Throughout our history Friends have understood that we are not meant to conform to the ways of the world, but to live in obedience to the Light Within and through this witness to transform the world. An individual or group may feel a direct intimation of God’s will, a tender sense of a need or difficulty either within the meeting or in the larger community. Initially, such a concern may not be linked to any specific action, but may simply be a troubled sense that something is awry. When the concern gains clarity and focus, Friends refer to it as a “leading,” a sense of being called by God to undertake a particular course of action. The leading may be short-term or it may involve an ongoing transformation of the person’s life, the community, and even the world.
When a leading to act in a public way arises, the Friend may seek to initiate a process of discernment and testing within the meeting. This testing process is a form of spiritual discipline for both the Friend with a leading and for the meeting community. It is intended to result in clearness for both regarding what is to be done.
For more than 350 years, Friends have adopted practices that reflect deeply held, historically rooted attitudes towards living in the world. The collective experience of “concerns” and “leadings” over time has led to what Friends refer to as “testimonies.” The testimonies are outward expressions that reflect the inward experience of transformation through divine leading. Contemporary Friends may identify our testimonies as simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship using the acronym SPICES. However, in the past, the testimonies referenced specific acts of Friends responding to truth as they understood it. For instance, the testimony against taking oaths grew out of the intention to speak truth always and not only when one’s hand was on the Bible. Even today we say that our “testimony” is a demonstration in our outward lives of Spirit’s movement within us.