The distinctive structure of the Religious Society of Friends developed by George Fox and the early adherents to Quakerism continues today. Its durability is likely because of its simplicity and adaptability. The selections that follow record the experiences of Friends as they seek to be more faithful and attentive to nudges of the Divine perceived in their lives and with the support of others in meetings for worship and business. Our aim is to become part of a gathered community, connected to one another and the whole of creation, accountable to one another and to God.
Instead of asking “How are you?” Quakers traditionally asked one another about their spiritual lives when they met. They wanted to know about each other’s spiritual condition and relationship with the Divine. This practice is relevant today! It helps us attend to our own journey and to keep our lives in alignment with Spirit. Additionally, by inquiring into our friends’ experiences we learn more about them and we help them stay attuned to the Divine. Try it out. Ask someone to tell you their story. Listen. Share your spiritual journey with a friend!
– How does Truth fare with thee?
– How does Light shine in your life today?
– What is important in your life these days?
– What gives you joy?
Christie Duncan-Tessmer, et al.
At a called session of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in January 2015, Friends affirmed to:
• Commit to increase our consciousness as Friends about the intersection of privilege and race in our culture and spiritual community. We know our knowledge is often limited by our own experiences and that we have much to learn from each other and from outside resources.
• Commit to move forward with our entire community. The yearly meeting is the community of all our individual Friends and monthly meetings and this work needs to be done with the involvement of all of us.
• Commit to integrate this work into what we do in an ongoing way at the yearly meeting level. We want this work to become part of the fabric of what we do whenever we get together as yearly meeting members and attenders.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Friends find their essential unity in their profound and exhilarating belief in the pervasive presence of God and in the continuing responsibility of each person and worshiping group to seek the leading of the Spirit in all things. Obedience to the leading of that Spirit rather than to any written statement of belief or conduct is the obligation of their faith.
New England Yearly Meeting
For, when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up; and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed.
True worship may be experienced at any time in any place—alone on the hills or in the busy daily life—we may find God, in whom we live and move and have our being. But this individual experience is not sufficient, and in a meeting held in the Spirit there is a giving and receiving between its members, one helping another with or without words. So there may come a wider vision and a deeper experience.
London Yearly Meeting
1925 and 1994
How does a Quaker Meeting work? Its foundation is the conviction that God is not a distant remote being but a living presence to be discovered in the deep centre of every human being. … The Quaker experience is that, in the silence, as we are open to one another in love, we help each other by sharing our strengths and weaknesses. The Quaker conviction is that as we go deeper into ourselves we shall eventually reach a still, quiet centre. At this point two things happen simultaneously. Each of us is aware of our unique value as an individual human being, and each of us is aware of our utter interdependence on one another.
As Catholic worship is centered in the altar and Protestant worship in the sermon, worship for the Society of Friends attempts to realize as its center the divine Presence revealed within. In a Catholic church the altar is placed so as to become the focus of adoration; in a typical Protestant church the pulpit localizes attention; while in a Friends Meeting House there is no visible point of concentration, worship being here directed neither toward the actions nor the words of others, but toward the inward experience of the gathered group.
Howard H. Brinton
Each of these Quarterly Meetings were large and sat near eight hours. Here I had occasion to consider that it is a weighty thing to speak much in large meetings for business. First, except our minds are rightly prepared and we clearly understand the case we speak to, instead of forwarding, we hinder business and make more labour for those on whom the burden of the work is laid.
If selfish views or a partial spirit have any room in our minds, we are unfit for the Lord’s work. If we have a clear prospect of the business and proper weight on our minds to speak, it behooves us to avoid useless apologies and repetitions. Where people are gathered from far, and adjourning a meeting of business is attended with great difficulty, it behooves all to be cautious how they detain a meeting, especially when they have sat six or seven hours and [have] a great distance to ride home.
In three hundred minutes are five hours, and he that improperly detains three hundred people one minute, besides other evils that attend it, does an injury like that of imprisoning one man five hours without cause.
