Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Introducing Myself

I would like to start out by introducing myself and telling a little bit about my spiritual journey to date. I was born to Quaker parents and am the third of 5 children. I have attended meetings for worship for most of my life. For much of my childhood we did not live close to any meeting. My parents never talked about what they got out of meeting but there must have been something because every Sunday they would load us all into the car and drive an hour to meeting and afterwards drive back.

While I knew many of the stories of Quaker heroes, my first demonstration that God could still move people to make unexpected changes in their lives came in 1968 when my older brother came home from the Young Friends of North America (YFNA) summer gathering and talked about how some Friends there had been led to begin draft resistance. I was struck that this was happening to people now and not just in stories.

I graduated from high school and entered Friends World College. I ended up spending a year in Kenya. While there I read The Way of Zen by Alan Watts. My reaction to his description of Zen meditation was, "Oh, this is what they are doing in meeting for worship." I came in time to realize that this is not really true but I think it speaks volumes about the quality of the religious education I had received among Friends.

After a year in Kenya I quit school and came back to the United States. I was involved in the New Swarthmoor community and in YFNA and spent a lot of time hitchhiking around the country. I saw first hand people wrestling with what it meant to live obediently in a difficult time. I wrestled with how I would respond to the war and to the possibility of my being drafted. I experienced deeply covered meetings for worship and saw people being opened up and changing during the course of business meetings. It gave me a great appreciation for the power and strength that is available to us in our tradition.

While I was reading the Bible some at this time, I was also reading about Eastern spirituality and Carl Jung. There was a time when the I Ching was more significant to me than the Bible. After a number of years and a number of cities, I ended up living in Cambridge, Mass., and started attending Meeting for Worship again fairly regularly. I had gotten my first computer programming job, my life was beginning to settle down and I wanted to introduce the woman I was soon to marry to Quakerism.

At this point I also decided that I would focus my spiritual reading on Christian writers. This was not the result of any great conversion experience. It was merely that I realized that it was easier to understand the allusions in Christian writings. When a Buddhist writer referred to a particular sutra or made reference to one bodhisattva or another, I had no sense of the context. If a Christian writer talked about Noah, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Because I was reading the Bible and Christian writers, my language became increasingly Biblical and Christian. There came a time when people referred to me as a Christian but it made me feel very uncomfortable because I wasn't sure what that meant. At the FUM triennial last summer I heard someone speaking about waiting for Christ to come again and I had an immediate reaction that this did not match my understanding of Quakerism. I believe that Christ has already come again and is available to us as a guide and teacher in our hearts. If we look for an outward appearance we will miss the Christ within. And then I laughed at myself because if I was going to be such an ardent post-millenialist then I had better start considering myself a Christian.

Being a Christian means many things to many people but this is what it means to me, today. It means that I try to live my life in relationship with the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible and in obedience to the guidance of the Living Christ as I experience it. I am agnostic on the afterlife but I believe that as we are faithful we can live in the Commonwealth of God in this life. The image of death and resurrection that is central to the Christian story serves as a model for the process of spiritual transformation that I have experienced and that I continue to experience. I find that my understanding of Christianity is very much shaped by my understanding of early Friends so we will, I hope, have many opportunities to explore this in more detail as time goes on.

I have always considered myself a Quaker, even when my junior membership had lapsed and I hadn't joined another Quaker meeting. Since my spiritual journey has taken me to many different places, I try to remember, if I am tempted to try to define what Quakerism is, not to draw the lines so tightly that I would exclude myself at any point in my journey.

There was a time, perhaps 20 years ago now, when I was in worship at Cambridge Meeting and I felt called to help renew the Society of Friends. At the time it felt like quite a preposterous and grandiose sort of thing for me to set out to do. But then I realized that the place that I needed to start was with myself. So I embarked upon a process of spiritual development and prayer and study of Quakerism. I was also encouraged by the support and example of my wife who was embarking on her own journey of transformation. Over time I did find my spiritual life being revitalized and growing deeper. Shortly after this I started attending Fresh Pond Meeting which was just being set off from Cambridge. I was looking for a more intimate spiritual community than was available at Cambridge. I felt that if renewal was to happen, it would happen in the monthly meetings. So being a part of a group of people trying to nurture the growth of a new meeting seemed also to fit into my leading.

Eventually I began giving talks and leading workshops often focused in some way or another on the works of Robert Barclay. They have seemed to be generally well received and so now I have started this blog to continue to explore what Quakerism has been, what it is today and what we are being called to be.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Growing Together in the Light

The essence of Quaker belief is that there is a power or light that can be found within us that illuminates us. It will first show us our faults and, if we sit still in that light, we will be healed and transformed. We will live as changed people in this world and our lives will bear witness to the existence of this transforming light and its power.

This core of Quakerism can be described in many ways and in many languages. This is because we believe it to be a universal fact of the spiritual life. But while this fact of spirituality can be expressed in many religious/theological/spiritual/non-theist ways, these same languages can also be used to describe quite different things. It requires great carefulness in our language and our listening if we are to try to hold this truth without a common language to describe it. But this process of transformation is not a process of logic or intellect although logic and intellect have their place in it. It is fundamentally a wordless and experiential process. The only language that can hold it is the language of symbols and stories and myth. And this language is often, by its very nature, imprecise.

The early Quaker experience was held in the mythical structure of Christianity. To this we have added our stories from Quaker history. Now Friends are bringing in stories from other traditions as well. While this can give us a great wealth of new insight, it can also lead us to a situation like the Tower of Babel where we can no longer work together because we do not understand each others language.

What I want to do with this website is to explore Quakerism by drawing a lot from the writings of early Friends. I have spent some time reading and studying Quaker writings and so this is one piece I think that I can add to the Quaker discussion going on today in the blogosphere. It is my hope that this is a place that people from all branches of the Society of Friends, and from outside the Society of Friends as well, can come to and explore the beliefs of early Friends as a way of understanding our roots and also cast new light on our beliefs today. I hope that by doing this we may all grow and that we may also find a unity that underlies our diversity of language. And that is why I have chosen the name: Growing Together in the Light.