Category Archives: Quaker Practice

New Year’s Resolutions

Ah, January! After the flurry of Christmas – wrapping presents, baking cookies, hosting family – the bright skies and peaceful, quiet days of January always arrive as relief. I pack away the decorations with glee and crack open a fresh pocket calendar, ready to restart my life. 

Many of us take the New Year as a time to bring ourselves back to center. This is the point of all those resolutions: join a gym, lose twenty pounds, read a classic every month. But this year, I recognized my list of resolutions as all-too-familiar companions. I’ve adopted the same must-do’s every year; yet each January, there they are, still in need of attention.

It reminds me of when my younger son was small and seemed deaf to my requests. No matter how many times I told him to stop running around and get in the car, he did so only when I threatened to quarantine his stuffed animals. A therapist finally pointed out that I yelled instructions to my son so often he had stopped listening; it was all just background noise. “Don’t speak to him until you are ready to make sure he hears you,” she suggested. What wisdom! It worked like a charm.

Which raises the question: am I ready to listen to myself? And how about listening to the “small quiet voice within,” as the Quakers say?  Perhaps I’m embracing the wrong resolutions. After all, I’ll probably be fighting those same extra pounds the rest of my life. Maybe this year I could resolve to do something more radical, like adopting a resolution aimed outward, something to benefit the larger world instead of myself.

As I thumbed through my friends’ holiday cards, I was struck by how many contained messages pleading for peace. As terrorism and violence rock our world and the climate swings more precariously, many of us long for more safety and calm.

My resolution, then, will be to work for peace, wherever and however I can. I’ll start with those around me and work outward, following the guidance of the Quaker Peace Testimony: “The work of peace is the work of sustaining relationships of mutual human regard, of seeing and speaking to that of God in everyone, of seeking peace within ourselves, the family, the community and the world. The Kingdom of God is both present in each of us and a goal yet to be fulfilled. The task may never be done, but sustained by God’s love we are called to pursue it.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Welcoming the Syrian Refugees

At our November Business Meeting, Reno Friends debated a topic that days later would  command the front page: whether to welcome Syrians refugees in northern Nevada. The federal government is working through local non-profits to find homes and livelihoods nationwide for the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has promised to take. Our Meeting had been asked what it could do.

The Syrian tragedy is all too familiar today: refugee families slogging their way through the Balkans in a cold rain, drowned children washed ashore after their boats swamp in the rough Mediterranean Sea. Young men, many of them, but also elderly, parents, women, kids and babies — more than 4 million in all enduring a terrifying journey to escape terror and war.

Reno Meeting decided we would do what we could. A few days later, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the national lobbying arm of the Quakers, wrote us to urge our Senators to support funding for the processing and settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Several of us called to ask the government to authorize the spending.

Then came the horrifying attacks by ISIS in Paris and Beirut. With several hundred dead and ISIS threatening to attack American cities, governors of many states declared they were unwilling to allow Syrian refugee families to settle within their borders. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada chose a different path: rather than an outright refusal, he said Nevada would accept no Syrian refugees until the White House had reviewed the resettlement program to make sure it was as thorough as possible. To date, nine Syrians have been resettled in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

I understand the fear we harbor in our hearts. I lived through 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and remember well the paralyzing anxiety of another attack. I worried about friends and family riding the Metro, visiting popular landmarks like the Smithsonian, or just driving through the city. I know how hard it is to feel unsafe, to fear that a random act of terrorism will destroy the life and freedoms we often take for granted.

But does that mean the United States should turn away Syrian refugees? There is a remote danger that some of the refugees could be terrorists or be radicalized in the future, but so can American citizens and immigrants already living among us. Does fear of the few mean we should block the many who are worthy and desperate? And wouldn’t the Syrian children now enduring hardship to reach a better world be less likely to mature into terrorists if we took them in and cared for them?

These are difficult, complex questions. Nothing here is simple. But for me, this is a time when being a Quaker helps. Our Peace testimony asks us to recognize the child of God in everyone, and to do what we can to end violence and promote justice and human understanding. At the same time, the Integrity testimony urges us to be true to our word. “When lives are centered in the Spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable,” says our Quaker guide, Faith and Practice.

