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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.

So how to worship if we’re also trying to keep everyone safe? At the moment, Reno Friends are sitting in silence in our Meeting House garden, separated by six feet and our masks, hoping it doesn’t rain. In the fall, when it gets too cold to sit outside, we may take our worship online, using Zoom to gather in silence. We are learning that we have to keep reinventing what we do.

For Quakers, that’s not a stretch. We believe that the spiritual journey is one of continuing revelation, which springs from our personal experience of the divine Inward Light. One of my favorite Quaker expressions is “way will open,” which means that the proper course will reveal itself in time. But it also means we don’t necessarily know what comes next. It takes patient discernment of leadings and insights to find our path. We each listen to the “still small voice” inside us, then share what we’ve heard with the others for seasoning and, hopefully, eventual unity. We keep becoming, over and over.

The idea that revelation is ongoing, rather than set in stone by a creed or biblical text, is fundamental to the Quakers’ understanding of God. According to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting: “Continuing Revelation” means that… the Holy Spirit’s creative activity among us did not end with the first generation of Apostles at Pentecost. The Spirit continues to speak and reveal God’s insight and wisdom to us if we are willing to listen. While God is ‘unchanging,’ our understanding of God’s wisdom is not, and may increase or diminish overtime and over generations.”

This pandemic is nothing if not an exercise in continuing revelation. One week we are told to disinfect our groceries, the next week it turns out that may not matter. But, as Quakers, we know we must keep listening and reading and weighing alternatives to figure out how to live within our Light and do what God calls us to do. We also know that we must sometimes turn over knowing to the Spirit, and live patiently with the little we can know for now. 

At the moment, it feels helpful to consider this guidance from British Yearly Meeting: “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.” In short, there is continuing revelation all around us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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


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.

New Year’s Resolutions for the Spirit

I love the fresh opportunity the New Year brings, but this January I’m going to try something different when it comes to resolutions. Instead of worrying about my appearance (especially losing those last pesky pounds), I’m going to focus on resolutions for my spirit.

To be honest, my spirit could use a tune-up. Like most of us, I’m often overwhelmed trying to balance work, family and community, sometimes taking on more responsibilities than I have energy for and ending up disappointed in myself. As we age, we may need to re-evaluate this calculus, revisit our values around work and commitment, and find more time to sit quietly and listen for guidance from God. The question I’m asking this January is: how can I move forward in the New Year with a more solid foundation for my spirit so that I can bring my best self to the world?

Here’s a list of ten spiritual resolutions I am considering. Perhaps some will resonate for you:

1.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reconsider my choices around work and commitments.  Which things are most important? Am I being realistic in the projects I take on? Can I still contribute while doing a bit less and giving myself more time to regroup and refresh?

2.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reassess my energy and my gifts. Am I honoring my strengths by taking on commitments that line up with what I can do competently and happily? Can I give in these ways without depleting myself?

3.  I will spend time with people who lift me up. I will intentionally seek them out and connect with them.

4.  If a new commitment arises, I will give myself permission to sit with it and ask for spiritual guidance before jumping in. I will respond to my spirit and heart, rather than to the chorus of “shoulds” in my head.

5.  I will give myself time for a hobby or activity that makes me happy and relaxed. The goal is to do something I’m interested in, and to do it without judgement.

6.  I will take time to sit in silence and listen to God, especially when things turn difficult.  If a bad day is unfolding, I will retreat for a half hour to calm my heart and listen to what arises. I will practice lifting problems into the Light so I can understand them better.

7.  I will make things simpler. When given a choice, I’ll try the doable way and learn to accept help gracefully. I will save my energy for the most important things.

8.  I will take an occasional retreat day: Every now and then (maybe once a week), I will give myself a day off without deadlines or engagements, to read, relax and do easy chores. This will give me time to reconnect with my happy self.

9.  I will take time to consider my faith journey and deepen my connection with Spirit through readings or retreats or gatherings that expand my faith experience.

10.  I will take advantage of the Silence to ask myself: what would I do if I were not afraid?  I will think of new ways to deal with recurrent problems, and try to imagine a life lived fearlessly.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Peace in these Times

To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?

This may be one of the single most difficult challenges before us. As Quaker minister J. Brent Bill has said, “I forget to wear the grace of God when I am mad… or on the spiritual war-path.” We all struggle to remember to wear the grace of God, especially in such tumultuous times. But does that mean we should acquiesce, stay silent or – heaven forbid – just forgive and forget?

No. Because being a Quaker does not mean being passive. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Quaker founder George Fox: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Does Fox suggest we sit at home and just play nice with the people we already like? Hardly. He says we must get out into the world, live by our values, and find a way to answer that of God in everyone. This is an active command. It means putting ourselves into uncomfortable places, sometimes pushing where it is hard, sometimes finding another way. When society seems divided into warring camps, Fox is saying we need to leave the safety of our compatriots and venture into foreign terrain, because that is where the solutions live.

