Archery lesson

The week was nearly at a close.  Friends — Quakers, in the common parlance — had met in worship to conduct business as a body.  Despite simplicity being one of the testimonies which should be followed, business follows a process which can appear anything but to those unfamiliar.  Thus there are “whisper buddies” who explain what’s going on to anyone who signs up for one, but younger folk often find the seeking the “sense of the meeting” — what I think of as consensus with divine participation — is quite boring.

archery boyMy role was as a leader of what’s called the Junior Yearly Meeting, religious education and activities for kids.  I was assigned with two others to a group of 14 ten- and eleven-year-olds for three hours each day.  Over the week many of them grew close to each other, and some of them to me or another of the adults as well.  I was impressed by their joy, their maturity, their discernment.

The week was nearly at a close, and my role as a guide and counselor was complete.  Nevertheless I still tried to take at least one meal each day with someone new, often family of one of my charges.  I joined three of the boys for lunch Saturday, but by that point in the week they were sitting with each other rather than their grown-ups.  It was nice to talk with them without a sense of authority over them.

One of the boys, C., asked if we could go together to the archery range after lunch.  It was late in the week for that—we were all due to leave the camp entirely by five o’clock.  Since I hadn’t been there at all myself, I figured I was being asked as an adult escort.  My car was packed, and C. wasn’t due to rendezvous with family for a couple of hours, and there was no reason not to agree.

We’d all been issued name tags on lanyards for the week, and some people enjoyed shooting their own names full of holes in a show of archery prowess.  That’s what C. was after, on the last day:  piercing that name tag.  The ten-year-old nodded to staff members with familiarity, signing for the equipment and setting up on the range.  C. clearly knew the protocol, listening closely to instructions on when to fire and when to retrieve arrows.  I watched for about 20 minutes until a slippery “thunk” signaled success.  C. was a walking smile when showing me this badge of honor.

The walk back to the main part of camp was about 10 minutes, time enough for my curiosity to find voice.  “You didn’t need an adult to shoot, did you?”  I asked.  C. nodded, and I continued, “Why did you want me to come with you?”

“Oh, because when I show my brothers, you’ll be able to tell them I didn’t fake it.”

I did indeed bear witness, to the brothers and the grandmother, too. Technically Quakers are supposed to tell the truth all the time, but I didn’t ask C. why anyone might doubt the accuracy of the report. It wasn’t until a good way along the drive home that it occurred to me that I protected a child’s honor over an archery feat.

That’s when I started wondering how long Apollon had been involved in this part of my spiritual life. As with many questions I ask, once I did I could see the bread crumbs stretching back years. My encounter with C. that afternoon was only the most recent attempt to get me to put it all together. The prior winter I’d gotten another, when helping set up the annual “buy nothing day” event. People donate new and like-new items, and anyone looking for gifts to give can show up and take what they like. Gifts can even be wrapped, free of charge. A member of a nearby Quaker meeting, in the midst of downsizing, donated a variety of objects collected traveling the world. One was a rustic statue of Apollon, holding a lute.

One of the things that I have learned from the Quakers is that spirit often moves quite slowly through humans. We have a lot of ego that gets in the way, and drowns out the divine voice which is often as soft as it is insistent. Once the body of worshipers is united in their understanding of what is asked of them, everything is suddenly clear, but that process can take months, or even years. It’s much the same as how gnosis can be transformed from something personal and unverified, to a general understanding that’s part of the accepted lore. In both cases, the divine guidance is received by a community, rather than an individual. Getting through to a distracted, individual mortal can take repetition or, in Apollon’s case here, variations on a theme.

In this case, the theme was struck first in the nature of the Society of Friends itself: it’s all about cultivating the “inward light” or “being in the light” of spirit or divinity. The use of “the light” as a term dates back to founder George Fox, and it’s shared among all branches of Quakers, from the ones who listen to a pastor’s ministry about Jesus to the non-theists who never utter that name. Yes, I was well aware of Apollon’s associations with light and truth, but sometimes you don’t recognize a connection just because you didn’t think to look for it. My bad assumption was the belief that I was urged to go to a Quaker meeting by Poseidon, and Poseidon alone. Sometimes, the truth is overlooked just because we think we already know it.

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