It is, after all, the season of Peace. Let us open our hearts.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Thanksgiving and Family

More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving seems to be about gathering your community, bringing family and friends together to share gifts of food and affection.  It can be a chance to introduce a new girl- or boyfriend to the tribe, or reach out and include the lonely neighbor from down the street.  It can offer precious moments with an aging grandparent or a goofy game of Hearts with cousins you haven’t seen in years.

Though often full of love and laughter, these gatherings can also be trying.  Dueling food preferences can drive the cook crazy, teens may disappear into their cellphones, and some will weasel out of their share of the cleanup.  It can be enough to make one want to spend the holiday in quiet retreat.

Parker Palmer, an author, educator and Quaker, suggests that the challenges we face gathering our communities together are more important than the pleasures.  “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.”

Living the Quaker testimonies often means having your heart tugged and pulled, but that’s how our hearts get bigger.  Surrounded by my sometimes annoying, sometimes wonderful family members, I try to remember that each is a child of God, that humanity can be messy.  When someone pushes one of my buttons, I seek to pause, taking a few breaths and summoning my compassion before responding.  Perhaps he or she is also struggling with the intersection of the inward and outward life.

Fortunately, Thanksgiving is also a time to be grateful for all that blesses us.  Scientists who study happiness say that a daily habit of gratitude – listing the things you’re grateful for – can go a long way toward improving one’s mood.  No matter how frazzled I feel when it’s time to say grace, it’s always the circle of hands that I’m most grateful for.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

How Healthy is our Quaker Meeting?

Just as people need regular check-ups, so do Quaker Meetings. Earlier this year, a Friend raised a question: how healthy is our Meeting? I looked around the room. There we were, a circle of caring people who meet regularly for Silent Worship in a comfortable Meeting House. Next door, our gifted First Day School teacher was working with a group of children. Outside, the Meeting House grounds were freshly trimmed, thanks to a group of generous volunteers. We had projects and activities on the schedule, and causes we care about and support in the larger world.  What could be amiss?

But as many churches and institutions know, surface calm can hide divisions and problems that may quietly bleed commitment and trust from the group. And so Reno Friends considered the question of our health. To frame the discussion, we read an article by Jan Greene and Marty Walton, two seasoned Friends, about the characteristics of healthy Meetings.

According to Greene and Walton, healthy Meetings have a clear sense of themselves and what they are called to do and be. They are places where it is safe to say “this is what I believe.” They include all types of people and offer a spiritual home for people making changes in their lives, deepening their relationship with God, or trying to discern God’s leadings. Healthy Meetings also care for their corporate life, and they understand that conflict is inevitable in any Meeting that is vital and growing, and that conflict can even deepen a Meeting spiritually. Healthy Meetings will discern when they have moved away from wholeness and have the courage to stay with difficult issues and wait for guidance from God.

There was a lot to think about, more than we could explore that morning. And so Reno Friends agreed to gather again this fall for a discussion or Worship Sharing about the standards for healthy Meetings and an assessment of how we measure up. No doubt we will find things we need to work on to improve, but thanks to the Friend who posed the question, at least we will be working together to identify and address our shortcomings.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Speaking in Silent Worship

Years ago, when I went to my first Quaker Meeting, a friend told me to just sit and listen. It was a large Meeting, and the silence was powerful. Yet several individuals rose and spoke from the heart during the worship hour. Later I asked my Quaker friend whether she spoke in Meeting. Rarely, she said.  She had been taught to stand and speak “only if what you have to say moves you so deeply, you just can’t stay in your seat.”

For many years I didn’t speak during the worship hour – I just listened as other Quakers shared their vocal ministry, often eloquent and riveting. Sometimes the messages started with personal anecdotes, sometimes with musings on a theme, occasionally with a quote from the Bible or another spiritual text. Many, whether brief or extended, bloomed into something universal and important. One woman rose and said simply, “I have to remember my wants are not the same as my needs.” A man told a winding story about his father’s search for God, only to conclude with the revelation that his father had died the day before and the man hoped his father now had his answer.

