Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly: Modern Quakers as Everyday Prophets
Reviewed by Marty Grundy
By Margery Post Abbott. Inner Light Books, 2018. 478 pages. $45/hardcover; $30/paperback; $12.50/eBook.Buy from QuakerBooks
Margery Post Abbott’s latest book presents Friends with a challenge and an invitation for all of us to become “everyday prophets.” With her own experiences interlaced with comments and stories from Quakers present and past, she lays out the promise, difficulties, and need for this kind of work in today’s chaotic world. Everyday prophets are “people who are faithful to the path of truth and love and whose lives project hope and a passion for justice.”
There is a spectrum of prophetic living. At one end are the solid folks who live from day to day through their quotidian routines with their inner ears cocked for the still, small voice, which points them to acts of kindness and integrity that often stand in quiet opposition to the dominating culture. There are also prophets who are called to heroic stands that juxtapose living in God’s “new creation” to the corrupt, greedy, violent society in which we are all immersed. The prophetic stance—small or large—is at the core of Quaker worship, spiritual discipline, and life. It is the natural consequence of paying attention to the Light Within and being willing to follow where it leads. It shows us what in ourselves is out of alignment with Love as well as what in the larger society opposes God’s Kingdom.
This book is a comprehensive examination of prophecy within the Religious Society of Friends—all of its branches. Prophesy is speaking, acting, or writing what is given by God. Allowance is made for the wide variety of interpretations of “God” found among Friends today. Some bedrock language used by generations of earlier Friends—eldering, God’s reign, taking up the cross, and so on—is given context and helpful new understandings. Although there are major differences among the branches of Friends today, we all claim Friends can still live into our interpretation of the powerful experience of early Friends.
In 38 relatively short chapters divided into seven sections, we are given a thorough discussion of prophetic ministry. Each chapter concludes with thoughtful queries to ponder or discuss with others. The seven sections begin with the prophetic voice as walking with God, and the prophetic community that embodies lamentation, vision, and hope. The sections continue with an individual’s recognition of the prophetic call and learning how to live into the gift. It is necessary that prophetic ministry be part of a healthy meeting community that helps discern and hold accountable the minister—and also what happens when the community resists an individual and her call. Using the metaphor of sailing, Abbott explains how the prophetic minister must learn to deal with headwinds: the various obstacles, inner and outer, that resist hearing the critique of what is not living as Love would have us. The final section is on making space for the prophets among us.
There are five helpful appendices, including a glossary, Abbott’s own monthly meeting’s “Process for Discerning and Supporting Ministry” (she is a member of Multnomah Meeting in Portland, Ore.), and a list of forms and types of accompaniment. The other appendices are Brian Drayton’s December 2016 blog post, “Letter: Friends, welcome prophets among us in these dark times!” and William Taber’s 2004 talk to a School of the Spirit reunion on “Ten Ways We Enter Prophetic Ministry.”
This is a big book, thorough and full of solid nourishment and wisdom that Friends need to heed. Every meeting should provide opportunities for Friends to thoughtfully study and discuss this book.