Faith and Discernment

One of the things that first attracted me to Quakerism was the openness of Friends to a variety of spiritual paths. I was not raised as a Quaker, and at the point in my early adulthood when I began to encounter considerable Quaker thought, I’d been actively exploring a number of traditions ranging from several Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church to exposure to Hasidic Judaism, Zen Buddhism, Native American spirituality, and involvement with Sufism as practiced in the West. Mysticism had begun to stand out as a very real thread for me and was certainly central to my growing understanding of myself as a Christian, albeit a non-doctrinaire one. Quakerism with its emphasis on direct revelation spoke to my own experience powerfully, and the openness and honesty with which Friends offered their personal revelations was both refreshing and compelling. I appreciated Friends’ understanding that revelation is ongoing, and that each of us has a part to play in human comprehension of the Divine. I still treasure these aspects of Quakerism, although there are times when I must confess I wish we were more of one mind with each other. Still, knowing that we can discern the Divine personally, that we can find Truth together—and that it will often exceed anything we can find individually—strikes me as a compelling reality of our faith.

In the pages of Friends Journal, we editors are entrusted to publish "Quaker Thought and Life Today." In this issue you will find several articles in which the authors give lengthy and strong explanations of their personal beliefs and place them within the Quaker tradition. They represent a range of belief from nontheism to finding Spirit in nature, to various Christian perspectives. Cathy Habschmidt, in "Shades of Gray: A Liberal Christian Quaker Speaks Up" (p. 21), says, "We are all familiar with the story of the three blind men and the elephant. Each person touches a separate part of the animal and concludes that it is something altogether different. None has the complete truth." She goes on to say, "I hope that by sharing a few of my beliefs I can spark more dialogue among Friends. We need to get over our concern that simply by talking about our faith we are passing judgment on the faith of others." I could not agree more.

While the authors of the articles in this issue may seem to be presenting widely varying points of view, I find that I can relate to much of what each has to say. Like Cathy Habschmidt, I share a personal belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Like Os Cresson ("Quakers from the Viewpoint of a Naturalist" p.18) and Bill Cahalan ("Opening to the Spirit in Creation: A Personal Practice" p.10), nature and natural occurrences have played an important part in my spiritual life. Like Harvey Gillman ("What Jesus Means to Me" p. 16), I experience Jesus as a teacher and revolutionary who did not think he was inaugurating a new religion (thus making my heart tender to Judaism, the faith tradition of my spiritual teacher). And like Thom Jeavons ("So What Can We Say Now?" p.13), I agree that modern, liberal Friends need to develop a much greater capacity to articulate the essential beliefs and convictions of our faith, particularly as affirmations, not declarations of what we do not believe or practice. Like the elephant on our cover, Truth is greater than each person’s grasp upon it. I encourage you to read these personal statements with openness and to share your own point of view with others, to help us all better discern Truth.