What Can We Say? The Foundations of the Quaker Way

June 17, 2016 § 1 Comment

Download a longer essay.


I have presented this material before but then accidentally deleted that post while I was reviewing it in preparation for this post. “What Can We Say?” was a response to the question we often get from seekers and those interested in the Quaker way: What do Quakers believe? The post I deleted just offered the outline of a much longer essay, which I offered as a pdf file and which I also accidentally deleted. I have restored it and you can download that essay here, but it was written before this latest opening and so does not include the framework I offer here.

I was moved to expand on that original post because a few days ago, a new way to present the basic framework was “opened unto me”, as Fox might have said. Though I daresay, Fox would not have said what I’m saying; or rather, he would have said it much differently.

The original opening—a simple, honest, confident way to answer the question of Quaker belief, as I see it—came as a synthesis of the discernment of a consultation held at Quaker Hill Conference Center in 1991 on “What do we all hold in common as Quaker treasure?” That original discernment identified four essentials of Quaker faith that we all held in common. Another one was offered to us by the consultation’s clerk Jan Wood in her sermon on the Sunday morning following that climactic Saturday night session. A sixth element came to me later while writing of my experience.

So I have been thinking and writing about that experience ever since 1991, and it keeps inspiring me and keeps bearing new fruit. This most recent opening was a new model or metaphor for presenting these six essentials, as I felt that group discerned them,

Here then, newly presented, are what I see as the “Foundations of the Quaker Way”.

Foundations of the Quaker Way

The Quaker way is built on a foundation of four essentials of faith that we know experientially, four walls, if you will, that hold up the larger edifice of Quaker tradition.

The Light. The first wall, which holds the cornerstone, is the Light—direct, personal communion with G*d. There is a principle in every person (often called the Light, the Seed, ‘that of God’) that enables the human to commune directly with the divine, without any mediating persons, rituals, or sacramental materials.

The gathered meeting. The second wall is like unto the first: Just as every individual can commune directly with G*d, so also the worshipping community may collectively be led by and gathered into unity in and by the Holy Spirit.

Continuing revelation. G*d is continually revealing G*d’s self to us, through G*d’s ongoing presence within and among us. G*d’s revelation did not cease with the writing of scripture, but continues for and in those who heed the Light, always offering to heal and forgive us, renew and strengthen us, inspire and guide us, and awaken us to truth and love.

Life as sacrament and testimony. We are called to live our faith in practice, to find in all our walkings that communion with G*d that is our spiritual birthright, regardless of time, place, or activity; and to live our outward lives as testimony to the Truth that has been awakened inwardly within us. We have so consistently experienced some of these truths as a movement that we have settled upon them as collective testimonies, held not as outward rules to live by, but as a witness to the world and as a reminder to ourselves of our experience of G*d’s love.

The bedrock—direct experience. These four “walls” comprise the foundations of Quaker faith. They hold up the rest of the Quaker way—you can unpack them to talk about virtually all the rest of the Quaker ‘distinctives’. These four walls rest upon bedrock. That bedrock is our own experience. We hold these truths, not as a blind leap of faith, but rather in confidence as things known directly in our own religious and spiritual lives.

The mortar—love. The mortar that holds the whole edifice of our experience in our tradition together is love. Divine love gathers everyone into the bosom of the Spirit. Divine love gathered us together as a people of G*d. And that same love binds us one to another in fellowship, not always natural to us as struggling human beings, but clung to as a commandment, as G*d’s wish for us as a community.


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