Thinking about Faithfulness

In 1986 I was a mother of young children, struggling, with my husband, to make ends meet on his salary from a Quaker organization. We’d managed for five years (supplemented by savings from my first stint at Friends Journal) but it was increasingly clear that we could not continue to do so. We sought divine guidance for what would come next. The leadings began to emerge, but I was not altogether eager to follow those promptings. Gradually, it became clear that we were to leave our beloved home, neighborhood, meeting, friends, and community to move to upstate New York in service to New York Yearly Meeting. We knew no one there. I confess I struggled with this decision; it would take us far outside my comfort zone. I ruefully smile now at how unadventurous I was. I worried about our children’s education, about our family finances, about anything I could imagine. But as I prayed for clear, unequivocal guidance, it came and it was clear we should go—and that we would love it. We did. So much that it still feels like home to us.

As I look at the feature articles we present this month, the word "faithfulness" comes to mind. I am struck by the call to follow one’s leadings that is delineated in many of these pieces. In ways far more remarkable than my story, the movement of Spirit can be traced in the lives of our authors, and the life-changing experiences that followed. Stephen Angell, one of the wonderful New York Friends I met after I surrendered to my Guide, writes in "The Nature of God" (p.6), "The Divine Spirit is not to be envisioned as a remote entity . . . but rather as a compassionate Spirit all around us, ‘the one in whom we live and move and have our being’." (Acts 17:28) He goes on to share two particularly remarkable experiences he has had of Divine leading, and the astonishing and, in one case, very far-reaching results of his own faithfulness.

In "Uncommonly Enduring Decisions: The Legacy of Gilbert F. White" (p. 13) Robert Hinshaw shares that the remarkable Gilbert White, whose career as a central figure in the management of natural resources laid the groundwork for the sustainability movement of today, said "little or nothing about the Inner Light . . . as the basis for his decision-making . . . but he would share his conviction that only through everyone’s listening to the personal conscience and experience of every other participant could the group collectively discern the most appropriate path."

"The Liberation of Nathan Swift" (p. 20) by Daniel Jenkins, traces the path of another Friend, a young farmer from upstate New York, who, in 1839, as he plowed the family fields, was arrested by the local constable for nonpayment of his militia exemption tax. The willingness of Quakers in that period to risk the loss of their property and their freedom and to go to jail, as Nathan Swift did, for the sake of their belief in nonviolence and their faithfulness to that leading was remarkable.

This issue of Friends Journal also has a strong environmental theme. It is perhaps no coincidence that the themes of faithfulness and concern for the Earth—and healing of our human relationship to it—are coupled in much of what you will read here. I know that I am increasingly feeling leadings regarding the issue of environmental sustainability and the changes that will require of us. How about you?