Being Quaker…Where you are: A Journey Among Isolated Friends in the Northwest

By Sakre Kennington Edson. Western Friend, 2017. 244 pages. $20/paperback; $9/eBook.

In the middle of an overly full week, I promised to read this book for Friends Journal. The rash promise turned out to yield an unexpected gift, and I encourage you to open this book for yourself and pass it around your meeting.

Sakre Edson, who worships with a few others in Florence, Ore., felt a leading to visit and listen to Friends listed as “isolated Friends” by North Pacific Yearly Meeting. Her travels began in 2008 and extended over several years. She asked each isolated Friend, “What is it like for you, being an isolated Friend?” Her leading was to hear what they said about their spiritual circumstance and personal experience. She asked how they sustained their spirituality on a daily basis, and if they still felt like Quakers and a part of the larger community of Friends.

The book consists of the answers she recorded from 58 Friends in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Each is prefaced with description of the setting where the Friend is located, and something about each participant’s life and occupation.

We are privileged to hear 58 different voices, talking about 58 different ways to “be Quaker here.” Some of these Friends are still in lively touch with some Quaker group, even if distance keeps the contact rare. Some started out as Friends in a welcoming meeting in some more populated area and since then, have been largely on their own (or with a partner), renewing, replacing, or finding a spiritual language and practice that feels alive and meaningful.

Several of these Friends follow some Buddhist practice; some often worship with non-Quaker denominations in between rare Quaker events. Some no longer practice anything as part of a community but draw their spiritual nourishment from nature, from their work, or from art.

Some yearn for more contact with Friends, for whom Sakre Edson’s visit was a great refreshment. “Being isolated is fairly difficult. If I could just import half a dozen Quakers up here, [this place] would be just wonderful for me!” Others, equally welcoming to their visitor, have found themselves arriving at some critical distance from Friends—either Friends in general or Friends in the region: “I never realized how angry Friends can become until I moved to the Northwest where they are angry about Christianity!” “I don’t mean to be critical, but most meetings are like intellectual Quaker clubs…I feel like I have watched Quakers fail.”

Isolation from a Quaker community means that these isolated Friends need to explore their daily spiritual routines. There is a challenge here, the challenge of time unstructured by others, by ritual and rhythm: “Sometimes I miss having a Sunday spiritual practice. I almost have too much freedom.” Each of these Friends has done some authentic exploration of questions like prayer, faith, belief, belonging, the nature of God, and (of course) the place of humans in the world. “As for prayer, I always know, without a doubt, that there are spiritual forces just waiting for me to call on them…I have faith, not in some kind of abstract believing, but I actually feel the support. I believe we are here to grow and improve. I believe the universe has ways of sticking us in difficult situations, and then helping us see a way through them.”

This book is a garden of souls. The “motion of love” that led Sakre Edson to travel, and then to bring the travel to all of us through this book, is one that has come to many Friends over the centuries. Though at times the nourishing, refreshing circulation of living epistles has been weak and almost stopped, it never has completely, for which God be thanked. Maybe this book will comfort you and yet make you aware of a nudge to, in love, also visit Friends!

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