Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"'In my old leather breeches and my shaggy, shaggy locks/
I am walking in the glory of the light,' said Fox."

I thought Philadelphia Quakers lived at the core of the world. I thought we were more enlightened, close to the center of anything that mattered. In time, the world would listen to us. The world would change.

In third grade at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, where I was a 'lifer,' Mrs. Cadbury taught us about the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten, apparently the first monotheist in the ancient world. She had kept us in some suspense before his unveiling; Akhenaten was a relief after the weirdness of half-jackal Anubius, the god of embalming, or Isis, who was married to her own brother. Isis--not a nice girl, in a similar way in which the Barbie doll, (which my mother wouldn't allow in the house), wasn't a nice girl. And third graders didn't like the idea of a religion that found god in the process of sucking dead people's brains out through their noses.

Akhenaten made me less anxious about the state of humanity; even back at the dawn of thought, before central heating and daily baths, progress had been made. People like us had gotten somewhere. Reason and light--Monotheism, my third grade mind embraced, okay, maybe only a sun god, now known to be a big old fireball, but one god closer to our state of enlightenment.

We Quakers had grown farther than any other group: away from superstition, pitying those who relied on crucifixes and florid rituals that lingered on bloodshed, to me suggestive of half-naked ancestors suffering noisome panic each time the sun went down...We got our lunch delivered to the classroom every day on a steam cart by a lady in a white uniform.

The way my father put it was that over generations, our family had evolved. But my friend Mary, whose family was Episcopalian, had a pretty, carved crucifix in her bedroom. I asked my mother if I could have one. Vulgar, she said. We don't do that.

7 comments:

me said...

very interesting...I wanted to read more...

I landed here from clicking that "next blog" button at the top of my blog. I come across some interesting things when I do this!

Anyway, it sounds like you might be happier now than you have been. That's good!

Good luck!

hmallon said...

Thank you! My very first comment. Made it worth it to stay up half the night after the Phillies win inspired me to start a blog!

crossoverwriter said...

As a sassy young Quaker in fifth grade I met some Catholic girls who lived down the street. I invited them up to see my hamster collection. Somehow the discussion of how many babies they made and how fast, transformed into a heated debate about evolution vs virgin birth (don't ask me to recreate all the steps in-between). I stood squarely on the side of evolution. After that, I lost the heart to play soccer-baseball with girls who could believe that Eve bit into a snakey apple in a utopian garden, and brought guilt into the world.

Janice said...

Funny, how these early Quaker Meeting experiences filter into our writing lives. The first first chapter of my unfinished novel begins with the title "First Day" which, of course, refers back to First Day School. It was there that I became fascinated with the relationship between female decapitation and the church (Henry the VIII). I also learned of the importance of smiling (so your mouth doesn't get stuck in the downward position), and of course, the beauty of silence. Aaah. The Quakers got that right.

Rita Francesca Fierro said...

Yes Helen!
I can't wait to read more, and comment more. Glad to see this idea become real!

Eileen Flanagan said...

Best wishes for the new blog! And I'm intrigued by the novel.

I was raised Catholic and became a Quaker after having attended Friends Central. My family thought I joined a cult. I suspect some of my in-laws still think that. This keeps me from getting overly confident in Quaker progress.

Eileen Flanagan (Jude's friend)
P.S. It's not letting me use Open ID. The new home of my blog is htt;//www.eileenflanagan.com/blog

pranzo1 said...

Helen--This is fascinating--we sure didn't get to study the Egyptian gods in Catholic school--we only got to study what the Catholics did in Egypt! Beliefs may not lead us to believe, but what paths they lead us to! Keep it up. Ginny