Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

What we do not do is pray together, as many church services with a specific liturgy routinely do. You will not hear us say “let us pray….”  You can thank the early Quakers for this. When they broke from the Church of England in the 17th century, they purposely rejected having priests or clergy, and tossed out the liturgy, the music and all recited prayer. They also rejected the sacraments, believing that every moment is sacred and that there was no reason to elevate certain transitional moments – such as marriage – as more sacred. As Protestants, they had already rejected saints and the divinity of Mary. The Quaker idea was that every person could speak directly to God and listen to God, without need of a priest or sacred figure as intermediary, and without proscribed prayers or liturgical readings. The individual experience of God was what mattered.

Quaker-founder George Fox was wary of recited prayers and liturgy because he believed any form of spiritual worship could easily become stale and routine. Susanne Kromberg, a Quaker from Seattle who works as a hospital chaplain, says in her blog Susanne’s Quaker Musings:

“What I understand Quakerism to say about prayer is that we can encounter God at any time, in any place, or in any circumstance…. This means that there is no human condition in which God cannot speak to us. God can use any form – verbal and non-verbal, sensory and non-sensory, intuitive or tangible. What sets us apart as a denomination is that we are not surprised when we encounter God outside of the Meeting’s agreed-upon times and places of worship. Being a Quaker allows me not to be surprised – indeed perhaps to expect – that God may appear in any kind of situation and transform that moment into a moment of prayer.”

The truth is, many Quakers do pray. They talk and write about it, as any library of Quaker books will demonstrate. Many of our group gathered for the spiritual discussion that night said they sometimes prayed. Others said they usually waited in silence to hear God’s voice, or they meditated, or perhaps even followed a spirit guide in their mind. It was clear in the discussion that all of these forms of spiritual focus and communication could be meaningful, and different approaches could serve the soul in varying ways.

Many come to Quakerism and Silent Worship because they are tired of – or feel unmoved by – more traditional church services. I grew up in a standard, liberal Christian church; services were filled with recited prayer, liturgical readings, sermons and hymns. But over time, this approach began to feel meaningless, as it didn’t spring from my own experience of God. In particular, I always felt awkward praying to God because it felt like asking for favors. Even at age sixteen, I was pretty sure God was not waiting around just to meet my puny needs. Attending Silent Worship with the Quakers allowed me, for the first time, to really listen to God rather than petitioning him.

Others in the discussion that night shared my concern, but several people pointed out that prayer is not, by definition, a request. We talked about prayers of thanksgiving, or of healing, or of intercession, when we might ask God to hold a person, or problem, or group of people in the Light. When other religious groups might say “we will pray for you,” Quakers say “we will Hold you in the Light.” The Light, for Quakers, refers to the divine light in all of us.

Prayer – like sitting in Silence – is a channel, a conversation with God that allows us to open our hearts to Divine presence. For many Quakers, Silence is the central channel, during which it is important that we listen for what God may have to say to us, keeping our minds and spirit open. Some Quakers refer to the voice of God as the “still small voice” inside each of us, which we cannot hear unless we quiet our hearts and the world around us. That is the purpose of Silent Worship. When we do that – and really listen – we often find the voice tells us something different than what we expected.

For me, that is the miracle, the surprise insight that helps me see something anew. This “still small voice” feels like an inner teacher, one that guides my discernment about all the questions that rise in my soul. And I need that voice to say the unexpected; to challenge me, to open alternative doorways. To help me see what I am ignoring. To open my heart to a new understanding.

So, do Quakers talk to God? Yes; but we also listen.  

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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


What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

Continue reading What is God?

Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

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What Does Quaker Membership Mean?

Several weeks ago Reno Friends met online for a spiritual discussion about membership, which was something of a rare event. Usually, modern-day Quakers don’t talk much about who’s a member and who’s an “attender.” Many devoted Quakers spend their lives as attenders of Monthly Meetings, volunteering for leadership roles and participating in Silent Worship, Business Meetings and social events, but deciding against the step of membership. In truth, that pretty much describes me: I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting (with varying levels of devotion) since I first went to the Florida Avenue Meeting in Washington, D.C., more than 35 years ago. I’m a really good attender.

