Quakers have traditionally been wary of creedal statements as they limit our understanding of God. Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have further avoided prescribed declarations of faith and statements of essential truths as hindrances to communication with the Divine.
The rejection of creeds does not imply the absence of doctrine or statements of belief. From the earliest times of our society, individual Friends, as well as groups and Friends meetings, have proclaimed their beliefs to the world in epistles, minutes, advices and other writings. Among the doctrines finding wide acceptance by Friends are a universal saving Light and continuing revelation. The selections that follow explore these and other beliefs held among Friends.
The selections within Part B are loosely arranged by the themes of belief, worship, ministry, prayer, scripture, Jesus, discernment and guidance. Readers are advised to browse through the extracts, reading one and then another and yet another. As on a library book shelf where an adjacent volume is often a delightful discovery that would not be found by using a precise call number, the quotation that precedes and follows can bring new perspective. Each author has more to say and their writings can be located by consulting the “Sources of Extracts from the Writings of Friends.”
What is the Quaker faith? It is not a tidy package of words which you can capture at any given time and then repeat weekly at a worship service. It is an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is life-long. The discovery in itself is not uniquely a property of Quakerism. It is as old as Christianity, and considerably older if you share the belief that many have known Christ who have not known His name. What is unique to the Religious Society of Friends is its insistence that the discovery must be made by each man for himself. No one is allowed to get it second-hand by accepting a ready-made creed. Furthermore, the discovery points a path and demands a journey, and gives you the power to make the journey.
[Our] work is based on the thought that ‘What you have inherited from your forefathers you must acquire for yourselves to possess it’. That is to say that each generation of young Friends by its experiments must discover for itself the truths on which the Society is built if it is to use those truths and to continue and enlarge the work of the Society. Hence the occasional separate meetings of younger Friends and our desire to have means of expressing corporately our own experience.
Young Friends Committee
To say that Friends have no creed is not to say that each Friend has no belief. Far otherwise. Each one, and each group, has the responsibility to seek, and seek, and seek again where the Light is leading; to find what the life of God means in the life of man; to wrestle with the great facts and mysteries in the heart of our Christian experience, and to know what we believe about them. It is only when we have formulated our faith for ourselves that we can communicate it to others or know its incisive power in our own day-to-day discipleship.
Hugh L. Doncaster
If you would know God, and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means He has ordained and given for that purpose. Some seek it in books, some in learned men, but what they look for is in themselves, yet they overlook it. The voice is too still, the Seed too small, and the Light shineth in darkness. … The woman that lost her silver found it at home after she had lighted her candle and swept her house. Do you so too, and you shall find what Pilate wanted to know, viz., Truth. The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world, and so a light to you that tells you the truth of your condition, leads all that take heed unto it out of darkness into God’s marvelous light; for light grows upon the obedient.
There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it or can own its life. It’s conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.
There is a Spirit Which I Feel
Can I, imprisoned, body-bound, touch
The starry garment of the Oversoul,
Reach from my tiny part to the great Whole,
And spread my Little to the Infinite Much,
When Truth forever slips from out my clutch,
And what I take indeed, I do but dole
In cupfuls from a rimless ocean-bowl
That holds a million million million such?
And Yet, some Thing that moves among the stars,
And holds the cosmos in a web of law,
Moves too in me: a hunger, a quick thaw
Of soul that liquefies the ancient bars,
As I, a member of creation, sing
The burning one-ness binding everything.
Thousands [are] now mistaken as to the dignity and origin of God’s Spirit in them; they think it is of man, a part of his nature and being whereas it is of the very life, power, and substance of God. Its descent is as truly from heaven as was that of the Lord Jesus. He came in that low, mean, and ordinary appearance as to outward show and accommodations, teaching us thereby not to despise the day of small things, nor to overlook the littleness of the motions of divine life in our own souls. And when he compares the kingdom of heaven, which he expressly says is within, to outward things, he very instructively inculcates to us that the beginnings of it are small—“a little leaven … a grain of mustard seed … least of all seeds”(Matt. 13:31-32). This is true in the inward, whatever it may be in the outward, for the seed of the kingdom is the least of all the seeds in the field or garden of the heart.
In this humanistic age we suppose that man is the initiator and God the responder. But the Living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders. God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us.
If God ever spoke, He is still speaking. If He has ever been in mutual and reciprocal communication with the persons He has made, He is still a communicating God as eager as ever to have listening and receptive souls. If there is something of His image and superscription in our inmost structure and being, we ought to expect a continuous revelation of His will and purpose through the ages. … He is the Great I Am, not a Great He Was.
Rufus M. Jones
As a black Quaker, I see the Inner Light as the great liberator and equalizer able to erase the psychological deficits of racism. The internalization of this divine principle has the potential to remove the sense of powerlessness that so often characterizes the thinking of the downtrodden. For if the Divine Light is the Seed of God planted in the souls of human beings, in that Seed lies all the characteristics of its source. Consequently, the Light within is also the Divine Power within. It is the indestructible power in us that is able to create from nothing, able to make ways out of no way, able to change what appears to be the natural order of things. It is the power in us that can never be overcome by the darkness of fear and hatred or altered by the might or money of people. It is the power in us in which lies unfathomable capacity to love and forgive even the most heinous of crimes.
Ayesha Clark-Halkin Imani
But as I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was not one among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace and faith and power. Thus, when God doth work who shall [prevent] it. And this I knew experimentally.
I think that for Fox, and anyone who proposes an experiential theology, as Friends do, the element of experiment is important. Fox came to his opening only after he had traveled around seeking out the leading lights of his day. He found that none of the people who he met could answer the questions in his soul. He found the answers in an inner voice. He heard this voice, he identified it as the Inner Christ, and he found confirmation in that his “soul did leap for joy.”
Quakerism is neither exclusively Christian, as some Quaker Christians would have it; nor is it exclusively Universalist, as some Quaker Universalists would have it. … Not only is it possible to be both Christian and Universalist at the same time; it is the very essence and peculiar genius of Quakerism to marry the two in one powerful synthesis through the doctrine of the Inner Light. In the final analysis, the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light is really a radically Universalist interpretation of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To be Quaker is, therefore, to be radically Christian.
