Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Why Reno Friends Go Camping

Every fall the Reno Friends head to Grover Hot Springs State Park near Markleeville, California, for a weekend camping trip. We hike, swim in the hot springs pool, huddle in tents when it rains, and cook epic meals over bonfires. Most important, we talk — sometimes casually, sometimes with intensity. For a group that worships in silence, our time together around the campfire feels precious and important.

Last year, the forest fires that sent smoke across the Sierras required we cancel our camping trip, but we managed to muster a good-sized group for a day hike in the alpine meadows near Mt. Rose. Reno Friends try to get together for at least one outing or social activity every couple of months. We have shared lunch at a fun restaurant, cheered the Reno Aces at the ball park downtown, and hiked up Peavine to check out the spring wildflowers. What I love best about these outings is talking with other Friends, discovering details about them I hadn’t known. Each time I find myself deepening the connection to someone in the group.

Early Friends, often ostracized and sometimes persecuted for their simple living and radical spiritual and political beliefs, referred to their meetings as the Beloved Community. And no wonder—they must have needed each other’s support every day.

I think of that sometimes as I look around our Meeting gathered for the monthly potluck or an adult First-Day School discussion or teaming up to pull weeds and trim bushes during the spring or fall cleanup. I’m glad others bring beliefs and opinions that challenge me to think more deeply and test my own understanding and social norms. To see that of God in everyone, as Quakers strive to do, it helps to have these opportunities to know one another better.

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.

 

The Maple Leaf

Recently a Reno Friend offered the Meeting a large photograph of a maple leaf. It was a vivid image, the veins of the leaf quite pronounced, branching and spreading in all directions. The Friend told us she became attached to the image after another Reno Friend suggested the leaf illustrated that there are many paths to God. Her hope was that we would hang the painting in the Meeting House.

Other groups might say yea or nay quickly, without much deliberation. Not the Quakers.  Meeting House decoration can be a loaded question. Early Quakers were notoriously “plain-living,” eschewing fancy dress and sumptuous furnishings. They also rejected the ornate Anglican and Catholic church buildings of their day, and many Quakers still prefer to keep their Meeting Houses simple. Yet we have found that sometimes this “blank slate” interior, combined with the silence of our worship, can leave visitors wondering what we are about.

At Reno Friends we have occasionally used our Meeting House walls to showcase local artists  or to hang posters with Quaker messages. But none of these are permanent fixtures. Indeed, we have a policy prohibiting permanent art on the Meeting House walls: we would not want to promote any particular path toward God.

In the Quaker tradition there is even a testimony against proselytizing; we believe each person must determine the truth for themselves. As Quaker Clarence E. Pickett said: “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 ecclesiastical decisions for guidance. We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of daily life.”

After some discussion, our Meeting decided to accept the picture of the maple leaf for temporary display. While it hangs on our wall, we’ll each have time to consider what the leaf means to us.  There are many paths to God, enough for each to have their own.

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.

Listening to the Spirit: Clearness Committees

When I went through a difficult time in my life many years ago, I drew great solace from a group of Quaker women. We met twice a month for fellowship and food, offering each other in turn the gift of compassionate listening. I was moved by their patience with me and by their restraint. Instead of showering me with advice, they just listened, trusting that all I needed was a chance to lay out the problem and see it afresh.

Quakers believe that each one of us contributes to the spiritual strength of the loving community and that the community can serve as a guiding and sustaining force in the life of each individual.

Sometimes a person in the Friends Meeting will seek help making a tough decision or addressing a personal problem — whether it’s about work or family, marriage or divorce, taking a stand on a public issue, serving as a witness, or following a leading. When that happens, the Meeting convenes what we call a clearness committee to meet with the person and offer caring support. The members of the committee do not serve as a professional counselor giving advice or as a colleague hashing through the problem. Instead, they listen with patience — not only to the person in need but also to the movement of the Spirit in their hearts. Their purpose is not to criticize or offer collective wisdom but instead to listen without prejudice or judgment, to help clarify alternatives, and to provide spiritual and emotional support. The goal is clearness for the seeker.

At Reno Friends we have convened several clearness committees in the past few years, and I’m sure we will convene more. Friends say that asking for help in reaching clearness requires personal discernment and trust in the Spirit. Those who serve on clearness committees often find that responding to such a request creates the opportunity to invite spiritual guidance into our everyday lives.

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.

Exploring the Quaker Testimonies

For the past several months, Reno Friends have been meeting twice a month to explore what the Quakers call “testimonies” – shared truths that Quakers have learned through their own experience.

The most common Quaker testimonies spell out the acronym SPICE – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. Some Meetings include other testimonies such as Unity, Stewardship, Civic and Social Responsibility, or Harmony with Creation.

We use the term testimonies because each person’s experience and life illuminate different aspects of these truths. The testimonies draw from 350 years of Quaker experience and yet they are dynamic too. Many Quakers, from 17th-century founders to modern Friends, have written personal testimonies based on these truths. These testimonies are in turn studied by their contemporaries and successors. Some of our monthly Queries pose questions for our lives today based on the testimonies.

In our discussions of the testimonies we’ve found a range of understanding and experience in our small circle – and a host of questions. How can we live a more meaningful life? Does it take courage or just clear thinking to speak with integrity? How does our need for control and security complicate our lives? How can we treat others equally in a world full of personal differences and civil inequities? How might we confront the violence endemic in our society?

We’ve invited each other to consider writing our own personal testimonies. I penned a testimony on simplicity that I’ll share here: “Simplicity for me is swimming back – through the murky, weed-choked complexity of modern life – to the root of my soul, where love, kindness and wakefulness live. Love, because it permits forgiveness; kindness, because compassion focuses my heart on the other; and wakefulness, because I need to see clearly to know what to do.”

Our testimony discussions continue for several more months. Check our Calendar for dates and times. All are welcome to join.

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.