The search for God and meaning in the world is probably one of the most commonly shared experiences we have as humans. There is often an emptiness and a hunger to find out about the possibility of something bigger than us. And for many, it can consume a great deal of our lives both in the quest for meaning and in what we do once we have started to find some answers. One of the really important, even crucial, lessons I’ve found lately though is that you never find THE answers. You can never know, for certain, whether there is a God or not and what form He takes; and that is the whole and entire point of faith. And having faith, rather than dogma, means that inevitably there will be a lifelong exploration of issues and opinions will and should change with experience and insight.
I would like, in this post, to very briefly highlight where my spiritual journey has been taking me lately. I have gone through a Roman Catholic upbringing to a period of adolescent questioning and uncertainty to a too-certain Evangelical Christianity. But a group that has interested me for many years that I am now learning about more seriously is the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers.
I’m writing this post because a few things over the past few weeks made me realise that many people don’t know much about Quakers beyond fairly superficial facts, and I think if more people knew something about them, they might discover some of their own personal answers there, an answer to a need which I am encountering more and more.
Today’s world is troubled in so many ways. Social injustice, economic inequality, an inherent and ever more apparent selfishness in society; war, famine, poverty; the destruction of the earth’s natural resources. Quakers are led through peace into action on these and so many other things.
You may think that Quakers just sit in silence, praying or meditating. If my recent learning is anything to go by, they are listening to the Light. The Light is how you might describe God – that something Other. And Quakers believe that there is Light in everyone, and they try to look for it and to act on it. For over 350 years this has led them to deep and meaningful actions, such as resisting conflict, speaking truth to power, leading lives based on truth and equality which if adopted by society as a whole would effectively solve almost all of the world’s problems. I don’t think I’m overstating that – I really think that if everybody lived their lives based on these principles (which, believe me I know, is easier said than done) then we could put an end tomorrow to poverty and injustice and with justice comes peace.
There is a book which Quakers use in regular life called Advices and Queries. A small, thin red book which contains 41 questions or suggestions and gives a useful introduction to Quakerism in practice. It’s not a sacred text such as the Bible or Qu’ran; it is help for the Quaker going about their daily life. I’m going to give a couple of these now.
33. Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?
This I think is important as much for what it leaves unsaid. People who are discriminated against for who or what they are – poor, old, disabled, of different origin, gay, women… And bearing witness to the humanity of all people – what other way is there to eradicate inequality or injustice?
The following two extracts speak to me very deeply and I find them very inspirational:
27 Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak.
17. Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you try to sense where they have come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken (emphasis mine).
What a brilliant and clear call for tolerance and humility, which we could all do well to practice more – myself at the top of the list.
I would urge anyone who has questions about the Big Stuff to let yourself ask them – don’t be put off by past negative experiences. But I’d highly recommend asking them to Quakers sooner rather than later, and through practising peace be led into action.
For more information on Quakers in Britain, see here. I’d also recommend reading Harvey Gillman’s book A Light That Is Shining which I read as my first introduction to Quakerism; and there is a new book by Geoffrey Durham called Being A Quaker which I want to read soon. You can also read Quaker Faith and Practice (a book of discipline which includes Advices and Queries) online here.
I am not a Quaker but I am finding out about them, so any Quakers reading this who can put me right on anything, feel free!