Samuel D. Caldwell
Our growing, mystical consciousness shall transform us into evangelical Christians, bursting to share what we have learned about living in the Kingdom from Jesus of Nazareth, through the gospels, and from our personal discovery of the Christ within—a Christ who is not limited to Jesus and can therefore be good news to men and women of other living religions and to countless humanists who, in being true to themselves and their own sense of honesty and wholeness, will never be able to accept the Christ myth in its traditional form.
Quakerism in spirit and ideal is neither a form of Roman Catholicism nor a form of Protestantism. Protestantism in its original, essential features called for an authoritative creed, specific sacraments, and an authentic form of ordination. Quakerism at its birth was a fresh attempt to recover the way of life revealed in the New Testament, to re-interpret and re-live it in this present world. Its founders intended to revive apostolic Christianity. They did not intend to create a new sect. They carefully avoided calling themselves a “Church.” They were content to be a “Society of Friends.” George Fox said: “The Quakers are not a sect but are [a people living] in the power of God which was before sects were.”
Rufus M. Jones
The artist and the Quaker are on the same internal journey. Each is seeking a relationship with the Divine, and each is seeking a way to express that relationship. There are just many different ways of expressing it. For many, the path to the Self has to be entered by way of the arts, whether or not we are gifted in that field. That doesn’t seem to matter. As St. Paul says: If we have not love, we are as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And for many of us, the pathway to love is through the arts. … The process of working with and forming material things can lead beyond them to the spiritual, and shape of clay or colors of paint can be a window into another world.
God is never far away. God’s Spirit is always so close—closer than breath. But unless we stop and listen, we might not notice. We practice listening. We listen with our whole selves—with our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our imaginations, our souls.
Faith & Play Working Group, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Hope, peace, and encouragement is not enough to depict my religion. When my spirit is animated by my religion and is aware of the inviolable Truth prevailing, my heart dances for joy and gratitude and sings the praise of God! Every moment is a mystery. Even this body of mine, what a mystery it is, whose heart is beating incessantly without my knowing, and whose lungs breathe ceaselessly without my knowing! This air is God’s, the light is God’s, we are his. I am living with all the universe, and all the universe is living with me, in God.
We do distinguish betwixt the certain knowledge of God and the uncertain, betwixt the spiritual knowledge and the literal, the saving heart-knowledge and the soaring airy head-knowledge. The last, we confess, may be by divers ways obtained; but the first, by no other way than the inward immediate manifestation and revelation of God’s Spirit, shining in and upon the heart, enlightening and opening the understanding.
The image educates emotion where reason never reaches. The significant image held, recalled, has the power to transform. No one knows why this is so. One can only know that it works. A trust of this practice is one of the most liberating factors for spiritual growth. A great artist holds to an image until depth of feeling knows and understands what mind alone cannot know. How the community needs its image makers!
We seem to be at a turning point in human history. We can choose life or watch the planet become uninhabitable for our species. Somehow, I believe that we will pass through this dark night of our planetary soul to a new period of harmony with the God that is to be found within each of us, and that S/He will inspire renewed confidence in people everywhere, empowering us all to cooperate to use our skills, our wisdom, our creativity, our love, our faith—even our doubts and fears—to make peace with the planet. Strengthened by this fragile faith, empowered by the Spirit within, I dare to hope.
As I learned, the Inward Light is unconditional love, yet at the same time, it is a searing of the soul. The Light pierces with total honesty into our behaviors, words and attitudes. This is not an easy thing to experience! In the refiner’s fire, metal is purified so that it can be made useful, as a tool or a sword. The fire of the Light likewise burns away the dross of life—the foolish or harmful things we have done—to reform us closer to the image of God.
Margery Post Abbott
But all you that be in your own wisdom and in your own reason, you tell that silent waiting upon God is famine to you; it is a strange life to you to come to be silent, you must come into a new world. Now you must die in the silence, die from the wisdom, die from the knowledge, die from the reason, and die from the understanding.
From the beginning, it was the witness of changed and liberated lives that shook the foundations of the established social, economic, and religious order of England. The Religious Society of Friends–the Friends Church—is about nothing if it’s not about transformation. Helping each other open to the Living Christ among us, allowing ourselves to be searched by the Light at work within us, humbling ourselves to be taught by the Inward Teacher, trusting that surrendering to the Refiner’s Fire, we can be given new hearts. It is and always has been through these new hearts that we are made channels for the Motion of Universal Love.
Noah Baker Merrill
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
Britain Yearly Meeting
It took a lot for me to speak of my own feelings … just a small glimpse of what obedience to the holy is about. If I had been seeking what was comfortable, I would have kept my mouth shut. Once I spoke I realized I was also speaking for others. … This is where the cross comes in, the cross that is not stuck in theology about salvation from our sins, but rather the living cross. To take up the living cross is to respond to the Divine Voice and set aside self-will. Standing in the cross, we recognize the agony so prevalent in the world, yet are not mired down in it. These concepts spell out the paradox of the cross: it is at once about holy obedience and divine power.
Margery Post Abbott
I have never outgrown a sort of naive surprise and delight which I felt when I found out that there is one single thing that one can have without limit and not deprive anyone else—the love of God, His Presence.
Mildred Binns Young
As a teenager I looked for proof of the existence of God, but soon realised that there would be none. I chose to adopt as a working hypothesis a belief in God, and to go on from there. I have not felt the need to revise that hypothesis—yet. I believe in a powerful, all-knowing God, but a caring and a forgiving God. I believe he says to us: “All right, you’ve got life, get on with it, live it! I am there behind to guide you, to help you live it but don’t expect me to interfere to make life smooth for you—you are old enough to stand on your own two feet.”
