How does a Quaker stay centered, living in the Light, as he lives his daily life in this complex and noisy world? It’s a question I struggle with often.
During Meeting for Worship, I feel such a strong connection to the Divine, to my fellow Quakers, and to life in general. And yet it only takes someone cutting off my bike in traffic to throw me back into the sullen, sarcastic mode that is my default.
Interestingly, I actually concentrate most actively on connecting with the Presence when I am at work. That’s because at the office, I spend most of my time in front of my computer. And along with an assortment of applications that I switch between during the workday is a very tiny program called Time Out.
Time Out does one thing: it simply greys out my entire screen at regular intervals and runs a countdown timer. During this period, the makers of Time Out encourage you step away from your computer, get a breath of fresh air, a drink of water, anything but work, for a break lasting one minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or whatever.
I’m a workaholic, so I have it set for 30 seconds.
But in those 30 seconds, I have just enough time to close my eyes, take four cleansing breaths, and with each breath let myself sink down into a deeper state of connection to the Love and to those around me. As my computer screen comes back to life, I open my eyes and return to whatever I was doing with a renewed sense of higher purpose and calling. It’s wonderful. And I do it several times a day.
My colleague Rafi turned me on to this tool a couple of months ago, which he integrates into his Buddhist practice. I wish I had had this program running years ago.
Meanwhile, Lucy at my Quaker Meeting has started something called the “Light List,” an email broadcast that she sends out to any Friend who wants to hold other Friends in the Light during the week, for whatever concerns they wish to share. So as a recipient of the Light List, I might be praying for a Friend who is caring for an ailing relative, a couple who is hoping to adopt a child, and the brother of an attender who just enlisted in the military. It’s very sweet, but in some ways impersonal, since you often don’t really know the person you are holding in the Light, or even the person who raised the concern.
Another way I connect with Friends during the week is in the virtual world. There is a Quaker Meeting that meets regularly in the online environment of Second Life twice a week – a dozen or so digital Quakers sitting together in a digital Meetinghouse. I have attended several times and each visit I am surprised by how moved I am by the experience and how close I feel to the people there.
As Quakers enter the Digital Age, and our online and offline lives start to converge, I wonder what worship will look like. Will our manner of Meeting remain unchanged, sitting in these ancient brick buildings once a week for an hour? Or will we find new forms of Meeting, new forms of holding each other in the Light, with these new communications tools?
I have this vision of a “perpetual meeting for worship,” a worship that never ends. It’s an electronic gathering of Friends that is never further than you netbook, available to you at any time of day, whatever else you are doing. Whether it’s a troubling dream at 3:42AM at home alone, or in the middle of a stressful workday, you can log into the Perpetual Meeting and find Friends gathered there, sitting together in the silence, over the ether.
I imagine most times there might only be a handful of Friends gathered at odd hours of the day and night. There might be a Friend logging in from Sydney, just finishing his breakfast, and another in Kenya sharing her evening silence as she readies for bed, and another in Boise taking a lunch break at work. Some might only stay a few minutes, others a full hour.
And then during times of crisis, whether it be a new conflict erupting in Africa, or a typhoon in Asia, hundreds and hundreds of Friends might gather electronically, sharing the silence, offering up prayers and messages, providing support and solace.
As my computer screen greys out, I sink into the silence again, imagining these silvery lines connecting me to my global spiritual community. I dream of a worship that never ends. Is it only a dream?