a. Why are you a Quaker?
b. How are you a Quaker?
c. Please give an example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.
These are three questions that a friend of Wess' asks and for which she seeks answers from a wide variety of Quakers. My answers are below, and I acknowledge that I skimmed a few earlier posts I've written, believing I had covered some of these topics... and curious to know what, if anything, still holds true.
a. Why am I a Quaker?
When I am asked to consider this question, I often think of when I was in elementary school, and some classmates of mine would ask me things like, "Be honest! Do you like my new dress?" ...or "Tell me the truth: Am I your best friend?"
I don't know why, but I was never taught to tell even a white lie, so when I discovered a people of faith who--as human and as flawed as we all are--do their best to be honest in all their affairs, well, I was relieved to learn that I wasn't the only person in the whole world who believed it was more important to be honest than it was to be liked.
There are other reasons why I'm a Quaker, like this one:
- Doing something that feels right, even if no one else around me is doing it, is more important to me than doing what my peers--or my mother!--want me to do.
- I yearn to be faithful to the leadings I am given.
- I believe that all of us have more potential and magnificence in ourselves than we ourselves believe. We just don't always know how to help one another get there. A lot of times, only God can do that.
- We can help one another live up to our measure of the Light. And if we can't, then the Light itself can.
Even after a number of painful experiences and disillusionments, why am I still a Quaker?
After each painful experience, I certainly reassess if I am to remain among Friends or not! But I believe I have remained among Friends because I have reached outside of my monthly meeting when I have been hurt or disillusioned by something that's happened--I've reached out to other Quakers to hear me out, give me counsel, and hear a bit about how they themselves "came out the other side."
I'm still a Quaker simply because I have chosen to stay--to stay in worship, to stay engaged with the pain until God shows me the way through, to stay involved in the life of the meeting that exists outside of the painful incident.
And I'm still a Quaker because so much of Quakerism brings me emotional and spiritual fulfillment.
b. How are you a Quaker?
This question reminds me of the query, If you were accused of being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
I hope my life as a Friend reflects the practice of living according to how we are led by the Spirit; that I live from a place of Love in my life, even and especially through conflict; that I fall into worship when I have large and small decisions to make; that I seek out others when I am not clear of the way forward; that I place God at the center of my days, of my worship, of my faith.
There are certain Quaker practices and traditions I engage in, like (most recently) intervisitation among Friends, along with seeking and receiving eldership from seasoned Friends.
Most important, I am a Quaker because I place myself in Quaker contexts--not exclusively, but primarily: be it with other Quakers for socialization; or reviewing Quaker writings for inspiration and guidance; or engaging in corporate worship, even on a sometimes irregular basis.
But as I read over what I've already offered, I find myself returning to this:
I am Quaker because of how I open myself to listen for and follow God's guidance. The "how" is based on 350 years of practice by my Quaker predecessors.
c. An example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.
In recent years, in addition to worshiping with Liberal Friends, I have had the opportunity to worship with Conservative Friends in the U.S., mostly during their yearly meetings. As a result, I have learned to talk about how both Conservative and Liberal Friends worship in the unprogrammed tradition. I worry that there's a misconception that Conservative Friends are more fundamentalist in theology than Liberal Friends (more fundamentalist, not entirely; a bit more Christocentric, yes) and therefore there's the misconception that Conservative Friends have programmed or highly structured worship with a pastor of some sort (they don't).
From the outside looking in, Meetings for Worship have looked the same in these two U.S. branches* of Friends: people gather in a meetingroom that has chairs roughly in a circle, or in concentric circles, and quietly take it upon themselves to "center down"--with no outward direction by a person or a chime.
"Centering down" is not a phrase I often use, but what I mean by it is that the worshipers begin to get less fidgety; their mind-racing usually slows down; maybe their breathing even deepens or becomes more intentional for a time. If we could get a glimpse into the most invisible workings of these worshipers, we might understand that their hearts, souls, and minds all turn away from the rush of the outside world and turn toward the Light.
Ideally, we become entrained to one another and to the Living Presence that has been awaiting us.
Among a group of Friends who know one another very well, I have found this shared or corporate centering to be nearly palpable and somewhat invigorating, and I feel like we are all leaning forward, spiritually, as if someone is whispering something to us and we strive to hear...
And when in fact a worshiper confirms for herself or himself, in a wordless, internal discernment process, that she or he has heard God's message, that person speaks out of the silence, being mindful of staying close to the message that was given and keeping away from, as much as possible, the temptation to change the message, lest it be made "nice" if it's a challenge to the community, or lest it become needlessly "polished" if there are parts that seem uneven.
For about an hour, unless someone has specifically convened an "extended" Meeting for Worship, the worship continues in this manner, mostly worshiping in a cohesive and active silence (ie. corporate worship), with perhaps one or more spoken messages adding to the experience--that is, ideally, deepening the stillness in which we listen for the Loving Principle that many Friends call God or Christ or the Inner Light.
At the close of the hour, Friends shake hands and quietly greet one another. A number of monthly meetings then move into an added bit of time to share of their experience--either what they experienced during the worship itself, the sense of the Spirit among them; or about thoughts and reflections that emerged for them in the worship but "didn't rise to the level of vocal ministry" in their own hearts and minds. Some meetings share prayer requests during this time or share news of how the Spirit and Truth has been moving among them during the previous week. Usually then there is a time for announcements, fellowship, and maybe a bit to eat.
A final reflection
Putting words to the experience of Meeting for Worship is a difficult task, because there is a qualitative difference between the words I use (and you read) and the experience of worship itself. It's like searching for words to describe the water that one might swim in, as compared to swimming in the water itself.
*Because of my service on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference, I know not to call FGC a "branch." There are FUM Friends, Conservative Friends, Liberal Friends, and even friends of Friends who participate in programs or otherwise use the services that FGC offers. But because of how FGC talks about affiliation and constituent meetings, there remains a persistent misconception that meetings in the U.S. or Canada might be "FGC meetings." Not so: Monthly meetings belong to a yearly meeting, which typically has its roots of one branch of Quakerism or another; and monthly meetings are accountable to their yearly meeting (and vice versa), not to FGC.
Ten Reasons Why I'm Quaker
I Should Have Known I Was a Quaker