S. Jocelyn Burnell
Life is one. There is an invisible spiritual aspect and a visible material aspect of the same life. This life includes the whole world and all there is in it. Each aspect has its peculiar function: but the spiritual and the material are inextricably one. Each is to be known in and through the other. The material is infused with the spiritual. The spiritual is intrinsic to the material. In this scientific age we have tended to think that we could understand the world through the material aspect alone, but this one-sided approach to the real world may well prove disastrous. Many are alienated from the attempt to know the spiritual because to them it seems to be relegated to a world other than, separate from, the one in which we appear to live. Mysticism, the word used to describe the apprehension of the spiritual, is regarded by ordinary men and women as occult, abnormal, and unavailable even if they wanted it. But mysticism is the key to the whole. It is the recognition that there is a point of convergence of the material and spiritual qualities of man and the world.
Is our belief in the Spirit “unscientific”? As a matter of definition, yes. Science by definition makes predictions about phenomena that can be manipulated by experiment with measurable results. The Spirit is not predictable, it cannot be manipulated, and it cannot be measured. It is a gift of grace. However, we can lay our non-scientific belief in the Spirit beside our acceptance of science and see compatibility. Here’s how. … We observe the universe is governed by the interplay of opposites. We also observe the universe is falling apart. Dark energy accelerates the expansion of the universe, flinging all the stars farther and farther away from each other. Eventually entropy will condemn the whole universe to heat death. It’s all falling apart, it’s all futile. The apparent law of the universe is dissolution. If this is so and the law of balance also holds, shouldn’t there be a law of unification to balance the law of dissolution? This, I believe, is what the Spirit is.
Conflict between science and religion comes when people see things in a partial way, thinking that part of the picture is the whole picture. We need to listen to what both science and religion can tell us in order to understand the whole. Science can help us understand many aspects of reality, and in particular see the fine-tuning in physics that allows our existence. That understanding can be very precise, and it can make a huge impression. Our broader experience can give us a relation to spiritual issues with many dimensions. In terms of the beauty of things, I get that by walking in the mountains every Saturday and looking at birds, trees, waterfalls, flowers, clouds, the sea, and all the rest of it. In terms of religious experience, it is what many Quakers have found in the gathered Meeting for Worship.
Consequently, I like to talk about “intimations of transcendence”—of perceptions of a kind of existence lying behind the surface appearance, which gives a grounding for meaning, morality, and purpose.
Some of us are content to bow before the divine Mystery in awe and gratitude. Others may, like me, feel drawn to try to comprehend something of the nature of this mystery. But I have come to see that the value of that effort is simply to bring us back to mystery, awe and gratitude. In the end, we cannot really comprehend, much less control or manipulate, the divine Mystery. God remains transcendent, infinitely beyond our limited human categories and understanding. Thanks be to God. Amen.
I find that Quakerism and research science fit together very, very well. In Quakerism you’re expected to develop your own understanding of God from your experience in the world. There isn’t a creed, there isn’t a dogma. There’s an understanding but nothing as formal as a dogma or creed and this idea that you develop your own understanding also means that you keep redeveloping your understanding as you get more experience, and it seems to me that’s very like what goes on in “the scientific method.” You have a model, of a star, it’s an understanding, and you develop that model in the light of experiments and observations, and so in both you’re expected to evolve your thinking. Nothing is static, nothing is final, everything is held provisionally.
S. Jocelyn Burnell
The silence of worship is not just an absence of noise, or even an outward stilling of the physical, it is a journey within, a ‘going inside’ to a deeply felt but easily reached place of holy relationship. Together, we meet each other in the silence, come together, ‘all focusing on something we share’, ‘picking up the same questions in the silence’, gathered, before God. We come expectantly and in surrender. We come in hope of we know not what, the hope of faith. We come in the humility of those seeking, those grateful for what we are given, those hungry to hear the call, those eager to work with God to further God’s loving purposes. We come as those who know the world is not as loving as it might be, that humanity hurts itself as well as the planet, that we need to at least try doing our bit to help, and that our faith both requires this of us, and helps us to achieve what we discern is best.
Ben Pink Dandelion
The first that enters into the place of your meeting … turn in thy mind to the light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; and here thou art strong. Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn in to the same light, and wait in the spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the light. … Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the spirit, are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is a spirit, and in the spirit is he worshiped. … In such a meeting there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here; and this is the end of all words and writings—to bring people to the eternal living Word.
We earnestly advise all who attend our meetings to lift their hearts to God immediately on taking their seats. The avoidance of distracting conversation beforehand is a great help to this end, and the walk to meeting may often prove a true preparation for divine worship. …
The meeting affects the ministry quite as truly as the ministry affects the meeting. If those who come together do so in expectant faith, and in genuine love and sympathy with one another, striving to put far from them thoughts of criticism and fault-finding, and praying earnestly that the right persons may be led to speak and the right messages be given, they will not go away unhelped. It is in such an atmosphere that the Holy Spirit can work effectively to bring forth the utterances that are needed, and to check those that are not required. On the other hand, the spirit of indifference or of cold and unfriendly criticism injures the whole life of the meeting, and we need not wonder if in such an atmosphere speakers mistake their guidance.
Revision Committees, London Yearly Meeting
When you come to your meetings … what do you do? Do you then gather together bodily only, and kindle a fire, compassing yourselves about with the sparks of your own kindling, and so please yourselves, and walk in the light of your own fire, and in the sparks which you have kindled …? Or rather, do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord, with your minds fixed in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, until the Lord breathes life in you, refresheth you, and prepares you, and your spirits and souls, to make you fit for his service, that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice?
On one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of silent worshipers, who were content to sit down together without words, that each one might feel after and draw near to the Divine Presence, unhindered at least, if not helped, by any human utterance. Utterance I knew was free, should the words be given; and before the meeting was over, a sentence or two were uttered in great simplicity by an old and apparently untaught man, rising in his place amongst the rest of us. I did not pay much attention to the words he spoke, and I have no recollection of their import. My whole soul was filled with the unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God, with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very gate of heaven.
Caroline E. Stephen
In the practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when the electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshipers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, and the worshipers are gathered into a unity and synthesis of life which is amazing indeed. A quickening Presence pervades us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and blending our spirits within a superindividual Life and Power. An objective, dynamic Presence enfolds us all, nourishes our souls, speaks glad, unutterable comfort within us, and quickens us in depths that had before been slumbering. The Burning Bush has been kindled in our midst, and we stand together on holy ground.
