Quaker Spirituality and the Peace Testimony

Discussion point:

We know what we know not because well-meaning Friends bowdlerized and paraphrased and rearranged the 1660 document [the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, was founded in the1650s-60s] but because it has been shown to us in our hearts.

I recognize this as a description of spiritual realization. It’s in a kind of phrasing my erstwhile Presbyterian (Later in life she took up Science of Mind) grandmother used. For her, heart and soul were virtually the same “place.” To say that something “has been shown to us in our hearts” is to speak of Divine Inspiration, perhaps even Revelation, and the soul’s intuitive open reception to a truth when it is presented. This knowledge, a certainty that does not need intellectualization, rationalization, examination or any other kind of interference from the ego– this knowledge happens in a moment of clarity and becomes part of our Self. It’s a spiritual certainty, not an intellectual acquisition of dry facts or a thought process about tangible evidence.

I was once in a gathering of several thousand people who had come to hear a respected and much loved teacher give a talk. Twenty minutes for questions and answers followed the formal presentation.

The first person, a twenty-ish man, told a story about something that recently happened to him, ending with his question, “I’m not sure. Was that a spiritual experience?”

The teacher giggled (for which he was known, giggling, that is) and said, “Spirituality is like sex. You’ll know when you have it.” After the guffaws died down, the teacher said, “When you are fully conscious, when your spirit is fully aware, you will know, with a certainty. You will not have to ask.”

It seems to me that this is the kind of knowledge we are describing when we try to quantify or explain what happens in Meeting for Worship or Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Doing Business, or any other Quaker gathering where we wait upon the Light.

Discussion point:

We all basically believe what we want to believe. We also tend to believe in those things that we think are the right things to believe in.

As I see it, we exercise our free will. We have choices in how we relate to the Divine Principle, the Absolute, or whatever you want to call “God.” Belief is individual and personal. Even within a group of  “like minded” people, what I believe is going to be at least slightly different from what anyone else believes, because beliefs come partly from our experience and partly from our communication with whatever “God” we know.

Beliefs are very different from the kind of deep soul knowing of something that is “shown to us in our hearts.” I feel the latter is that certainty about which we do not have to ask.

Discussion point:

Probably, many Quakers throughout the last hundred years have taken great solace in the Peace Testimony quote because it relieves them of having to come to it themselves. The Testimony serves as creed and that had to have been its intent.

It is very unlikely that any Quaker has taken any solace in the peace testimony. Peace is not an easy principle to live by. Do people believe that it’s a lark, working for peace? It certainly isn’t easy or comfortable work. And nothing in Quakerism was intended to serve as a creed. Testimonies, advices and queries give us guidance based on previous experience, not canon law or the Apostle’s Creed.

Discussion point:

There is a tendency to have a de facto political litmus test for entry to Quaker meetings that effectively bars entry to anyone who thinks they might be in favor of war or violence in certain circumstances.

This is a ridiculous assertion. I’ve met Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic who believe it was right to fight Hitler, as well as Quakers who were non combatants during WWII. In all the discussions of the peace testimony that I’ve heard, the conditions under which one might use violent means is a crucial point, and people speak in very real terms about self-defense, defending their children or another person, etc. I’ve observed that it’s a frequent and soul rending discussion among Quakers, most of whom admit they can’t know what they’d do without having to face a real situation.

A few relevant web sites:

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