My knowledge of the Quaker tradition did not extend much further than the image of the kind looking man on the oatmeal box. I knew that Quakerism is a form of Christianity, but my relationship with Christianity had been long and troubled. I grew up attending a Catholic Church in a small town and was taught a conservative form of Catholicism that I rejected from a young age. For years, I did not give much thought to Christianity in general, but that changed when I began attending Georgetown. Over the past few semesters, I have had multiple Catholic priests as professors and have been exposed to a more inclusive interpretation of Catholicism that I found more relatable. With my recent interest in Christianity and its values, I was eager to experience another tradition rooted in the Bible.
On a Sunday morning, Kira and I attended a worship sharing at the Meeting House of the Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C. Prior to the meeting, she had given me a crash course in Quakerism: Quakers believe that the light of God resides in all individuals, and Quakers are obliged to remember and see that light in others. This ideal is reinforced by living by six basic tenets, which can be remembered by the acronym SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. Worship sharing involves sitting in silent reflection for an hour and sharing one’s thoughts with the group if the Spirit moves one to do so. Admittedly, I struggled to remain still and silent for the entire hour. I practice meditation nearly every day, but I have never attempted to sit in silent contemplation for that long of a time. I was calm and focused for the first half hour, but the second half was difficult. The clock was behind me, so there was no way for me to know exactly how much time had passed, and towards the end, I felt myself becoming inexplicably anxious. Through the process, I realized that I could not remember a time when I had sat without any form of outside stimulation for so long, and I left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. The idea of Quaker simplicity suddenly made sense.
Although it was challenging to sit in silent prayer for an hour (which, Kira said, is a skill that gets developed over time), I really enjoyed experiencing a form of worship based on such a loose interpretation of Christianity. I came to the conclusion that religion is all about interpretation. Quakers were founded on the same text that was presented to my hometown church, but each embraced a very different interpretation. Religious practice is as much a result of the text a group reads as it is the culture and background of the people who created it. I will try to use this mindset to observe other traditions as objectively as possible in the future.