Numero Uno—“I was not more than ten years old when I first heard mention of the Quakers. The grown-ups of my family were talking among themselves, speaking of an uncle of mine who lived in Philadelphia and operated a pharmacy near the university. I had never seen this uncle and was curious about him, so my ears were open. Presently a reference to the Quakers caught my attention. I wanted to know who the Quakers were. What was told me then I have remembered ever since. The Quakers, I was told, are people who wait for the spirit to move them.A picture formed in my mind. Many a time I had seen my grandmother sitting quietly, an aura of peace around her as she sewed or crocheted or did her beautiful embroidery work. So I pictured older people, most of them with white hair like my grandparents, all with kindly faces, gathered in silent assembly, heads bent slightly forward, waiting to be moved. It never occurred to me that young people, boys and girls of my age and even younger, might be present and participating.
As the word ‘spirit’ meant nothing definite to me, I could have no idea of just what would move the Quakers, but I had a sense that it would be something within them, perhaps like the stirrings that sometimes moved me, and I may have had a vague notion that this something within them was somehow related to what people called God. I never thought to ask what the Quakers might do after they were moved.
Had I been invited in those days to attend a Friends meeting for worship I would have gladly gone. I would have gone because my picturings had given me good feelings about the Quakers. I would have gone because, young though I was, I liked to be silent now and again. Sometimes my best friend and I would sit quietly together, happy that we were together but not wanting to talk. Sometimes I would go off by myself on walks to look at the wonders of nature, to think my own thoughts, to dream, to feel something stirring in me for which I had no name. Or I might withdraw for a time from the activities of the boys and girls and sit on the porch of our house, my outward eyes watching them at play, my inward eyes turned to an inner life that was as real to me, and sometimes more wonderful than my life with the group.
Certain experiences I had when alone, certain experiences I had with my young friends, attitudes and feelings that would suddenly arise in me at any time or place—these made up the mainstream of my religious life. Such religion as I had was life-centered, not book-centered, not church-centered. It arose from the well of life within me, and within my friends and parents. It arose from the well of life within nature and the human world. It consisted in my response to flowers, trees, birds, snow, the smell of the earth after a spring rain, sunsets and the starry sky. It consisted in my devotion to pet rabbits and dogs, and to some interest or project that caught my imagination.
I had been taught several formal prayers. One of these I said every night, regularly, before getting into bed. But I am thinking of the unformed prayers that welled up in me whenever I had need of them. I had been read some stories from the Bible and some of the psalms, and from these I had doubtless gained attitudes of reverence. But I am thinking of the worship that spontaneously arose as I beheld the wonders of the world which God created. Young eyes are new eyes, and to new eyes all things are fresh, vivid, original.
It is sometimes asked if children and young people are capable of the religious life. Certainly they are not capable of sustained effort towards an unswerving aim. Certainly they cannot hold themselves to a consistent discipline. They cannot engage in the religious life as a conscious way of living. These abilities come only as we grow up and subject ourselves to training. But, just as certainly, young people do have religious experiences, and these often are more vivid and glowing than those of the elders. That is it—children can glow. They can light up. This capacity to glow is at the very heart of what we are talking about.