Thanks to Madeline Schaefer for writing so well and so courageously about eating disorders (“Silent Bodies,” FJ Mar.). It feels very important to speak of these issues and begin to get rid of the shame and silence that surround them. They affect so many of us! Blessings for your health and happiness.
This is a brave story. Perhaps it is worth noting that our emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical lives are inextricably intertwined, and God recognizes this and is there to support us through the comfort of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I’m struggling with metastatic cancer, and the connection between all aspects of our lives has never been more apparent to me. I have lost a lot of weight and find it difficult to gain the weight I need. I am model thin, but feel no happiness in this, despite our dominant culture’s equating being thin with being successful. I’m 53, though I can remember a time when I ran college cross country and saw being extremely thin as something to be desired. After becoming injured both from running and from being involved in a very conservative Christian campus group, I found wholeness through a gradual, painful freeing from excessive physical, intellectual, and spiritual discipline. I found a Quaker meeting, which truly spoke to my condition as a young adult. This was an indirect type of healing through a mystical connection. Had the meeting community known of my struggles as a young adult away from home and seeking a new identity and showed me support, it would have been even more helpful.
Our stories are quite different in their particulars, but a disconnected relationship to our bodies is something we have in common. I am pleased at the work I have been able to do in my late adulthood, but I’ve had little help from Friends or the culture of Friends.
I applaud and support your adventure in Quaker culture change. Let me encourage all of us Friends by noting we believe our core spiritual experiences are understood as embodied—experiential—rather than word-based products of thinking.
We speak of leadings and mystical awareness, but surely there is room for growth in the direction Madeline points: building on our reliance on experience beyond words.
St. Paul, Minn.
The author replies:
Although Quakerism was certainly centered around a fully embodied spiritual experience, times have changed so that most of us are much more disconnected to our bodies and the earth. Too often meeting for worship is another opportunity to stay firmly rooted in habitual thought patterns, or in attempts to transcend the body through a kind of mystical experience. How can we use Quaker spirituality as an opportunity to heal that disconnect, to bring consciousness to the sanctity of the body (and the earth) and its important role in helping us to grow and heal as spiritual beings? I hope Quakers can begin to wrestle with this issue, as it seems like a crucial next step in the evolution of Quaker spirituality.
Part of why I wrote these articles was to bring this issue to the wider Quaker world, because there is only so much spiritual work that can be done alone. If we want to do the challenging spiritual work together, we need to start by being open and honest. Perhaps that is why groups of people are referred to as the “wider body”: only when we are with others can we transcend the self and recognize our grounded connection to the physical and spiritual worlds.
Living with integrity
I just opened the digital edition of the March issue of Friends Journal and was so moved by the “Among Friends” editorial. Well done! I have only begun to read through the articles, but seeing the courage of Madeline Schaefer (and, by association, her parents, who I assume were aware she would be writing some fairly intimate details of her earlier life) is deeply moving to me. I strongly support her assertion that it is Friends’ calling to examine and bring into question every aspect of our inward as well as outward lives—the practical and the physical along with the “loftier” planes—as we continue to grow, learn, serve, and be an effective faith community.
Perhaps like many Friends of my WWII and successive generations of the later twentieth century, I came to Quakerism seeking authenticity, connection, and a way to learn what it means to live a spiritually grounded life, and also a healthy life. I was first drawn to our silent worship and to the deep caring about real issues in the world, usually accompanied by real commitments of time, energy, and other resources. Then I found further inspiration arising from earlier Quaker lives and work. All this was deeply attractive to a young ex-Southern Methodist fleeing what I had come to experience as the hypocrisy of institutionalized religion.
What did it take then and now to break ourselves loose from the assumptions we don’t realize we have and let the Light back into every corner of our beings, no matter how uncomfortable that may make us?
Our faith as Friends does not automatically set us up to know what it means to live with integrity. We are called to re-examine continually every aspect of our lives, if we are to find the grounding to live as the Living Christ (or our Inner Guide, Conscience, or whatever other words make this a meaningful idea) calls us to live. This applies to our outward lives as participants in the world and to our inward lives as people who consume; who have bodies, relationships, and responsibilities; and who must make it from this day to the next, like everyone else on our planet.
Celebrations and rituals
In response to “Quaker Life Transitions,” FJ Feb.): I was raised in a Baptist church. Now more than 50 years later and not remembering exactly how the process got started, I recall around age 12 that I had several one-on-one meetings with our pastor, which led to my participation in a service of baptism by immersion. There were other young people, and also some adults, baptized at the same time. My baptism was obviously not the final choice of my faith journey, but making that choice and acknowledging it publicly was an important step along the path that I happened to follow. Several of the articles in your latest issue (FJ Feb.) suggest the possibility of creating a Quaker “ritual” that might vaguely parallel my baptism experience, while some of the comments quoted from Facebook clearly question the appropriateness of adding a new “ritual” for Quakers. Perhaps the better suggestion comes from the article by Iris Graville (“Seeking Clearness with Work Transitions”) who writes of the value of clearness committees. I am aware of one adult Friend, coming from a different faith tradition, who requested a clearness committee to consider whether to request membership in the meeting. Might some young Friends welcome the opportunity to explore their faith, individually, with a clearness committee, or perhaps with just one seasoned Friend?
John van der Meer
My meeting has a tradition of presenting a Bible to youth at the end of middle school, and some other spirit-related book at the end of high school. We also have annual ways to acknowledge babies born to members and attenders, as well as new members.
While I enjoy these traditions, I acknowledge that there can be some tension between those kinds of practices and the historic Quaker advice about avoiding empty rituals. We are well advised to continually try to sense whether there is Life in what we do. Better to lay down anything that is done purely out of habit, and return to the silence from which all Truth emerges.
I want to express my appreciation for Seres Kyrie’s article (“Choice Poverty,” FJ Dec. 2014). She conveys the spiritually rich life that a family can experience while walking this challenging journey. John Woolman is an earlier model of a person who, when aware of injustices, refused to be part of them: he wore undyed clothing (because the dying process used slave labor), avoided stage coach riding (because the horses were treated badly), would not use silver (because of mining practices), refrained from sugar (because of unpaid labor), and refused to pay a war tax.