Monday, April 04, 2011

An Ocean of Ink

Quakers made the front page of the New York Times last Friday.

Was the story about the Religious Society of Friends' on-going struggle for peace?

Was it about the effectiveness of the Quaker lobbying group, the Friends Committee on National Legislation?

Was it about the fact that there are far more Quakers in East Africa than there are Quakers elsewhere?

Was it about the "timeliness" of the Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality and how they speak to today's world?

It was not.

The story was about a "tense" division between the Friends Seminary (in essence a Quaker preparatory school), tucked away in lower Manhattan, and the New York Quarterly Meeting, a Quaker religious governing body.

Excuse me if my eyes glaze over. The story may have been of interest to a relative handful of Times' readers. Quakers no doubt read it with raised brows.

As a journalist and as a Friend, I was saddened because I realized that the Times editors had just blown their quota of front-page Quaker stories for a decade. Quakers deserve better (see above).

On Sunday I was still grumbling about the story and the Times' definition of front-page news. In the course of being with Friends at our meeting house, I had occasion to consider Quaker founder George Fox's revelatory vision of an "Ocean of Light." In his journals, he describes his epiphany this way:

I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.

I've always related the Ocean of Light to Quakers' silent worship. Our worship room happens to be graced with a large, central skylight. The light well draws the sun's warmth and light into our worship. Light and silence; silence and light.

I have more trouble with the image of an "ocean of darkness and death." Death is as real as life. And darkness defines light. Indeed I have found as I have grown older that the prospect of death increasingly defines and enriches what I do with life. Could death recast "life"?

So what is this "ocean of darkness"?

Suddenly, with the Times story on my mind, it came to me. INK! It is a pitch-black sea of ink.

An ocean of stories about petty (or not-so-petty) conflicts written with barrels of ink. It is the ink that each morning greets me with the terrible news of the world and puts me in a sour mood until I push aside these black dispatches. It is the ink that obsesses over the foibles and tragedies of humanity. It is ink that so often blots out and ignores the light of love.

I confess that I smiled as this strange, inky thought came over me. I knew I would likely write about it, using the Internet's equivalent of ink. These very words you are reading may not be an "Ocean of Darkness," but they do constitute a puddle of black even as, I pray, they may reflect some light.

And so, dear reader, contemplate the "Ocean of Light" in the purity of silence....

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