“A guiding operational principle in my life was activated: If frustrated in one’s endeavor by a stone wall or any kind of blockage, one must find a way around — another route towards one’s goal. This is advice I have given to many women facing similar situations. I tell them: Try it, it works.”-E. Margaret Burbidge quoted in Margalit Fox, “E. Margaret Burbidge, Astronomer Who Blazed Trails on Earth, Dies at 100.” The New York Times. April 6, 2020.
I started reading a number of books on Quakerism years ago. It started with a book on simplicity, which approached the topic from a Quaker perspective. Eventually, I started attending an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting. An unprogrammed Quaker meeting is a religious service where everyone sits quietly, typically in a circle, and waits. You are open to your thoughts, and you try to see if any of them are God speaking through you. If so, then you simply stand up and say what you feel moved to share.
It’s a strange experience. It requires group trust that people will not hijack the meeting for their own purposes, which happens. But, when it does, it is often looked as a way to build our tolerance and learning to share space with others. Resolving these kinds of difficulties are central to the meeting experience. It is like the story of potatoes in a barrel, it is by rubbing against one another than we all become clean.
The key ideas of Quakerism are what I think of as PIES: Peace, Integrity, Equality and Simplicity. They are all inter-related. Fundamentally, we all have “The Light Within,” a connection with God, however you conceive of God. If everyone has this connection, then we have to seek peaceful relations because in a way, conflict with others is a kind of conflict with God.
But, we all are equal, and we have to speak our Truth. It is in this dynamic of a meeting, where equals listen to one another while staying true to themselves that a community can enter in a dialogue with God. In scripture, it is put this way:
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”Matthew 18:20, King James Version
Simplicity is the final piece, and I think of it as making room for others. The less resources we use, the more there is available for everyone else. The more room there is for others, the more room we have to interact with others as equals. It is when we try to differentiate ourselves by our possessions that we cut off our internal connection to God. It changes our willingness to look at others as equals. It inflates our ego and turns us to aggression.
Quaker Christianity, particularly unprogrammed styles, is very different from mainline Christianity. There is little dogma beyond the above. For me it reframes the discussion away from Christ as redeemer, which I find problematic on a number of levels and moves it back to Christ as Son of Man, a person that is exemplifying the kinds of life we all should live. Christ is showing us how to live our own lives rather than a God saving the world that can live up to a standard that no mortal can because of the stain of original sin.
Note: It should be noted that not all Quakers believe as I do. Since it is a religion of the conscious that askews dogma, there can be a lot of variability in beliefs. I have met people that identify as atheists, universalists, Buddhists, and evangelical Christians, who have all also identified as Quaker. Unlike in other traditions, this variability is viewed as a strength.
From Catholicism, I learned the value of ritual, religious practice and the power of story to shape our understanding of the world. Years after hearing a homily from one Sunday, I still think of the need to leave a series of empty tombs. The resurrection applies not to some afterlife, it applies to this one, where we have to awaken new life within us, walk away from the old and to write new chapters to our stories.
From Quakerism, I learned of the testimonies I remember as PIES, i.e., peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. The need to be still and listen to the man of the heart and mind, which Quakers call the “Light Within”. This Light is in every sentient being. Knowing this we are called to peace, to follow the voice of our own hearts and to know others are following theirs. Simplicity is to cut through the desire for material things, which can cut us off from this voice within. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
From Buddhism, I learned that the world is full of dissatisfaction. We assert ourselves against the world in ego delusion. We are dissatisfied, because we do not have what we want or are afraid to lose what we have. The living world is always changing and the best life is to live in each moment, experiencing it all without forming attachments to things as they are, things as they will be or to possessions, no matter how trivial.
When you ask, “What God do you worship?” Is there any better response than, “Life, love and laughter.” The Temple of LiLoLa is in our hearts. It is up to us to throw the doors open.