December 27, 2005

My take on the renewal of Quakerism

Hello, Friends.

Sometimes this time of year is a fallow time for me. The quiet of the snowfall, along with the lengthened nights and cold days call to me, and I leave behind some of the busyness that helped get me through the late days of fall.

My attention and energy will no doubt come back to me and to The Good Raised Up over time. Thank you for your patience, as the days slowly get longer again and the hubbub of the season dies down a bit.

In looking through a number of older drafts of unposted writings, I found a couple pieces that I could link together here, about the renewal movement among some of us who have been blogging and otherwise active in our local Quaker communities.

Back in September I wrote the first draft of this post, which had elaborated on a comment I made to Beppe over on his blog. I had been thinking that part of the reason for the renewal among Friends is that liberal Quakerism, for some Friends, has become too liberal--that is, too undisciplined.

My own understanding is that among earlier Friends and those who wish to return to or conserve earlier practices and traditions of Quakerism, Friends had sought, or now seek, to come under the discipline of the Holy Spirit; to wait on the Lord for guidance and direction. As Friends with a conservative bent, we desire also to be in accord with Gospel Order, in a greater harmony in which all things are experienced as being in right relationship with one another and within God's Order.

I've written elsewhere about my summer's experience among Iowa Conservative Friends, an experience that reflects that sense of discipline, that waiting until the way forward is made clear. Over time, as I have been talking more earnestly with Conservative Friends, I come back to the observation that there appears to be a sense of "okayness" among Conservative Friends--and with some independent Friends as well--with establishing boundaries. There appears to be an intentionality in holding one another accountable to Spirit-led practice and corporate discernment.

And that intentionality and boundary-setting seems to work for me.

For me, I have discovered that I do not thrive in a community where general permissiveness is the norm, where there is no clear set of standards or limits. I like to know there are limits that I will run up against, which will then help me check and reevaluate my intentions, my motives, and my willingness or ability to maintain practices in a community that is important to me. I am coming to understand that boundaries and limits form the scaffold of one's identity: one's identity is contained within a larger group, community, or culture as defined by those limits.

(Of course, there are limits and standards that stifle one's spirit, and there are those that hone us and exercise us spiritually. Perhaps a sign of spiritual maturity is knowing the difference between the two...?)

Those of us within contemporary Quakerism who are seeking and finding joy in a Holy Discipline may be experiencing for ourselves that which lit the fire within the hearts and souls of earlier Friends: the direct experience of the Divine; the inward knowledge that when we listen for Guidance, we shall unmistakeably receive it; and the renewed understanding of the value of our Quaker practice, which in part is to help us be faithful servants to God.

I am humbled to be reminded, though, that each of us experiences joy and the Holy Spirit through different modes and through different forms of worship: programmed or unprogrammed worship; hymns or silence; Christ Jesus or Earth Mother.

For me, I experience renewal because I feel the Light increase within me and around me when I lay aside what are my own desires and instead wait for that "felt sense" that I have come to recognize as being from Somewhere other than my own good ideas. My individual discipline of waiting on God is reflected back to me by the corporate body's practiced discipline of doing the same, at least among the Friends with whom I frequently worship.

10 Ways to Renew and Strengthen Our Quakerism

In the past year or so, at one point I began considering how it was that I felt my Quakerism was growing: What had I been doing differently, what sort of conversations and activities had been holding my attention?

And then, with all the posts among Quaker bloggers out there, some of which focus on, or allude to, a renewal of deep, meaningful Quakerism, I thought I'd generate a list of possible ways to "plug ourselves back in" to the fire of the Spirit that undergirds Quakerism.

I hope you'll add your own suggestion, too, or share a bit of your own story that illuminates for others what seems to help you "stay close to the root" of Quakerism. For now, here's what I have come up with.
1. Ask a trusted Friend in your area to meet with you regularly as an elder, spiritual companion, or spiritual friend.

2. Begin reading books, pamphlets, and articles that other Friends are not only reading but are excited about.

3. As Way opens, ask a trusted Friend about her or his navigation through struggles and spiritual dry spells as well as about Spirit-fed times.

4. If you are an isolated Friend, ask other isolated Friends to exchange letters or emails with you on a regular basis, to share your spiritual lives and your journey among Friends with one another.

5. Make a commitment to travel to a workshop, program, or event for Friends that is outside of your monthly meeting's or worship group's geographical area. Consider inviting another Friend to join you!

6. Hold yourself in the Light for several days in a row, 5-15 minutes at a time.

7. Find a way to "give back" to the Quaker community in a way that holds power for you and is meaningful to you.

8. Set up a study group, discussion group, or "Friendly Four or Friendly Eight" group about a book, pamphlet, or topic that speaks to your condition. Or ask for help from an appropriate committee to do so.

9. Convene a Meeting for Worship with attention to Renewing Quakerism, or a Meeting for Worship with attention to Eldership and Ministry.

10. Start a blog, write out your honest thoughts, questions, and struggles, and watch what happens.
Hmm... some of these are still on my To Do List (e.g. numbers 5, 8, and 9). I better get this post up and keep listening for Opportunities to pursue them!

Blessings,
Liz

6 comments:

Isabel Jane Penraeth said...

