All posts by renofriends

Opening to the Light

But in the central innermost region of our minds there shines one pure ray of direct Light from the very Throne of God; one ray which belongs to each one individually; which is for that one supreme and apart; the ray which shining from the heavenward side of conscience, and so enlightening and purifying it, must of necessity dominate the whole being.

      ~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909

Have you ever wondered how Quakers center down and open to the Light? How they sit patiently for an hour in silence, waiting for messages from the Beyond That Is Within? In April, Reno Friends gathered for a worship sharing to explore these questions.

Here are some of the secrets we shared:

  • Call up an image of a calm space or place that you love and put yourself there.
  • Look at each person in Worship and hold them in the Light for a moment.
  • Think of Silent Worship as a secret space where you can let go of worldly cares and anticipate the pleasure of not needing to do anything for an hour but listen to Spirit.
  • Settle into “being” rather than “doing” for an hour.
  • Think of staying centered in the Holy Light and know that if you can do that, you will automatically do the right thing.
  • Think of the “Passing Clouds” move from Tai Chi that reminds us things rise, then pass, then other things rise and pass, all in endless motion. Crises pass.
  • “Catch the draft” of the group as it sinks into silence.
  • Come in with no expectation and try to be in the moment.
  • Follow the breath.
  • Imagine your concerns and distractions as a bundle that you can hold in the Light and ask, “Help me quiet and find the serenity underneath that will help me deal with all this.”

Towards the end of the sharing, I had the privilege of teaching a couple of my own practices from Tai Chi and yoga. These are practices, amongst others, I do every morning and before I arrive for Silent Worship. One of my big challenges with sitting for an hour is my physical restlessness. I’ve found moving meditations helpful in settling this restlessness so I can sit. These practices also help me get out of my own way and become a purer conduit for the Light. They remind me of the natural rhythms of life: ebb and flow, give and receive, do and be, breathe in and breathe out.

Here are the two simple practices I shared:

  1. Standing Mountain and Drawing Down the Light. This is a practice from yoga, which is done standing (can also be done in a chair). Standing Mountain is the foundational pose in yoga that aligns the body, grounds it into the earth, and opens the heart. Drawing Down the Light is done by sweeping the arms up towards the sky and then placing hands in prayer position above the head. Slowly the hands are drawn down the front of the body, pausing at the heart in gratitude, and then floating down towards the ground. At the end of the downward sweep, the hands are released, palms turn up and sweep back up to the sky to gather more Light. The idea is to empty oneself and become like a lantern or a vessel filled with Light, or Prana as it is called in yoga. You can also visualize the Light purifying you and removing any blocks within you so that Divine Energy can flow freely through you and out into the world. When I do this practice, I also like to reflect on being that which connects Heaven and Earth.
  • Pulling in the Light. This is a practice from Qigong/Tai Chi. It begins with a standing position (it can also be modified for those who prefer to sit), opening into the Tai Chi stance with the left foot extended in front of the right, in a slight lunge. The hands are cupped together beginning on the left side of the body, then the hands extend in a circle out and around and back in towards the right side of the body. At the same time, the body moves forward onto the extended left leg and then rocks back onto a bent right leg (like a slider rocker). While doing the movements, visualize offering Light to the world around you as you extend out, then pulling Divine Light in to your body as your hands return. Pause at your heart and say a silent blessing of gratitude for all that sustains your life before beginning the next circle. Complete nine circles on the left, then shift to the right and complete nine more circles. The sequence is finished by bringing both hands together in front of the chest, facing the palms down, and releasing them towards the ground (settling the Chi). This brings both strands of energy—giving and receiving—together in balanced harmony, honoring that Life is a circle.

Afterwards, some Friends expressed interest in learning and practicing more of these moving meditations. In April, Business Meeting approved “Embodying the Light” classes on June 12, July 10 and August 14 (all second Wednesdays) from 6:30-7:45 pm in the Meeting House. Classes will draw upon Tai Chi/qigong and yoga practices with the intention of embodying the Light in our physical bodies and our daily lives. Learn about becoming a clearer vessel for the Light, clearing blocks, releasing tension, being present in the moment, feeling the flow of inner energy, improving balance and breathing, and strengthening the muscles that carry us through physical life. These practices are also helpful in decreasing back, muscle and joint pain, plus they are a wonderful way to wind down mid-week and get a good night’s sleep. Movements will be gentle and easy so anyone can do them. They can be done in a chair if standing is difficult for you. Most of the practice is done in silence as a moving meditation. Following the movement, there will be time for questions, discussion and reflection.