Our monthly and quarterly meetings were set up for reproving and looking into superfluous or disorderly walking, and such to be admonished and instructed in the truth, and not private persons to take upon them to make orders, and say this must be done and the other must not be done … [Or say] we must look at no colours, nor make anything that is changeable colours as the hills are, nor sell them, nor wear them: but we must all be in one dress and one colour.
This is a silly poor gospel! It is more fit for us to be covered with God’s eternal Spirit, and clothed with his eternal Light, which leads us and guides us into righteousness, and to live righteously and justly and holily in this present evil world. This is the clothing that God puts upon us, and likes, and will bless.
One persistent misunderstanding of some Friends and attenders is that Friends reject outward forms. This is not true. Friends’ unique practices flow from a conviction concerning what is the right outward form. The right form for church government, worship, and ministry answers the same question: how should we act, what should be our response, if Jesus Christ is present in our midst, desiring to speak? To Friends, the answer is that we should sit in reverence, waiting for him to speak. Thus, Friends gather in reverence, waiting to be spoken to, spoken through, and led.
Terry Wallace, Susan Smith, John Smith, Arthur Berk, eds.
As a Liberal Friend, I know that trying to name the Divine or become specific about the nature of ‘God’ is theologically inappropriate, that our words stumble to match the depth of all we experience. Thus, at one level, we don’t want to use any term. At another level, however, we need to talk quite a lot about what we are connecting with, and we have lost a common tongue, a primal language, to do this in when we start to locally reinterpret our book of discipline in a multiplicity of ways on the basis of the ‘need’ for inclusivity, or ignore it altogether.
Ben Pink Dandelion
Our book of discipline … in spite of its reliance on outward language, conveys as best as we can our core insights and our current sense of our spiritual experience in the best words we have been able to find, discerned by the gathered meeting to be of use to us, to provide us with comfort and with the discomfort of spiritual challenge. … Like a bus timetable, parts of it may go out of date as soon as it is published, but it is not to be discarded unthinkingly, for it still encapsulates what we hold dear. Knowing our book well and using it wisely is an important part of maintaining the reality of a Religious Society of Friends. It is our book, and through its sculpture and adoption, we find a primal tongue for our time.
Ben Pink Dandelion
The life of a religious society consists in something more than the body of principles it professes and the outer garments of organisation which it wears. These things have their own importance: they embody the society to the world, and protect it from the chance and change of circumstance; but the springs of life lie deeper, and often escape recognition. They are to be found in the vital union of the members of the society with God and with one another, a union which allows the free flowing through the society of the spiritual life which is its strength.
William Charles Braithwaite
In order to critique legitimately and to resist, while being unrelentingly hopeful in God’s promise, it is necessary to know “what time it is.” We must be able to read the signs of the times in order to know how God is calling us to respond in this moment. The first step, which cannot be bypassed, is public expression of grief for the pain and darkness in the world. This mourning is necessary to overcome the numbness that we all live in, so that we have the energy and vision to name something new, to create and envision a way of life that is unimaginable in our present situation.
Can our Friends meetings be free of privilege and be a living sanctuary where all of God’s self is free to minister to us in all of her offices as teacher, priest, and prophet? Can our Friends meetings be those thin places in which our relationships, regardless of race or class, are a sacrament of grace and wholeness? Can our Friends meetings be the body and hands of the Holy Spirit in the world today?
Observance of special days and times and use of special places for worship serve a helpful purpose in calling attention at regular intervals to our need for spiritual communion. They cannot, however, take the place of daily and hourly looking to God for guidance. Nor can any custom of fasting or abstaining from bodily comforts take the place of constant refraining from everything which has a tendency to unfit mind and body for being the temple of the Divine Spirit. The foundation for all our personal life and social relations should be the sufficient and irreplaceable consciousness of God.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Race Street)
Meeting for worship can be more than just an occasion on which one’s private religious needs are satisfied. Silent devotion should lead to an awareness that the meeting is less and less a place we choose ourselves, and more and more a place to which, out of love, God has called us. To understand this is to sense the meaning of those lovely phrases about the community of faith being the body of Christ.
