Among Friends: Spiritual Participation in Life’s Transitions

A couple in love asks their meeting for a clearness committee to consider whether they should wed, and if so to unite under the care of the meeting.

A Friend feels both a tug to ministry and a sense that if there is a place for her work in the world, she’ll have to carve it out herself, with the support of a care committee from her meeting.

A community gathers, family and friends and Friends, to celebrate the life of a Friend who has passed on, with not a single eulogy but a multitude of perspectives that speak to the many facets through which each life’s Light refracts.

Some of Friends’ strongest and most distinctive rituals of practice arise and thrive when Friends recognize the inflections in their life journeys and seek not just the guidance but the spiritual participation of their Quaker peers and elders in discerning and following the direction they are led.

This month’s authors and poets reflect on life’s transitions, in the context of Quaker worship and fellowship, with an uncommon eloquence. In “Seeking Clearness,” Iris Graville writes of the innermost question one clearness committee helped her unearth: “I think I’m being called to strip away that old image of myself, but if I give it up, who will I be?” In John Graham-Pole’s “Cell Shed,” the Quaker physician describes being both the bearer of a terrible knowledge and also one who is privileged to accompany a patient to the threshold of death in a way that answers to that of God in her. Ken Brick, in “Quaker Passage Ceremonies for Our Youth,” describes the ceremony he and his meeting held in honor of his son’s passage into adulthood, and posits that this type of organically organized ritual might hold the promise of helping Quaker communities retain young adult members and their energetic engagement.

If individual lives have stages that may be marked by acts of transition, so do religious bodies. A recent called session of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (see Viewpoint and News) packed the floor and balcony of the Historic Arch Street Meeting House. The subject of discernment was racism. What are we, a people privileged in many ways, going to do about it? My colleague Martin Kelley and I were there, along with many recent Friends Journal contributors. We witnessed a body of Friends uniting in a commitment to fight racism and to integrate non-perpetuation and intolerance of racism into what we do and into who we are. I’m proud that we Philadelphia Friends didn’t simply hire staff or appoint a committee to do this for us and then pat ourselves on the back on the way home. As Friends in Philadelphia and beyond follow through on this antiracism work, Friends Journal will play a role in communicating among Friends and to the world the roots and fruits of this commitment.

Gabriel Ehri

Gabriel Ehri is the Executive Director of Friends Journal.

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