Thursday, 3 October 2013

Does anything go in Meeting for Worship?

We meet in silence in an unadorned room. On the surface it looks like you can bring bring your own spiritual tradition into the Meeting, since there is nothing nor no-one to indicate any different.

However, the lack of words and symbols is deceptive – for the purpose of Meeting for Worship is to take us to the place beyond words and symbols, the place where Quakers believe the truth will be found. And since it is truth beyond expression in words and symbols, no one can tell you what to look for or where to look for it.

But if you stay within your spiritual tradition, expressed in all manner of words and symbols, the truth that Quakers testify to will elude you. You will become an Anglican Quaker, or a Catholic Quaker, or a Pagan Quaker or a Buddhist Quaker or a non-theist Quaker or a Unitarian Quaker – whatever – unless you first let go of your spiritual tradition and wait expectantly in that place that Quakers say the truth will be found in. A place that we cannot talk about or describe, for to do that is to immediately constrain the truth in yet another tradition.

It is an accident of history that the Quaker testimony to truth emerged in a Puritan Western Christian tradition. George Fox could not say anything else but “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who spoke to my condition”. Until just a generation or two ago that historic witness was neither here nor there, since almost all people came to Quakers through Western Christianity. Now we embrace the diversity found in our society, and we can express 'that which speaks to our condition' in a myriad different ways, but the testimony remains – the truth is found beyond expression.

All this means that the pursuit of truth that we testify to requires a unique discipline that we must learn, over and above any discipline that we may have from our own spiritual tradition. Our tradition may take us a long way, and maybe even all the way, but we don't know – and cannot know – unless we first of all let go of all that we bring from our past life. And we learn this by experience, as George Fox did, and countless Quakers since, for there is no way to teach that which cannot be expressed in words – it can only be lived, in the Meeting for Worship, and even every waking – and dreaming – moment of our lives. For one of the first things that we discover is that all of life is sacred and has to be lived sacramentally if the the truth is to be constantly and fully open to us.

This is my experience – my spiritual tradition was evangelical Christianity, with both fundamentalist and charismatic overtones. I have not rejected this tradition out of hand, nor find it a burden. Instead, whereas my spiritual experiences in the past were caged by the bars of the rigid interpretation given to me by the preachers and evangelists, now I can say that the truth has set me free. The full depth of those experiences is now known to me and I can rejoice in the life that I have found. And the unique discipline needed to follow the Quaker Way continues to both deepen and broaden my spiritual understanding.

“To find your life, you must lose your life—and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39; The Voice)

This post was prompted by Jan Arriens' review and critique of Rex Ambler's 'The Quaker Way – a rediscovery', which can be read here:


Laura Kerr said...

I have thought about this and proposed it as a theme for our spiritual friendship group... so, although I am not adding more thoughts here, just yet anyway, the posting has had some fruit! Thanks Gordon.

Flo Fflach said...

I am glad to read this. I feel very much I am on the Quaker Way and if asked can say I am a Quaker; I have never wanted to qualify it with any other word - liberal, pagan, Christian...An early experience of Christianity, which I had to set aside in the form it was, is probably why I am drawn to actual membership of the religious Society of Friends than following a Buddhist path. I have found that dharma talks have enhanced my Quaker Way