I look forward to sharing these practices which have helped me deepen my own spiritual practice, improve my health, manage stress, flow through life with more grace and Light, and recover from two hip replacement surgeries within one year.

Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Health of the Meeting Community

Reno Friends recently gathered for a Worship Sharing to talk about how we communicate and resolve conflict as a group. After two members left our Meeting last fall, we felt it was important to consider how we might listen to each other with more empathy and consideration, while also honoring individual leadings, contributions and concerns.

Worship Sharing is a powerful process Quakers often use when addressing contentious or difficult issues. Worship Sharing guidelines ask participants to speak out of the silence from their deepest heart, avoiding debates and cross-talk. We used queries about the health of the Meeting community as prompts, and returned to the silence regularly, as is common in the process.

Small spiritual communities often struggle with the tension between supporting the needs of individuals while managing expectations and focusing on what is best for the group. At Reno Friends  we have sometimes stumbled in finding this balance partly because we don’t always know what people are thinking and feeling. During our Worship Sharing we talked about the art of “listening even beyond words”: by pausing to listen closely to each other without pre-judgment, we could build more durable bonds of respect and caring despite differences of opinion.

We also talked about the role of language in our Quaker experience, reminding ourselves that some may feel triggered by terms that others find dear to their heart. At the same time, we agreed the Meeting should be a place where people feel free to use the spiritual language that speaks to and for them. We recognize that Silent Worship – sitting quietly with others to listen to “God’s still small voice” – takes courage and tolerance. So we talked of listening beyond the words to the spirit and experience underneath, and trying to find connection there.

We also discussed what helps members and attenders feel supported and connected, including our camping trips and hikes, potlucks and discussion groups, even our joy in gathering to spruce- up the Meeting House garden or to cook and serve food to the homeless.  We agreed that we like the beauty and simplicity of Quaker worship, including the lack of structure and rules, but that this type of spiritual practice also requires us as individuals and as a group to step forward when something is amiss, or to reach out when someone is hurting. 

Moving forward, we agreed we need to do a better job addressing conflict in a direct and compassionate way, and to rely more on our Quaker processes (such as convening a clearness committee or worship sharing) to help identify solutions. We recognize that we need to focus more on the path to unity in resolving our differences, and that we need patience sometimes to find our way to compromise that will satisfy and uphold the purpose and health of the group. And we need to remember that none of us is perfect, and that we must be generous with our forgiveness.

At the end, we agreed to share more about our Quaker experience, especially with newcomers.  A Quaker Meeting can seem like an iceberg – there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, even if you cannot see it. We treasure our Quaker testimonies and feel held together by them, so we agreed to talk more about their power in our lives. We are also curious about each other’s spiritual paths, which can provide rich material for spiritual development in the group.  To that end, we have decided to hold monthly open discussions on spiritual journeys every third Sunday before worship, starting in September.

Learning to work better together is part of our evolving experience of God, in our hearts and in the group. It was healing for our Meeting community to gather in a spirit of compassion and tolerance to talk about both our stumbling blocks and successes.  Perhaps we should gather for this purpose every spring, turning the Light on ourselves to check how we are doing.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Judgment vs. Discernment

Reno Friends Meeting is currently taking a hard look at how we interact with each other. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of discernment in our Meeting life.  Discernment is a process dear to Quaker hearts, and an important tool to figuring out the proper path for both the Meeting and ourselves as individuals. But what does discernment entail, and how does it differ from judgment?

One of the Quaker queries on the topic of personal relationships is: “What barriers keep me from responding openly and lovingly to each person?” In my experience, judgment is one of those barriers.

Judgment often comes from an ego-based place and it tends to have a hard edge to it. When I’m judging, I notice tension in my jaws, tightness in my heart, narrowing of my eyes. It often comes out as criticism of another’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. “I can’t believe she could think that!” “How could he have done that?”  “Who could hold such a belief?” It is about condemnation from a self-elevated place. In this place I have forgotten “judge not lest ye be judged.” I want to change the other to be more like me, because—in that moment, I think I’ve got it all figured out. There is a strong element of righteous indignation that makes me feel superior to whomever or whatever I’m judging.

Judgment is also about force, forcing my opinion on someone else. The other thing I notice about judging is that I’m often judging something in myself that I have projected onto the other person.  “Remove the log in your own eye, before seeking to remove the splinter in your neighbor’s,” Jesus said. If I’m particularly riled up about something, I can be sure it is a reflection of something I’m doing myself that I don’t like.

