I’ve often joked (or was it boasted?) that we have the best stained glass windows in town. And not just at this time of year. Actually, there’s something basic in the Quaker practice of having clear windows, whether the view opens to the city jail next door or a busy highway or a placid burial ground – we’re not isolating ourselves from reality when we worship.

Sitting on the clerk’s bench one morning one May, I found myself looking out at a Monet. Well, the spring green for three-quarters of the hour fit the tones he used, until it turned metallic in the last quarter-hour when the sunlight turned harsh. Most weeks after that, I tried to identify which painter the view brought to mind – a sequence of Corot, Diebenkorn, Mitchell, Twombly, Klimt, Pollack, even the Zen painting of six persimmons (ours, however, had about twice that amount of fruit), and maybe a bit of Chagall or Hopper. (What was I saying about our Meeting not being blue-collar? Here I am, expecting most Dover Friends to know most of these artists!) Occasionally, even a Kaufmann, as Dick and Jane’s heads appeared in the lower corner while they walked up the ramp to the door. Sometimes the dogwood tree presented a flat image; other times it had holes, opening to the depth behind it; eventually, come winter, it was only sketches in front of a more distant landscape, and etchings, rather than paintings, came to mind. Expecting the Monet to return the next May, it didn’t, for whatever combination of reasons, although there was one week when it was adorned with pale stars – its flowers.

Not that any of this is essentially profound, other than as a recognition of the play of light – just as we encounter various presentations of Light within the room and ourselves through the hour. But I do consider ways our perceptions and expressions differ from the earliest Friends who sat in the room. These artists, for one thing, came after them, except for the 12th century persimmons (and those were off in China, anyway); the now familiar language from science or psychology, too, to say nothing of sports jargon and even military expressions. Did those Friends ever have a bagpiper playing at the edge of the yard, or some equivalent to our sirens on the street or music from a neighboring church? How did they see the world, in ways that we don’t? Somehow, all kinds of differing eras come together when we, too, sit together. So just how do we see each other through all of these seasons and ages?


This piece originally appeared in Types and Shadows, the newsletter of the Fellowship of Quaker Artists.

6 thoughts on “MONET AT THE WINDOW

  1. I remember sitting in Friends meeting in CT. I think it was in Hartford. It was an old building and I remember the echoes my shoes made as I walked across the wooden floor. It was quiet. I would try and sit near a window so I could see outside. I watched the leaves change and winters come. I remember the people were nice, but my mother, who identified as a Quaker til the day she died was a bit too colorful a personality and we were asked not to come back. She eventually found a meeting house that seemed to be able to deal with her eccentricities but I was much older by then and had moved away. But, I still can remember the sounds and smell of the building and the gleaming wooden floors.

    • I love your story, except for the part about being asked not to come back. May I apologize for a past error? (From the Friends I know in Connecticut, there’s hope we’ve grown some.)
      As for the aesthetic impressions, they’re so true to what I’ve often experienced in the old meetinghouses themselves.

  2. One thing I find interesting, with actual stained glass windows, is what they can tell you about the people who put them in. I’ve noticed, for example, that churches built around the time of WWI tend to favour martial saints or themes, whereas windows from other eras tend to have other foci.

    I’ve also noticed that people tend to form attachments to particular windows, and the images or words become somehow part of their sense of making meaning in the world or even identity.

    Not that I’m saying stained is better than plain glass, at all; just musing on how it actually functions in the psychology of a community of faith.

    • Wonderful insights!
      Last November I posted about the Tiffany windows around the chancel near the room where my choir rehearses weekly, and what a marvel they are. The sanctuary also includes two very large, impressive stained glass windows in the traditional technique, each nearly filling a wall.
      So it all makes for a fascinating counterpoint and interplay of past, present, and (we can hope) future.

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