Brief Reflections on Quaker Practice

On "Standing in the Way"

"Attend to pure wisdom and be teachable."
—Advices of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

A common misconception about Quaker process in a meeting for business is that a decision can never go forward if one person decides to "stand in the way." Inactive members, new attenders, and non-Friends trying to imitate Quaker process often interpret our principle of unity to mean that each individual has veto power over any decision of the community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"Standing in the way" is not a right that inheres in paper membership or attendance at meeting for business. It is rather a privilege granted by the community because it believes that the dissent is grounded in spiritual integrity and not in ego or a power trip. We acknowledge that the Friend may have light that the rest of us don’t yet see; we wait in love for the Friend to see our light. We are willing to remain teachable in the trust that the dissenting Friend is also teachable.

The word "teachable" stands for the Greek word praos, often translated in the New Testament as "meek." A more accurate rendering would be the nautical word "yare," referring to a ship that minds her rudder well. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency." The Spirit leads us, not in a straight line, but step by step, by twists and turns, to incremental stages as we become ready. We are never required to do that which we cannot. Growth in the Spirit means attuning oneself to those step-by-step leadings, as well as having patience with those who are led by a different route.

Difficulty arises when some Friends show themselves to be unteachable, as for instance when they attach themselves to an external "party line" that precludes submission to the Spirit. The meeting may rightly decline to trust such persons. Trust is something that must be earned. Perhaps that is a central meaning of the term "weighty Friend": one whom the community trusts to "attend to pure wisdom and be teachable."

Why Come to Meeting on Time?

Our meetings for worship would be fragile indeed if they couldn’t survive the distraction caused by late

Esther Greenleaf Mürer

Esther Greenleaf Mürer is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting. She has recently completed a seven-year stint as editor of Types & Shadows, the journal of the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts. Currently, she is preparing a second editon of Quaker Bible Index, a comprehensive scripture index to early Quaker writings.