As our worship consisted not in words so neither in silences as silence, but in a holy dependence silence necessarily follows in the first place until words can be brought forth which are from God’s spirit.
It is quite clear that Quakers need the fine arts. Efforts to make up for the slights that the arts have received from us Quakers are popping up all around, and for good reason. For too long Quakers viewed the arts as a frivolous pursuit, ignoring the need for artistic self-expression except in journals and “good works.” But the climate was different then. In the 18th and 19th centuries religion was in the very air one breathed, and spirituality was expressed in lengthy sermons and discourses. Today’s materialistic, rational, secular times offer a sparse diet of spirituality for the hungry. The hunger for religion and the spiritual life finds needed nourishment in the arts.
Worship is a hunger of the human soul for God. When it really occurs, it is as compelling as the hunger for food. It is as spontaneous as the love of boy for girl. If we feel it, no one needs to tell us we should worship. No one has to try to make us do it. If we do not feel it, or have no desire to feel it, no amount of urging or forcing will do any good. We simply cannot be forced from the outside to worship. Only the power within us, the life within, can move us to it.
N. Jean Toomer
During a silent meeting for healing at a gathering attended by about sixty women, I experienced a profound silence inside me and in the room. It was as though time stopped and I was aware of our existence in eternity.
When I joined the Religious Society of Friends over 10 years ago, I remember silently making a commitment to myself that I would not become “a brown-skinned white person.” I had sensed early on that on some level my African American culture might be put at risk not by any religious tenets of Quakerism, but rather by certain of its cultural expectations and assumptions. Adhering to the practice of unprogrammed Quakerism too often means adopting cultural norms and values that constrain and censor a truly free and sincerely spiritual witness, thereby directly contradicting the foundational principle of Quaker worship that we are to be fully centered upon and led by the Spirit. If we were to practice the essence of true Quaker worship, we could not be so confined by culture, cut off by mechanical measures of time, or inhibited by notions of propriety not rooted deeply in Quaker spiritual principles. We would strive, instead, to be free in worship, fully open and response to a full range of leadings of the Spirit, from deep silence to joyful singing and even—dare I say it?—to dance. I think that fearlessly following this path consistently over the long term will eventually obviate all issues of multiculturalism, multiracialism, and inclusiveness. And I believe our meetings will experience vibrant renewal and growth in the process.
Elmyra (Amhara) Powell, Orange Grove Meeting (Cal)
I have never lost the enjoyment of sitting in silence at the beginning of meeting, knowing that everything can happen, knowing the joy of utmost surprise; feeling that nothing is preordained, nothing is set, all is open. The light can come from all sides. The joy of experiencing the Light in a completely different way than one has thought it would come is one of the greatest gifts that Friends’ meeting for worship has brought me.
A Window and A Door: A Prayer
grant that my soul,
the workplace of Spirit within,
have the grace of possessing
both a window and a door.
Windows let in light and air from outside
and bring hope and wisdom,
when it is needed within.
And when the lights of my soul
shine through clear, window glass,
the radiance can be perceived,
and can sometimes bring insight
to perplexities that enthrall others.
Yet a window makes but part of
the connection required for wholeness.
for Spirit moves out
through the door of my soul,
with the grounding of Love
and a feathery flight,
and brings joy when it alights
upon its kindred—
For, is any not its kin?
And when the stranger knocks at the door,
spirit can fling it wide open,
inviting the stranger to sup
and become friend,
giving succor, new learning, and renewal
to both me and thee.
Beloved, may my soul—and my community—
have the grace
of both a window and a door.
LaVerne Maria (LVM) Shelton
As I silence myself I become more sensitive to the sounds around me, and I do not block them out. The songs of the birds, the rustle of the wind, children in the playground, the roar of an airplane overhead are all taken into my worship. I regulate my breathing as taught me by my Zen friends, and through this exercise I feel the flow of life within me from my toes right through my whole body. I think of myself like the tree planted by the “rivers of water” in Psalm 1, sucking up God’s gift of life and being restored. Sometimes I come to meeting for worship tired and weary, and I hear the words of Jesus, “Come unto me, all that labour and are weary, and I will give you rest.” And having laid down my burden, I feel refreshed both physically and spiritually. This leads me on to whole-hearted adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s blessings. My own name, Tayeko, means “child of many blessings” and God has surely poured them upon me. My heart overflows with a desire to give Him something in return. I have nothing to give but my own being, and I offer Him my thoughts, words, and actions of each day, and whisper, “Please take me as I am.”
To love and be loved is a universal human urge. Is it any wonder, then, that we are moved to seek God’s love? … It is to this divine love that we are called. This is the high promise of man’s life. We are called away from indifference, from meanness, malice, prejudice, and hate. We are called above the earthly loves that come and go and are unsure. We are called into the deep enduring love of God and man and all creation. Worship is a door into that love. Once we have entered it, our every act is a prayer, our whole life a continuous worship.
N. Jean Toomer
There are times of dryness in our individual lives, when meeting may seem difficult or even worthless. At such times one may be tempted not to go to meeting; but it may be better to go, prepared to offer as our contribution to the worship simply a sense of need. In such a meeting one may not at the time realise what one has gained, but one will nevertheless come away helped.
Ministry and Extension Committee, Berks and Oxon Quarterly Meeting, London Yearly Meeting
If worship does not change us, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter His gracious light. As Jesus said, we will need to leave our gift at the altar and go set the matter straight (Matthew 5:23). In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows in the soul. To worship is to change.
On First-days I frequented meetings and the greater part of my time I slept, but took no account of preaching nor received any other benefit, than being there kept me out of bad company which indeed is a very great service to youth…but one First-day, being at meeting, a young woman named Anne Wilson was there and preached; she was very zealous and fixing my eye upon her, she with a great zeal pointed her finger at me uttering these words with much power: “A traditional Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?” This was so pat to my then condition that like Saul I was smitten to the ground as it might be said, but turning my thoughts inwards, in secret I cried, “Lord, what shall I do to help it?” And a voice as it were spoke in my heart, saying “Look unto me, and I will help thee.”
