Quaker Testimonies in the Time of Coronavirus

The Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, often speak of their “testimonies.”  The testimonies are the shared truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years. There is no single, exclusive list of testimonies, but there are common, deeply held values that the Quakers refer to for guidance. Given that our world has been turned upside-down recently by the Covid-19 virus, I thought it would be useful to consult the testimonies for guidance in how to manage our lives, both individually and collectively, during this trying time.

Many Quaker schools use the acronym SPICES to remember the basic Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. For the purpose of this blog, I will talk about three of the six testimonies and how they can light the way through our current darkness.

Community: Quakers often refer to those who gather together to worship in silence as “the beloved community.” Indeed, there is something intimate about the silence, and the deep currents of spirit that arise from it, that brings people together. We know each other; we care about and for each other. And yet, right now, we cannot gather. Instead of sitting in silence in our Meeting House, we try to sit in silence in our individual homes. But it isn’t the same. As we wait for life to return to normal, Reno Meeting is trying to keep our people “gathered” in whatever way possible. We are holding online spiritual discussions and lunches, sharing worship after-thoughts and inspirations via a weekly spiritual update, and holding each other (and our families) in the Light as we cope with illness, job loss, sadness and anxiety. All of this is more powerful when done together. As Quaker writer Parker Palmer has written: “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.” It’s a time to keep our hearts open, flexible, and able to adapt as things change. It’s a time to employ the best practices of community: kindness, attention, mutual support and tolerance. If we reach out to each other with love and assistance, our community will stay strong, even if we cannot be gathered together in our Meeting House.

Integrity: The heart of the Quaker testimony of Integrity is about keeping our lives centered in the Spirit, where actions are rooted in our convictions and our words are dependable. Integrity calls on us to be responsible in what we do and careful with what we say. During these difficult times, when there is a host of untrue material circulating online and in the media, Integrity can be a beacon for Quakers. Integrity means that you resist divisive language; that you check that a news item is accurate before reposting it on Facebook. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guide Faith & Practice says: “Commitment to truth requires authenticity and veracity in following one’s conscience, illuminated by the Inner Light.” Integrity of words and deeds is the habit that allows us to discern a leading, such as one that might help our community or support those in need. Sitting in Silence, listening to the guidance of Spirit, can carry us a long way in these trying days.

Equality:  The spread of the coronavirus has exposed the fault lines in our society. Those without adequate health care are more likely to get sick and have a rough time coping with the illness. Those who are poor and who live together in crowded apartments may be unable to social distance or work from home, and thereby end up at greater risk. And many of those who have lost jobs are those whose financial circumstances are chronically fragile. The Equality testimony of Quakers says that everyone is worthy of love, care and support. This is a time to seek out those that might need special help, including the hungry, the homeless, those who are lonely. For those who can afford to help, it’s a time to continue paying for services we depend on, even if we cannot get them right now. It’s a time to donate time, money, energy and heart. Equality does not just mean accepting that we are all children of God; it means looking around to see who is struggling and who needs our help. As Susan B. Anthony, the 19th-century Quaker suffragette, said: “I pray every second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work… Work and worship are one with me.” May our work to bring fairness, equality and kindness to society be worship for us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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