February 22, 2006

Is Quakerism a passive faith?

While catching up on some blog reading, I came across a comment on Claire's Spiritual Journeys, which reads in part:

"Some of our Quaker language ("leading", "waiting", "obedience", etc.) sounds very passive."

My initial reaction to reading this was "Nah-ah!"

...And that reaction of course was followed by a period of considering why my reaction was so strong.

First of all, I realized, I often interpret "passive" as being related to inaction, a lack of initiative, or having no impulse to take action in response to an event or other stimulus. But then I considered that one of the strengths of Quakerism is not that it is passive but that it is receptive. We worship as we do in order to receive God's guidance and instruction.

Yet I believe there is more "activeness" to our faith than meets the eye.

I feel empowered--in the Power--when I come under the discipline of God's leading. Waiting to receive clearness of how and when to move forward is, to me, a weighty matter indeed, and when I am discerning well, I feel very active in my waiting. There's nothing passive about it, because I am responding, I do have an impulse to respond to that inward nudge: to be obedient to the call.

So yes, to the observer and to the new attender, some Quaker terms make Quakerism seem very passive. "Don't just do something, sit there!" is a phrase that comes to mind.

But to delve more deeply into the practice and traditions of Friends moves us beyond the shared hour of worship. We become responsible for holding one another accountable to listen more closely to the Inward Teacher, yielding and submitting our will in order to be faithful to the Divine Will.

Perhaps, then, I would say that Quakerism is a faith of discipline:

The discipline to wait.

The discipline to listen.

The discipline to receive.

The disciplie to discern.

The discipline to yield.

The discipline to obey.

February 16, 2006

The possibility of possibility

The other night a friend and I went to hear Rabbi Michael Lerner speak. Maybe "rant" is a better word, given the speed and energy with which he spoke!

I was taken by much of what he said:

  • Many of us know that there is something more to life (and work) than just bringing home a pay check.

  • Many of us know that there is a better way to be in the world but we are too tired to resist the societal pressures to conform, or we are too tired to do anything about it, or we don't know where to begin, and so we stop looking for what that Better Way is.

  • For the time-being, the Religious Right are drawing people in because they are able to speak to the spiritual crisis and to the crisis of values that people are feeling.

  • Having had that crisis named and having it as part of the dialogue, now folks can either go to the party where the conversation speaks to their condition--even if the walk doesn't match the talk--or they can go to the party where nobody is speaking to their condition at all. So they still feel empty or hollow.
  • Michael then began to speak about how we need to break out of what currently is our automatic defeatist thinking. To break out of that mental rut, we need to change the bottom line and focus on things like love, caring, generosity, stewardship. We need to live into our potential and into our possibility of What Can Be, to live into our Magnificence.

    And what really caught my attention was when he said that the King James version of the Bible mistranslated the answer that was given to Moses, when Moses asked of God, "By what name shall I call you when I talk with the Israelites?" The Biblical Hebrew apparently does not translate as "I Am That I Am," but rather it is more closely translated as "I Will Be Who I Will Be"--future tense.

    I like Michael's interpretation of this alternate translation. He explained that this Scripture points to how God does not ask us to be who we are but rather to live into the possibility of who we will be.

    God is the Possibility of Possibility.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    I Want These Words to Birth You

    I want these words to birth you
    to breathe life into you
    to kindle the logs and twigs of your spirit
    that had fallen away or been pulled up from their root

    I want these words to ignite you
    to inspire you
    to return to you the bright magnificence
    that is your birthright!

    I want these words to touch those deep secret places in you
    where your mind insists there is only emptiness
    while your heart and your Angel beat on and laugh
    knowing the greatness of the path
    that is yours to walk in the Light

    I want you to remember Who You Are
    that you are not your fear
    you are not your loneliness
    you are not your misery


    You are your Truth, you are your Magnificence
    you are these glorious jewels of your spirit
    jewels and gems and gifts that have only gone underground
    so that they could be safeguarded
    until you realize
    that the whole world spins
    and the universe sings
    and eager angels hold their breath
    awaiting your Arrival

    Be birthed, be raised up on angel wings
    and greet the dawn!


    February 15, 2006

    Q101 posts at Freedom Friends

    While looking a bit at the website for Freedom Friends Church, I came across an online forum, in which there is listed the topic "Quakerism 101."

    How could I resist...?!

    Many of the posts there are written by pastor and blogger Peggy Senger Parsons, but the post about using the peach pit as a metaphor for growing the Divine Seed within us caught my eye.

    Though the seed is not a new metaphor among modern Friends, after I finished reading the peach pit entry, I found I was left with two questions:

    What sort of spiritual climate would I say I need to cultivate and nurture the Divine Seed in me so it may ultimately bloom, produce new fruit, and provide new seeds?

    How can I help create a spiritual climate that would in turn help cultivate and nurture the Divine Seed in those around me?

    February 13, 2006

    Stages of worship

    In her pamphlet The Meeting Experience: Practicing Quakerism in Community, Marty Walton touches on what she identifies as the stages of worship. These stages resonate with me, and while I'm working on other posts, I thought I'd lift up this jewel of a pamphlet and share a bit about these stages.

    Friend Marty offers these stages of corporate, unprogrammed worship:

    1. Welcome and greeting one another. Being conscious of who is in the room; greeting one another with smiles, head nods, etc.

    2. Separating from one another. Beginning to focus inward; sinking into the silence; self-reflection.

    3. Opening ourselves to the Light. Becoming aware of how we are or are not living in accordance with the Light, with "God's love and order." Often it is from this stage when opportunities for vocal ministry arise.

    4. Experiencing communion with the Living Presence. Gathering of the meeting as a whole; joining together with God; transcending the earthly plane; sinking together into that Stream.
    Marty writes beautifully about each of these stages--my booklet is filled with underlined sections and notes in the margin.

    I found, though, that as I finished reading about these stages, that she does not address what I consider to be two additional stages of worship:
    5. Emerging from the worship. Feeling released or detached from the inward seeking, self-reflection, or corporate worship; becoming vaguely aware again the physical space and of life beyond the meetingroom.

    6. Closing. The actual shaking of hands and saying "Good morning"; restoration of the earth-bound consciousness and pre-meeting awareness.
    As I look at these stages, I begin to see where and how disruptions might interfere with the overall process and experience of worship.

    For example, if the closing happens too early in the midst of the emergence from worship, Friends might feel that meeting was not completely over yet, that worship was broken too soon. Or if vocal ministry is offered while many Friends are still opening themselves to the Light and to each other, it may sway others to consider the message and the speaker more than necessary, thus interfering with the ability for the meeting to drop further into the stillness to experience a gathered meeting.

    On the other hand, there are times when vocal ministry helps deepen the corporate worship. There is no way to know, except through testing and personal experience, how these stages of worship, and worship as a whole, are helped or disrupted by our individual offerings.


    February 7, 2006

    Resting from your own will

    While I was looking for something completely unrelated in Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice, I came across this passage, which apparently appears in a number of other books of discipline.


    When you come to your meetings... what do you do? Do you then gather together bodily only, and kindle a fire, compassing yourselves with the sparks of your own kindling, and so please yourself...? Or rather do you sit down in the true silence, resting from your own will and workings, and waiting upon the Lord, with your minds fixed in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you... and prepares you, and your spirits and souls, to make you fit for his service?

    William Penn, 1677