Quaker Testimonies

Testimony Pie

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.

Many of us at Reno Meeting feel as if we already know what the testimonies mean, but in this spiritual discussion, our leaders posed a surprising question:  if you had a Testimony Pie, what size slice would you assign to the different testimonies? Basically, which testimonies are most important to you? They had us each take out paper and pencil and carve up our pie.

Trying to be a dutiful participant, I drew my pie – and then sat with my pencil in the air pondering this question. I’ve always liked talking about the Simplicity testimony because it allows me to imagine stripping what is unnecessary or difficult from my life. But when I really thought about the Simplicity Testimony, I realized it wasn’t as important to me as the Integrity Testimony (the effort to live by what you truly believe even if it is uncomfortable), or the Peace Testimony or the Equality Testimony. I looked around; everyone else was busily scribbling away, dividing up their Testimony Pie. But for some reason, I couldn’t carve up my pie. It sat there intact, waiting for me to make a decision.

Before long, our leaders called on us to share our pies. Embarrassed by my failure, I decided to go last. But I soon realized, with relief, that I wasn’t the only person who had trouble deciding which testimony was most important. One Friend said he couldn’t do the pie so he tried percentages – but then was aghast to see that, in order to honor them all, none could be more important than about 20 percent. And they all felt more important than that, he said.

Another Friend said she liked pie, so she created two – it was only with a more generous serving of Testimony pie that she could come close to balancing what they meant to her. Someone else drew a pie that looked like a tambourine, with smaller circles attached to the edge of the larger circle to accommodate her assessment of the value of the different testimonies. Others drew intersecting Venn Diagram pies, suggesting that the testimonies themselves seemed to require more imaginative graphics than a standard pie.

When it was my turn to talk, I admitted I couldn’t even cut into the pie, but that seeing others struggle made me realize why I was defeated by this exercise:  I couldn’t pick a favorite. “They are like my children – don’t make me say which I love best,” I said. What I could suddenly see was that the testimonies, for me, are all interwoven, and together create this marvelous web of related values. I couldn’t possibly separate Equality from my Integrity, or Stewardship from the importance of Community, and on and on.

Another Friend picked up this theme, saying that she also saw the testimonies as a beautiful tapestry that works together, and it is this web that supports us all, individually and collectively.

At the end of the discussion, I reflected on my still-intact testimony pie. There was no dividing it, or disentangling one testimony from another. These shared principles challenge us to be true to our spiritual leadings, and they also hold us in a protective and clarifying embrace. There have been many times in my life when I didn’t know how to respond to a situation or resolve a problem, but that I found my path by taking guidance from the testimonies.  

The truth is, there is enough testimony pie for all of us – whether you imagine it as slices of a tasty dessert, a colorful intersecting diagram or weave, or even as a tambourine.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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