Unseen Quaker rituals
I would like to respond to some of the questions I’ve received concerning ritual (“Allow Me to Introduce You, Witches and Friends” by Meagan Fischer, FJ May). I actually don’t agree with the distinction many Quakers make between expectant worship and other forms of ritual. I experience meeting for worship as a type of ritual, just as Zen meditation, Catholic services, and Reclaiming ritual. I don’t have a set definition of ritual, but off the cuff I’d call it a series of events done with intention, especially intention to cultivate or contact the sacred or any alternate way of knowing (outside of daily interpersonal, intellectual relating).
For me, there is a more meaningful distinction between ritual and routine. I think a routine is a pattern of events done without an intentionally sacred element. Routines aren’t bad; people have routines for driving home from work, getting home and making dinner, feeding the cats, etc. (And some people do bring an awareness of the sacred into these activities!) But I think Quakers oppose rituals when patterns we follow aren’t spiritually alive, as they were originally intended to be. Let’s not keep doing them; let’s do something new that connects us to the sacred.
The farm fields around Verdun are all long-deserted and covered with hundred-year-old trees. One hundred years ago the fertile fields were littered with vast numbers of unexploded munitions. The signs warning local people to stay off the fields are somewhat rusty now. It’s a bit dangerous to replace them.
And so too has the Bible become a minefield. “Don’t go here,” say the few remaining rusty signs. Most of the “don’t go here” signs remain in every person’s heart. And so, millions of people can believe every word in the Bible because they’ve been told that they must. Yet large parts of the Bible are minefields of unexploded ordnance.
Do you find spiritual experience in energy healing? So did Jesus. Jesus taught 60 followers to heal and to perform miracles. However, most Christians won’t go there.
Do you find sustenance in divination? Jesus knew all sorts of things that he wasn’t told. Also, the New Testament leaned on astrology. However, Christians won’t go into divination.
Do you appreciate nonviolence? It’s in the gospels, and the actions get pretty direct.
Please have mercy on Christianity and its minefields. In oppressive times, I’d rather have Truth sitting in plain sight and no one with eyes to see it than no Truth at all. Perhaps someone will stumble into it someday, and the ordnance will no longer be explosive at that time.
I was very pleased to see an issue devoted to “Friends and Other Faiths” (FJ May). This has been a major concern of mine ever since becoming a Quaker 30 years ago, and I have even written a book about it: Quakers and the Interfaith Movement.
Each five years or so the Parliament organizes gatherings in which thousands of religious leaders from around the world come together for “mutual irradiation” (to use Douglas Steere’s wonderful term) and to explore ways to make the world a better place. I went to the Parliament in Melbourne in 2011 and it was an amazing, life-transforming experience (the next Parliament gathering will take place in Salt Lake City, October 15-19).
A few years ago, I felt led to build bridges between Evangelical and Liberal Friends, and was drawn to Friends World Committee for Consultation. In 2010 I went to a Palm Sunday Peace Parade sponsored by the Mennonites and met an Evangelical Christian named Jill Shook. I found her irresistible and proposed marriage to her after only three weeks! We are now exploring how God is leading us to Friends in Latin America. During all this interfaith work, I have learned a simple but important lesson: you don’t have to agree with someone to appreciate and respect him or her. We can learn much, and our lives can be transformed, by opening our hearts and minds to those of diverse faiths and traditions.
Tools for intention
In the May issue I was particularly interested in Deborah Mayaan’s reference to the book How God Changes Your Brain by Newberg and Waldman, which gives a number of suggestions for focusing in meditation. Their research is in a university setting and so their exercises do not use religious inferences, but I have benefited from their suggestions regarding intention, relaxation, and awareness.
I believe that many newcomers to meditation in our meetings for worship would benefit also, as well as those who, like myself, have attended meetings for a long time. Perhaps attenders may be helped in this way.
Cranberry Township, Pa.
The “vs” in the June/July issue title (“Activists vs. Mystics vs. Pragmatists”) is justified, I think. It is perhaps a word reflecting the flesh and the differences that we have in the flesh. In Spirit, Christians are one. Our differences, though, allow us to be in a versus stance.
We do not merely reconcile our differences with one another. When a reconciliation is based upon something external to the Spirit, we may find ourselves perpetually at odds. It is not that we are spiritually different, but that other personal differences can erroneously cause opposition.
Diversity includes business people as well
If Friends believe that there is that of the Spirit in every person, business people must be included. In my 50 years in business as employee, manager, owner, partner, and business professor, the Spirit has led me to better understand that we need to make our circles bigger. Quakers’ love of diversity needs to include even those who understand how to bring goods and services to their neighbors. After all, it’s not what you do, as much as how you do it.
The continual struggle of pacifism
After many years as a Quaker “against war” (and who isn’t?), I now publicly identify as a Quaker pacifist. I am convinced that war will never bring a lasting peace. For me, to be a pacifist is not a fixed state where one resides. It is a continuous process, often a struggle. Most Quakers are not pacifists, and most pacifists are not Quakers.
Although the concept is ancient, the word “pacifist” is a relatively new term, hardly a century old, and its meaning has changed over the years. It is now generally considered absolutist, in line with the Declaration to Charles II in 1660. “Pacifist” derives its roots from pax and ficare—“peace” and “to make”—a peacemaker, even as Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This active sense of peacemaking is reflected in the 1660 declaration that we will not fight “with outward weapons,” a phrase that is sometimes misunderstood by readers. As a peace activist and pacifist, I am the opposite of a passivist. (These two similar-sounding words are often confused, unfortunately.)
I have heard much about so-called “just” wars, both from an academic perspective associated with my position at a Catholic university and in a recent conference on “The Ethics of War” held at West Point. To my hearing, the just-war academics too frequently reflect the general societal norm by their refining the definition to justify our current pattern of war making. The more I learn about war, the more I become convinced that no war can be just. The best thing we can do to memorialize those who have died in wars is to work against the causes of war, so that others will not suffer and die as they did.
The lowest rung of creation
Stinkbugs are the perfect example of the point that Joshua Valle wants to make (“Of Stinkbugs and God,” FJ Apr.). Not only do they elicit laughter, for many they represent the lowest rung of creation. I’ve a friend who notoriously reminds his circle of friends on every possible occasion that they are armor bugs, not stinkbugs, and have as much right to live as the rest of creation. I liked Joshua’s piece a lot and forwarded it to my friend (and others).
Silver Spring, Md.