So what are some things you hear when you mention the word Quaker? Quaker Oats…Aren’t you like the Shakers?…Aren’t Quakers all dead? One reaction to our being identified as Quakers I remember in particular, was when we dairy farmed, and our neighbors and we were working together to trim cattle hooves on our respective farms. Part of that included eating lunch at whatever farm we were working on that day. When we ate at their place, our neighbors wanted to know if their assumption was correct that we couldn’t drink iced tea because we were Quakers…
Well, the truth is that most of those assumptions or reactions are misinformation. William Penn is NOT on the Quaker Oats box, we are NOT Shakers, and we are NOT dead. In fact; HERE WE ARE…SO what IS the reality behind all these myths?!
The Quaker slant on faith and life began way back (when?) In the mid-1600’s in England, during their civil war when there were a variety of movements that addressed the disparities in life with regard to religion, politics and economic inequalities. Out of that time there were those who tried to reform from within the established church and some who saw the church as a lost cause. George Fox was a young man who had grown frustrated with clergy and the institution as he sought a direct spiritual experience for himself. In 1647, he had a Divine revelation that spurred the creation and development of what has evolved through the past 350 plus years into what has come to be the Religious Society of Friends or more informally as Quakers. The core of that experience is described in the quote that you can find in your bulletin…
Our history is a long, amazing, and distinguished story of how we got to where we are now. Rather than spend a lot of time on it now, I want to let you know that we will deal some with historical specifics as they relate to the topic at hand each week. I also want to remind you that there are both books out back and videos online that offer great perspectives on our historical details. There are several important distinctives that persist today which originated with George Fox and his fellow seekers that continue to give life to our Quaker faith.
Quakers are a simple, contemplative denomination. Because we view being guided by the Divine as central to our faith and practice, we work to limit the complexity of our lives in order to be able to hear and respond to the leadings we receive.
Quakerism is based on silence as being the main way we as individuals and as a corporate group connect and interact with the Divine. We understand that there are no necessary intermediaries or rituals that enable or allow the conversation to begin or continue between God and humans. Some of us enjoy having the guidance of music and message and scripture; some of us are just as easy with sitting together in a given space in complete silence. As must be obvious to you, we here at Adirondack Meeting especially appreciate some external prompts and preparations for our experience of the Divine. Nonetheless, the core of any Quaker worship is the ability to encounter the living presence of God directly as we are; while we are silent and still. The one-to one direct relationship that each one of us has (that is discovered and experienced in the silence) with God is the foundation of our faith. We each are responsible for participating in and contributing to that relationship; in taking the initiative and living into the opportunities we each are given for following our divine guide.
Another one of Fox’s revelations that continues to shape the Quaker faith is the realization that there is that of God in everyone. This divine spark is the source of and the conduit for our relationship with the Divine. This shared understanding leads Quakers to value all people; we are all equal– and to oppose anything that harms or threatens ANY of them. There is no hierarchal authority among Friends faith communities or organizations, where certain individuals have special knowledge or qualifications that set them higher or closer to God than anyone else. EVERYONE can know or live out Truth, which is the reality and activity of the Divine in our lives, our world, our existence.
It is important to Friends that we live out our faith day by day. Each individual; every community or meeting has activities or ways of being in the world that share our understanding of God, as well as impacting our world positively. We WITNESS to what we experience and see, as we find and live out our callings.
Quakerism originated as a Christian faith. The words of George Fox’s revelation make that very clear. I chose the scripture because of the similarity to Fox’s statement (which is found in our bulletin) I find in these words of Jesus; “…I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus spoke these words in the book of John near the end of his human life. He was preparing his followers to continue on after his departure by reminding them about what he has shown and taught them. He equips them to carry on with the knowledge that he would continue to be with them and guide them into the Divine presence.
Many people of faith interpret these words as being the secret or crucial phrase that unlocks a Christian life when a person recites them and declares belief in them. For me, the Quaker distinctive is our understanding that it isn’t the words or their rote quoting of them that initiates a legitimate faith. We understand that the words themselves describe a journey; a process or progression where we as humans discover for ourselves, as we live through our relationship with Christ, what IS the way, truth, and life for our specific life; our specific gifts and personality and the particular relationships we have with others. As an evolving adventure—a continuing revelation, our lives culminate in the times and spaces where we know experientially what the way, and truth and life are about in faith. We are informed as we journey by the stories from scripture, which describe other faith journeys and the circumstances of Divine revelation, as well as through our relationships with others, and the places, situations, and issues that give shape to our days.
Quakers have a whole vocabulary that reflects our understanding of the presence and activity of Christ in our lives. The Light, the inner Christ, the seed, the inner Light are all phrases or names that attest to that quality of continuing revelation that occurs as Quaker people of faith engage in an ongoing journey in response to how we feel Christ is leading us at any given time in any given place.
And so Friends, in the words of a prominent Quaker Margaret Fell, who was a contemporary of George Fox; “What canst thou say?” How do you feel about anything you’ve heard or re-heard this morning? How do you feel led to respond? Those leadings or inclinations are the crux of the Quaker experience…
Maybe I’d better use the full quote, as it very appropriately puts in perspective the whole idea of life and faith according to the Religious Society of Friends: “You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”
Again, please bring your questions and concerns to the time of discussion at the rise of worship. I look forward to being in conversation with you as we continue to explore the faith and practice of Quakers; both as individuals and as a faith community.
Let’s return to silence in order to commune with God and reflect on what we’ve explored this morning.