Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Friends Meetings Against Anxiety

Yesterday we went to our weekly circle, where quiet as Quakers we sit, waiting for the Light, as is true to their tradition. Women outnumber men 3 to 1, mismatched shades of green against beards; talismans of keys and mini-flashlights cradled between the broad breasts are matched in equal number by waist-length beards. We are like Annie Dillard here seeking solace, we are like John Updike trying to participate in a tradition in a place where it doesn’t seem too strange, even Soren Kierkegaard tried this. Giving the mundane it’s beautiful due, we sit here thinking, letting the heaviness seep down in our bodies while our brains float higher in their fluid. Outside the Quaker meeting-house, a light-filled smoke lodge, a peace park flutters little flags for bikers, electric buses, and travelers. The boats on Lake Union filtered through the trees blow their horns, which are not rams' horns, and the weather seems perfect. On the veranda wall, next to the rack of newsletters called Gleamings, is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods."

This is the third time I’ve seen an Emerson quote in the past three weeks, the first in my mom’s living room above a flowery tea pot and stacks of the New Republic (I forget what it said), and the other at last week’s art musuem: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." These thoughts make me want to forgive Emerson (but not Ben Franklin), a little, his invention of the American religion of self-reliance. Perhaps his intent was less Darwinian and more meditative, more engaged and less self-interested, than I previously gave him credit. Perhaps like Nikos Kazantzakis his interest was a "process theology:" the metaphysics made out of what people value, collect, and create through deep attention. Which brings me to Simone Weil’s most often clichéd remark: “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

We went to Discovery Park last night traveling myriad trails and saw three raccoons. Down on the rocks of the North Beach, Jen summoned all her powers against pleasure boats and for Orcas. We sat for hours doing nothing but inhaling our breath and staring with absolutely unmixed attention at the Sound. And still no whales. We made new myths intricately weaving our actions into their potential ones. Still nothing. Jennifer blamed me for lack of faith since Weilian prayer presupposes faith and love. I told her, the new myths were not sound, they did not sound true. At last two seals appeared as a reward for patience. As we left, the sun misshapen by the opaque Olympics, Jen whispered in the enchanting forest, “I’m glad we didn’t see them, because they seem more mysterious that way.” And we went home and listened to Blitzen Trapper (who we saw on Friday down by the Orca mural) sing about how to be wild and sure.
Photo by He Who Shall


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