Continue reading What Does Quaker Membership Mean?

Are Quakers Mystics?

Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

Continue reading Are Quakers Mystics?

Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

Continue reading Continuing Revelation

Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

I was walking with a dear friend the other day who nodded and smiled knowingly when I shared that I’m grateful for my increased solitude. She said she was anxious about Coronavirus going away and having to return to her previous social life. I could relate. As we strolled along, we wondered why we feel captive to the social norms of society and the needs of others? What about our own needs for solitude, quiet, reflection? How can we speak for ourselves and still honor our more socially oriented loved ones? We are becoming aware of which relationships are important to nurture and where we may need to set better boundaries. I’m glad I can share this journey with a kindred spirit.

My partner is another kindred who reminds me that he deliberately avoids agreeing to as many engagements as I do. I fear I’ve been dragging him along into a busier life than he prefers. My other gratitude is having more time with him, alone. I adore his company and luxuriate in our longer conversations. The cat has stopped wandering around squalling for attention, since we are here most of the time and more attentive to him. He is grateful for more connection with us. I talk to my mother every day and there is more spaciousness in my heart for her. My social circle is drawing in closer as I focus on my most important relationships, rather than trying to be there for everyone and get everything done on some list.

I like the Quaker testimony of Simplicity and the query I most like is: Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and Light? Though I have been diligent about uncluttering my things, I’ve been cluttering my calendar with commitments beyond my strength and Light. So, I decided to set Mondays aside as my Retreat Day where I schedule nothing and withdraw from the outer world. This has helped me remain sane and more serene during this uncertain time. I pray for continued resolve to honor my deep need for solitude and freedom from doing for this one day a week. How can I hear the song of my soul if I’m so busy I can’t even listen?

One of the struggles I am having is with my desire for some kind of scheduling formula. Spirit laughs at me from within and suggests, “Surrender.” I suspect I will find my way moment-by-moment by simply doing the next right thing. I trust my heart will show the way.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

As societies, we are asking what is an essential service? I am grateful to all the people who are continuing to provide essential services so we can live. We are having to look at how we have structured our lives, our businesses and organizations, our communities, our societies. We are learning how inter-connected we all are with each other and all things.

My sense is our lives have been interrupted so that we might create a new life, one that is simpler, more balanced, and more in harmony with nature and others. My guess is that, deep down, we have all known our old ways could not go on.

I have always found the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to be helpful when I consider what is truly essential in my life.

Simplicity

(This is the seventh in a series of 12 monthly queries developed by Pacific Yearly Meeting. All monthly queries are on this website under the All About Quakers tab in the main menu.)

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center . . . a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but occupies all our time. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

Elise Boulding writes in My Part in the Quaker Adventure, “Simplicity, beauty, and happiness go together if they are a by-product of a concern for something more important than ourselves.”

Do I center my life in an awareness of God’s presence so that all things take their rightful place?

Do I live simply and promote right sharing of the world’s bounty?

Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?

How do I maintain simplicity, moderation, and honesty in my speech, my manner of living, and my daily work?

Do I recognize when I have enough?

Is the life of the Meeting so organized that it helps us to simplify our lives?

Friends, I’m holding us all in the Light as we move through this challenging passage into new ways of being with each other and in the world. We all have Light within us and gifts to give, and we all need the gifts others have to share. May you shine your Light and encourage others, as your equals, to shine theirs. May you receive with gratitude and graciousness. May you take time to nourish yourself and your family, to play, to exercise, and to rest.  Envision what can be possible, and then put feet and hands to it! Your life is your example, your greatest testimony.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Trails

Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I stayed a few days in a cabin, and cross country skied in the mountain meadows near Tahoe. The first thing we did was get a trail map with suggestions from a local expert on which trails would be best for us to try. We usually stick with a set trail our first time in a new spot. When we follow the trails of others, I don’t have to think about the path. I notice the sky, the mountain peaks, birds in the trees, the glint of sunlight like diamonds on the snow, the crisp feel of the air on my face.