[Dig] deep, …carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to the divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound.
Yet, in The Spirit, my copper-colored body is never captured by the snare of the roots of bitterness. I like to think that I possess an energy congruent with the actions of Grace Douglass, a nineteenth-century Quaker attender who sits in a marginalized space to accommodate the bigotry of some Quakers because her skin is not white. Douglass, refusing the reductive prescriptions of the actions of others, exemplifies what her continual attendance to Quaker meeting, despite marginalization, articulates: in worship, divinity resides within us all.
tonya thames taylor
When I read that I was supposed to make ‘a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God’ in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it, I thought: “Oh, those stuffy old Friends, they don’t understand! Do they think I’m going to be able to sit for an hour, or half an hour, or a quarter of an hour, or for any time at all, in my very busy life, just to have some kind of feeling of ‘inward retirement’?” I felt irritated and misunderstood, and I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. At last I began to realise … that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by. … I began to realise that prayer was not a formality or an obligation; it was a place which was there all the time and always available.
Elfrida Vipont Foulds
The success of meetings for worship depends to some extent on preparation during intervening times, and especially the period immediately preceding the meeting. This is not a conscious and deliberate preparation for a specific time and place, but a general preparation of life and character. … One important type of preparation for group worship is individual devotion. A daily period of prayer, worship, and meditation furnishes food for the nourishment of spiritual life. So also does regular reading of devotional literature.
Howard H. Brinton
The practice of corporate waiting worship requires individual preparation on the part of each worshiper. The Friend who has not prepared for corporate worship brings correspondingly less silence with him/her, and the worship is correspondingly less robust. The prepared worshiper, on the other hand, comes to meeting for worship having already shared his/her ‘routine’ issues with God in times of personal prayer and worship rather than saving them up for First Day morning, so that the corporate worship is not a cacophony of personal problems, but a quiet group expectancy, a waiting for the Presence of God to become manifest.
Lloyd Lee Wilson
It is almost axiomatic that once we become serious about the spiritual journey, about seeking God, we discover, sooner or later, that the once-a-week worship hour on Sunday is not enough to feed us, and so we discover the importance of the Door Before. … It is no accident that daily “retirement” (a time of reading the Bible and inspirational writings, personal prayer, reflection and worship) has been frequently recommended throughout Quaker history. … A person who has already experienced times of spiritual nourishment during the week will require less time to let go of the rhythms and preoccupations of normal life and can therefore enter more quickly and easily into full attention to the living Presence.
There can be complete unity of worship without a single word being said. I have known a few such meetings and shall never forget them. It was their silence, not their words, that was memorable. And even one short sentence, spoken nervously at the spirit’s prompting, is better than a well-phrased five-minute talk prepared beforehand.
Brevity, earnestness, sincerity—and frequently a lack of polish—characterize the best Quaker speaking. … [Words] should not break the silence, but continue it. … In a truly gathered meeting, restraint in one’s utterances is often more releasing than are multiplied words. Words that hint at the wonder of God, but that do not attempt to exhaust it, have an open-ended character. In the silences of our hearts the Holy Presence completes the unfinished words far more satisfyingly.
Feeling the spring of Divine love opened, and a concern to speak, I said a few words in a meeting, in which I found peace. Being thus humbled and disciplined under the cross, my understanding became more strengthened to distinguish the pure spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart, and which taught me to wait in silence sometimes many weeks together, until I felt that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet, through which the Lord speaks to his flock. … All the faithful are not called to the public ministry; but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually. The outward modes of worship are various; but whenever any are true ministers of Jesus Christ, it is from the operation of his Spirit upon their hearts.
In a truly covered meeting an individual who speaks takes no credit to himself for the part he played in the unfolding of the worship. … For the feeling of being a pliant instrument of the Divine Will characterizes true speaking “in the Life.” Under such a covering an individual emerges into vocal utterance, frequently without fear and trembling, and subsides without self-consciousness into silence when his part is played. For One who is greater than all individuals has become the meeting place of the group, and He becomes the leader and director of worship. With wonder one hears the next speaker, if there be more, take up another aspect of the theme of the meeting. No jealousy, no regrets that he didn’t think of saying that, but only gratitude that the angel has come and troubled the waters and that many are finding healing through the one Life. A gathered meeting is no place for the enhancement of private reputations, but for self-effacing pliancy and obedience to the whispers of the Leader.
I call the work that ministers embody the work of prophets. In doing this, I acknowledge that in Friends’ tradition, ministry is essentially a prophetic act. When we rise to offer vocal ministry in meeting for worship, we are seeking to give voice to the inbreaking of the Divine among us. As the Living Christ speaks in our hearts, the words we speak are an articulation in this moment of eternal Truth and Love. Like the messages of prophets in the Hebrew tradition, we’re not ever given the final word. Drawing on an experience of the immediate transforming Presence, we are allowing that Life and Power to speak through us into the present moment, in which Friends gather expectantly to wait on the Word. This is the growing edge of continuing revelation. As we reach for the river of eternity, it rises to meet us and carries us along. This is the purpose of ministry – to be channels for Love’s continuing birth in the world.
Noah Baker Merrill
Vocal prayer, poured out from a humble heart, frequently shifts a meeting from a heady level of discussion to the deeps of worship. Such prayers serve as an unintended rebuke to our shallowness and drive us deeper into worship, and commitment. They open the gates of devotion, adoration, submission, confession. They help to unite the group at the level at which real unity is sought. … Such prayers not only “create” that unity; they also give voice to it, and the worshipers are united in a silent amen of gratitude.
… learning to move in the exercise of the meeting so that one is part of it, yet taken beyond it and brought to see some new light as a result of it is most important in creative ministry. The cluster of messages, with a fair interval of silence between each of them to let its insight sink in; the cluster that goes on down, with each message deepening and intensifying and helping to light up a further facet of the communication, can be most effective. But for this to happen, those sharing in it cannot be in a discussional frame of mind, or in a debating stance, or yield to the ruthlessly critical frame of mind, or all is lost and the meeting is pulled into a forum. It can only be done if there is a willingness to be led by each of the ones ministering into a deeper level of what they were not only saying but what they were meaning to say, and perhaps even beyond into what something beneath us all was meaning to have said through what we were saying and were meaning to say. When a cluster ministry moves in this way, we know that we are moving in the life, that we are breaking the cerebral barrier and being released.
