Joys of the Quaker Way—Quaker process
December 20, 2014 § 3 Comments
In the last post, I talked about how much joy I get from theology, from the study and the sharing of both the faith and the practice of the Quaker way, and from seeking to understand the dynamics of Quaker community. But I also get real joy from taking part in the dynamics of Quaker community, and especially in its discernment processes.
When we are faithful, sometimes we are led by the Spirit, and that gathering brings great joy. I have said this before. But here I am talking about a quieter joy I get from simply participating.
I love participating in Quaker meetings for discernment, whatever forms they take, as long as everyone understands how the process is supposed to work and is committed to following it, and the clerking is at least somewhat effective. We do not often find ourselves in the joyful transcendence of the gathered meeting, but just doing the work gives me a quiet spiritual pleasure.
Even committee meetings. I may be the only Friend I know who enjoys committee meetings, Even when they are not being conducted well, I sometimes enjoy trying to bring them into “gospel order”. Unless the committee is “brainstorming”; I hate brainstorming with a flaming passion, and feel that it is profoundly contrary to the Quaker way.
On the other hand, though, I do have to admit that sometimes “Quaker process” drives me nuts. This happens under several conditions:
- when too many Friends are either ignorant or ignore-ant of how our meetings for discernment work, especially when the clerk lets their behavior prevail;
- when Friends become impatient or lose their faith; and
- when Quaker bureaucracy stands in the way of progress, usually by thwarting some newly emerging ministry.
In this latter case, I say, “To hell with Quaker process when hell is where it takes you.” We sometimes adhere to a process as an outward form when we should rather be heeding the movement of the Spirit.
Moreover, “Quaker process” has been trending secular over the past sixty years or so. The term has a secular ring to it to start with, and I prefer “gospel order”, though some of the traditions of gospel order apply more to our culture of eldership than they do to our processes for discernment. I plan a series of posts on gospel order in the future.
More importantly, however, we have increasingly adopted the world’s ways to do our business (down with brainstorming!) and have increasingly abandoned the core principle of gospel order, that we do our business in worship under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We give lip service to this idea, but in practice, we often act otherwise.
And we increasingly give our commitment and our trust to the process rather than to G*d; we increasingly have made an idol of our process. I suspect that this is because we are so conflicted about G*d. Of course, the very fact that I use an asterisk in the word G*d means that I myself participate in this ambivalence.
Even so, I am clear that a spiritual presence animates our “Quaker process” when we are in the Life, and it awaits us as we work the process even when we are not “in the Life”, and thus our discernment is not merely consensus decision making. Our faith should not be in a process but in the Spirit in which it was revealed to us.
I keep returning to this theme. I think it’s the essential question for modern liberal Friends—just what do Spirit and worship mean? And I will return to it again. But not here. This series is about my joys, not the wrestling match I am having with that angel.
And the faith and practices we call “Quaker process” do give me joy, even as watered-down and bastardized as they are sometimes. Two in particular, are modern innovations of genius—worship sharing, and clearness committees for decision making and for discernment. These processes have at times given me a joy much greater than just a “quiet spiritual pleasure”.