet, for all the variety of topics, there were moments when we knew each other’s experience deeply. In the space of that moment we placed words on our experience and spoke them.
These are ours.
Sewn with threads of Word.
There are many voices.
Many fingers pointing.
There is something that connects all of us.
There is something that is the same in all of us.
There is this energy to be alive.
It makes people whole and real.
When we settle in Gathered Stillness we open ourselves into the possibility of a profound experience which all can recognize, and no book can define…
Everything is there. It is exciting. Breathing faster. Heart beat up.
Everyone is themselves and more. More opened up. More…
There is Love.
Using the word love is dangerous though.
You end up saying love can fix the world.
Instead lets say…
The Universe is here. In its entirety.
Raw in this moment.
Carry it forward.
See how it pushes you forward?
Feel how it grows larger still?
Is there sweetness in your mouth?
Will the shaking stop?
Is there more?
We help it along. Sure we do. But it does it itself too.
…and there is joy…. and gratitude to celebrate.
For those around us.
For my life. Speak it.
For life. Acknowledge it.
There are many voices.
These are ours.
We came for Faith and Practice: Finding Yourself Quaker and discovered that what we were looking for was, of course, in front of us the whole time. Quakerism is about finding. In this moment. Renewing again in every moment. Failing. Trying again. And trying again. In community. In silence and stillness.
To paraphrase Thomas Kelly, a practicing Friend must above all be one who practices a continual returning to inner stillness, who draws the world into the silence and Light found there, and is ready to bring that Light into the world, and is willing to be changed because of it all. A practicing Friend is one who does this and is willing to do it with others. Again and again. We feel called to this. This calls to us.
We are grateful for having had this time to be with one another, to have explored, and to be refreshed. And we are grateful and joyed to be able to share it with you.
In this long moment,
Callid Keefe-Perry, Rochester; Jillian Smith, Saratoga; Sarah Brown, Rockland; Niko Tsocanos, Wilton; Alex Tsocanos, Wilton; Sebastian Tsocanos, Wilton; Rebecca Haines, Mohawk Valley; Alex Haines, Mohawk Valley; Beth Vardy, Philipstown Worship Group; Luke Jones, 15th Street; Brianna Higgins, Wilton; John Lavin, Birmingham (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)