Seeds That Change the World: Essays on Quakerism, Spirituality, Faith, and Culture
Reviewed by Brad Sheeks
June 1, 2018
By Debbie L. Humphries. QuakerPress of FGC, 2017. 143 pages. $14.95/paperback; $9.95/eBook.Buy from QuakerBooks
Is it okay to shout out to Friends, “This gal rocks!”? Sign her up as a speaker if you’re planning a gathering of Friends. Debbie Humphries grew up in an enlightened Mormon family and came to Quakerism through several spiritual friendships, including one in Hartford (Conn.) Meeting (with Diane Randall, executive secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation), where she received a minute of travel in 2004 to carry a concern for the spiritual health and vitality of the Religious Society of Friends.
Seeds That Change the World tells the story of Humphries’s spiritual journey in chapters, some based on talks given at gatherings of Friends and essays in Quaker publications, including “Soul Time” (2001), “Our Hope for a New Life” (2008), “On Being Grafted Into the Root” (2008), “Engaging with a Monthly Meeting about Ministry” (2008), “Four Pillars of Meeting for Business” (2009), and “Exploring the Unwritten Rules of Waiting Worship” (2014).
Each chapter has a set of queries for reflection, sharing, and discussion: What faith tradition were you raised in, and how does that tradition continue to shape you? What spiritual practices have nourished you? How do you listen for the Spirit in meeting for business? How do you hold the wholeness and health of the earth? Where do you experience your own wholeness? How do you listen for the guidance of the Spirit when the meeting has a diversity of needs? How do you seek support for the ministry you carry? When have you felt most encouraged and supported in your spiritual journey?
Humphries offers an interesting perspective on Friends, having been deeply nourished by her Mormon family and faith community prior to her experience with Friends. She expands on the metaphor of grafting a new olive branch into an old tree, a reference used by both Mormons and Quakers to think of how they fit into Judeo-Christian history. Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote of the new Christian faith as grafted into the old Jewish faith. Robert Barclay wrote of grafting the new Quaker faith into the old tree of Christianity. In the Book of Mormon, this image is used as a metaphor for the grafting of the new Mormon faith into the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The author writes of the idea of wholeness in her essay “Embracing Wholeness in the World,” which is based on a talk given at a gathering in 2011 of liberal, feminist Mormon women. Humphries spoke of her sense of being grounded deeply in the earth and within the Divine. She envisions the Spirit as a pillar of light in a meeting for worship with strands going out and wrapping each person with light. She refers to the L’Arche communities where persons with intellectual challenges live with others as friends, teachers, guides, and companions. Together they live out the wholeness of the human family.
Humphries both appreciates and questions her Mormon experience. She appreciates the Mormon focus on strengthening the family with such practices as having family meetings that include reading scriptures and praying together. On the other hand, she points out the damage done by the hierarchical structure of the Mormon Church. Such a structure accords worth to a person based upon position in a top-down organization. It unavoidably leads to the oppression and exploitation of those in the lower positions.
I avoided reading her chapter “The Lies I Live.” But of course, I did. Sure enough, just as I feared, Humphries starts out with John Woolman who used the phrase “seeds of war” to refer to moments in his daily life when he benefited from inequality and injustice. Humphries refers to the ways in which she, as a white, middle-class woman, benefits from what she refers to as “colonization”; she refers to “decolonization” as the process by which oppressed people use their own voices to reclaim their own value system.
Humphries challenges the belief that all scriptures are literal truth. She has friends—as many of us do—who claim that the story of the Garden of Eden is a real event that happened not all that long ago, rather than celebrating it as an archetypal, mythical story with a powerful message.
Humphries concludes with this affirmation:
I believe that Quakerism has a unique combination of teachings that can help humans live in a more just, loving, and healthy world. The Quaker gestalt—the belief that love is first, the practice of deep listening, and the adherence to a limited hierarchy—together embody a profound respect for the sacred in each of us.
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