Understandably, deciding whether to share thoughts or a message can be difficult. If everyone is too circumspect, then the Meeting goes quiet and loses the wonderful perspectives and sharing of vocal ministry. But if too many jump up and share thoughts that haven’t properly seasoned, then Meeting can lose the vital foundation of silent contemplation. The Quaker Lanny Jay says: “There is no question of one’s worthiness to speak, or of the importance of the message. Rather, the matter at hand is the source of the message. Is it coming from the Friend who would speak, or through him or her? Is it for the Meeting as then and there gathered, or is the message not yet ripe, or meant to be kept to oneself, or better shared after Meeting with a more select audience?”

In the magazine Quaker Life, Stan Thornburg suggests Friends consider the following questions before rising to speak: Is the message from the Holy Spirit and not just from you? Is it intended for anyone besides you? Is it intended for anyone beyond the last speaker? Is it intended to be shared in this Meeting right now? Will others likely mistake the message for a political statement, lecture or personal announcement? Is the message truly one God is asking you to share? And, finally, must you speak?

We all have wisdom and questions and soul to share with the Meeting. The wonder and mystery of vocal ministry lies in its variety and heartfulness. May we all continue to speak out of the silence, and to one another.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

What Keeps Us from Committing to the Quaker Way of Life?

When Reno Friends gathered for a spirituality workshop last month, one of the most revealing questions to the group was “What keeps you from committing your life more deeply to Friends’ practices and the Quaker Way of life?”

Quaker spirituality is rooted in each person’s experience of God. So it’s not surprising that members and attenders of Reno Friends might have varied roadblocks to turning their lives over to God more fully. The Quaker testimonies, a set of convictions shared by Quakers, can set a high standard for spiritual and action-led commitment. The Integrity Testimony alone calls on Quakers to always tell the truth, to speak simply in the world so our truth can be understood, and to strive for authenticity in following one’s conscience.  As one Reno Friend put it, “living up to the scruples of Quakerism can be hard.”

Some Reno Friends said they struggle to set aside the comforts and excitement of the secular world to clear space for silence and contemplation. “It is difficult to keep a continuous connection to the spiritual alive when we are distracted by our cellphones and computers,” said one.

Others said the problems of life, “what needs changing in the greater world,” are a more serious distraction for them. Spirit-led action is all well and good, but too much busyness can prevent people from focusing inwardly and experiencing the transformation within.

Some people said they fear that a spiritual transformation might make them unbearable in society, or distance them from friends or family who might not understand, or are of different religions or persuasions. “If we took the inner insights to the ultimate end,” said one Reno Friend, “it could disrupt our whole way of life on a day-to-day basis.”

In the same vein, others said they are hesitant to take the leaps of faith common among early Quakers, who sometimes gave up professions or family or even their freedom to follow their leadings. Modern-day Quakers often don’t feel they have the strong Quaker community surrounding them that the early Quakers enjoyed.  “It’s hard for us to stay connected to Spirit without the shared experience of communal life in our faith community,” one Reno Friend said.

Others agree that risking the consequences of spirit-led action without support of a group felt daunting. One Reno Friend spoke of struggling with a leading that he feared would threaten his work and jeopardize his ability to support his family.  “I couldn’t risk that,” he said.

Indeed, Quakerism does raise thorny societal issues and asks each of us to examine our inner conscience and outward action. But the community of Quakers also accepts that each person is on their own spiritual path and timeline. It is up to each one of us to determine how we will deepen our individual spirituality and express that in the larger world.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

What Draws You to Quakerism?

The first time people attend a Quaker Meeting, they often find Silent Worship mystifying. It looks like nothing is happening, and that there’s no apparent reason why everyone has gathered. There’s no minister guiding the worship, no liturgy lending structure, no music filling the soul. There are just Friends, each head down in her or his own private silence.