How can we be sure that we are not speaking too often, or too long, or from our own ideas, now that we are no longer accountable in the way that recorded ministers once were? The most sure way is to make certain that we are speaking out of that special state of consciousness of the Door Within, that multiple meshing when we feel ourselves united both with fellow worshippers and with the Divine. As we become experienced with that state of consciousness it gradually becomes easier to discern between the many subtle pressures to speak and an authentic Divine urging to be a channel for a message. The traditional signs which accompany an authentic leading to speak are rapid breathing, rapid beating of the heart and sometimes a trembling (we are not called Quakers for nothing!), but these physical manifestations are actually a response to the inward motion of the Spirit, which at first may seem very subtle and difficult to discern. In time an experienced Friend will come to recognize and rely more and more on the sure, clear knowing characteristic of the inward motion. At that point the traditional physical reactions characteristic of a leading to speak are less accurate signs than is a skilled, practiced awareness of the inward motion and of the inward peace which follows such speaking.
The place of prayer is a precious habitation. … I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet, when there was great stirrings and commotions in the world.
The habit of turning instinctively to God at any moment of life is of immeasurable benefit to the mind and spirit. The entreaty of the moment may be for one’s own strength, forgiveness, courage, or power to endure. It may be a petition for the wellbeing of another. It may be an involuntary expression of gratitude for joy or peace in one’s own or another’s life. Whatever the need, longing, or aspiration, this instinctive prayer may take the form of silent communion, of petition in words, or something akin to intimate conversation.
Agnes L. Tierney
When belief seems impossible, it is the poets who help us to be aware of those experiences of healing and forgiveness, which seem to come from outside ourselves—or from places so deep within us that we are not usually conscious of them. It is these encounters, which lie at the center of our religious experience, whether it is then shaped by a formal creed or not.
There is a way of living in prayer at the same time that one is busy with the outward affairs of daily living. This practice of continuous prayer in the presence of God involves developing the habit of carrying on the mental life at two levels. At one level we are immersed in this world of time, of daily affairs. At the same time but at a deeper level of our minds, we are in active relation with the Eternal Life.
How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps of our souls. … Behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.
Let none allow the rush of engagements or the hurry of business to crowd their opportunities for private retirement and waiting upon God. The more our engagements multiply, the greater is the call to watch unto prayer. He who is a stranger to prayer enters upon them in his own strength, and finds, to his unspeakable loss, that a life without prayer is a life practically without God.
London Yearly Meeting
Do not let us be discouraged because we find the path of silent prayer difficult or because we do not experience that joy of conscious communion which is given to some. The sunlight shines through the cloud; even when the cloud is so thick that we cannot see the sun at all, its rays carry on their healing work, and it does us good to go out into the open, even on a grey day. The experience of many of the greatest saints points to the traversing of a dark night of the soul before the light of full communion dawns, and to times of dryness of spirit coming at intervals to test the faith and perseverance of the seeker.
T. Edmund Harvey
Not everyone prays in the same way, or needs to. Nonetheless, I have become convinced that our participation in the divine love of others is somehow necessary. In a world in which we are given free will to accept or reject God’s gifts, the divine wholeness for which we are intended is not forced upon us. We must choose to welcome and surrender to it, relinquishing our fears and lesser desires. We all have resistance to divine love and often find it easier to open up to love from other people. We can become mediators of the love of God for one another, gradually helping ourselves and those we love and pray for to become more directly open to the divine healing love that makes us whole.
While working on a blanket for a friend who was expecting her first child, I realized something else was happening. I was knitting prayers. The blanket, intended for physical warmth, took on symbolic proportions. “May this child always feel held in the warmth of his family’s love, and the loving embrace of God. May this child never lack for physical nourishment. May the Holy Spirit watch over and bless my friend while she is in labor, and while she strives to do the right thing for her offspring.” These prayers, and many more, flowed from my heart through my fingers as I continued to knit. The prayers came unbidden, from my center, from a place of my deep gratitude.
There is something about praying that is well beyond the saying of words. There is an intention behind the words of prayer, an attitude of expectancy, a way of being that is integral to prayer. It goes beyond words into the unspeakable language of the heart. Without this deep voice from beyond the words of prayer, our attempts to pray can be shallow and inauthentic.
The authentic desire for a real relationship with a real God is often our entry point to prayer, and our desires are shaped by our prayers. Our values and desires thus shaped by prayer show themselves in actions of humility, love and compassion, and these actions are in themselves a reiteration of the prayers which spark them.
Prayer also arrives as a gift, unannounced, demanding an answer of awe-inspired reverence. It happens when the sun sets, a birth is witnessed, or when a sudden insight turns our mind toward a new direction. Perhaps … it is God who seeks us, rather than the other way around.
The highest purpose of prayer is to lift the soul into close companionship with God. Such prayer is not an attitude of the body; is not a formula of words. It is an impulse of the soul that often cannot express itself in words. In the midst of our busiest occupations, when hands and mind and heart are bent upon accomplishing the purpose of the hour, there may come a flash of divine illumination, flooding our souls with light, showing us how God is the center of all things, the life of all that lives. In that moment’s deep revealing comes to us the secret of faith that need not question; of hope that foresees its own fulfilling; of strength that wearies not in the walk with God; of love whose beneficent impulses go out to all the needy, and sweeten all life’s relationships; of peace that bears the soul upward to the regions of perpetual calm.
Elizabeth Powell Bond
The first gleam of light, “the first cold light of morning” which gave promise of day with its noontide glories, dawned on me one day at meeting, when I had been meditating on my state in great depression. I seemed to hear the words articulated in my spirit, “Live up to the light thou hast, and more will be granted thee.” Then I believed that God speaks … by His spirit. I strove to lead a more Christian life, in unison with what I knew to be right, and looked for brighter days, not forgetting the blessings that are granted to prayer.
