Category Archives: Quaker Testimonies

What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

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Love thy Neighbor: No Exceptions

…And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us… William Penn, 1693

Back in May, when the Black Lives Matter protests were beginning after George Floyd’s death, Reno Friends had an opportunity to love our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, we were meeting for worship outside in our garden, so we could be together but also keep our distance. We had sent a letter to our neighbors asking if they could bring in their dogs during our hour of Silent Worship.

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Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

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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.

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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?

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Integrity to Oneself

A central tenet of Quakerism is the Integrity Testimony, which encourages Quakers to tell the truth, say what they really mean, and stand up for what they believe, even in the face of condemnation or conflict. Frankly, the Integrity Testimony can sometimes feel like a stern taskmaster. Truth can be slippery, or not even clear at the moment we need it to be. Having the courage to speak one’s truth can feel like a nearly impossible requirement. Sometimes circumstances are clouded by love or concern for others or embarrassment or weakness. How do we proceed and carry ourselves forthrightly in this complex world?

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Mindful Giving

Sometimes I wonder what Christmas would be like if we got rid of presents.

We would have more time to sing carols and deck the halls with boughs of holly.  Instead of spending Christmas Eve madly wrapping, we could gather around a wassail bowl with close friends and family to swap memories and aspirations.  We would have time to step out under a starlight sky and imagine angels appearing to the shepherds as they tended their flocks at night.  We could edge closer to the stillness that abides in the dark cold of midwinter, and take time to appreciate the warmth of the candlelight when we come inside.

I know the consumerism associated with Christmas today troubles many Quakers.  Early Friends refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter, saying such rituals distracted from true religious experience, and many Quaker Meetings still do not hold special holiday services.  Yet most of us – despite our misgivings – put presents under the Christmas tree as part of our holiday.  Could there be a better way?  How can we shake off the glitz and frenzy of the season to find ways of giving that uphold our Quaker testimonies of simplicity and integrity?

Quaker Earthcare Witness, a Quaker organization that addresses ecological and social crises from a spiritual perspective, suggests we practice “mindful giving” during the holiday season.  Look for gifts that have little impact on the environment, such as refurbishing furniture or passing on beloved books.  Or, instead of giving things, give a promise of an experience, such as a pledge to take someone dancing or make them a special meal.  Write someone a poem, or play the piano for them.  You can also gift people with a donation to their favorite charity, or membership in an advocacy group that promotes a cause they believe in.  Or give someone an imaginative “coupon book” that might include a free garage-cleanup, lending your car or joining them on a hike.

Last Christmas my ninety-year-old mother gave everyone the most wonderful gifts.  She didn’t know she was practicing “mindful giving,” but she was.  Instead of buying presents for her many grandchildren, she went through her collection of framed artwork, books, kitchen treasures and knickknacks, and found something special for all of them.  Geoffrey, an animal-lover, got the owl bookends carved from green marble; Craig, an electrical engineer, got his great-grandfather’s antique adding machine; college-girl Mary got an oriental jewelry box; and Joe, our pie-maker, got his grandfather’s beloved apron.  Every one of them was touched to have something chosen just for them from their grandparents’ house, and my mother was thrilled to pass useful things on to the next generation.

When the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, they meant them as symbols of honor and respect.  Sometimes I feel we’ve lost the sense of reverence at the heart of gift-giving.  Rather than rejecting gift-giving, perhaps we can embrace it as a chance to show those we love that we know who they are.  Any gift carefully chosen—no matter how small or silly or homemade—can carry the message of love in this sacred season.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Working for Peace, Peacefully

An attender at Reno Friends Meeting asked me a thought-provoking question the other day. “How do you work for peace, peacefully?” I understood what she meant. With so much anxiety in our political culture today it’s easy to get swept up by the frenzy of showing up for protests, writing letters to Congress, and circulating online petitions. This work feels important because it is, yet it can leave us feeling worried and angry. So how do we rally our strength and composure to work for peace with peace in our hearts?        

The Quaker columnist Parker Palmer recently wrote an article titled “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” In the piece, he admits to feeling deep wells of anger over current affairs, and asks whether anger should have a role in our response. As Quakers, he says, we are led to live by the values articulated in our testimonies: community, equality, simplicity, non-violence and peace. So do our testimonies mean we should ignore or deny the understandable anger we feel in our hearts? Should we forgive and tolerate everything?

As a wise psychologist once told me, anger is a sign that something is amiss, something that needs care and attention. Ignoring or repressing anger rarely helps, and it runs contrary to the Integrity testimony, which reminds us to be true in our words, including to ourselves. And yet, anger expressed can also corrode our best intentions, and anger directed at others rarely accomplishes anything good.

One answer to this dilemma is our Peace Testimony, which describes peace as 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.” This, I think, is the key to managing our anger in the face of injustice: to work for peace with peace in our hearts, we must connect to that of God and the hope for peace in the hearts of others.

The British Yearly Meeting has a helpful query: “Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

As author and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote, “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show 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