As more than one of this month’s authors tell us, atonement means “at-one-ment.” It’s a hard state to achieve. When I first sit down on a meetinghouse bench on a Sunday morning, I’m anything but focused. My mind is aswirl in family and work to-dos, scenes from books I’ve read or shows I’ve watched, extended family dramas, bills, or crises. If I’ve forgotten to turn off my phone, a stream of vibrations will nag me, each buzz demanding my attention.
If I consciously work to settle down—and am lucky or blessed—I can sink into the imperfect silence and feel at-one with the gathering worship. The sounds draw me closer: the rustling of Friends shifting softly in their seats, the crackling of the fireplace on cool mornings, the wind outside blowing leaves against the porch door. If we’re fortunate, the offered ministry that morning will speak to our conditions and bring us deeper still, to the feet of the divine Teacher and Comforter. We may not get there every week, but when we do, we feel at-one with one another and with a higher power.
Atonement is more than just a fuzzy feeling in worship, though. As a theological concept, it’s an attempt to understand how God, Christ, and human sin relate: Jesus dying for us as the ultimate sacrificial lamb so that our original sin could be washed away. Christian theologians have argued about the details for millennia, and the debates have continued over and divided Quakers for nearly two centuries. For many Friends worldwide, the ideas of the Atonement (with a capital A) remain at the core of what it means to be a Christian and a Friend, while more post-Christian Friends will tend to consider it another archaic term ready for the scrap heap.
Friends Journal’s predecessor magazines, founded in 1827 and 1844, were created in part to debate those very issues of Christian orthodoxy, but it’s unlikely that a special issue in the closing month of 2022 is going to bring disparate Friends to any consensual “sense of the meeting.” But I think there’s utility in understanding the different ways we think about issues of human frailty and sin, the possibilities of actual evil, and the meaning of Jesus’s ministry and death.
This issue also includes our biannual Young Friends Bookshelf. Last time Eileen Redden, the editor of our children’s book reviews, put together a wonderful best-of list called “Ten Picture Books about Family That Should Be in Every Meeting’s Library.” She has a new list now, “Ten Children’s Books Related to Worship that Belong on Meeting Bookshelves,” which you can find online at Friendsjournal.org/ten-more-books.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the temperatures are dropping and the nights are getting longer. It’s a time to burrow in, to huddle with family, and to watch sparkly lights strung up on neighboring houses. It is also a time of giving, and I hope you will consider Friends Publishing Corporation in your list of donations this year. We produce not only this magazine but the QuakerSpeak video series and a new podcast, Quakers Today (available at QuakersToday.org or on your favorite podcast app). With your help, we’ll continue to be a place where seekers find Friends, and where Friends come together.