Refreshing my spirit

Published January 01 2019

Ed Eisenstein attends meeting at the meetinghouse at Sandy Spring, Maryland, where Quakers have gathered since 1770. Initially, a log house was used for worship; this current brick structure was built in 1817.ED EISENSTEIN Silence.

You may be skimming this issue of ASBMB Today rather quickly before turning back to the rapid pace of your everyday life. As we become absorbed by today’s increasing demands of science and teaching, with information bombarding us through every medium, it is a wonder that we find any time to pause and reflect on our mental, physical or spiritual well-being.

Although many of us enjoy and even thrive on the excitingly rapid pace of science and discovery, teaching and counseling, and contributing to our local and global communities, how do we restore ourselves and reconnect with our values in order to persevere when life events are overwhelming?

There is now greater appreciation for the importance of wellness in our lives, and accordingly, many avenues are available to us for physical rejuvenation. But how does one revive the spirit? For me, I restore and nourish my spirit at a meeting among Friends.

So, what do I do at a Quaker meeting?

My Quaker meeting is held in silence. Deep silence. Before I arrive at the meetinghouse, I don’t review a to-do list, read the newspaper, look at my smartphone, scroll through email or even listen to the radio. Instead, I try to clear my mind and avoid anything that might distract me from experiencing meeting for worship.

Once I arrive, I sit on a simple bench in an old, unadorned building. Our meetinghouse was built in 1817 — though Quakers have gathered on the site since 1753 — and it hasn’t changed much since then. The hand-hewn pews face one another with no altar or pulpit but simply an open space in the center of the room.

Although there aren’t many distractions, it isn’t always easy to center myself — for life reasons or because of the sounds of traffic or someone coughing. But being in a sacred place with so much history helps me become still.

Then there is the silence

When I am able to settle myself fully, first my body and then my mind, I am able to open myself to silent prayer. I begin by meditating on the gratitude I feel for all the joy in my life, for my family and community, for the ability to discern my direction so that, as a way opens in my search for truth, I can meet the challenges ahead of me more readily. I ask for faith, forgiveness, equality and peace. And I do this silently.

The silence is important. Not simply for reflection but so I can listen, carefully, to the “still, small voice” that Quakers believe dwells in everyone’s heart. The silence enables me to be more receptive to revelation and to connect with the others who are worshipping at the meeting.

Often, in deeply gathered meetings, nothing breaks the silence. But sometimes a Friend will receive a message that requires vocal ministry and will feel that it must be shared with those present. Do I ever receive a message? Certainly. But sometimes I think it is meant only for me, and sometimes I think it isn’t ready to share with the meeting. When I am led by spirit so strongly that I must share with the meeting, I recall, as a good rule of thumb, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “I like to keep things as simple as possible. But not any simpler.”

The meeting is over when one member, appointed as clerk, stands and shakes the hand of another. We then gather in friendship, sharing updates in our lives and hearts, and talk to newcomers who doubtless have questions about the hour that just passed. We connect with one another, our spiritual community, strengthened by the mystical bonds we have nurtured, and prepare to face the world and let our lives speak.

Edward Eisenstein Edward Eisenstein is an investigator at the Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology Research and a faculty member of the Fischell Department of Bioengineering at the University of Maryland. He is a member of Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.