This year marks the 350th annual gathering of Friends (Quakers) in New England and the 20th anniversary of the “Bridge of Love” between Cuban and New England Friends. Every summer I arrive ready to listen to the concerns and to join the celebrations of these Quakers. I always leave deeply moved by the depth of spirit I rediscover in this beloved community.
On Sunday, a Cuban Friends’ pastor spoke during Meeting for Worship about the differences– such as culture, language, religious practices and the basic realities of everyday life between Cuba and the United States– that would make it easy to feel divided. But faith continues to unite us, including Friends’ belief that there is that of God in everyone, of which the “Puente de Amor” serves as living testimony.
A Quaker from Providence, Rhode Island also rose during the same Meeting and talked about the first time she visited Cuba during the “special period”– the difficult years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cubans she met then were bone thin, struggling each day to find sustenance for their families. More astounding than the scarcity, however, were the demonstrations of generosity and faith she witnessed among Friends. That Sunday, she asked all of us gathered, “Would you give away your last half cup of rice to someone who needed it more?” In the world she comes from, a world of abundance, she felt ashamed that she had not yet learned how to give away what she has nor how to believe fully that God will provide.
Later, a Cuban Friend talked about the faith she had recently witnessed in Vermont during a Meeting for Worship. In Cuba, she told us, her dialogue with God is like a telephone conversation. She calls Him up to report on her struggles and conflicts, to ask for strength or forgiveness, and to express gratitude for all she has been given. At the end of her prayers, she assures Him that she will check in again tomorrow. Perhaps it’s because Cubans are a noisier people, she said, that they don’t sit as long in silence. The Meeting in Vermont taught her the importance of taking time to listen for God’s message to return, to the voice that comes to us from deep within. To allow space for hearts and paths to open.
I joined a Quaker Meeting many years ago in a community that is many miles from where I now live. Since then, my own spiritual leadings have taken me down divergent paths. Some I chose, some took me by surprise. Though I’m grateful for their lessons, at times I feel I lack the clarity of conviction of some of the F/friends I’ve met along the way. Nevertheless, I left the 350th Yearly Meeting nourished and replete after spending time around those who know how to listen to silence.