I went back to my meeting with my reservations, and I was eldered: they encouraged me to say what I knew to be the truth, my truth. I was empowered to speak my truth, to push and be led by the Light to fight for change.
My meeting empowered me to be a servant leader. They put me in a position to speak my truth to the Quaker power structure, and I did. Now it is years later, and I … am still supported by my meeting and empowered by the members’ trust and faith in me.
To allow [the] inward work to take place is to allow the universal Light of the eternal Christ to reveal our sundered and separate individualism, our own areas of darkness and sin, and then to cooperate with this Light as it seeks to transform, guide, gift, and empower us. … This inward work takes time and may cause us to make painful changes in our life as we become more and more sensitive and obedient to the inward guide. …
It is this inward work of Christ, and not our verbal statements about Christ, that can produce that amazing unity in a gathered meeting for worship, a gathered meeting for business, or a gathered opportunity between two people. And finally, it is this inward work of Christ that leads inevitably to the important outwardness of Quakerism; to a life able to behave in all those ways which Jesus taught and in which he led the way, to a living equality of men and women, to a radiant and supple pacifism that comes not merely from books or movements or anger but that wells up from deep inner springs.
It has been my experience that if I come to meeting in a state of strong emotion and follow an easy impulse to talk about it, I—and the meeting?—are left with a sense of emptiness. But if I trust that there’s a reason why I’m here, now, in this state, but that it’s God’s reason, not mine, and my part is to wait in holy expectancy—strange things happen. Messages which speak to my condition are given by people who couldn’t possibly know of it. The meeting ministers to my need and uses my state to minister to others—quite without my willing it. I believe that there’s an explanation for this phenomenon. Strong emotion can make us what the early Friends called tender: vulnerable to the workings of the Spirit. I suspect that the presence of one such person in our midst can cause the meeting to gather.
I have been tried with the applause of the world, and none know how great a trial that has been, and the deep humiliations of it; and yet I fully believe it is not nearly so dangerous as being made much of in religious society. There is a snare even in religious unity, if we are not on the watch. I have sometimes felt that it was not so dangerous to be made much of in the world, as by those whom we think highly of in our own Society: the more I have been made much of by the world, the more I have been inwardly humbled. I could often adopt the words of Sir Francis Bacon—“When I have ascended before men, I have descended in humiliation before God.”
Elizabeth Gurney Fry
We know ourselves as individuals but only because we live in community. Love, trust, fellowship, selflessness are all mediated to us through our interdependence. Just as we could not live physically without each other, we cannot live spiritually in isolation. We are individually free but also communally bound. We cannot act without affecting others and others cannot act without affecting us. We know ourselves as we are reflected in the faces, action and attitudes of each other.
Looking at the historical expressions of gospel order raises provocative questions for the community of faith, particularly in regard to the nature of corporate commitment and the role of structure in faithful living. If, indeed, a living relationship with Christ is the basis of gospel order, what does it mean today to be a committed people in covenantal relationship with Christ? What does it mean to practice the mutual accountability that keeps this relationship alive? Do our lives with each other in our meetings and homes reflect fidelity, love, and trust? Can we reclaim the socio-economic and political dimension of gospel order? Can we participate corporately in God’s new order in a way that will allow our love to speak to a world dying from environmental destruction, violence, hatred, and entrenched systems of economic exploitation and injustice?
If the historical experience of Friends is applicable today, then corporate life needs pattern and structure to support faithful living. In turn, structures need care to prevent them from withering or becoming oppressive. Communities of commitment need to see what forms the patterns of faithfulness and the ministry of caring oversight will take today.
Are we too fearful of those with ideas different from our own? In one Meeting, the issue of whether or not to offer sanctuary to a refugee is a sword that divides people. Or our relationships may be severed due to differences in the way we interpret the Spirit guiding us or how we refer to God, whether in masculine or inclusive imagery. Quaker men and women who see military service as an integral and necessary part of American life are often branded as “strangers” in their Quaker community. Whether we define the Society of Friends in an inclusive or exclusive way will, in large measure, determine whether we grow, spiritually as well as numerically.