Without the obvious expressions of faith common to most worship services, such as hymns, Bible readings or sermons, it can be challenging for Quakers to explain why they choose to gather for Silent Worship. In some ways, the Society of Friends took the Protestant Reformation to its ultimate expression:  they stripped away everything that served as a mediator between individuals and God so that each person could experience the divine directly, internally, in her or his own way.

As the Quaker Clarence E. Pickett wrote: “We who are members of the Society of Friends have little to fall back on except as our experience with truth. We cannot resort to ritual or creed or to ecclesiastical decisions for guidance. We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of everyday life.”

This month, when Reno Friends gathered for a day-long spirituality workshop, one of the first questions the group explored was “What is Compelling about Quakerism – What Draws You In?” The answers ranged widely but helped articulate what Quakers care about.

Many said they are attracted by the communal quality of Silent Worship; there is something powerful about sitting together in what Quakers call “expectant silence.” For many of us, the hour of silence Sunday morning calms the mind and focuses our attention on that “small, still voice inside,” whether we think of that as our conscience, our moral core, God’s voice or something else. The silence helps us take time to listen to that of God inside ourselves.

Some said they feel inspired by early Quakers’ willingness to seek this vital inner experience despite the threat of persecution and imprisonment in their day. Others said they are drawn by the absence of a specific creed or statement of belief, saying it makes room for the findings of modern science and keeps the individual experience of God at the heart of the faith. Others talked of the power of “turning the spiritual searchlight inward” and agreed that is stronger when done in community.

At the same time, Reno Friends said they are drawn to Quakerism just as much by the outward expression of Quaker principles as they are by the inner quest. From their earliest days in the 1600s, Quakers carried their beliefs into the world, supporting those who were hungry, homeless, needy or imprisoned. Many in our workshop said they like how the foundations of Quakerism – so full of kindness, compassion and love – lead directly to embracing social justice. Others said they are attracted by Quakers’ willingness to stand up to the established social order and speak Truth to power and empire.  Some said they are inspired by the Quakers’ courage in following their principles, such as pacifism, despite painful worldly consequences. And for most Quakers, the idea of seeking that of God in everyone is a central tenet.

We invite you to experience “expectant silence” for yourself. Silent Worship may sometimes look like a blank slate, but inside there are many things going on.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Radical Quakerism: From Roots to Shoots to Fruits

On May 2, Reno Friends will gather for a day-long workshop on Radical Quakerism led by Kathy and Bob Runyan from Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, California. The Quaker Center’s  mission is “to nurture the spiritual growth and faithfulness of Friends and others while strengthening Quakerism and its witness in the world.” Bob and Kathy have developed this workshop for Friends Meetings around California and Nevada.

What is Radical Quakerism, and what does it have to do with roots, shoots and fruits?  According to the Runyans, early Friends preached and lived a message based on a direct relationship with God, experienced inwardly; that was Radical Quakerism. This message transformed the early Quakers’  personal lives,  and it attracted more than one of every one hundred English people into the Society of Friends by 1680, despite the risk to Quakers of persecution and death.

The May workshop will give Reno Friends an opportunity to explore their Quakers roots, particularly the concept of the Light Within and the role of expectant communal worship, which allows Quakers to recognize and pay attention to the Light Within.  In the Runyans’ words, “a pure, quiet, profound place can be found at the center of our being, if we wait in humility and turn our attention within, below our thoughts, emotions, fears, desires and expectations.”

When we yield to the Light Within, we are transformed and brought into unity with one another, the Runyans say.  But it isn’t easy. This part of the workshop –  the shoots –focuses on yielding to the Light, allowing the Light to transform us, and the mutual accountability and support that the Meeting provides us in discerning and being faithful to the Light Within. Discernment in understanding God’s will is done best in the context of the larger Meeting, where questions can be raised and support offered.

Transformation sends up shoots, but to nurture those and produce fruits – spirit-led action – Friends must come together in unity. The Runyans say that the Light Within will gradually bring those in a Meeting into unity with one another. That can transform our relationships if we stay connected to its source.  “From this Unity, we can act with the guidance of the Light Within as a corporate body to support one another’s leadings to bring about change in personal lives, the Meeting community, and beyond,” they say.