There are so many divisive issues these days, and most of them are complex, with thorny details that make it hard to decide on best solutions. Should we support peace-keeping in foreign lands or bring our troops home? Should we open our borders or put kids in cages? All of these questions require careful consideration, and sometimes it is tough – amid all the commentary and political noise – to determine what parts have the Light in them.

Fox said the Light is there in everyone, even those with whom we disagree. Few people are evil; most want the best for society, and long to live in a place where they feel supported, safe and appreciated. Many are spontaneously generous, and help others in times of disaster and need, without asking which camp they are from. If we can do that in the face of hurricanes or wildfires, we should be able to sit down together and try to find common ground.

Most negotiators and diplomats know that it helps to start by defining what both sides can agree on, and then working forward from there. The Quaker way would suggest we set aside our own opinions, and instead listen instead to the voice of God in each person. This can be challenging when someone is condemning someone else, or ranting about unfairness, but sometimes we need to listen beyond the words that present and search deeper for the Light inside us all.

Conflict-resolution strategies that can help when you are faced with someone angry or hateful include: staying calm; managing your own response (which means thinking before you react); setting limits so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or threatened; and responding to challenging questions with an open heart. It won’t always work, but sometimes just the effort can make a difference.

In Meeting last week, one of our attenders talked about the Peace testimony and how therapists know that what we resist, or stand against, often grows stronger. Instead, she suggested, we should consider how to create something different rather than just resisting, and to do that by discussing alternatives and searching for fresh solutions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we should resist; there are.  But with real listening and an effort to understand those who are different from us, we have a better chance at discerning which approach is most likely to create the best outcome for all involved.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Bad Quaker

Every now and then, someone in our Quaker Meeting says, “I’m just a bad Quaker.” If one of us gets caught complicating an issue in Business Meeting, or if someone doesn’t have time to make food for the feed-the-homeless dinner, they might drop their head in defeat and say something about being a bad Quaker.

I’ve also occasionally heard of people who left Quakerism because they felt they couldn’t live up to the Quaker testimonies. “It was just too hard,” they say. “Too much pressure.”

Why does this happen? My theory is that we are forgetting the purpose of the testimonies. The testimonies represent the collective Quaker wisdom about how to live a good and spirit-focused life. Each regional Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in the U.S. has a slightly different list of testimonies, but the standard group are what in Quaker education are called the SPICES:  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

Simplicity means to value spirit over material objects and to keep your life uncluttered by things and too much busyness.  Peace is the famous Quaker commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution and Quakers’ refusal to support wars. Integrity means to speak truthfully and follow through with your commitments.  Community means to support, aid and respect others in the communities you live in, including the Meeting. Equality means to accept everyone as precious in the eyes of God – all genders, races, economic levels, etc. Stewardship means to care for the earth, the Meeting, one’s town and nation, by giving both your effort and financial support to the degree that you can.

Wow. That is a lot to live up to! Each testimony is both personal and global in scale, so it’s understandable that a person could feel overwhelmed. Being a good Quaker can also sometimes feel like all the fun in life has been sucked away. Does it mean you can’t buy a new dress for a special event?  Does it mean you must tell your mother-in-law what you really think?  Does it mean you need to spend all your free time trying to correct injustice in the world?

But here is what we must remember: the testimonies are not rules handed down by the patriarchs. (“Unprogrammed” Quakers – those who worship only in silence – don’t have patriarchs or any clergy.) Instead, the testimonies are the collective wisdom and guidance of generations of Quakers sitting in silence and listening to God. And one of the most important principles of Quakerism is that each person listens to their own experience of God. Spiritual nirvana is not the goal: the goal is learning to let down your defenses and put away your ego when you sit in silence and listen to God. Being a good Quaker is not about earning gold stars, and the testimonies are not commandments. Their purpose, in part, is to clear away the debris of everyday business and help us see more clearly the way to live a spirit-centered life.  

In my youth I spent a few years in the orbit of a Jesus movement that had many slogans. After I left the group, I forgot most of those bite-sized bits of spiritual wisdom, but one stayed with me: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.”

This is the balm that can help us relax about being good or bad Quakers. Not being able to live up to the high calling of the Quaker testimonies just means you are struggling to follow the path, and all spiritual travelers will tell you they struggle to stay on the path. And, according to Quaker understanding, everyone is building the spiritual path that makes sense to them, that incorporates their experience of God. This is what makes spiritual journeys so interesting.

The testimonies serve best as guidance when they are combined with sitting in silence to hear what God has to say. Sometimes God and the testimonies will lay out a challenge; other times they will combine to light an easier way through difficulties. Quakers often say “the way will open.” This I too find reassuring: the path ahead doesn’t need to be a daunting obstacle course.

