Light, Ritual, and Invitation

Many Quakers limit the use of religious rituals. My understanding is that it is because of concern that the ritual may become empty and detached from the spiritual experience it is supposed to represent or facilitate. There is not much prescribed ritual in my life. I have added a bit myself, either intentionally or organically through patterns of behavior that I recognized to have additional meaning to me.

One of these patterns is my routine for opening the House for the day. My bedroom is in a back corner. You can basically walk a complete circle by traversing the rooms in sequence. Once I am ready, I start from my room, open the blinds in my office, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and finally the blinds covering the front door.* As each set of blinds is opened, light floods an ever-expanding portion of the house. The key is placed in the lock of the door and turned, inviting the world to enter here. The meaning is not lost on me, and I have come to embrace it and be intentionally aware of it.

Although I have unlocked the door, that is not the beginning of my work day, however. I almost always start the day with some study of a sacred text followed by some personal worship/meditation/prayer. Finding that my mind drifts sometimes, or even dozes, I wanted a focal point that I could visually touch to re-center when needed. I started using a candle–lit when I start reading and then blown out when I am done listening in mental silence. Since this is the last thing I do before starting my proper work day, blowing out the flame of the candle has become symbolic, not of losing the Light, but of a transition between the two phases of my day.

My last reflection on light in Quaker House has to do with inviting the light in. The kitchen has a set of internal windows. This is because the back two rooms are an addition to the original structure. As such, these particular windows look into the room behind, which is my office, and that room has paralllel grand windows that look out into an elevated view of the wooded area behind the house. At first, I kept these internal kitchen window blinds open. But then, the use of the office expanded to store bins of supplies for a new project. The bins are wonderfully functional. Their use makes them beautiful in the eyes of those who use them. But, to other eyes, they are just plastic bins. And so, I closed the internal kitchen blinds. But, I have missed the additional light and frequency of views of the trees, squirrels, and birds. Recently, the bin towers have lowered, and I have invited the light and the Earth back into more of the House once again.

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*For those of you familiar with the layout of Quaker House and realize that I have only covered half of the house with this journey, the front office is usually opened by the assistant, the bathroom blinds are usually already open because that window has a frosted covering, and the Counseling Room blinds remain open since that room is closed off anyway, thanks to Sophie the Cat who sheds potential allergens.

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Unrecognized Lifelong Grudge

I just had an epiphany about myself.

All my life, I have blamed Charles Darwin for creating tension academically and culturally in my world and, most egregiously, in a subject that I love — biology.

I have been relgious all my life. I have thrived in science all my life. So, yes, I am one of those people who came to terms with both Darwin and God. But, that tension is always there because it is never far from the headlines about school districts–will a district be teaching creationism/intelligent design or evolution or both? People dig in their heels and are passionate about their sides of things.

I must have been blaming Darwin for all that negative energy all this time; blaming him every time the debate resurfaced in the news.

I realized this, thanks to Facebook.

Meme with quote "The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."
Meme posted by Facebook page Lecturum on 03.02.19.

This meme popped up, and I immediately loved the quote because it describes my daughter, her husband, and my neighbor so well. I love biology from an intellectual perspective, a fascination at the marvels and systems. They love animals from their emotional core identities. So, I smiled as I thought of them. Then, my eye dropped to the author of the quote, Charles Darwin, and I reflexively hmmmphed.

And, suddenly, I wondered why I reacted that way.

Taking time to think, I realized Darwin must have truly loved “all living creatures” too, both intellectually and emotionally. He dedicated his life to studying them, their similarities, their differences, their connections to each other and to himself. His studies led him to travel great distances so he could research amazing creatures. He tendered theories he had to have known would put him at odds with the Church.

I suddenly realized I probably would have liked this guy and, yet, for approximately half a century I have only given him the most superficial nod whenever he has sent another annoying disruption into my news cycle.

My apologies, Mr. Darwin.

My Perfect Labyrinth

Have you ever had a time when you just felt in sync with where and what you should be doing? Last weekend was wonderful that way. Don’t get me wrong, it was also exhausting. But, sometimes, the two things can coexist.

We had a board meeting on Saturday for Quaker House. I had worked hard and had two extra reports that represented significant effort and had, likewise, required quite a bit of attention to detail. I stayed up late the night before to make the house more accommodating to the dog sitter spending some time here and left early in the morning for the two-hour drive. The board meeting went well. I am always amazed by the dedication of our board members.

I got to my hotel room, let my daughter know I was out of the board meeting and to text me when I could come over, and them promptly crashed, full out, in the bed, under the covers. When my daughter texted, I went over to her place to spend a few hours catching up with her and my son-in-law. I love spending time with them. Amazing, crazy, motivated kids who keep me on my toes intellectually with their insights into their world and their open hearts.

Sunday, I got to go to Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business and to Worship with Spring Friends. I have not worshiped with them since August and I have missed them! During the business meeting, a local cat was wandering around in the snow and was welcomed in to share our breakfast, warmth, and discussions.

Cat acting as assistant recording clerk.

Finally, before beginning the two-hour drive back to Fayettteville, I had seen the pleasant forecast and brought a change of clothes so that I could visit the Shallow Ford Trail again. I have not found my perfect trail in Fayetteville, and I was really missing Shallow Ford. Two people warned me, “It’ll be muddy and wet.” “It’s okay. I brought my muddy and wet shoes.” The second I stepped onto the foot bridge over a tiny creek that begins the trail and heard the gurgling of the water over bits of ice and rocks, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

Shallow Ford, like many trails through wooded areas, winds back and forth and round and about. It goes uphill and downhill. Sometimes, there are trees that have come down and have not been cleared away, yet.

We have mindfulness classes at Quaker House and, the first Thursday of the month, Holy Trinity opens their beautiful labyrinth to the public. That labyrinth is peaceful and serene. It makes up the floor of the sanctuary, is lit by votive candles artistically placed around it, and you can hear the trickling water of the baptismal font. It leaves nothing to be desired in beauty and in inviting a clear mind.

I have also walked an outdoor labyrinth at Stony Point Center in New York. It is simpler, but makes up for that simpleness by being outside.

I have been trying to love labyrinths, to confine my feet to their intricate patterns. But, now I finally realize, my perfect labyrinth is laid out in the winding trails through wooded areas along rivers and tributaries, up hills and down slopes, over rocks and around occasionally fallen trees. My perfect labyrinth is of the more wild variety.