The human experience is a beautifully complex one. In our 21st century lives, it seems that our online newspapers, twitter feeds, and emails are filled with stories of hate, injustice, oppression and violence. We often need to look a little deeper to find the stories of hope, faith, compassion, and love, and by the time we get to them, we are often too weighed down with challenging stories to recognize the uplifting ones. But we must be resilient. We must stay encouraged.
But what will prepare us to take hold of the delicate corners of our lives, our communities, our cities, our countries, our planet, and guide them towards empathy, equity, and justice? As a young convinced Friend, I often reflect on the ups and downs of my own physical, spiritual, educational, and emotional journeys, and take note of the people and moments that have and continue to fill my life. For me, in no way do I feel more of a connection to the living things that surround me than in the quietness of Meeting for Worship. It is in this silence that I search for answers to all kinds of questions, from the idiosyncratic to the diplomatic, from the ethical to the ethereal. And though I often leave that space without concrete answers to or next steps for many of my questions, my moral compass is realigned and my spirit is recharged.
Quakers have been dedicated to justice and equality long before I was born and will undeniably be dedicated to these things long after I am here. But while we are all here today, living our own realities and intertwined with each other’s realities, we must band together to face some of the harshest realities that we have faced in our lifetime. Their names are the same: racism, oppression, sexism, homophobia, ecocide, to name a few. And today, for whatever reason, they seem to be bigger and more threatening than any of us ever remember them. But as Quakers we must remind ourselves, as Noam Chomsky stated, that, “There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones”
Combining a commitment to social justice with the spirituality and reverence that rises from silence and being in silence with others is a powerful combination. It also is not new. This practice moved Quakers to fight against human enslavement. It moved Quakers to fight for women’s rights. When I sit in Meeting For Worship today in solidarity with others who are committed to letting their lives speak, I feel empowered. I feel energized. Whether it is issues of mass-incarceration, police brutality, mountaintop removal mining, or domestic abuse, all of these issues require a collection of people to be spiritually grounded while being mentally and physically committed. I very much believe Quakers have and will continue to move with extraordinary prescience throughout these issues, and I have felt so inspired by my time around Friends.
Several months ago, I found myself in a book group for Michelle Alexander’s harrowing book The New Jim Crow at my meeting. Week after week, I attended the book group to discuss chapters of the book and listen to the reactions of my peers, some of which have been through the prison system. From the very first meeting, I knew a seed had been planted. I had gone from knowing nothing about the prison system in my country to learning more than I could remember. For weeks following the end of the book group I didn’t know what my next step would be or where my new found passion for prison reform would take me. So I went back to the familiar: quiet reflection. I navigated my consciousness, imagining the world I wanted for myself, my family, my friends, stangers. I thought about what it means to be a human, and how the prison system, in so many ways, disregards this definition. Out of the silence came an unwavering dedication to take some sort of action.
Today, I am grateful to say that I had the opportunity to be involved with a planning committee made up of members from The Center for Returning Citizens, meeting houses, churches, and local activists, planning a rally in Vernon Park to get returning citizens registered to vote, and to educate the general public on the injustices of the prison system. Michelle Alexander actually offered quotes of encouragement to use at the rally, along with publicity from Cornell West, and there were many other local activists and legislators in attendance. It was an unbelievable event, and the hope is that it will be one that continues for years to come.
And it all started in the stillness of meeting.
What will get us ready? We’ve been ready all along. Let us allow the quietness of our hearts to speak truth to action. It is the beginning of allowing each of us to truly embody the change that we want to see.