Discernment is related to judgment, but it comes from a different place. Here’s a good definition I found online: discernment is perceiving without judgment and with the intention of obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is about seeing with the eyes of the soul. Discernment seeks the truth from a higher perspective and it is softer than judgment. When I am discerning, I am not tense, my heart is soft and open, I am curious about the other’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. I ask questions and listen for the answers, not to pounce on them in order to correct, but to better understand them. Meanwhile, I’m also checking in with myself, hopefully my Higher Self, and my heart and gut. I’m trying to better understand myself in relation to the other (I’m also seeking the log in my eye). Out of this practice, I may be influenced to change my mind, or to refine or reframe my thinking. I see the other’s way of seeing/being/thinking as equal to my own, not less than. I may also decide that my perspective rings more true to me and works better and that I’m sticking with it. But, I don’t go the extra step of judgment and try to force it on the other. Often this is a place of agreeing to disagree and moving on. It is about mutual respect and empowerment to make different choices and hold different beliefs, and still like each other. It doesn’t mean we go along with something we disagree with in order to please or remain connected to another. Sometimes discernment requires us to withdraw from an activity, group or relationship.

When I feel the hard edge of judgment in my body and hear it in my words and thoughts, I am learning that I need to stop and softly bring my attention to my heart. I like to hold the image of one hand on my heart and one hand on the heart of the other. From this place of compassion, I seek to understand both of us and empower both of us to be in our truths, whatever that may be. I give myself permission to be changed/influenced by the other. I also give myself and the other permission to decide to back away or disengage if that serves Truth. If I decide to disengage, I will do it with loving kindness and not harshness.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.)

Yearly and Quarterly Quaker Meetings

Quakers in the Reno area gather for silent worship each Sunday morning. Like most Quaker groups that worship weekly, Reno’s Quaker worship community is known as a Monthly Meeting.  Most of our members and attenders come from Reno and the surrounding area, including Lake Tahoe and Carson City.

Meeting is a term shared through the network of organizations that knits Quakers together across the world and within the United States. Once a year, Quakers from Nevada, California, Hawaii and Mexico gather in what is known as Pacific Yearly Meeting, a five-day event with speakers, workshops, committee meetings, worship and communal meals. There are regional “Yearly Meetings” across the United States, and most Monthly Meetings belong to one of them.

Reno Friends Monthly Meeting is also part of a regional gathering of Quaker Meetings in northern California and Nevada known as a Quarterly Meeting. Our Quarterly, College Park Quarterly Meeting, meets every three months except during the summer, when Pacific Yearly Meeting is held.  At Quarterly, we get a chance to commune with other Friends in our area.  When the Paradise fire devastated part of the Sierra foothills last fall, Chico (CA) Friends Meeting called on College Park Quarterly to help raise aid for fire victims whom Chico Friends were helping with meals and shelter. Quakers across the Sierras were happy for a way to contribute, and Chico Meeting felt supported in its efforts.

Most Quakers find Yearly and Quarterly Meetings critical to connecting with far-flung Friends and getting a chance to discuss our faith, to share in silent worship, and to find common ground on important issues of the day. Because most Quaker Meetings have no clergy, and there is no Quaker church hierarchy, these Yearly and Quarterly Meetings are vital to keeping smaller Meetings like Reno Friends connected to the larger universe of Quaker life and practice.

Many Quaker Meetings are relatively small gatherings. Sometimes I feel we sit here on the edge of the desert all alone; that’s why the Yearly and Quarterly Meetings are so important. The first time I went to a Quarterly Meeting – held at a retreat center outside of Grass Valley, California – I was thrilled to make new friends and hear different perspectives on Quaker issues. Years later, as I was serving as Clerk of Reno Friends, I attended another Quarterly and met a woman who was clerk of her local Meeting. It was profoundly helpful to share our struggles and successes at our Meetings, and our efforts to support our members.  We sat outside in the twilight for several hours that night, kindred souls, opening our hearts.

Among children and teens, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings can be central to their efforts to find other “kids like them.” Quarterly and Yearly Meetings often hold separate meeting events for little ones and “youth meetings” for teens so they can practice their Quaker process and talk about issues dear to their generation. These youth meetings often surface important topics that are then taken up by the adult meetings.

Each Monthly Meeting, including Reno Friends, encourages people to attend the Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, and most Monthly Meetings choose a representative to present issues and report back. “Reps” are usually reimbursed for their travel and Meeting costs.  If you are an attender or member at Reno Friends and are interested in serving as a representative so you can experience these large Quaker gatherings, please speak with our Clerk, Steve Wolgast.

