I am writing this for those of you who have heard about Quakers (and were probably surprised there are still some of us around) and are curious to learn more.
Since I hope people who are not Quakers might read this, I think a brief discussion of language might be useful because certain words or ways of expressing ourselves can turn people off, and they won’t hear your message. A number of words can be used to refer to the spiritual aspect of our life, such as God, the spirit, the inner light, many Eastern religious phrases, etc. Since one of the fundamental points about spiritual matters is that they are about things we don’t have words for (ineffable is defined as too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words) it doesn’t seem to make much sense to argue about the words you choose to try to describe this. God and inner light are terms I tend to use, but feel free to substitute your expression.
Many people are not finding traditional church services that meet their spiritual needs, and are looking for other ways to meet those needs. These were also the conditions in England in the mid 1600’s that resulted in the birth of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Friends or Quakers. At that time the Church of England was the official, state church and people were required to be members of it. The backlash against that resulted in the formation of a number of different religious groups.
Reacting to the material extravagances of the Church and lack of engagement of the common people in the church services, Quakers said we don’t need a priest to handle our spiritual life for us because we can communicate directly with God ourselves. So the early Quakers would all gather together, and worship in silence, listening to their own inner light. But the curious thing is these group meditations often were much “deeper” than one usual experiences in individual meditation. It is like the individual spiritual powers combine together in a group meditation. When anyone feels they have been given a spiritual message that should be shared, that message is spoken into the silence. People very often find what was spoken is related to what they were hearing from their inner light.
As an example of different ways to express the same thing, I could say that I have been fortunate to be involved with different groups of Quakers. But because I try to always be in touch with my spiritual self, it helps me maintain that focus by explicitly expressing that same thought as ‘I was led to be part of different groups of Quakers’, and I do believe that. I need that ‘help’ because it is so easy to lose that spiritual focus in my day to day living. So here are two different ways of saying the same thing, but some people may be uncomfortable with one of them.
I guess I’m urging you to not let the language be a barrier to getting the underlying message in any circumstances. I don’t know if this helps, but I did recently write about language impeding communication here.
So what do Quakers believe? What Quakers believe flows from this view of an individual’s direct relationship with God. Since we believe we are each able to hear what God is saying to us, it follows that that is true of every single person. Which means Quakers see every person as a child of God. One of the historic expressions of that is “there is that of God in every person”. Believing that leads to believing in social, racial and economic justice and equality. Believing that means you could not harm your fellow man. You can not believe it is ever right to kill another person. You can not believe in participating in war, or in the death penalty, or police shootings.
It means everyone should share in the bounty of the earth. Here Friends in developed countries struggle in the knowledge that we are using far more of the world’s resources than those in so called underdeveloped countries.
That also means that one cannot simply ignore conditions where inequality and injustice exist. You are the instrument by which God helps his children, your fellow man. For Quakers, our goal, which we all struggle with, is to be ever more attentive to what the spirit is telling us, at every moment of the day. If you listen closely, and are patient, because it can take weeks, months, or years sometimes for you to hear what you in particular are being asked to do by the spirit, what your particular task is in all of this will eventually be revealed to you. Usually things seem confused at first, but bits and pieces start to come together over time. Talking about these things with other Quakers and other people is often very helpful as well.
Rather than have a creed or set of rules, Quakers instead try to focus on where they are being led by their inner light or spirit. It is difficult to express that while Friends give each other a great deal of latitude in their spiritual lives and practices, it is definitely NOT true that you can believe anything you want to. Exactly how that plays out can vary quite a bit.
Friends work on these matters by having various discussions about these things, sometimes as a sort of Sunday school class before or after the silent meeting for worship. Another common practice is that meetings have a set of questions (Queries) about spiritual subjects and practices that are usually discussed as a group. That helps us check with each other on the subject at hand.
If you are searching for a way to meet your spiritual needs, I would encourage you to attend a Quaker meeting. You will always be welcome, and people will encourage you, and at the same time give you the time and space to become comfortable with them. You can find where Quaker meetings are near you at www.quakerfinder.org.
I should mention that over time some groups of Friends have returned to the more traditional type of church service. The “silent” Quaker meetings are referred to as “unprogrammed” meetings.
Finally, I might mention that I have tried to make others aware that Quakers might be helpful to them by publishing on this blog. I have been greatly helped in this effort by my friend Derek Glass, who had the brilliant idea of creating a single website that people can visit to see what people are writing about today, Sustainability Scout. I purposely use the ‘Quaker man’ symbol to identify my posts, to indicate I’m trying to write from a Quaker perspective.