What a wonderful challenge your postings always are to me, the inspirational sort. I have little leading to *think* about Quakers and Quakerism. I would have to say I am led mostly to *do* and live my Quaker faith. But I am heartily glad to have Quakers like you to move my foggy thoughts so carefully from one point to another.

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Isabel Jane. Thanks for stopping by and reminding me that there is always a balance to be struck, between thinking, doing, and being. This is a topic that has been rising in me regarding the worship group I participate in: I myself have been very inwardly focused as we find our footing and understand our leading as a small community.

Witness without thought can be impulsive and chaotic. Thought without witness, though, cannot bring about change or healing.

I'm grateful for your comment.

Blessings,
Liz

Joe G. said...

What a great post to read as I reflect back on the year and anticipate new goals and tasks, including spiritual ones, for the new year.

Some of these I have either recently started or thought about, but not intentionally so. The post confirms or puts into words some hunches and inner-nudges that I have had.

You mention starting a blog - how about starting a podcast? :))

Once I get a new car, I plan to visit other Friends Meetings in the area. Likewise, I hope to attend something Quaker-related outside of Southern California, too.

Of course, the whole situation with Tom Fox and the CPT workers has been challenging, sobering, and renewing (believe it or not on the last one).

You wrote:
7. Find a way to "give back" to the Quaker community in a way that holds power for you and is meaningful to you.

What do you mean "in a way that holds power for you"? Do you mean, giving back to Friends in a way that enlivens you spiritually or something like that?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Zach A said...

I am humbled to be reminded, though, that each of us experiences joy and the Holy Spirit through different modes and through different forms of worship: programmed or unprogrammed worship; hymns or silence; Christ Jesus or Earth Mother.

Liz, I don't want to come across as intolerant or "unprogrammedocentric", and if your experience confirms what you said above, that definitely means something. But I wonder whether we can so easily assume that what happens in a good unprogrammed meeting for worship and a good programmed one are the same thing. I think early Friends might well think that in hymn-singing, for example, one is merely stimulating one's human emotions and not encountering the Holy Spirit, even if hymn-singers themselves feel this is the case. That doens't mean it's not a valuable, even religiously significant exercise, but it still may be a very different sort of valuable religious exercise.

I'm not saying they're right; just because early Friends think something doesn't make it true. I just think we should consider this viewpoint, and not surrender the witness of unprogrammed Quakerism (whether liberal or Conservative) on this point so easily.

I hope that there is a way of maintaining that difference that doesn't degenerate into chauvinism or isolationism, but stays at the level of respectful dialogue.

Liz Opp said...

Beppe, glad to learn that some of what I have posted here resonates with you. Thanks for adding the possibility of podcasts--that technology is still too new for me to have thought of it!

You ask, "What do you mean [about giving back to the Quaker community] 'in a way that holds power for you'? Do you mean giving back... in a way that enlivens you spiritually...?"

Yes.

What I wanted to lift up here was that we be careful not to fall into the trap of committee service if that is not where our leading is, or more specifically, if we are led NOT to serve. Peer pressure among Friends is alive and well, sadly.

What's important is (1) that we recognize the impulse, desire, or prompt to "give back," and (2) that we live into the question, "What does that look like, so I might serve freely, give of myself faithfully, and give out of deep love?"

Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify.

And thanks, too, Zach Alexander, for your comment and the concern you raise about a remark I made.

You write, in part, "I wonder whether we can so easily assume that what happens in a good unprogrammed meeting for worship and a good programmed one are the same thing."

It was not my intention to make or offer such an assumption, so I'm glad you are asking about it.

As I was writing this post, I found myself thinking of my Quaker Friend who finds God in music and song, as well as in unprogrammed, corporate worship. And I found myself thinking of Quaker bloggers like Aj Schwanz, who clearly feel close to God in their programmed worship and through sharing fellowship within their Quaker church.

To be clear, I was affirming that we each touch joy and feel close to God in different ways--but I did NOT intend to imply that a renewal of [unprogrammed] Quakerism can be found outside the tradition of corporately seeking for and waiting on the Spirit.

My own personal sense of renewal among Friends, and my own strengthened sense of identity AS a Friend, comes from being involved in a community that practices the discipline of waiting on God, which is very much dependent on a belief in God (a.k.a. the Light, the Seed, the Presence, Christ, etc.).

So, I would agree with you, Zach: "I just think we...[should] not surrender the witness of unprogrammed Quakerism (whether liberal or Conservative)...so easily."

This is very much a part of the spiritual concern I carry, that the current renewal will be grounded in reintegrating practices, restoring spiritual language, and re-valuing the direct experience of the Light. I hope my clarifications are helpful.

And I appreciate the "respectful dialogue" with which you approach the topic.

Blessings,
Liz

Rachel said...

Of course, there are limits and standards that stifle one's spirit, and there are those that hone us and exercise us spiritually. Perhaps a sign of spiritual maturity is knowing the difference between the two...?

An excellent point -- and I think this discernment can be harder than it sounds! But I like your idea that one of the benefits of spiritual maturity is a greater ease in knowing the difference between limits that bind us and limits that allow us to grow freely...