WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES: Quaker meetings offer time to reflect on struggle to forgive
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Sophomore Gabi Alvarado, who enjoys writing, will blog biweekly on the origins of her creativity and artistic vision.
My parents and I are Quakers. In a nutshell, Quakerism is about upholding SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. We were taught these testimonies in First Day School growing up. They are a very broad and simplified version of our struggle: to be kind and compassionate every day and to see the good (what Quakers call the Light or that of God) in everyone.
It’s hard to be a Quaker. These values, especially integrity, are extremely difficult to uphold. We live in a society where people are materialistic, are infatuated with war and violence, and manipulate people to get what they want. Our society dictates that we need to be independent, that some people are just better or more deserving than others, and that sometimes one’s own needs come before those of the environment. Going against all these norms is very difficult and counterintuitive – and takes a lot of perseverance.
At the Sacramento Friends Meetinghouse, we sit in three concentric circles of chairs in a large room with windows on three sides. Every Sunday, we meditate together for an hour: 10-11 a.m.
Growing up, I found sitting still in silence for an hour daunting and, frankly, boring. Now I can meditate in silence for an hour without falling asleep, and if I’ve had a rough week, I can mull over what’s happening and reflect on it.
But, without a doubt, the hardest thing about being Quaker is being compassionate.
We try to forgive our enemies, hold them in the Light and have compassion for everyone. Seeing the good in people and recognizing their struggle is something we strive for. But when one sees that someone has done something seriously wrong or harmful, it takes a lot of insight to find some good in that person.
On Sunday, Feb. 5, I went to Meeting for the first time in a while (what with winter break, finals, winter ball and Mock Trial, I hardly had time to spare on Sunday mornings). Recently, an old Friend (and a close friend) had passed away, and the Meeting was still reeling from that. Trump had also recently ordered that many Muslims be prohibited from entering the country.
I think that was the worship with the most ministries (a ministry is when someone is moved enough to share a thought with the community during meeting for worship) that I’ve ever been part of. Some people spoke about the immigrants – how there are wise, kind, good people beyond these lines that fence us inside what we call our “home.” That all of our actions have consequences, and it’s our responsibility – our obligation – to think of them and, if possible, fix them.
Later in the hour, we have a time to say the names of those who we want to hold in the Light and pray for. People will say the names of family members or friends who are sick or need support. If something unsettling has happened on a wider scale, people will say those names or call them to our attention.
That day, someone stood and gave ministry during that time about love. She spoke about the love we give to those who suffer, to those we care about, to the weak. She said we have brought all of them into the center of our Meeting and surrounded them with the love of our community. Then she said we should bring Trump into our meetinghouse that day, so that we could surround him with love and kindness. Everyone knew she was right.
I thought about this and realized that we not only try to forgive our enemies or criminals or those who have done us harm, but we also work to forgive ourselves.
We strive to embrace, love and forgive our own demons; this could be the hardest thing to do, perhaps because we know our own intentions.
Giving the benefit of the doubt is easier when the truth is unknown, but we know the truth in ourselves.
Compassion and forgiveness are about acknowledging the dark in someone and simultaneously recognizing the light. It takes patience and a lot of effort to see good in everyone, every day.
Every time I go to Meeting I take a pen. Inspiration strikes in the silence, listening to our community and the environment outside. At the end of worship that Sunday morning, my left arm was covered in purple ink, with quotes and fragments of poems from my wrist to the crook of my elbow. This poem was one of them.
There’s a settled but explorational ambience in a meetinghouse, especially during meeting for worship. There, many minds listen not only to their own thoughts but also, and more consciously, to the silence.
There’s a stillness here,
In our minds,
In our hearts.
The world outside comes caving in,
But here we take our demons
And accept them,
And engulf them in compassion.
Here the world is as it could be – Loving,
Here, there is light.
—By Gabi Alvarado