Bob, Kathy and their three sons attended Reno Meeting from 1995 to 2000 and the couple has served as co-directors at Quaker Center since 2011. Kathy says they are looking forward to seeing their old Meeting House and spending time with Reno Friends. The workshop is open to attenders and Members of Reno Friends. It runs from 10 am to 4 pm on May 2 at the Meeting House.

If you are interested in participating, please email the clerk at wswallow54(at)gmail.com. And remember to bring something for our potluck lunch!

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Seekers and Seeking

Quaker Meetings often attract seekers, those who yearn for the mystery and comfort of a spiritual life but who haven’t yet found their spiritual home.  There is something about the open silence of unprogammed Silent Worship that seekers find welcoming, even liberating.  There is no sermon, no lectionary, no spiritual music, so each person can experience the silence in whatever way helps her or him feel and understand the mystery of God.

Many of the Reno Friends are seekers, and a good number of us come from other spiritual traditions—Baptist, Congregational, Catholic, Jewish.  One attender is a devoted seeker who has spent years studying Buddhism; another is married to a Muslim and has raised her children as Muslims, an experience that has deeply influenced her understanding and appreciation of God. Those of us with other religious backgrounds and wisdom often share these experiences in worship or discussion classes, to the enrichment of all.

It was this tolerance of seekers that first attracted me to Quaker Meeting.  I loved how the Quakers had Queries, or questions, instead of dogma or declarations.  I loved how often the messages shared in the Silence were wrapped around the mysteries of life and faith.  I have always felt free at Meeting to share my own doubts and spiritual insecurities.  When others in the Meeting respond, it is with compassion, interest and stories from their own spiritual meandering search.

One of the most profound stories I ever heard was told out of the Silence at a Quaker Meeting in Washington, D.C.  It was an unusually large Meeting, with nearly a hundred people in the room.  A man in his fifties rose and haltingly told the tale of his father’s tortured spiritual wandering.  How he started out as Jewish, converted to Catholicism, later boomeranged to atheism, and then retreated into a mix of Buddhism and New Age Spirituality.  Near the end of his life, he had joined his son—the speaker—at Quaker Meeting.  Finally the son took a deep breath and said:  “My father died this past week.  I hope now he has his answer.”

Many have found their spiritual answers, but for those who haven’t, the patient “waiting on God” of Silent Worship can provide some of the solace we seek.

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Simplicity at Christmas

Many who visit Friends Meetings wonder if Quakers celebrate Christmas. It’s a good question: because we worship in silence, without a traditional worship program, there’s no structured role for the Christmas story or hymns and carols.

In the old days, early Quakers refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter because they felt such rituals distracted from true religious experience. They considered every day a holy day and, to emphasize substance rather than form, gathered to worship simply in silence. To this day Friends in unprogrammed Meetings such as Reno Friends worship without outward sacraments.

But that is not to say that Quakers don’t gather in the dark midwinter to share fellowship and music. Today, Quaker groups generally do not testify against their members observing Christmas, and many Friends Meetings have some holiday traditions.

Friends often try to reflect the Quaker simplicity testimony in their observances, marking the season with special concern for the poor and needy rather than decorating their Meeting Houses with Christmas greens. When my children were little, their First Day School spent weeks collecting donations of toiletries and gifts, then packed them in shoe boxes wrapped in bright paper and delivered the boxes to shelters for the homeless.  Many Friends serve in soup kitchens, and some Meetings collect non-violent toys to give to charities, seeing the season as an opportunity to witness to the Peace Testimony.  This year, Reno Friends will hold a Winter Sock Drive for those in need.

So, in the spirit of holiday fellowship, Reno Friends invite you to join us on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at our Meeting House for a special Silent Worship, followed by carols and cookies. And if you have some gently-used woolen socks you no longer need, bring them and toss them in our Sock Box. We hope to see you there!

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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