Long before I ever anticipated what’s evolved into my newest novel, What’s Left, I ended my first published novel with a young woman named Diana, in part because I liked the two puns it allowed. Her husband-to-be, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, had returned to Indiana – and now he could boast of a love that allowed him to be in Diana as well as in Dhyana, or deep meditation.
Not that you have to understand Sanskrit to read it. Shouldn’t the mere hint of something exotic should suffice?
In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”
Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.
To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”
Deep River, Sandy Springs, Holly Springs, Goose Creek, West Branch, Back River, Clearwater. These are a few of the names of Quaker Meetings taken from bodies of water. There’s even Gunpowder, named after a river in Maryland as it runs through a town named Sparks.
For me, Stillwater itself is a special place in the hills of southeast Ohio as well as I river we used to hike along in the western half of the state.
This time of year, many people’s thoughts turn to religion or at least hope and faith. While Quakers traditionally do not observe Advent, at least as a religious requirement, the essays of Stillwater carry reminders of aspiring to live daily in an awareness of the Divine and a circle of kindred souls. Many of these have previously appeared on the Red Barn before being collected here.
In the Society of Friends (Quaker), many of the local meetings for worship are named after bodies of water. The awareness of natural streams rather than human development is telling. The Bible, after all, also flows with water imagery as it speaks for a desert people.
Stillwater can be seen as an allusion to Psalm 23 or to the old-style Quakers who clustered around Stillwater Meeting in rural Ohio.
These are reflections on living with a community of faith, its strengths and challenges, and the guidelines it offers.
Stillwater reflects the importance of kindred souls on the spiritual journey. In Quaker practice, it’s the essence of Meeting – the gathering for worship or service. While these essays were addressed to one local circle on the Quaker path, the challenges and lessons stand as models for others to consult and, as useful, adapt.
A lifetime of Quaker practice and inquiry comes to play in the reflections of Stillwater. The essays are submitted in all due humility, even as reminders to myself. Still, they’re open to all as an invitation.