Wendy Swallow, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

What is Worship Sharing?

Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence.  During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence.  Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.

Occasionally, however, Quakers gather for a more directed form of worship-based conversation that incorporates silence as a foundation. This process, known as worship sharing, is often used to address issues that are unusually contentious or serious, or that call for deeper reflection.

According to Quaker sources, worship sharing grew out of dialogue techniques such as those used by Alcoholic Anonymous that arose in the 1960’s. The worship sharing group sits in silence to contemplate a particular query, everyone taking a turn to say how she or he feels about the issue. Participants are urged to avoid cross-talk and to listen deeply to each speaker. The silence is allowed to return between speakers, giving everyone a chance to root again in the power of the quiet.

Meetings often use worship sharing to heal after a period of conflict, or to articulate how to solve a difficult problem. Some Meetings use worship sharing to get at a deeper understanding of spiritual differences or to consider how to address a public need. Reno Friends has used it to explore how it could help the homeless in Reno. Another time we gathered in worship sharing to heal after a fractious few months that threatened to split the Meeting.

Sometimes I think of worship sharing as our secret weapon:  when we begin to spin apart, we gather in silence, and with purpose, to address the forces pulling us apart. Once everyone’s feelings, concerns and hopes are laid on the table, it is much easier to start knitting the Meeting back together.     

Worship sharing is conducted with some basic rules that help the gathering stay worshipful instead of devolving into argument or lecture. Baltimore Yearly Meeting has drawn up the following guidelines, which are typical:

  • Begin with centering silence. Reach deeply into the sacred center of your life.
  • Listen carefully and deeply to what is spoken, not distracted by your own thoughts.
  • Do not respond to what anyone else has said, either to praise or to refute.
  • Leave a period of silence between speakers to reflect and keep centered.
  • Expect to speak only once, until everyone has had a chance to speak.
  • Speak from your own experience. Concentrate on feelings and changes rather than on thoughts or theories. Use “I statements.”
  • Consider the time so as to not take more that your share. You may have many responses to the queries; pick just one or two to share. You may pass if you like.
  • Respect confidentiality; whatever is said in the group, stays within the group.

Reno Friends will gather for another worship sharing on Sunday, March 17, at 11:30 am an event prompted by the departure last fall of two Friends from our Meeting community. Please join us if you would like to better understand this Quaker process or share wisdom that may bring us back together and help heal our Meeting.

Wendy Swallow, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Meeting Community, Part II

Though Reno’s Quaker Meeting is small, it somehow provides a bountiful community for Nevada Friends. There are those with decades of Quaker experience, others who have recently discovered Quakerism, and many in between. All of us are searching for spiritual solace in the silence, yet we have different needs and different approaches to questions about God and religious principles. When we make collective decisions, we usually do so with little drama, but sometimes there is strife. When that happens, it fills our Meeting House with sadness. 

We lost two members last summer because of conflict. That prompted us to ask how we could improve our group dynamic to ensure that people in the Meeting feel heard and understood?

During my recently concluded five years as Meeting Clerk, I sometimes felt caught in the center of a vortex created by everyone’s differing visions of our Meeting. Quakers tend to be ambitious, rarely satisfied with the status quo. But with all our varying ideas of what we should do and how to proceed, we sometimes struggle to set appropriate priorities.

A Friend recently commented that all communities are imperfect, like the individuals who make up the group, and that it is important to know how to address conflict rather than to wish it away. A perennial question in our Meeting, for example, is whether to limit potluck offerings to vegetarian dishes. There are strong feelings across the board, and we have yet to reach unity on that issue. In the meantime, we ask everyone to be sensitive – and to label their dishes.

On more important topics – such as what social initiatives to undertake or classes to hold – we often unearth deeper divisions. Are we Christian-based, or Christian-rooted? Are we interested in exploring the subtleties of prayer, or are we more interested in understanding different approaches to the silence? This ferment of beliefs and ideas can be one of the joys of being in a Quaker Meeting, but how do we discern what is best for us as a community? How do we work together rather than be driven by one person’s leading? How do we step outside our own ideological beliefs long enough to listen to others with compassion and acceptance? Worshipping in community requires searching for common ground and that Quaker grail: unity. But how do we do that?

