Last Sunday, during our worship, something unusual happened.
I think I have described Quaker worship before. We simply gather in silence, as old-time Quakers said, “to wait upon the Lord”. It looks like we are meditating, but it’s probably more active than meditation, as it has come to be understood; the better phrase might be “contemplative prayer”. If things go well, we may make a connection with the Source, and find ourselves enlightened and uplifted. Sometimes, we feel driven to share what we have experienced, and speak briefly to the group.
Well, there is a member of my meeting who is getting on in years. He used to give a message during worship fairly frequently, rising to his full height of six feet or more, using his ocean of a voice — deep and broad — with all the skill you would expect of one with much experience on the stage. But it’s been a long time since Jeff spoke in meeting; it’s been a long time since he spoke anyplace without being spoken to first.
Jeff’s voice has sunk beneath the waves of Alzheimer’s disease. When I approach him with a greeting, he looks at me hesitantly, wondering what I could want, trying to remember if he knows me. When I extend my hand, and call him by name — Good morning, Jeff, how are you? — he smiles and answers me with the friendliness and pleasantness that are his core, unaffected by the loss of memory and clear thought. But he hasn’t had a lot to say for a long time.
During worship this week, we were deep in silence, and the Presence was thick in the air, like the scent of lilacs. Jeff stood. Everyone stopped breathing, putting all of their energy into the hope and prayer that Jeff would not embarrass the man he had been, the retired humanities professor.
He struggled to find words. He spoke very briefly, in fits and starts, without syntax or grammar, offering up only fragments and clauses. He gave us a poem in the style of ee cummings; as nearly as I can recall, this is what he said:
…in my life
i hope it continues
…for a good long time