Living out the immanent and transcendent aspects of spirituality as a Friend has never been a private matter. Quaker structures depend on the shared inward experiences of members as the basis for worship, the ordering of business, and social and humanitarian action. The Quaker way takes on faith the seemingly irrational proposition that the inspirations of individuals can lead a community to unity and spiritual power, not to chaos and dismemberment.
Ursula Jane O’Shea
At its best, a Quaker Meeting is not just a collection of individual seekers, but a community of faith, a covenant community, knit together by our common seeking of God. We are like spokes on a wheel: as we draw closer to our center in God, we also draw closer to each other. … And as Douglas Steere has reminded us, “To come near to God is to change.”
Differences and disappointments are inevitable, but in a faith community these are seen not as obstacles, but as opportunities for transformation. God calls us into community because it is only in community that we can learn God’s transforming lessons of love, service, compassion, and forgiveness.
We should not merely hope that Friends will accidentally stumble across the powerful tools of our own tradition, but rather intentionally nurture our communities to engage with one another in deeper ways, name gifts, hold each other accountable, and educate ourselves about the vital practices within our tradition. …
The two most important characteristics of prophetic ministry are critique and hope. Prophetic ministry works to dismantle and resist the dominant consciousness, to energize hope, to envision newness, and affirm God’s promise of fulfillment.
Talk less; do more.
One of our dearly held modern shibboleths is that we are all equal. The truth is that God does indeed love each of us equally, and invites each of us, equally, into the kingdom, into salvation, into right relationship, into wholeness. But too often there is a negative side to this cliché that all Friends are equal. This is the attitude that adds, if anyone stands out or thinks he or she has a gift or calling, we’ll pull that person down. If such a person is arrogant or on a power-trip, then it is right to admonish and try to help the Friend see his or her gift and role in the larger context of Gospel Order. But what if a Friend is paying close attention to God’s voice, and living with increasing integrity and love and for that reason others feel uncomfortable? How do we regard someone who is exercising gifts given by God for the edification and upbuilding of the faith community? Too often deep vocal ministry, a prophetic voice, or moral leadership are resented.
Martha Paxson Grundy
But if you feel a gift emerging in you, if you hunger for the Bread of Life, if you want more than anything to be healed and made whole, then you may be drawn to the lives and writing of Friends, living and dead, who have walked this path before you. They will tell you, in a variety of words and metaphors, that there is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to your condition. Having heard that voice, one needs to heed it. In the ongoing, unfolding work of “conversion of manners,” one needs companions along the way. We need a faith community. We need a Religious Society of Friends with whom to worship, and in whose proximity we learn the hard lessons of how to live in Gospel Order – with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, forgiveness, humility, gentleness, and self-control. Our meetings have a great responsibility to be gatherings of people who are listening to the Inward Teacher, helping each other listen, and learning how to listen together.
Martha Paxson Grundy
I was incredibly moved by the way some talked lovingly about membership, not as a stamp on your name tag but as a beautiful symbol of mutual accountability, commitment, and community.
I began to feel a rising and powerful need to be a recognized part of a meeting, to be spiritually grounded somewhere, and to be held accountable by a faith community. While my concerns still remained about the way membership is seen as the single most important way Friends identify one another, my understanding of what membership means began to broaden and to let a little Light in.
A Friends meeting is intended to be so much more than a loose association of individuals on separate and private spiritual journeys. Friends are called to be a faith community, seeking to know each other “in that which is Eternal” as we journey together. Ideally we acknowledge that our primary relationship is to God and to that of God in each other. We let go of the idea that we have only private lives and hold ourselves accountable to the authority of the Spirit in the life of the meeting. We grow in a sense of responsibility for each other and become part of a gathered community.
Margery Mears Larrabee
Our monthly meetings … can be places where we change ourselves, despite … larger unjust structures. If a meeting wants to work on racism, it can make sure it is welcoming of all and sensitive to racial bias in the way its various committees do their business, from Care and Counsel to Adult Education. If the meeting cares about climate change, its Finance Committee can divest from fossil fuels, while the Grounds Committee installs a rain garden, in addition to solar panels. …
If we make attention to the movement of the Spirit fundamental to our work for peace and social concerns, we may breathe new life into old structures or create new ones altogether.
