The Joy of the Quaker Way

October 24, 2014 § 7 Comments

Modern Quakerism has a lot of problems and I have tended to dwell on them in this blog—too much. Nor are the problems all with Quakerism. I myself am a problem. I have a prophetic, if not an apocalyptic, religious temperament—I always want to change things and I usually think I know what needs to change, and oftentimes I think I know how they should change. Sometimes, I even think I know how to change them.

The shadow side of this temperament is a tendency to go negative, even to stay negative; to get crusty, even nasty, when things don’t change; and to get arrogant and self-righteous. I can tend away from my joy in my religious life, forgetting how much Quakerism has given me in my grousing about its shortcomings.

I want to change my path. I want to recall this joy that I feel in the Quaker way. And I want to share it. And there’s a lot of it. I rejoice in so many aspects of the Quaker way! So many that I thought it would be hard to know where to start. But no. Two things jump to the front right away, though there are many others. One is collective and one is individual. First, the exquisite joy of the gathered meeting; and second, the joy of Quaker ministry. This latter is where I want to start.

Quaker ministry

Only the shared thrill of G*d’s presence in our midst in the gathered meeting for worship compares with the more sustained personal fulfillment of dedicating what gifts I have to the work G*d has for me to do. Let me catalog them before I unpack them:

The unfolding of calling. The way my ministries have unfolded has been to me a miracle of divine love in revelation: openings have grown into leadings, leadings have expanded into ministries, ministries constellate as an integrated sense of calling. And all of this has compounded to create in me a profound gratitude, strong confidence in my faith, and the deepest joy of spirit, a joy that is always there if I but pay attention to it.

Individual openings. And all along the way, little flowers have bloomed in moments of soaring, flaring opening into some little truth that lift my spirit into heavenly heights. I cannot say how great this feels, “more than words can utter”, as George Fox put. I completely understand, George.

Study. And these blossoms open because my ministries keep plunging me back into the spiritual discipline that has always been one of my greatest joys—study. I love to study. I love to read about religion, to take notes, to organize the material for works of written ministry and for workshops and presentations. And because we have no paid professionals to learn and teach our tradition (at least in the non-pastoral tradition), I feel a special responsibility to know the tradition myself.

Teaching. And I get special satisfaction from sharing what I know. I love to teach, and no other religious community would give me such an open and blessed channel for whatever gifts of teaching I possess. This is perhaps the greatest source of my joy in the Quaker way, that I can be a minister here according to my true calling, and not according to the dictates of the denomination or the categories of the seminary. I have wanted to be a minister on and off since I was 12, but I could never have become one in the Lutheran tradition of my youth, or in practically any other. Only here, among the priesthood of all believers.

I want to spend the next few posts expanding on this theme of joy in the Quaker way, unpacking these and subsequent sources of this wonderful gift of thrill and fulfillment in my life.

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§ 7 Responses to The Joy of the Quaker Way

  • Agreed. Enjoyed reading it.

  • Rachel says:

    Gifts of Grace. Blessings, & gratitude.

  • mkissil4 says:

    Yes, I agree with John. This is a delight to read, and speaks to my condition. I’ve experienced times of grumbling related to my own meeting, or the larger bodies it connects to, but lately have been trying to just receive the moments of grace as they appear, for as you say, they do appear, at times with beauty that leaves me breathless.

  • Free Polazzo says:

    Welcome back. What do you mean by “priesthood of all believers”.

    Do you see “priest” as a word that suggests only males? It does to me, since my stepfather was a Catholic and we only thought of males and still do.

    What are “all” actually “believing” ?

    Sorry to be so picky, but since you use stuff I don’t understand, from a Quaker perspective, I need to ask. Such is the joy of teaching, eh? Lots of questions.

    • The “priesthood of all believers” is a central tenet of the Protestant Reformation, the idea that all the faithful are priests and so we don’t need ordained priests, as the Roman church has. It seems to come from a passage in the First Letter of peter.

      Early Friends did not just embrace the idea, they embodied it more than any of the other Protestant faiths, for the other faiths still had hired religious professional who were the only legitimate preachers and officiators with the sacraments.

      Friends often have expressed this so: that we did not lay down the priesthood, rather we laid down the laity, so that each of us was potentially called to preach through vocal ministry in meeting for worship, and to minister to each other in love in our pastoral care.

      It’s true that “priest” implies male. But again, Friends led the way in recognizing that God could and did call women into service as ministers, not just men.

      In some ways, the phrase “priesthood of all believers” is anachronistic among us liberal Quakers, or at least a bit problematic, for the reasons you mention. We don’t have priests, and we emphasize direct experience of God, rather than belief in some religious ideology.

      I use it to point to the Quaker tradition that each of us is called to ministry, and because I feel empowered in my own ministry among Friends, where the promise of the Protestant revolution has been much more fully realized than anywhere else, at least in respect of the priesthood of all believers.

    • Sarah says:

      As someone who has much occasion to talk to and about priestesses, I can assure you that unlike the word “priest”, the word “priesthood” is normally gender-neutral.

  • What a delight to read!

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