Friday, January 20, 2006


The topic of being grounded in faith has passed around a few blogs lately. I've been thinking about it and came up with this list.

Why Quaker silent-meetings often don’t feel grounded in faith:

Reason #1.Because newcomers can teach and speak as much as seasoned Friends. Newcomer ministry adds freshness to the meeting and allows newcomers to grow into their spirituality. But it also means that many who teach and speak have no grounding in faith. They haven’t read books on religious theologies and teachings, haven’t thumbed occasionally through scriptures, haven’t learned Quaker and Christian history. Sure, this adds freshness. But it doesn’t strengthen a sense of a meeting’s being grounded in faith.

Reason #2. Because many silent-meeting Friends are not actively learning; thus, we are not on a faith journey: we are staying where we are. Quakers don’t have clergy, so the onus is on us to keep learning. We need to read, discuss, and consider new ideas, especially those we have rejected in the past and those that touch a nerve. We need to become our own spiritual authority. If a silent meeting doesn’t have adequate outlets for such learning, the meeting may end up feeling not grounded in faith.

Reason #3. Because many silent-meeting Friends are dedicated seekers without being dedicated finders. We welcome questions and sincerely probe our own spirituality, but we distrust answers, even the ones we find ourselves. It’s as if a part of us is saying, “I want to believe in something, but I’ll be damned if I’ll believe that!” We’re on a spiritual treadmill that we can’t escape. This can leave a meeting feeling ungrounded in faith.

Reason #4. Because faith is letting go, and silent-meeting Quakers are intellectuals. (Do any Quakers have less than a university education these days?) We know how to think and weight evidence, how to balance and test, but we don’t know how to free-fall, to trust in something unknowable, to follow something unseeable. The product of our rational age, something inside us whispers, “Mustn’t.” And we don’t.

Reason #5. Because we don't get to know each other. Anonymity can interfere in knowing one another in "that which is eternal," and that can in turn prohibit a "being known" to one another through the Spirit in the silence. (Thanks to Liz for this one)

Reason #6: ...?


At 10:50 AM, Blogger Joe G. said...

Wow! This is great Nancy A.

Reason #1 - this can be a big one at my Meeting. Where it gets confusing is that members who have been around for awhile sometimes forget the "confusion" that this can cause. Or, maybe it's clearer to say that it behooves those of us around longer to be more active in the spiritual and faith life of the Meeting so that it continues more grounded (related to Reason #2).

Very interesting and on target!

At 1:52 PM, Blogger david said...

Reason# 4: guilty as charged.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Mm, I like this. It's quite thoughtful, and, I think, accurate. Along those lines, I think many Meetings could benefit from a more active adult education component.

At 10:20 PM, Anonymous Becca said...

This really speaks to me! Things like this are what i find so chalanging about my quaker community here in Ontario. It is hard to grow up in that environment, and i feel these are some of the reasons why so many of my fellow so called birthrite quakers no longer identify as quaker and have drifted out of our community.
Your OYF correspondent,
Becca Ivanoff

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Thanks for the feedback. I'm starting up a reading/study group for our Meeting, slated to begin next week. I hope in time to be able to convince the Meeting that it really needs to be held on Sundays immediately following meeting for listening.

Thanks for posting, Becca. (You may know me by another name. Note that kwakersaur is also an Ontarian.) I still think the OYF site needs to start up its own blogging centre.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Thanks for another stimulating post!

It so happens that we had a couple Friends join us for worship at our worship group this past First Day, and some of us got to talking. At one point, one of the visiting Friends acknowledged that she had a hard time centering down during worship because the group was so small--because she knew the people around her!

Occasionally, I hear Friends say that they enjoy a large meeting where they can remain somewhat anonymous and therefore reflect on their own thoughts and in their own worship experience--separating themselves from the experience of corporate worship.

So I would add to your list, Nancy, as to why Quaker silent-meetings may not feel grounded:

Anonymity can interfere in knowing one another in That Which Is Eternal, and can in turn prohibit a being-known to one another through the Spirit in the silence.

Can a corporate activity be shared at a deeply grounded level if we do not know one another, if we do not share a sort of spiritual intimacy...?

Personally, I find that my sense of worship is often deepened when I know and trust that those around me are opening themselves to the Divine; that we might actually be given a message or shown new light or be transformed in some small, significant way!

I sense there is more to be said and written about these topics, and I thank you for helping advance the conversation.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Barb Smith said...