…(O)ne piece of my feeling welcomed at meeting is explicitly about being a lesbian, but it’s not about there being enough other lesbians in attendance to create a ‘critical mass’ for safety. It’s about the heterosexuals and whatever work they did in the years before I arrived (with the help of lesbians, no doubt) so that I could come into an accepting place.
Quaker theology and the Biblical precedents supporting it show that both man and woman are to share in the oversight of the creation, as well as other roles in the Church. Neither man nor woman is to dominate the creation or each other, but all are to live under God’s guidance. The power to be used by both man and woman is God’s power, and not human power.
A concern for the fellow-worshipers of our meetings which leads us to find the necessary time to know them, to visit them, to have them in our homes, and to make their needs our concern is a tested preparation for ministry of the highest importance. A person who throughout the week thinks of the approaching meeting for worship and holds up inwardly some of the needs of those who attend, is being prepared for that kind of participation in the meeting for worship that may open the way for helpful ministry. Ministry is often deepened by our natural exposure to those in greatest need, whether it be physical need, as in a constant visiting of the poor, of those in prison, of those whom group prejudice segregates or to the poor in spirit, those who face mental turmoil and inner problems. Few who feel this kind of responsible love for the meeting do not in the course of the week find some experience, some insight, something they have read that has helped them, some crushing burden they know some member or some group is bearing which they have held up to the Light, without these things appearing as seeds out of which ministry could grow.
The Society of Friends can make its greatest contribution to community by continuing to be a religious society—I mean by centering on the practice of a corporate worship which opens itself to continuing revelation. Again, community is simply too difficult to be sustained by our social impulses. It can be sustained only as we return time and again to the religious experience of the unity of all life. To put it in the language of Friends, community happens as that of God in you responds to that of God in me. And the affirmation that there is that of God in every person must mean more than “I’m okay, you’re okay.” The silence of the Quaker meeting for worship can be an experience of unity. I am an orthodox, garden variety Christian; I find the image of God first in Jesus the Christ. But it is my joy in the silent meeting to seek with those who find different ways to express the inexpressible truths of religious experience. Words can divide us, but the silence can bring us together. Whatever kinds of community the world needs, it surely needs the kind that embraces human diversity.
Parker J. Palmer
We find many renowned women recorded in the Old Testament, who had received a talent of wisdom and spiritual understanding from the Lord. As good stewards thereof they improved and employed the same to the praise and glory of God … as male and female are made one in Christ Jesus, so women receive an office in account of their stewardship to their Lord, as well as the men. Therefore they ought to be faithful to God and valiant for his Truth upon the earth, that so they may receive the reward of righteousness.
The Quaker way of trying to invite and be open to divine guidance is to begin with a time of silence. This is not the “moment of silence” which is a mere nod in passing to the Divine. Nor is it a time for organizing one’s thoughts. This is a time for what has been called recollection: for an intentional return to the Center to give over one’s own firm views, to place the outcome in the hands of God, to ask for a mind and heart as truly sensitive to and accepting of nuanced intimations of God’s will as of overwhelming evidences of it. It is possible that someone designated or undesignated may offer vocal prayer for the joint undertaking. Spoken or not, it is understood that each person present will be holding the undertaking in the Light in his own way.
We recognise a variety of ministries. In our worship these include those who speak under the guidance of the Spirit and those who receive and uphold the work of the Spirit in silence and prayer. We also recognise as ministry service on our many committees, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises, and many other tasks. We value those whose ministry is not in an appointed task but is in teaching, counselling, listening, prayer, enabling the service of others, or other service in the meeting or the world. The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays upon us.
