Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong

by Paulette Meier

Paulette Meier’s CD will be treasured by those seeking wisdom set to hauntingly beautiful music. Long-time teacher/peace activist, this singer/songwriter has assembled 21 songs designed to help one find peace and harmony within and without. In her six-minute YouTube statement she divides her songs into four major topics, Centering; Experience; Communion; and Outward Witness. This latter means that the search for inner peace and harmony is never an escape from the world’s troubles, but a means of preparing oneself for engagement with them.

The words are from the 17th century, and the music will at times remind one of 20th century Taizé songs in their simplicity, the repetition of the lines, and their brevity. Most are little more than a minute, the longest a little less than three minutes. I can see that those who like to take walks while listening to inspiring music will really appreciate loading these onto their cellphones or portable music devices.

Here are two samples taken from the writings of the founder of Quakerism:

“Be still and cool in Thy own mind and spirit”

“Be still and cool in Thy own mind and spirit, from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive God’s strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all blusterings, storms, and tempests.”

George Fox 1658

“The Present Time’

“Ye have no time but this present time, therefore prize your time, for your soul’s sake.”

George Fox, 1652

In the latter song Fox reminds us what Robin William’s character taught his students in the film  Dead Poet’s Society, “Carpe Diem.” We cannot change the past, and we do not yet live in the future. Only during this day, at this moment, can we act, and thus we should treasure the present.

Music-wise, my favorite is the glorious setting for words by New Jersey-born Abolitionist John Woolman that he wrote in 1763, and which she has named “Seeds of War.”

“May we look upon our treasure, our furniture and our garments, and try to discover whether the seeds of war are nourished by these, our possessions.”

She sings the words over again and then dubs herself over this. At times the song sounds like a three-part round, but the song ends with her solo-voiced rendering of “nourished by our possessions,” thus making sure we understand the phrase. The “Quaker wisdom” comes through in the unorthodox understanding of the seeds of war. Usually we see wars  as caused by  others, a dictator seeking conquests, colonial powers wanting to expand their territory, or an overly aggressive nation threatening a weaker one. The song reminds us that it might be our own possessiveness that gives rise to conflict that rises to the point of violence when threatened or when we see to gain more possessions from others. More than one observer has charged that we are “The Acquisitive Society”!

This is not just a collection of lovely songs sung in a light, clear alto voice by a talented singer, but a delightful setting of words to ponder. The music adds emotion, helping the words penetrate the heart as well as the mind, as in this harmonious setting of George Fox’s words written in 1653:

“Mind that which is eternal, which gathers your hearts together up to the Lord, and lets you see that ye are written in one another’s heart.”

The texts might be from the 17th and 18th centuries, but they do live up to the album’s title, “Timeless Wisdom Quaker in Plainsong”!  Fox insists on the communal, that God calls us together, that the life of faith is not an isolated one, but one lived with brothers and sisters to offer our support and to receive support from them.

You can see the list of songs and even the lyrics, as well as listen to them by clicking here. And you can listen to Paulette Meier herself talk (and sing) about her work in a six-minute video on YouTube “Quaker Faith in Song.”

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