In recent weeks, I have been musing about the phrase "spiritual refugee." While I was traveling in-and-around Boston to get to certain Quaker events, I jotted down this brief phrase:
spiritual refugee -->These phrases won't leave me alone, so I take that to mean it is time for me to pay attention to them and see what comes of it.spiritual immigrant -->spiritual citizen
I often see the phrase "spiritual refugee" in contemporary Quaker writings, about worshipers who find their way to Quakerism after some sort of fallout they had with their church--either in childhood or as an adult, or both. These worshipers often seek refuge from having a certain form of their religious practice or creed having been forced onto them, or they seek refuge from having been disillusioned or even betrayed by their faith community and religious leaders.
It wasn't until recently that I had considered myself a spiritual refugee, despite my obvious-to-me disillusionment with the Jewish tradition I grew up with. Maybe because I never felt personally mistreated by that faith; I didn't feel like I had to "flee for [spiritual] safety." As a disillusioned Jew, one day I just ambled into a meetinghouse and I ended up staying.
I've stayed for more than 14 years.
Still, I do have my hang-ups. Early on and for a number of years as a spiritual refugee, I would cringe whenever I heard vocal ministry that referred to Jesus or the saving power of Christ, no matter how sweet the minister or what sort of relationship I had with the Friend.
After four or five years among Friends, though, something silently, subtly shifted within myself. I found that I could abide with the more Christian language contained within some vocal ministry, or the Christ-centered frame that was presented by a Friend who led an adult education program. I could begin to let the Christian roots of Quakerism have their space for "the other Friends" who could relate to it, but I no longer felt threatened by it personally.
I began to understand, wordlessly and by that "secret power" that reached me (see 19.21 here), that when a Friend (or non-Friend) brings a message that she or he has been given, isn't about me. It isn't about my need to be protected from the spiritual and religious wounding I received as a younger person.
It's about the minister being faithful to the message that she or he has been given. It's about God calling a great people to be gathered... Typically, vocal ministry is simply going to be entwined with the Friend's own religious experience, not mine.
With that understanding, along with a growing realization that Quakerism was a good place for me to be, I began to think about applying for membership, some six or seven years after having begun worshiping regularly among Friends.
I had unknowingly transitioned from being a spiritual refugee to being a spiritual immigrant.
It really wasn't until I was more of a spiritual immigrant among Friends that I began to work more consciously and more conscientiously at seeking to reconcile my religious upbringing as a Jew with my current religious and spiritual yearnings as a Friend. It's not that I wanted to deny my spiritual hang-ups as much as I wanted to reconcile, integrate, or transcend the two parts of me at the time: Quakerly Jew and Jewish Quaker.
I began to read George Fox's journal [I read the Rufus Jones' edition] and a teeny tiny, unimposing book about John Woolman and found myself neither repulsed by the references to Christ nor necessarily enraptured by them. At the same time, I felt as if some new part of me was soaking in the Light of their words and experiences.
I was being opened; I was being changed. I was getting a new "lay of the [spiritual] land" that is Quakerism, its historical and theological connection to the Christian faith. Quakerism was no longer a religious ground in which I could find safe harbor. It was now religious territory in which I was putting down some pretty significant roots.
It seemed I had moved from spiritual immigrant to spiritual citizen.
Some four or five years after having been approved for membership in the monthly meeting, I have clearly taken up Quakerism as a faith tradition I call my own, at a intellectual, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual level. I hear the outer word "Christ" but receive it inwardly as "the Living Presence"; I hear the outer word "Savior" and know its meaning within myself as "the Light that calls me out."
When I struggle with a decision I must make, or when I have "missed the mark" in my committee participation; when I have spoken meanly of another, or have been boastful and arrogant, I have looked to Quaker disciplines rather than Jewish or even secular ones to help return myself to a sense of harmony and right relationship with God and with those around me.
All of these experiences remind me that each of us will likely pass through stages of spiritual development and spiritual maturity as we journey among Friends--or among whichever faith community where we find ourselves. We will each move from being a spiritual refugee, to a spiritual immigrant...
And, if we stay long enough and educate ourselves thoroughly enough and embrace certain principles and disciplines about Quakerism long enough, we may find ourselves spiritual citizens of the Religious Society of Friends.
We may in fact seek to become formal members, or live into the fullness of what being a member means.