London Yearly Meeting
It is our earnest desire that ministers and elders may be as nursing fathers and mothers to those that are young in the ministry, and with all care and diligence advise, admonish, and if they see occasion, reprove them in a tender and Christian spirit, according to the rules of our Discipline and counsel of Friends in that respect; also exhort them frequently to read the Holy Scriptures, and reverently seek the mind of the Spirit of Truth to open the mysteries thereof, that, abiding in simple and patient submission to the will of God, and keeping down to the openings of Divine love in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than they find the life and power of Truth to bear them up.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
In Friends’ meetings also, from the fact that everyone is free to speak, one hears harmonies and correspondences between very various utterances such as are scarcely to be met elsewhere. It is sometimes as part-singing compared with unison. The free admission of the ministry of women, of course, greatly enriches this harmony. I have often wondered whether some of the motherly counsels I have listened to in our meeting would not reach some hearts that might be closed to the masculine preacher.
Caroline E. Stephen
One characteristic institution among Friends of the “quietist” period was the traveling ministry. … The call to this ministry came often in a childhood sense of the presence of God when alone and out-of-doors. It was reinforced by powerful examples of local and traveling ministers and tested by the trials of learning to respond to the Spirit’s moving to speak in meeting. After sufficient testing, the minister would become more sensitive to the spiritual condition of others. He or she would not only speak at various meetings, often at wearisome distances from home, but would hold “religious opportunities” with families or individuals, giving them spiritual counsel. Though much of this ministry was among Friends and designed to maintain the spiritual health of the Society, it was not uncommon to call special meetings for Blacks, Indians, or apprentices, as well as to visit jails or mines. The Quaker leaven in the world owes much to these “active contemplatives” of the past, whose central message was that the living presence of the Spirit is here and now.
God gives gifts to each one of us, young and old, and God gives gifts to our meeting community, too. Now a gift is not exactly the same as a skill or a talent. A skill can be used in different ways, but a gift is something God gives us to help us live a whole life, make a whole family, or be a whole meeting community. Our gifts are special parts of who we are. People young and old bring gifts to our meeting community. If we pay attention and care for one another, we can discover them. We can help each other understand how to use those gifts wisely.
Faith and Play Working Group. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
We regard elders as individuals with “power” who might “tell us off’, rather than as those offering service in line with their gifts, responsible for the nurture of our worshipping life. … Much upset and hurt and energy could be saved by … our all remembering that “to elder” is a positive verb, and that eldering is done on behalf of the community for the community. It is not about the individual.
Ben Pink Dandelion
For me, Spirit-led eldering, support, and affirmation are essential and integral to our Quaker way of faith and practice; otherwise our life as a Quaker community falters because we are not tending to a critical aspect in our individual lives and in our lives together. In the recent past, Friends have tended to be fearful of loving other persons in this profound way, of caring enough to be present for them, listening to them, and trusting the work of the Spirit.
Margery Mears Larrabee
We can actually rejoice in … diversity; we do not always need a formula which will iron out differences. That seems to me to be Quakerism in practice. When I talk about the content of the Quaker treasure chest, I often refer to that wonderful epistle sent out to Friends everywhere written by Young Friends from all parts of the Quaker family in Greensboro in 1985. Here, after many tears and misunderstandings and strong disagreements, a group of Young Friends sat down together and, respecting each other, wrote out what for them was the essence of the Quaker good news. They came up with the four sources of authority: The Light or voice in the heart, the discernment of the worshiping group, Christ speaking in the heart, and the words of the Bible. These four elements are in tension in the world family of Friends. We do not all agree on them, but the Quaker treasure chest offers these diverse heirlooms. Some parts of the family are happier with some of the jewels than others. But the greatest disservice we can do is to keep the chest shut. By sharing the jewels with our guests, our guests may actually begin to feel as if the home belongs to them as well. And who knows, our guests may even become the next generation of hosts and show off the jewels in a new light.
Obviously, then, all the activities of a meeting—the prayer of worship, the vocal prayer of a gathered meeting, the prayer which sustains and nourishes its cells or prayer groups, family prayer, the ministry of love which expresses itself in counseling, the impact of a meeting on the outside community—all of these should be grounded in the prayer life of the individual. If prayer has not been a reality through the week for at least a core of its members, participants in the Sunday meeting cannot reach high levels of worship. Vocal prayer flows when the cup is already full before we come to meeting. Activity which is meaningful results from insights gained in prayer. Counseling which is helpful comes from the bringing of divine perspective to human confusion. Prayer, then, is a necessity in our lives. It must be at the center of them.
