The Way Forward

My own monthly meeting, Green Street, in Philadelphia, is not talkative during worship, and it is not uncommon for meeting to proceed in wholly uninterrupted silence—except for the happy noises when children enter the room, about 45 minutes into our time together. That changed after the deeply unsettling attacks of September 11. In the following weeks we experienced an increase both in the numbers attending and in the amount of vocal ministry. After a month or so, however, we resumed our normal pattern of collective, deep silence—listening to the ministry of our creaking benches, the crackling of our fireplace, a few city noises, and only an occasional but heartfelt offering of vocal ministry.

One would be mistaken, however, to assume that this has been a period of stasis for us. I, for one, feel a new clarity. It’s not that the sense of urgency is new; for a long time it has been apparent that we on this planet are in deep trouble on a number of fronts, from rising environmental chaos to widening economic disparities. But after September 11, there is a heightened, gut-level sense of urgency everywhere, and in this new reality, the silence has been especially important for me. In it, I have felt reassurance that even in this crisis there is a calm, deliberate, and loving—in short, a spiritual—way forward.

The culture around us has focused on a retaliatory response to the new threats—on "good" people winning out over "evil" people. In the face of this seductive thought, it has been especially important for me to dwell on the simple message that there is "that of God in every one." Or as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it, somewhat differently: the line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart. This is a vital truth. Our hope lies not in vanquishing others, but in working with all the people on Earth including our "enemies" to expose the root causes of our conflicts, and thereby to find a way forward that we could not have found in isolation.

Here at Friends Journal, since last November—the first issue that we assembled after 9/11—we have brought you each month the perspectives of various authors on the new crisis. No doubt, future issues will continue this focus, but now, in April, we lay before you a somewhat different mix. Most of the articles in this issue don’t have a direct connection to the "War on Terrorism" (the exception being Os Cresson’s offering of family letters from Afghanistan, albeit a half-century ago). In the spiritual realm, however, everything is related; often it is the little change, close to home, that is the most radical and the most relevant. The break from our focus on the immediate crisis will also continue in May, when you can look forward to an issue on Friends in the Arts.

Susan Corson-Finnerty and I thank all the authors who keep sending us submissions with their heartfelt offerings and who communicate with us so cheerfully as we prepare them for publication. She and I are always on the lookout for writing that takes the reader in useful and unexpected directions. If you feel led to write for us, even if you don’t see yourself as a gifted writer (or artist), please pick up that pen (or brush, or camera—or go to the keyboard), let your inspiration guide you, and share the results with us. Friends Journal’s readers will be grateful!