Over the years, praying for others and holding them in the Light has become a frequent practice for me. I’ve explored many ways of doing it. Sometimes I address a mental request to God for health or well-being of another, usually acknowledging that I don’t fully understand the situation and that I’m really asking for the best for that person, whatever that may be. Often, however, my prayer doesn’t include mental words or any specific requests. Sometimes I visualize that person filled and surrounded with light or imagine them being held by God or experiencing radiant health, peace, or joy. On other occasions, I visualize the light within them—divine love and wisdom—shining brightly. Often my prayer feels simply like love, without images: I focus on the other person in a tender, grateful way, from the place of my own deepest connection to Spirit. … Prayer on behalf of others is mysterious, but fundamentally it seems to be an opportunity to participate in divine love.
At one point in my life I became acutely aware of the internal effects of a significant resentment toward another person, generated by a deeply hurtful experience. … One of my spiritual mentors advised me to pray for that person whose actions had caused me to feel this deep anger and resentment. She said that I did not even have to mean it but should ask that this person be given everything I would hope to have myself for a happy, full life. … I did as instructed. Within two short weeks I found myself softening. … Eventually I was able to feel true compassion for him. It was, for me, a miraculous transformation. This prayer became an indispensable tool in my life and the basis for reconciliation as a spiritual practice.
Connie McPeak Green
Prayer is one of the important ways we help the divine seed within ourselves, others, our culture, and the world to flourish and overcome the forces that oppress it. Some Friends have a growing awareness of being called to pray both for individuals and for the meeting community as a whole, often while also being called upon to help others grow in understanding of the ways of the Spirit. Early Friends sometimes referred to people with such gifts as “nursing” mothers or fathers. Later they were given the less evocative term, “elder.” Today it is becoming more common to call such Friends “spiritual nurturers.” By whatever name, people who exercise such gifts on the behalf of our meetings and Quaker community are much needed for the health of our spiritual fellowship.
Now the Lord God opened to me by his invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine light of Christ, and I saw it shine through all; and they that believed in it came out of condemnation to the light of life, and became the children of it; but they that hated it, and did not believe in it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ. This I saw in the pure openings of the Light without the help of any man; neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures; though afterwards, searching the Scriptures, I found it. For I saw in that Light and Spirit which was before Scripture was given forth … that all must come to that Spirit, if they would know God, or Christ, or the Scriptures aright.
And the end [goal] of words is to bring men to the knowledge of things, beyond what words can utter. So learn of the Lord to make a right use of the Scriptures, which is by esteeming them in their place, and prizing that above them, which is above them. The eternal life, the Spirit, the power, the fountain of living waters, the everlasting pure well is above the words concerning it. This, the believer is to witness in himself, and to draw water with joy out of it.
The Cross as dogma is painless speculation; the Cross as lived suffering is anguish and glory. Yet God, out of the pattern of His own heart, has planted the Cross along the road of holy obedience. And He enacts in the hearts of those He loves the miracle of willingness to welcome suffering and to know it for what it is—the final seal of His gracious love.
Thomas R. Kelly
Wait on the Lord, that thou mayst, from him, feel the right limit to thy mind, in reading the Scriptures. For the mind of man is busy and active, willing to be running beyond its bounds, guessing at the meaning of God’s Spirit and imagining of itself unless the Lord limit it. … Therefore, read in fear and wait understandingly to distinguish between God’s opening to these words concerning the kingdom and the things of the kingdom, and thy own apprehensions about them that the one may be always cast by, and the other always embraced by thee. And always wait God’s season; do not presume to understand a thing, before he give thee the understanding of it: and know also, that he alone is able to preserve the true sense and knowledge in thee that thou mayst live dependently upon him for thy knowledge, and never “lean to thy own understanding.”
It is one thing to understand words, testimonies, and descriptions and it is another matter to understand, know, enjoy, possess, and live in that which the words relate to, describe, and bear witness of.
And so he [George Fox] went on, and said, “That Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this light they might be gathered to God.”
I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, “The scriptures are the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord”: and said, “Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”
This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”
Perhaps you, like me, have had trouble with the ancient laws handed down by Moses. I accepted the Ten-Commandment-core with a Sunday School deference which could never quite make the laws of Moses as real or as important as the laws of science. For me, this began to change when I began to read the Bible in what I sometimes call the Quaker way—that is, reading with both the analytical mind and the intuitive mind leaving plenty of space for the Holy Spirit. On the one hand Biblical scholarship and all the light science can provide; on the other hand, savoring and resting in the meaning, pausing from time to time to stare off into space. …
As I reread the Old Testament laws in this more meditative way, two recognitions helped open my understanding. First, I realized, as did George Fox, that most of the laws of Moses were designed for a specific culture of long ago. … Then I began to face the cultural trappings or rubbish with which I had surrounded the concept of law; I realized that I had connected “law” with fallible legislators, judges, policemen, and childhood memories of adults who ruled my life. Even so there is a living core of the Law of Moses which remains as vital as it ever was. Moses like all true prophets was a seer, for like Newton and Einstein he saw or felt the law as a vital force, not merely as a string of words. I have little doubt that he actually heard the words of the Commandments on Sinai. I also believe that he could not have done what he did if he had not also seen how these laws were an indispensable part of the fabric of the new age fellowship he was to build.
Each of us who makes a home in the faith tradition of Friends must sooner or later come to terms with Jesus of Nazareth. Where we place ourselves in the broad tradition of Quakerism and how we nurture and are nurtured by that tradition are shaped in large part by who we discern Jesus to be. Jesus knew the paramount importance of the question when he asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and it is of paramount importance in the present moment, when Jesus is still asking, ‘Who do you say I am?’
There is no single, fits-everyone, right answer to this question. There is no single Christian answer, no single Friends answer. Christianity has always been a big tent; it has room for innumerable variations on its theme, many understandings of Jesus. Over years of study I have gained a great appreciation of just how big that tent is and how manifold and beautiful are the varieties of faith that gather under its shelter. That is also true of the Religious Society of Friends: it has been spiritually diverse from its beginnings, and continues to be diverse today.
