Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A Quaker Mask of Respectability
We've been away from meeting for worship for most all of the summer. There's always a reason. Sort of. We're either sick or we're tired or we're sick and tired.
It makes me sad to think about it. Why can't I get myself to meeting? What is wrong with me?
My feelings about meeting for worship are layered and intense. In the silence, I feel profound Presence and I also feel it in the words people speak into that silence. I almost never get through a meeting for worship without tears. Even apparently simple messages move me profoundly and the intensity of emotion surrounding me is palpable. Still, all of that is just a tease. When everyone stands up and shakes hands, the spell is broken and I'm surrounded by strangers who don't know my name and don't actually give a damn about me or my family. When they do talk to me (and usually they don't) their masks are back on and they are bland, respectable, officious, and busy. What do I expect? I am just the same. I fuss over my kids and when someone asks me a question, my mind races to find the appropriate formula so that I can supply a politely phrased and bland response that will not betray any unsightly emotion. "I am depressed and lonely. I feel isolated and have been in a panicked despair over my sense that life is a series of crushing, humiliating circumstances beyond my control followed by painful disease or injury resulting in personal annihilation," is not the kind of response anyone wants to hear. They want to hear, "I'm fine. How are you?"
Still, I have these expectations. For instance, I expect that people might say hello to me and smile at me as if they mean it and I expect that spiritual topics not be received with the same distaste as if I'd told them about my sexual habits. I get a very strong sense that "we don't talk about those things here." No one really says it but their body language and their apparent reluctance to share personal experiences of worship broadcasts that sentiment loud and clear.
To be fair, I wonder if I'd really be comfortable discussing spiritual matters with anyone offline where it is so much more critical to maintain the facade of respectability. "Hystery" doesn't have to worry about what anyone thinks of her so she is free to speak openly of her spiritual journey, of her doubts, and her deep fears. If I were to do that in the real world, it is unlikely that I could keep my job for long. Real world relationships, unless they are very intimate, do not bear that much weight and people with responsibilities don't talk about spiritual hunger. They don't expose spiritual wounds-- not without first bandaging them nicely in tidy strips of "rational objective discourse." I've been burned often enough online to know that I don't think I could handle similar rejection face to face.
I'm a closeted spiritual person in many ways and I'll bet you lots of other Friends are as well. Where I live and make my living, I cannot afford to show that I am a haunted soul. In the sane and secular halls of America, to be a Pagan is to be a liberal fruitcake and to be a Christian is to be a conservative wing-nut. I dare not expose the extent to which I am "touched", as we say here in the country. My rational self forbids it.
Maybe we are all wearing masks. I cannot be the only one who removes it in the deepening silence when I think that no one is watching. Why else would Quakers tremble and weep in meeting as I know they sometimes do? I watch the light pass over their faces and I feel the energy whirl in the heavy places between their words. They must also be "touched." Is that not the point? If you sit in a circle and open yourself to Spirit(s) what do you suppose will happen? The brain is a funny thing. My little seizures might explain it all but I doubt that. In no other place but in meeting does my body sweat and tremble with the efforts of the soul. No wonder we are all embarrassed at the end. What if we are all just insane? What of it? Perhaps if we don't say it out loud, we do not have to face that truth. What if the Divine is actually talking to us? What of it? Perhaps if we don't say it out loud, we do not have to face that Truth either.
How much of that prejudice and fear of being exposed do people bring into meeting with them? Where the Divine touches us most deeply is also the heart of us where we are most tender, exposed and vulnerable. How do we dare share that in public? How can we expect others to do so? Are there other closeted spiritual people in my meeting peering out at me under the respectable, nice masks they wear? At the rise of meeting, do they too hurriedly wipe tears from their faces before drawing a mask of respectability over their eyes to hide the naked fears and hopes that haunt them at night?
Oh yes. We wear our masks and we engage in the ritual dance, making a religion of our respectability. We call out the holy words of denial as if we were not really (oh, certainly not!) sitting together in the open each with a wounded soul turned toward the Light. We sing out the protective verses designed to settle us safely back into the mundane world, "How are you?,"-- " I'm fine, thanks. How are you?"
What would happen if we told the truth?