As part of our Runway to Annual Sessions we’ve been featuring more than two dozen workshops, plenary, or wellness events. Shelly Xia is a young professional who works with PYM on organizing membership information in our new database. In addition to being knowledgeable about data and excel sheets, she is passionate about bridging people from different parts of the world to work together on protecting the environment and addressing climate change. She enjoys martial arts, photography, and Argentine tango in her spare time.
Many people come to Quakerism without growing up in the faith. We wondered what it might be like for someone to experience Annual Sessions programming for the first time, so we asked Shelly if she’d be interested in describing her ‘first time’ experience of a PYM workshop for our web readers.
Here’s Shelly’s experience in her own words.
How I learned about Quakerism…
I’ve been actively exploring my spirituality by training in martial arts and learning more about different faiths and religions over the past few years. I am curious because I grew up not having engaged in discussions or experiences of faith or religious practices, though my culture pointed to Taoism and Confucianism.
I don’t adhere to a religion, yet I personally believe that there exists something that humans are not able to perceive, for example we see and hear within a certain range and there are things outside of that range.
A couple of years ago, I learned about Quakerism through a work colleague, who also introduced me to an opportunity working at PYM. On top of my PYM colleagues being a super diverse and kind cohort, what continues to be amazing for me is that every meeting starts and ends with worship (which for me means meditation, paying attention to my breath, and for my mind and body to be here and now).
What was it like for a non-Quaker to join a workshop for the first time?
It was refreshing and eye opening to be part of the June 19 workshop on What do We Talk About, When We Talk about God?
One of the exercises done in small groups of two to three people was how many names of God can you come up with in 2 minutes? Initially I didn’t expect myself to be able to come up with any. I ended up coming up with four, two in English (the Divine, the Almighty, which I learned from being part of Baha’i study groups a couple of years ago) and two in Chinese (神，deities,上帝, God). It was thought provoking and helpful for me to try and explain how the two Chinese names of God are different in English, something I wouldn’t have thought about previously. It’s also fascinating how God can be so many different things and that idea for me is inclusive and inviting.
What really spoke to me was a Faith & PlayTM story, “Images of God”, told by Melinda Wenner Bradley. The story asks everyone to wonder together. To wonder what part of the story you like best, what felt most important to you in this story today, and what might go in the open space for you. One of the images that instantly clicked with me – was the breath. That God and faith can just be like breath, you can’t see it but it is vital. And that there are shared words for breath and God in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. I thought, isn’t that exactly how I felt about some being or existence that’s not tangible but it’s there? If I were to think of something to go in the open space, it would be trees. How incredible is it that our lungs look quite like branches and roots?
Overall, I enjoyed how inclusive, empowering and thought provoking the workshop was. I am grateful for a sense of deepened connection on three levels: 1) between me and fellow participants as humans, 2) by a shared existential topic to explore together, and 3) between me and the idea (and image) of God, where I was able to better contextualize and have more clarity as I continue to explore my spirituality.
Learn more about PYM’s Annual Sessions or choose a Workshop/Plenary