Britain’s London Yearly Meeting answered this question in 1916, a time of great international turmoil and stress, with words that can serve today as a guiding light: “True unity may be found under great apparent differences. This unity is spiritual, it expresses itself in many ways, and we need divine insight that we may recognize its working. We need forbearance, sympathy and love, in order that, while remaining loyal to the truth as it comes to us, we may move forward with others to a larger and richer experience and expression of the will of God.”

Reno Friends will gather in March for a worship sharing session to explore how our Meeting can reach across differences for better understanding.  Please join us if you have an opinion or concern to share, or want to support the group in this process.  The date and time will be announced in the February newsletter.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting

The Meeting Community, Part 1 (from PYM’s Faith & Practice)

The Religious Society of Friends arose as a community of the Spirit, centered in regular, shared worship. Ostracized and attacked by mainstream English society, Quakers developed a loving social community which, while not immune to struggle and conflict, supported their personal growth, their care for one another, and their work in the larger world.

Now as then, community is essential to Friends’ life and spiritual growth. A strong Meeting community offers companionship, resources to care lovingly for those in need, and a place to test and support leadings and concerns. Community is expressed in many ways: by cheerfully joining together to accomplish the work of the Meeting, refraining from gossip and disparaging others, taking part in clearness committees, providing pastoral care, and reflecting Friends values in the larger society. Community is also expressed in commemorative, sociable and playful activities of the Monthly Meeting.

Those who belong to a Meeting community receive its loving care. Each one in turn should attend to the spiritual condition of others. While respecting others’ privacy, Friends must be sensitive to one another’s needs and willing to ask for assistance in times of trouble. Conflict and difference are a part of life, a necessary result of the varying needs, aims, and perspectives of individuals and communities. Bringing them into the open is a necessary step towards empathy, understanding, and healing. Individuals and Meetings need to address conflict promptly in a spirit of goodwill and a desire to maintain loving relationship. When resolution is not immediate, the Meeting waits for way to open, while persisting in an earnest search for unity.

Recognizing the universal human needs for embrace, intimacy and sharing, as well as solitude, Friends support each other as individuals, couples, and families, however constructed or defined. The Meeting strives to be present for all its members throughout different stages of their lives and their specific needs — as single people, coupled, or in broader communities — recognizing the Divine in each. The Meeting can be an instrument of “divine assistance,” not only in supporting the marriages under its care, but also in supporting single people and all forms of partnership. We all have need for solitude as well as companionship, though these needs differ and are not always arrived at by choice. The Meeting Community plays a vital role in being sensitive to the needs and changing circumstances of its members.

I do not think I am alone in my certainty that it’s in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.”  George Gorman, Britain Yearly Meeting, 1982.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

 (Note: Instead of writing a blog this month, I am presenting a selection from PYM’s Faith and Practice.)

The Gifts of Silence

My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few other people around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.

Since I became a Quaker and learned to sit in silence, I’ve grown thirsty for even more silence in my life. The noisier the world gets, the more I need to retreat to quiet places, and I know I’m not the only one. I read recently that the country of Finland is boasting of its charms with a new marketing campaign featuring photos of lone people in natural settings. The caption reads, “Silence, Please.”

It turns out that quiet can be restorative to the human brain. Scientific studies recently found that mice experiencing two hours of silence a day built new cells in a part of the brain that manages emotion, memory and learning. Other studies have found that chronic noise leads to higher levels of stress hormones, which are associated with lower reading scores and delayed cognitive development in children. Chronic noise appears to trigger a sensory guard in the brain, while silence lets the brain relax and process some of what has been blocked by noise.

Spiritual traditions that employ silence – such as meditation and silent worship – are built on the advantages silence offers. One of our Reno Friends recently remarked that he found two great gifts in silence. The first was the gift of the self: when the world suddenly falls away, you are confronted with yourself. There’s no hiding, and nothing to distract from what is going on in your own mind. In the beginning, he said, this can be disquieting. But in time you discover that the only way to truly know yourself is to wait patiently for the revelations of your own consciousness.

The second gift of the silence, he said, is that eventually even the self falls away and you become aware of a great void. That, too, can be disquieting at first, but in time the emptiness of true silence will bring a sense of deep peace. Once you forget yourself, you can fully relax.

So how do we build a habit of silence? Certainly meditation and silent worship provide good opportunities, but we can also look for short moments for silence in everyday activities.  Turn off the car radio and drive in silence; walk your neighborhood in silence; pause during a conversation to allow for moments of silence. Musicians know that managing the silence between notes is as important as the tones themselves. Otherwise there is no expression.

