There seems to be a common distinction made by Friends between orthodoxy, right belief, and orthopraxis, right action. It is postulated that liberal Quakers are more interested in orthopraxis and the Orthodox and Evangelical Friends are more interested in orthodoxy. One such example is from C. Wess Daniels' article in Quaker Life on Convergent Friends
. I think that this distinction misses the core of what Quakerism is about. The core is not orthodoxy or orthopraxis, it is orthoakoe. What is orthoakoe? It is a word that I just made up which means right listening. According to the lexicon in Strong's Concordance, akoe means “hearing (the act, the sense, or the thing heard).” Since I don't know Greek, if any readers who have a knowledge of Greek have suggestions for a better word, I would be glad to hear them.
The key to the spiritual life is to listen to the voice of God, the Divine, the Spirit, the Guide, whatever you call that still small voice that nudges you towards God. An important part of the spiritual journey is learning to recognize that voice and be able to distinguish its voice from all of the other, often much louder, voices within us. As Robert Barclay puts it, “It is the privilege of the Christian to know their Shepherd's voice.” This voice does not much care what we call it. It also does not care particularly about what mental constructs we create to make sense of it. What it wants is for us to pay attention to it. Sometimes it shows us our shortcomings and it expects that we will sit with that until we see the way forward to overcome these. Sometimes it shows us the nature of the other voices we hear so that we can learn which voice to follow. Listening transcends belief.
Once we have heard the voice, the voice expects us to follow its promptings. We have a general idea of what changes will happen to us if we obey these nudges. We expect that they will bear the fruit of patience, forbearance, peace, equanimity, integrity, love and compassion. But there is no set of rules or actions to take. We have to rely on the promptings of this voice in determining what particular action we should take in the particular case that is before us. Listening transcends practice.
It is difficult to listen when you are talking. This is why centering practice is so important. If we are going to hear the voice within, we have to quiet the din within. I don't know where I got the idea from but I remember as a small child lying in bed as went to sleep trying not to think. I got to the point when I was only thinking the thought that I was trying to not think any thoughts. Then I tried to make that thought go slower and slower. I remember wondering what would happen if I stopped thinking even that thought, but the prospect scared me. Only later did I discover that I had taught myself to meditate with the help of one of the most cumbersome mantras I have ever heard of. Lately I have had moments when meditation when that inner chattering voice has gone silent. It does make it easier to hear God. Listening requires practice.
As we learn to hear the voice of God in ourselves, we are called to another form of listening as well: Listening to the voice of God in others. At one level, this is the ability to hear when people are saying things that apply to us. Sometimes this is when they are speaking directly to us and sometimes it is taking to heart what they say about themselves or their experience. There is another level to this, and that is listening words into being spoken. Sometimes we need to listen deeply to provide that space for the words to come into. This is part of what we do in unprogrammed meetings for worship. The intensity of our listening may draw forth words of ministry from someone in our midst. This does not deny the role of God in prompting vocal ministry, but a lack of receptivity in the body can sometimes block a minister from giving a message and intense listening can draw forth a message that might not otherwise have come. A harder form of listening is to listen deeply to those that we disagree with, people we find objectionable, and even those we might consider our enemy. But we must listen to these people as well to hear if perhaps God is sending us a message through them. The hardest part is to listen to these people so intently that we draw out the words of God from them.
All of this is orthoakoe.