A recent news story about the U.S. Presidential Oath of Office got me thinking about Quaker presidents. The story focused on the words “so help me God” that many presidents add to the official oath, and whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would follow suit. But I was intrigued by another, more basic question: because Quakers do not believe in oaths or swearing, would a Quaker president be required to take the oath at all?
June is wedding season, and each year I like to think back to the lovely weddings I’ve witnessed over the years. One of the most moving was a Quaker wedding. One of my dear friends – the woman who introduced me to Quakerism – was married in the backyard of her family home in Colorado “in the manner of Friends,” as the Quakers say. Except for the fact that her marriage took place outdoors, rather than in a Quaker Meeting House, it was a true Quaker wedding.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.