Lloyd Lee Wilson
What kind of approach to the Bible leads to … discovery? An intelligent analytical and critical approach has its rightful place. We then stand over the Bible as subjects investigating an object. An inversion of this subject-object relationship is, however, possible. We then approach the Bible not mainly to criticize, but to listen; not merely to question, but to be challenged, and to open our lives penitentially both to its judgments and to its liberating gospel.
Pathways to God are many and varied. Friends, however, along with a great company of other seekers, have been able to testify that this receptive personal response to the biblical message, and especially to the call of Jesus, leads to joyous self-fulfilling life, and to a redemptive awareness of the love and glory of God.
There are many areas where we do not have any answers. We always need to remember that there are limits to what we can know about both science and religion. But both are important to being a fully rounded human being. We need to incorporate both of them. Even if you are not a scientist, it is worth trying to find out about science because it tells us so much. But this does not mean having to deny religion or indeed humanity.
How much the Bible has to teach when taken as a whole, that cannot be done by snippets! There is its range over more than a thousand years giving us the perspective of religion in time, growing, and changing, and leading from grace to grace. There is its clear evidence of the variety of religious experience, not the kind of strait-jacket that nearly every church, even Friends, have sometimes been tempted to substitute for the diversity in the Bible. To select from it but a single strand is to miss something of its richness. Even the uncongenial and the alien to us is happily abundant in the Bible. The needs of men today are partly to be measured by their difficulty in understanding that with which they differ. At this point the Bible has no little service to render. It requires patient insight into the unfamiliar and provides a discipline for the imagination … a crying need of our time.
Further the Bible is a training school in discrimination among alternatives. One of the most sobering facts is that it is not on the whole a peaceful book—I mean a book of peace of mind. The Bible is the deposit of a long series of controversies between rival views of religion. The sobering thing is that in nearly every case the people shown by the Bible to be wrong had every reason to think they were in the right, and like us they did so. Complacent orthodoxy is the recurrent villain in the story from first to last, and the hero is the challenger, like Job, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul.
Henry J. Cadbury
My own vital relation to the Bible actually began during my early association with Quakerism. One elderly and wise Friend habitually used sections from Psalms in his messages. Some of these fragments began singing through me, and I started using them in my daily meditations. Their value for me then as now is that they address the Divine directly rather than talk about Him. At their best, they gather the depth and breadth of Person into an interplay of I and Thou. During one of my early Meetings, a woman, describing Jacob wrestling with an angel, equated this to her own struggle, and pleaded with this angel not to let her go until it blessed her. She lent imagery to a nebulous, inarticulate process going on within me, and her image became permanent equipment of my religious life.
It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ; but this is the thing—to feel him my root, my life, my foundation and my soul ingrafted into him, by him who hath power to ingraft. To feel repentance given me by him, faith given me by him, the Father revealed and made known to me by him, by the pure shinings of his light in my heart; God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, causing it to shine there so that in and through him, I come to know, not the Son himself only, but the Father also.
Consider now the prayer-life of Jesus. It comes out most clearly in the record of St. Luke, who leaves us with the impression that prayer was the most vital element in our Lord’s life. He rises a great while before day that he may have some hours alone with His Father. He continues all night in prayer to God. Incident after incident is introduced by the statement that Jesus was praying. Are we so much nearer God that we can afford to dispense with that which to Him was of such vital moment? But apart from this, it seems to me that this prayer-habit of Jesus throws light upon the purpose of prayer. … We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with His.
Nowadays, a literal and physical heaven, located somewhere “out there,” has become difficult for the modern mind to accept uncritically, but the religious critique of this other-worldly emphasis is hardly new, and in fact is rooted in the Gospels. … There is a story from Meister Eckhart, which for me has always encapsulated that critique, and serves as a warning against an overemphasis on the afterlife. It seems that in his time, there was a woman who used to walk through the streets of medieval Strasbourg, carrying a burning torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she replied that with the torch she would burn down the gates of heaven, and with the water she would put out the fires of hell, so that men and women might learn to love the Lord for his own sake, and not out of fear of punishment or hope for reward.
Has Quakerism anything to tell the world about simplicity in religion? It has. This is the main secret of its remarkable success in its early days. It was as simple as the Galilean’s Gospel. It made no compromise with the interminable mass of scholastic theology. It cut loose from it all. One sentence from George Fox announces its whole program—“Let nothing come between your souls and God but Jesus Christ.”
Rufus M. Jones
We need to guard against under-valuing the material expressions of spiritual things. It is easy to make a form of our very rejection of forms. And in particular we need to ask ourselves whether we are endeavoring to make all the daily happenings and doings of life which we call “secular” minister to the spiritual. It is a bold and colossal claim that we put forward—that the whole of life is sacramental, that there are innumerable “means of grace” by which God is revealed and communicated—through nature and through human fellowship and through a thousand things that may become the “outward and visible sign” of an “inward and spiritual grace.”
A. Barrett Brown
The word “sacrament” has been defined as meaning “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” and according to the Quaker belief, that “outward and visible sign” is a life lived in absolute obedience to God, a revelation of His indwelling Spirit in the heart. This, of course, is an integral part of the Christian faith, the eternal truth behind all symbols and observances. But every section of the Christian Church has some special witness to uphold, and for over three hundred years the Society of Friends has testified to this sacramental conception of the whole of life.
Elfrida Vipont Foulds
We no longer need to dominate or take pride of place in respect to any other creature. We can abandon the urge to rule at the office, at church, or at home. We can treat everything God has made with gentleness and generosity, rather than with grasping greed. In joyful dependence, we can grow to be as fully human as possible, as thoroughly in the image of God as we are intended to be. In reflecting the creativity and love of God, we can delight to sing and invent, to work and to love. We can write poetry and tell stories, show mercy to one another and make one another laugh. Having given up the burden of usurping the Creator’s throne, we are now free to become who we are and to let our creaturely lives themselves, yielded gladly to God’s will, shout praise to their Maker.
Howard R. Macy