I am a member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle and an appreciative attender of West Hills Friends when I’m visiting my sister Peg.
The Northwest Quarterly Meeting sponsors a weekend Silent Retreat every winter in Gold Bar, Washington. I went for the first time twelve years ago after reading another attender’s description of it in my meeting newsletter. His enthusiasm was very down to earth. He talked about Peanuts characters seeing wondrous things in the clouds, and how Charlie Brown admitted he just saw “horsies.” Since I was a little too excited about the possibility of mystical experience, it was reassuring to hear I could experience something ordinary and still find the weekend worthwhile.
A recent Quaker by convincement, I could hardly get enough of the gathered silence of unprogrammed Friends. My clever, verbal, traumatizing, agnostic upbringing had left me frightened and troubled. For me meeting was being “beside the still waters.” At the Silent Retreat I was looking forward to more restorative effects.
In Gold Bar the thirty plus attenders convened in rustic buildings with log fires for heating and thin mattresses on the dorm bunk beds. We had indoor plumbing, but the luxuriously hot showers happened in cold bathrooms. We would cook and clean for ourselves for the weekend to keep costs down, eating together in the building that housed the kitchen. We had a minimal structure: five times to meet for worship; times for the cooking volunteers and the cleaners. I signed up to clean after breakfast, so that I could get my duty over with and have the rest of the time to myself. The silence gathered as we met for worship that first evening, mostly strangers from meetings and worship groups as far away as Idaho.
What happened for me that weekend started with breakfast. I was so grateful for the hot cereal and the hard-boiled eggs and the coffee. Afterward the other woman cleaning showed me silently what to do to clean up. When we were done I sat in front of the fire again and noticed someone had stoked it. Well, then, I’d refill the wood box next to it. Oh, already done. Something tense I’d never known I felt began to relax. Lunch was delicious, the cleanup smooth and simple.
No one spoke a word. No one was in charge. No one was taking orders or trying to anticipate the needs of leaders and meet them unbidden. No one was asking for praise for a job well done. No one had to be interacted with to deal with some internal difficulty they couldn’t handle. In fact, if you did what you said you would, it was enough. It was abundantly, beautifully, generously enough. Every bite of food tasted exquisite and I slept better than I had in ages.
I cried in the final meeting with these people I had come to love. It is hard to talk about a yearning you have never known you had that is suddenly fulfilled. A Friend listened to my stumbling gratitude for the discovery of community, rose and sang “Blest Be the Ties That Bind”. We all joined in.
– Kathy Knowlton
[My story is complete, but I would like to invite the readers and writers of Minding The Light to participate in the Silent Retreat, which is traditionally open to Friends and friends of Friends. Next year’s will be January 24th-26th. Check with Northwest Quarterly Meeting around November to sign up.]