It makes me sad when I hear discussions about not introducing children to “God” until they’re old enough to understand. I grew into the Lord’s Prayer, and am still growing into it. All religious language, all devotional books, and particularly the Bible, provide growing room for young minds and spirits. Because they have sometimes been used as straitjackets by adults who did not understand, does not mean that they are straitjackets.
Care of the children of the meeting should be the responsibility of every Friend. Let us share with our children a sense of adventure, of wonder, and of trust and let them know that, in facing the mysteries of life, they are surrounded by love. Both parents and meetings need to guard against letting other commitments deprive children of the time and attention they need. Friends are advised to seek for children the full development of God’s gifts, which is true education.
Revised Faith and Practice, New England Yearly Meeting
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.
The catch is, we can’t love God without loving our neighbor: whoever is next to us at this moment in time. We have to love, really love, with that same love we feel pouring into and loving us.
Some are easy to love. With some we feel at home. We run to them in joy. But we learn as we go that love is for each other one we encounter: those who are easy to love and those who are difficult. The love we feel loving us is as much for those who wound and betray us, and for those we perceive as “enemies,” as it is for ourselves. This love is for the lost and the broken; the cantankerous, ugly, and lonely; yes, and even the brutal, the murderous, and cruel. If we are to love God we must love them as well, not for their cruelties, but for the hidden Seed that would live and grow in them. We, who are loved with a love that will not let us go, are to let that same love flow through us into the world.
Carol Reilley Urner
Christ valued children. He told us, “Such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 20:14). Through the years writers have interpreted “such” to mean children’s innocence, their naiveté, their dependency, their acceptance. I believe it is their questioning: their wondering how and why and where do I fit in; their seeking to know that this thing slides and this does not; their searching to figure out how to build a castle with a best friend; their attempting to identify all the consequences of using drugs; their broadening their horizons of what is possible. … Viewing people as seekers is an integral component of Quakerism. Our children are fellow participants in that search.
We cannot set up a religion for our children, nor can we impose a religious authority on them. Each child must be free to seek his own spiritual reality. As parents we can, nevertheless, do those things which deepen children’s awareness of God and of the human love surrounding them.
Emily B. H. Phillips
Does anything unite this diverse group beyond our common love and humanity? Does anything make us distinctively Quaker? I say yes. Each of us has different emphases and special insights, but wherever Friends are affirming each other’s authentic experience of God, rather than demanding creedal statements, we are being God’s faithful Quakers. Wherever we are seeking God’s will rather than human wisdom, especially when conflict might arise, we are being faithful Quakers. Wherever we are affirming the total equality of men and women, we are being God’s faithful Quakers. Wherever there is no division between our words and our actions, we are being faithful. Whenever we affirm that no one—priest, pastor, clerk, elder—stands between us and the glorious and mystical experience of God in our lives, we are faithful Friends. Whether we sing or whether we wait in silence, as long as we are listening with the whole of our being and seeking the baptism and communion of living water, we will be one in the Spirit.
Quakers are mystics and, as such, we don’t associate Friends with the hard-edged world of science. But fundamentally, Quaker process and the scientific process seek similar goals: what is true about the world? S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of the discoverers of pulsars and a Quaker, said, “In both Quakerism and science you must be completely ready to revise what you hold to be the truth; you always hold things provisionally, and you are always open to revising them.”
Quakers should be testing everything against their understanding of the Spirit. By bringing the scientific, and Quakerly, process to bear, we can reach an understanding, and, we hope, a truth. Our mystical bent toward the Spirit need not be at odds with a scientific approach to the world. “This I know experimentally” can encompass both.
The spirituality that is real to us finds its inner strength in the mystical experience of connectedness with each other and with the whole of creation. This is the deep, still, and vibrant centre that transcends time. From that dynamic place it is possible to turn outwards and work in one’s own available and chosen action spaces to help make manifest the harmony that is already known.
Jillian Wychel and David James