My becoming a Quaker was serendipitous—that is, I accidentally found something good. Rewriting a definition of serendipity from yourdictionary.com , I propose that serendipity may be a combination of random events, individually beneficial or good, which—perceived to be related as time passes—produce a wonderful (more than good) outcome. (Bev Thompson will recognize a trace of Alfred North Whitehead in this definition.)
In fact, let’s rewrite the statement like this: serendipity is a combination of random events, individually revealing God, which—seen as related in the perspective of time—produce a mystical but actual outcome in the world.
Whew! Are you still reading? So, my Quakerness is a combination of accidental (but revelatory) events through the years. For example, many years ago, I accidentally pulled from a library shelf Jessamyn West’s A Quaker Reader. I casually turned to a section of the book with quotes from Isaac Penington. I found myself thinking, “This is it. This is the path.” At the time I did not, however, explore Quakerism further since my native skepticism quickly reasserted itself. Nevertheless, a seed had been planted.
Much later, bored by my job as a route vendor, I began looking for some hobby or activity that would make life a little more interesting. I decided to start studying Spanish. Soon I was spending all my leisure time on the project; and after several years, including a stay in South America, I had developed a very real fluency in the language. In learning Spanish, I met the Catholic culture of the Spanish-speaking peoples. Catholicism vanquished skepticism, and I converted. In the process, I considered Quakerism but was too shy to penetrate the aloofness of the Quakers in the local meeting.
As more time passed, I discovered my religiosity to be quite heretical and un-Catholic. I drifted away from the Church. About three years ago, again during a period of boredom, I happened upon the spiritual e-retreats of Friends General Conference. After taking just about all those courses, I began thinking in earnest about becoming a Friend.
Unfortunately, there were no meetings near me in North Texas. An FGC internet acquaintance suggested I look at New York Yearly Meeting, which had recently adopted a route to membership that bypassed monthly meetings. The pandemic struck. More and more meetings went online as a result. Since I was interested in NYYM, I decided to investigate the websites of New York monthly meetings. I made a list of a half-dozen New York meetings that allowed people to join online without e-mailing in advance for a Zoom link.
Strictly by chance, I chose Old Chatham Monthly Meeting as my first experiment. I was warmly welcomed by Jens Braun during the afterthoughts in the spirit of worship. I began attending regularly online and soon discovered the OCMM worship group. I applied for membership, and the rest is history.
So, this was the series of events: a library book, the study of Spanish, conversion to Catholicism, FGC e-retreats, NYYM’s membership option, the pandemic, and barging into an online meeting of Old Chatham Quakers. None of these events was pre-determined or anything but random from my perspective. But God was present in all the above happenings. And being accepted by Old Chatham Quakers was the serendipitous result.
~ Richard Russell
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