As we become familiar with the lay of the land, however, we often wander off to create our own trail. This requires more focus on choosing a course over hills and through trees, and a willingness to take risks. Sometimes it works out beautifully and we find an awesome new way through the woods and meadows, enjoying new vistas and spots for lunch. There is a thrill to making fresh tracks in the snow, particularly when it has just the right firmness and you can float easily over the top crust without breaking through.

Other times, we don’t choose the best way. On this trip, the snow was hard-packed and icy. We decided to cut off the main trail and find our own way down to the meadow below. Unfortunately, I picked a hill too steep for me to get down safely. Sometimes you can’t tell that until you are committed. I fell. Assessing the situation, I pulled off my skis and went the rest of the way down on my hands and knees! At the bottom, I put my skis back on and we floated through the meadow, over shorter hills, and back to the car. Another time when we tried breaking our own trail, we had a lovely ski, but ended up on the other side of a river and had to walk a mile back to our car with our skis and poles over our shoulders! It was exhausting.

In reflecting on trails, I’ve come to see that sometimes it’s critical to follow a trail someone else set who knows better than you where to go. Other times, I enjoy the adventure of discovering a new path and seeing where it will take me. Some of those are delightful and worthy of sharing; others need to be marked with a big sign saying, “Don’t go this way!”

Here are several queries to explore this topic:

  • How do I discern when to follow the trail another has set vs. when to break a new trail for myself?
  • What blocks me from heeding the wisdom of those who have gone before me?
  • What blocks me from heeding my own inner wisdom and charting a unique-to-me course?

Please join us on Sun. Apr. 17 at 8:45 am in the Meeting House for a Spiritual Discussion session on Spiritual Paths and Breaking Trails.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Release the Fear of Suffering

I woke up this morning with a very clear message, “Release the fear of suffering.” I snuggled in with my beloved partner, Scott, and shared it with him. He then told me he was restless all night, convinced he was having a recurrence of chronic wrist pain. After work with a skilled physical therapist and healer recently, it had completely stopped, with only occasional twinges and some soreness if he used his hands a lot during the day. Finally, he got up and went to get his wrist brace. “As I was walking over to get it, I realized my wrist didn’t hurt. I must have been dreaming, afraid of the pain coming back.”

An example from my own life is my tendency to catastrophize and imagine the worst happening instead of the best. These days I often find myself awash in my fears for Mother Earth and what will happen in the future because of human activities which are seriously damaging the biosphere. I can lose myself in despair and hopelessness if I let my mind continue down this spiral of thought.

Isn’t this how it goes? We cause suffering in the present because we are fearful of suffering in the future. We can become obsessed with trying to control our future to avoid suffering or become frozen with despair. Oftentimes, that which we fear either doesn’t come to pass or is much less scary than we’d imagined. How much more suffering do we endure because of our fear? How much of our life do we waste worrying, strategizing, controlling, withdrawing, isolating ourselves, bracing against pain (which can cause more pain due to chronic tension from muscle guarding) and despairing in hopelessness?

One of my favorite teachers is Ekhart Tolle who wrote The Power of Now. He asks, are you in danger now? Are you in pain now? What is true in this moment? He encourages us to live more in the moment, the only one we truly have. He asks us to trust that if we are fully present right NOW all will be well and we will clearly know what response to make to whatever is in front of us. It is the only space in which we can transform our own lives and the world in which we live.

How might our lives be different if we released our fear of suffering in the future? Waiting for the other shoe to drop? The pain to return? The bottom to fall out? The world to end?

In my experience, we create in our life and our world that which we dwell upon in our thoughts. What if we spent more time focusing on what we would like to create instead of what we fear? What if we embrace hope, peace, loving kindness? What miracles could happen if we act from that place?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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