Please be patient with me: I’m listening for God to open the way.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

A Gift

Every other month Reno Friends (the Quaker Meeting I attend), serves dinner to the homeless and hungry living on the streets of Reno. We each prepare food and then help to serve it. I bring my homemade bread, which often brings smiles and sometimes the sharing of a memory about the last time they had homemade bread. Often this is a distant childhood memory from a home long gone.

As each person comes by, I offer them a slice and a smile. Sometimes I compliment them on something they are wearing that shows their personality and style. I’ve seen people from every demographic group come through the line. I realize homelessness can happen to anyone. Sharing homemade bread and a moment of kindness is something I enjoy giving to them. I wish there was more I could do to help. I write to lawmakers in support of low income housing projects and other ways our community is considering to address this growing issue. Somehow it never seems like enough.

Last night I was serving and a woman came up to me wearing a pretty strand of pearls. I complimented her on them. To my uncomfortable surprise, she began unwinding them from around her neck. I said, “Oh no, you don’t have to give them to me. They are yours.”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “I want you to have them. I’m grateful you come here to feed us.” With that she placed them around my neck and I knew it was very important to her that I accept her gift. Tears welled up in my eyes and I embraced her and she embraced me back. I thanked her for her gift to me. She accepted a piece of my bread and thanked me.

I was incredibly moved by this exchange between us and I still tear up when I remember it. She gave me something very precious to her, one of her few possessions. She gave it freely without a thought about letting it go. She needed to give it to me; she needed me to receive it. I needed her to give me a life lesson, about receiving graciously from someone I see as being in need of my giving. She helped me see that the idea of holding onto a possession was less important than the joy of sharing, of giving.

In the exchange that happened between us, we were part of the eternal dance of life in which giving and receiving is endlessly intertwined. The giver needs a receiver; the receiver needs a giver. We are all doing this dance every moment of every day. As I breathe out, the plants around me breathe in; as they breathe out, I breathe in. Many are the hands and life energies that sustain my existence on this planet. My task is to be a good steward of that which passes through my life and to keep passing it on, using only what I need. And when another has a need to give to me, to receive it graciously with an open heart.

I’m still soaking in the deeper meaning of this experience. I don’t have all the words and I’m sure it will continue to be revealed to me over time. To remind me, I’ve wrapped them around the lamp next to my computer where I will see them every day.

Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

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

Who We Welcome

One of the central tenets of the Quaker faith is the Equality Testimony. As stated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s manual Faith & Practice, the Equality Testimony starts with this simple statement:  “Friends testimony on equality is rooted in the holy expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect.”

Sometimes, however, someone wanders into our Meeting House who doesn’t understand our basic principles. We welcome newcomers, certainly, but we recognize that – with no liturgy or minister or worship program – the silence of a Friends’ Meeting can appear like a blank slate, open for anything. This can pose a risk to those gathered together to listen to God.

Recently, a new attender stood up after Silent Worship and, to everyone’s surprise, said disparaging things about gays and lesbians. This was more than unsettling to the Meeting, as it struck at one of our core beliefs. The Quakers have long been a “welcoming congregation,” a church that provides a safe and sacred space for the GLBT community to worship. At the same time, the Quakers consider themselves a tolerant crowd – tolerant of spiritual doubt, tolerant of different approaches to talking about God, tolerant of how individuals define their faith journeys.

 But tolerance should not be something Quakers hide behind. In response to this unpleasant “sharing,” the Meeting leaders met behind the scenes and came up with a plan. First, we sent one of our members to talk with the person and help him understand that such anti-gay speech was not okay in our Meeting. The person was encouraged to return as long as he could respect our principles. The attender listened respectfully, and then said he would not be returning to RFM.

Given the state of affairs, the Meeting agreed it was an important moment to clearly state who we welcome to worship with us. At our next Meeting for Business, the following minute was approved:

Minute: As is stated in the Equality Testimony in Faith & Practice: “Friends recognize that unjust inequities persist throughout society, and that difficult work remains to rid ourselves, and the Religious Society of Friends, from prejudice and inequitable treatment based upon gender, class, race, age, sexual orientation, physical attributes, or other categorizations.  Both in the public realm – where Friends may ‘speak truth to power’ – and in intimate familial contexts, Friends’ principles require witness against injustice and inequality wherever it exists.”

We (Reno Friends) understand that not everyone will fully agree with this testimony, and we hold all in the Light who struggle with these issues. But given that the Equality Testimony is central to the Quaker faith, we believe it is important that we keep our Meeting House a safe and sacred place for all who worship with us. We ask that those who attend worship respect our testimony in word and deed.

It is easy to turn away or try to ignore speech that carries a hateful message, but our Quaker Integrity Testimony asks us to speak up and confront such talk. As Quakers, we stand for fairness, inclusiveness and equality, and that cannot get blurred.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

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.)