This weekend I enjoyed watching the latest episode of Dr Who. In brief, it’s a show that follows a reincarnation (“regeneration”) of an alien being called the Doctor, who travels through time and space to save humans and other species, with the aid of a various crew of companions – some more willing and able than others.
As I watched this morning, instead of my usual prayer and contemplation time, it occurred to me that there are many stories within these stories. One is about loss, and longing, and disappointment and faithfulness.
Jodi Whittaker as the latest incarnation of Dr. Who is running about, fighting evil, figuring out problems, trying to save humanity across a number of times and places. A clever aspect of this particular episode is how the Dr. encounters and involves her previous companions, from other incarnations of her/himself.
The companions all have found their own lives, after/outside of their travels with the Dr. We’ve seen this before in other episodes – traveling with the Dr is the ultimate thrill ride (even on a boring day!) and one can become easily enamored with it. That’s probably a good thing, since it’s also so challenging and dangerous most of the time.
Throughout this episode the companions keep meeting each other. They all have different opinions of how their travels went – and they have certainly been shaped by their own experiences and joys and trauma. Those perceptions have been woven into the way they describe the Dr. to others, as a benevolent adventure seeking sage, an exasperating bumbling fool, a fellow who loves deeply but then leaves in a minute with no notice and without any further contact. The companions are wildly different in their perceptions of what has “happened” to them traveling with Dr Who in their separate pasts.
It occurs to me that this television program holds lessons about change, and sadness, and joy for us all in our Quaker meetings now. In the past year, I’ve been aware in my travels and conversations how much has been uplifted, unpleasantly and shockingly changed in the way our world looks and we gather. For some of us! For others, maybe we are solidly rooted in unchanging routines and behaviors that provide a comfort and security. Or just stuck a little, which might have certainly been pre-pandemic.
Just like those traveling companions of Dr Who – I know many Friends who hold strong experiences of their “own” Quaker meeting. Maybe it is a place of refuge, a meeting of learning. Maybe it was a place where your kids grew up and felt safe and encouraged. Perhaps your meeting gathers in a historic building, filled with history and books filled with tales of faithfulness from previous generations. Maybe your meeting was a gathering place for folks protesting a war, or seeking justice in our world. Perhaps it’s a place where you entered into a marriage covenant – or were told your type of relationship was not acceptable to a marriage under the meeting’s care. “The Quaker Meeting” has as many memories and current interpretations as there are Friends who have gathered there.
I remember when the Quaker meeting I was a part of decided to shut down and move to Zoom for worship in early 2020. I lost the possibility of sitting in waiting worship in a room with others (which is still the most preferred way of worship for me). I lost my ability to attend worship with my kid. I lost the small conversations after worship with others, asking about our experiences in our lives at that time. Moving to zoom was (I think) the right decision. It kept us safe while we figured out how to be in a world with new pandemic risks. Staying there (on Zoom) was really hard for me. The new way of being with each other had both challenges and advantages. Many Quaker meetings encountered both, and we still seem to be asking both practical and spiritual questions about how we gather.
What this episode of Dr Who reminded me is that loss is ok. Sadness is to be expected. There’s anger, and frustration, and tender Joy as we remember the past. It’s also very specifically personal, depending on what has been important to each companion (or Friend!). At the end of this episode, we learn that yet again the Dr is destined for another regeneration. She’s got a little time left, to enjoy and reminisce with her current companion. They choose to sit on the Tardis (the traveling spaceship in this series) and gaze from space at the earth. They also eat some ice cream. The Dr reminds us that “good byes only hurt because what came before was so special”. It seems wise counsel for today.
Those companions each made a choice. They uprooted their lives and chose to travel the universe in excitement and Joy and challenge with Dr Who. The best ride and journey ever. Does your walking with the Divine, while being a part of a gathered Quaker community seem like that? It does to me most of the time. I think I appreciate the routine, the fellowship, the support and love from my fellow Quaker companions. But I also recognize it’s the path itself, the way I am being led, that is what also speaks most deeply to me. This happens regardless if I am in a historic meetinghouse, in my living room on a zoom screen, at a college campus or on a city bus. While I long for the specific communities and places that I have loved in the past, it’s the worship itself, the sitting and listening for the still small voice that keeps me returning. Sometimes that’s painful to remember how it used to be different. Sometimes it’s also great in a new and unexpected way. Both are part of the agreement.
When Jodi Whittaker first “became” the Dr – there was also some controversy! I wrote about it here.
Is your meeting going though change, or having conversations about where you are feeling led, perhaps in a way that looks like “laying down” or other change? Here’s a great resource for thinking about those concerns with your Meeting and Friends.