''What are Friends Called to Today?

Go deep. Go deep, dear Friends. Touch the bedrock. Find the Source from which springs your own true, deep calling.

As I reflect on what Friends might be called to today, I find myself led back again and again to this exhortation to go deep. I have resisted this leading because I know that some Friends see a dichotomy between being a "spiritual Friend" and being an "activist Friend," and that an admonition to go deep may seem like an attempt to avoid the hard questions of what are we to do in the world today as Friends. Yet I know that this is a false dichotomy. Deep spiritual encounter leads us to loving engagement with the world. Committed action turns us again and again to the Source that can make our activism a fount of healing and not a dry, hard-edged militancy.

In recent years I have met with Friends to explore the intersection between the spiritual and the activist. I ask Friends to list the qualities that describe Quaker activism at its richest. They come up with long lists that include commitment, clear thinking, courage, Spirit-filled presence, selflessness, strength, grace, centeredness, hard work, collaborative spirit, creativity, flexibility, humility, and love. When we put all the lists together, the result resonates with a richness that everyone present can recognize. We have all seen that kind of activism in some exemplary person or in some deeply moving event. We know that our world needs this kind of presence, but it is daunting to think that we might be called to such a high standard.

Then I ask the participants to reflect on what resources they would need to carry out that kind of rich Quaker activism. Immediately we find ourselves in the realms of spiritual depth and supportive community. The suffering of the world is so vast, the trends so ominous, and our individual foibles so pervasive that we cannot face them without a grounding on divine bedrock and the steadfast support of our community.

Any given work—for peace, economic justice, environmental integrity, family health, or nurturing the meeting—can be a true calling, or it can be an idol that distracts us from our particular, unique contribution. Friends throughout the ages have testified to an inward compass that shapes and directs us minute by minute, if we are willing to pay attention. When we are deeply centered, that compass can point us toward a true leading and away from impulse, secular urgency, or self-involvement masquerading as service. We may hesitate to put our lives to that test for fear that it will demand more than we feel ready to give, yet Friends report that when they go deep they are often led not to take on an onerous burden but to simplify, focus, refresh themselves for the long journey, and to work from a place of love rather than a place of grim obligation.

That deep Divine Source not only guides us toward what to do, but also how to do it. In fact, it may not be so important which of many worthy causes we take up. The importance may lie in our ability to carry grace and healing with us wherever we go. We know that we would like to approach our work in the world as strong, centered, creative, flexible, humble, and selfless servants. We would like, as George Fox admonished us, to "walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in every one; whereby in them you may be a blessing and make the witness of God in them to bless you." It is a high standard. We may want to think that it surely must be reserved for some more saintly person. And yet we are called to that standard. We cannot abdicate to a more saintly person. We might think of Tom Fox, recently martyred in Iraq, as such a saintly person. However, the published excerpts from his journal (FJ May 2006) reveal a man who was struggling to find the strength, courage, and wisdom to do that which was before him. It is always a struggle to find the bedrock that will hold us.

We can’t do this alone. Our calling to go deep is not merely an individual calling. We need to be with one another in the community of our meetings, to come to know one another in that which is eternal. From that place we can support one another in worship and discernment and give one another courage to respond. My own meeting has been experimenting for more than ten years with formally providing clearness and support for Friends who feel a calling to a special service. The experiment has been imperfect, and we are still learning, but we have seen fruits. Almost 30 individual Friends with a wide range of concerns have been able to test their leadings, hold them in the Light that refines and shows the way, and step out with courage.

Go deep, dear Friends. Touch the bedrock. Support one another in finding the Source. From there, we will find guidance and strength each day to discover that to which we are called, and the grace to respond to that calling.

Patricia McBee

Patricia McBee is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting who travels and teaches on Quaker spirituality and Quaker practice. Her current leading is to work for the greening of Friends Center in Philadelphia.