Reno Friends recently gathered on Zoom for a spiritual discussion about the Quaker “testimonies,” shared truths that Quakers have distilled from their spiritual experience down through the last 350 years. The most common Quaker testimonies spell out the acronym SPICES – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality/Equity and Stewardship. We use the term “testimonies” because each person’s experience illuminates different aspects of these shared truths.
For the past several months, Reno Friends have been holding a Quakerism 101 class, to learn more about Quaker faith and practice. Some of the first questions to surface were about the Quakers testimonies: What are the testimonies, who wrote them, and why do they matter?
These are, without a doubt, difficult times in America. It is painful to witness the erosion of civil rights, the stark divisions between people and parties, the growing threats to the disadvantaged, not to mention the threats to our democracy. Instead of a War Against Poverty, we now seem to have a war against the poor. What happened to the progress we were making in expanding civil rights and becoming more tolerant? It saddens me, and it angers me.
The war in Ukraine is troubling for all, but for Quakers it presents a particular dilemma: how do we respond to a war against a sovereign nation in light of our Peace Testimony?
The Peace Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends is one of the important pillars that defines Quakerism. The Quakers, along with the Mennonites and Amish, are “Peace Churches,” religious organizations that believe peace and non-violence are the best (possibly only) way to resolve conflict. Many Quakers, historically, have resisted all forms of war and non-violence, including refusing to participate in military service and, in some cases, refusing to pay the taxes that support the military. In some cases, Quakers have been jailed for these positions; in others, Quakers have won the right to be conscientious objectors to military service and be assigned community service as an alternative.
(from the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice)
“We utterly deny all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.… The spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for kingdoms of this world.” – George Fox, declaration to Charles II, 1660, Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.
“A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” – William Penn, 1693; Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.
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!
…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.
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.
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.
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?