Thanks Nancy -- I've been grappling with this lately. I went on a silent retreat with a Quaker spiritual director. It became clear that my issues with the director were related to my emerging awareness of my issues with Quakerism. For me, the question boils down to: Is Q-ism an end in itself, or a means to an end? It seems many Q's don't want to 'go all the way' in any faith, for the reasons you mention, esp. #4 - intellectualism. Q's are just too sophisticated to believe that Jesus died for the world's sins and then resurrected. Q's that flirt with Buddhism do just that...I find them shallow in their buddhist path too. It seems for all of Q's deepness, many Q's just remain 'dabblers' because of this 'committment phobia' to going 'all the way'. So, Quakerism has become an end in itself. I have heard, "I want to be a good Quaker" from people in my meeting, and silently wished for myself that, "I want to be a good Child of God, and right now Quakerism seems to be helping me in that regard". I guess in any spiritual path, there are those who are there to explore, and those who are content with the status quo, and then a minority that want more, and pursue the path with all that they have, and kindof being off to themselves, like the prophets of old.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Wow. I found myself simultaneously shouting "right on!" while wincing in pained frustration. They're all so true, yet I see so many of them in my meeting and in my individual contribution to my meeting's corporate life.

Here's another reason that I've found to be true in my liberal, unprogrammed meeting:

We claim to embrace spiritual diversity, but are avoidant of the conflict and tension that comes with that diversity. We can often be so afraid of drawing too deeply from the wells of our spiritual traditions because we're afraid that we might offend someone, or that what is dear to us might be strongly rejected by others in our own faith communities.

Platitudes of vague notions of peace and the beauty of daffodils are much easier to proclaim in meeting than our experiences of Truth.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Larry said...

Reason 6 for me would be that in the meetings I attend a fair number of Friends, usually the most vocal ones, seem to be more wrapped up in Quakerism than in God.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Where I have I been, to miss thy blog... just adding thee to my links... :)

Thine in the light

At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this an interesting thing because i like being in the same meeting i for 13 years but only sence Gathering 05 have i started to attend and i always want to sit next to someone that i now.

i think these issues are also part of why everyone else my age goes to the teen program or just doesn't come anymore. i wish they had had the same experience i had at Gathering and i am glad that they now have the chance.

i think that i am starting to ask the questions and that is really helping me identify myself as who i am even if i am the only one under 30 and my mom and dad are the 4tha nd 5th oldest in meeting.


At 10:00 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

I spent 46 years with hardly speaking in meeting- I had spoken once after a Friend died, and once at a memorial meeting. Then Richard (Brooklyn Quaker in the Blogisphere) spoke about the responsibility to each other to give ministry...Then ministry seemed to come ( too often? :) ) to me... Thy comment about higher ed makes me think... I went to university and then to law school later in life, as a boat builder... I gave no ministry, though I did think of myself as an intellectual, in a sort of anti-education sort of a way... Hmmmmm :)

PS Sitting alone in meeting... Rebecca, it really is good to sit with someone. My wife is not a Quaker, and most of my life, once my parents left Quakerism, and my contemporaries moved away, I have sat alone... and it really is not a good thing. Find joy in the comfort of thy Friends. That's a whole 'nother post.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Anna Dunford said...

The ministry given at Meeting here last week kind of berated us 'as Quakers' for not going the whole way with commitment.

Whatever it is we are doing 'wrong' or not doing as Friends it certainly seems that we are all listening to the same spirit as time and again I find issues coming up in blogs around the world (not just Quaker ones) simultaneously with ministry shared, or discussions had amongst Friends here.

I suspect it is the case with bloggers and those giving ministry on this that we are like the few who actually write to the papers/politicians, we represent an unspoken mass of others, it's just that the many are waiting for the few to get the ball rolling and make a start of dealing with things.

Two of us have just set up a bible study group in Wellington to look at it in a non-intellectual manner, an opportunity to try to get to grips with what it was that so inspired early Friends and continues to be so relevant to many Quakers around the world. Neither of us are biblical scholars, neither of us even know the bible all that well but it is a journey of discovery we felt called to thanks to WGYF. There seems to be an assumption around that you need 'experts' to teach and help better ground people in Quakerism, yet surely the whole Quaker view of learning from each other should show us that whilst handy to have people 'in the know' we can learn together as we go along - it just needs someone to put their hand up and say 'hey I'm interested in this, would anyone like to join me seeking?'

At 4:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NOT MY EXPERIENCE, thanks for the comment.

Perhaps it's because I DON'T WANT to be "grounded in faith." For me, "faith" misses the whole point.

There is no end of the people who will tell you what to believe with faith. For that I suggest the Southern Baptists. They know what is right, have lots of faith in it and are friendly to boot.

Richard from Portland, Ore.


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