Monday, 10 August 2009

Further thoughts....

Last week's post generated some very interesting responses and reactions, not only online but in person.

One F/friend told me that she liked that fact that, when she comes to Meeting, she knows she is with people who have thought about their faith, and that our beliefs are not 'dumbed down', and I know just what she means. I think part of the reason for the current Quaker demographic is the tendency for people only to find us after some kind of spiritual search, after a lot of thought about what they believe, and how they wish to connect with the Light they seek. People don't attend Quaker Meetings because they are the nearest on a Sunday morning, or out of habit, or because it's 'the done thing', and they don't attend if they have never considered their own spirituality.

As a religious group, we do not tend to proselytise, and many members (including me) found that comforting when we first encountered the Society. I know that many members and attenders (again, including me) come from a negative experience of evangelical Christian experiences. So I am not suggesting we go out and tell every person in the world that Quakerism is the only true way - that would run completely counter to the idea of respecting the Light wherever it comes from, and would be totally inappropriate.

However, I believe strongly that Quakerism is an ideal way to foster ecumenism and interfaith dialogue - no matter what words we all use to speak of God, or whether we are atheists, we can still all listen together and seek the Light.

Another F/friend suggested that perhaps it might not matter if people do not have any kind of view on the existence or non-existence of a spiritual aspect to life, but I cannot bring myself to agree.

I can only say that I believe everyone should know about us, so that they can make an informed choice - and I believe that, if more people knew about us, our numbers would be rising and our Meetings growing.

Patrick Gale, a non-Quaker, summed up what I feel in his excellent novel about a Quaker family, Notes from an Exhibition:

"When they took her to her first Meeting for Worship, and she witnessed the potent combination of quiet contemplation with the lack of Christian paraphernalia she had long dismissed as nonsense, she found herself marvelling that Quakerism had not become the dominant world faith. It seemed so accessible, sane and adaptable."


Jan Lyn said...

Insightful read Heather and I agree people certainly don't attend Q Meeting out of habit. It is usually so well thought out, well read and researched I think. I'm so pleased to hear of an opinion on Notes from an Exhibition, as I was contemplating reading that book!

Mark Wutka said...

Hi Heather,

Friends like to talk about seeking, why is there no talk about what we have found? What does waiting/walking/keeping in the Light do to us? Are we not changed by it? If Quakerism is just an idea that you either like or don't like, if it is no longer an experience of the Divine working to transform us and guide us, then I fear we have lost the essence of what it means to be a Quaker.

You mentioned in a previous post that for many of the residents of your village "Green concerns, ethical consumerism, politics of any kind don't engage them at all." I would suggest that none of those things have to do with being a Quaker - although they are things you may find you are more interested in as your heart is made tender and your love for others increases.

In past Quaker history we offered a path to change in which the temptations of the world no longer lured us in, so they we lost our desire for "pirate DVDs and dodgy cigarettes". Is that still our experience? Do we still offer that path? If so, how might we bring that knowledge to others?

With love,

Heather said...

I absolutely agree, Mark - why don't we talk about what we have found? And how do we offer that new path? Thank you so much for your thoughtful words.

Jan Lyn, you are so right. So many of us seem to come to Quakerism after long consideration of all kinds of matters. Do read the book, you'll love it :)

Hystery said...

Dear Heather,
I think quite a bit about these tensions. There is the intellectualism and what some have called elitism of a meeting full of people who have arrived there after much research and soul-searching who think that maybe others "just don't get it" and therefore, "maybe don't belong." There is the discomfort we feel with evangelizing coupled with our sadness at our dwindling numbers and our aging membership. Such tensions between introversion and exuberance is characteristic of a religious people who hold both individual spiritual experience and corporate discernment as seminal values.

I do think we have a tool that is built into our worship experience that we could use to alleviate these tensions. The ability to stand and speak and then to allow silence to envelope us again can be used to engage other people respectfully and gently. We are not a cloistered people. There have been so many activist Friends not because we believed our light could save the world but because we found light in the world worth saving. The ability to magnify the Light we find in each human soul by uncompromising love could be a starting place.