In all our daily lives, silence can play an important role.  Develop the habit; let the silence bloom.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting

Concerns and Leadings (from PYM’s Faith and Practice)

Concerns and leadings grow out of the spiritual experience and contemplative practice of the Meeting. They are the living fruit of Friends’ faith that the Spirit will lead us forward into right action in the world.  The impetus for action is often a concern: a pull toward a specific issue, an experience of the stirring of the Spirit about a particular topic, individual or group. A concern may thrust itself suddenly into the life of a Friend or may grow out of a long-standing interest.

A concern may be short lived or it may inform and direct Friends throughout their lives. For some, this call is experienced in terms of Christian discipleship: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor… and come follow me.” (Luke 18:22) In the Hebrew scriptures a call can be seen in the prophets, such as Isaiah 6:8 “Here am I, send me.”

When it initially arises, a concern may not yet be linked to a proposed course of action, but may simply be a troubled sense that something is needed or something is awry. Action, when it follows, is often the result of a sense of being drawn or called by God in a particular direction or toward a particular course of action. Friends speak of “feeling led” or “being called.” The response may be short-term and specific, or it may involve transformation of one’s life.

A leading, the experience of feeling called by God to act, takes many different forms, and always requires careful discernment. In Meeting for Worship as one considers whether a message is intended as vocal ministry, the central task is to discern whether one is called by God to give the message. One who is called to serve on a challenging committee may need the Nominating Committee’s help with discerning the appropriateness of the selection. Another may be called to speak truth to someone who does not want to hear what we have to say. In each case, Friends want to be clear about the calling before acting.

At times a call may take a more profound hold, causing us to make significant life changes, to take risks, or to engage in specific social or political actions. Friends under the weight of such a concern should rely on the Meeting to help them discern the right course of action. Friends’ long-standing practice confirms the rightness of testing a leading with the Monthly Meeting, which customarily appoints a clearness committee to meet with the concerned individual. Together, the clearness committee and the initiating individual seek to join the mystical with the practical and to test the validity of the concern.

Achieving clarity about a concern is a particular exercise in discernment. It is a process that begins with considerable private reflection and the asking of some tough questions. Is this a desire that someone else do something or it is really a call to act oneself? Is it genuinely from God?  — Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995 

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

(Note: Instead of writing a blog this month, I am presenting a selection from PYM’s Faith an Practice.)

 

Seeking Unity

Unity, the idea that we should seek consensus in our collective decisions, is a central testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  In this fractious time, however, it often seems the goal of unity has been nearly forgotten.  Everyone seems to have differing views and fears and concerns, many of them deeply held. The anxieties of our age have taken a toll on our ability to talk with each other. In such a climate, unity feels nearly impossible to achieve. If so, does unity still matter?

I believe it does; in fact, I would argue that unity could be the antidote to our societal divisions. Faith and Practice, the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guidebook, says this about unity:  “Friends believe that it is possible for the human spirit to be in direct communion with the Divine. Seeking God’s will together, we believe (the) way will open and unity will emerge. Working together to discern and serve God’s will both nourishes and benefits from unity. This unity grows from trust in one another and readiness to speak out, confident that together, Friends will find the truth.”

It is clear, then, that unity is as much a process as a goal. One of the qualities I find most compelling about Friends is that every advice and testimony rests on the fundamental principle that actions matter most. When Quaker founder George Fox said “Let your lives speak,” he meant that beliefs and convictions can only be communicated through action.  It is what you do that matters, not what you say or profess.

In the case of unity, it is the process of seeking unity together through thoughtful listening and discerning of God’s will that is paramount. That’s why unity is most valuable when we disagree.

According to Os Cresson, an Iowa Quaker, “For Friends, unity is not usually unanimity, which is agreement without dissent.  Unity is more often agreement that acknowledges dissent, staying together despite differences, and moving forward with guidance from our common values.”

Seeking unity can be a challenge, as Quakers often hold disparate views of God and God’s will. Because Friends believe that each person is on her or his own spiritual path, it is more important that we are seekers of the truth than that we have all arrived at an agreed-upon destination of spiritual perfection. And this, says Cresson, is what we can model for the larger community. “The embrace of religious diversity in our midst can be our gift to the world…. Let us be patterns of living together and loving each other, differences and all. Let us openly and joyfully celebrate our peculiar combination of Quaker diversity and Quaker unity.”

That is why we must continue to seek unity with all around us. Unity matters because it requires listening with an open heart, and honoring what others bring to a discussion. It requires us to respect and love those who think differently than we do.

As the contemporary Quaker Parker Palmer has said, “Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and outward life. And that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.”

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting