Sarah Pennock Neuville (“I Am Not a Religious Person,” FJ Feb.), at a tender age, has given us an eloquent description of the sort of numinous, peak experience that makes human life such a wondrous gift. She reminds us that in such moments time stands still, and we are enveloped in the experience with the wholeness of our being. I resonate with her conclusion: “I am not a religious person, but I am a person lucky enough to be shown the separation between the literalness of religion and the litheness of spirituality.”
Peak experiences, whether of nature, art, or our fellow humans, can help us see beyond literalness to the deeper truths of religious narratives. Reading Sarah’s account of the rays of the sun coming down to caress the earth, I was reminded of the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word need not be a personal god, but perhaps rather the Ground of Being (Paul Tillich) or the Eternal Thou (Martin Buber), or perhaps simply the eternal and infinite mysterium tremendum—ultimate mystery as experienced only by the human imagination.
Sarah was only six when she watched as the Word came to earth on the plains of Kenya. Last fall, at 71, I had the experience of walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon on a bright morning, and later watching the sun set and the moon rise as the canyon glowed in royal shades of purple and gold. Moving from emotional experience to intellectual reflection, I realized that beauty and grandeur are not attributes of the Grand Canyon, nor are they in the eye of the beholder. Rather, beauty, grandeur, awe, love—these abide not “out there” and not in us, but in the encounter.
What a wonderful description of a magical moment remembered in such detail! Thank you, Sarah, for using your talent in writing to share that experience.
Christchurch, New Zealand
I am amazed that such insight has been expressed so eloquently by someone so young. At the same time, I am reminded that a Quaker upbringing encourages reflection and self development, which in turn can result in this level of self expression.
Picking our business partners?
I enjoyed Dan Cooperstock’s “On Being a Quaker Entrepreneur” (FJ Jan.) and wish more Quakers today were called to entrepreneurial activities. I’m troubled, however, by the writer’s refusal to do business with an organization whose mission offended his pacifist principles. I have struggled to find a way in which this action differs from the refusal of a hotel to provide a room for my wife and I because doing so would offend the owner’s principles regarding homosexuality. If you are in business you should be obligated to serve all of the public, unless the request is clearly unlawful. You don’t get to pick and choose. In fact, in my state and many others that is the law.
Beliefs and practices of Friends
I spent my life as a pacifist, hippie tree hugger, activist peace freak, and ex-church goer (“Are You a Quaker?” Quakerspeak.com, Jan.). Six or seven years ago I became a convinced Quaker, realizing that is what a really was all along. Being a very small community, we have meetings twice a month, and I cannot wait to go. So glad to belong.
Sadly, apart from believing in a “direct experience of God” and “that of God in everyone,” this video’s cumulative description of being a Quaker seems pretty nebulous. And even the phrases mentioned are pretty vague. It seems we’ve traded the apocalyptic Christian urgency of early Friends for a late modern attitude of “do this if it feels right for you.” This may attract a small amount of people who think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” but I’m not optimistic about the potential of this message to sustain Quakers for another 350 years. I write this as a lifelong Quaker in my late 20s who loves the tradition, and I consider my experiences in meeting for worship and in communities of Friends to be the most formative experiences of my life. But for me being a Quaker means so much more than what is articulated in this video. It means, as it did for Fox, that I have found that “there is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to my condition,” a condition of sin and alienation from God. It means, as it did for Woolman, that I am called to take up my cross as Christ took up his, and to learn that “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” To be made one with God through Christ is also to be called to love my neighbors, my enemies, and all of creation.
I realize many Quakers today will not identify with what I have just described as being Quaker. Yet I also know that a significant amount will. My hope is that Quakers content with the dictum of “that of God in everyone” and nothing else will recognize how much of what was central to the experience of our spiritual ancestors is being left out or left behind. Unless we begin to confess that what is “of God” in a person is Christ, and have the courage to name our experience of God as an experience of entering into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, I have little hope that our movement will cease its steady decline in Europe and North America.
Perhaps QuakerSpeak should be more explicit about the great variety of Friends, variety in belief and in practices: Christocentric, nontheist, programmed, unprogrammed, etc. Quite a few of the speakers do not speak for me, a lifelong Friend.
Kennett Square, Pa.
I’ve been to one Quaker meeting, and something significant happened to me there, not in the meeting itself, but in the meetinghouse just before the meeting. I admit to being a little puzzled about what I have read about the Quakers: In some ways they seem an open minded, accepting, very different kind of Christianity that I find appealing, but in other ways they sound a lot like conservative right wing Christians who I want nothing to do with. I am interested in being part of a spiritual community; unfortunately it seems like there is nothing in the small town I live in.
Teaching in non-Quaker schools
I was touched deeply by Mike Mangiaracina’s article in the January 2017 Friends Journal. His wholehearted commitment to his students and his profession moved me, and I’ll bet others too. He evidently has talent as both a writer and communicator and might consider in the future expanding this article into a book.
Fresh out of college in 1963, newly married to someone entering graduate school, and our needing reliable income, I chose to teach in a junior high school in St. Paul, Minn. I had 40 students in each of my two two-hour classes, in addition to a smaller class in public speaking. The room was so crowded that student desks reached to the back and side walls, leaving space for me to walk only at the front. A few students could not even read, much less write, but most seemed engaged enough to appreciate opportunities to speak. I was also expected to initiate a student newspaper, a project many students, including some not in my classes, eagerly embraced. Furthermore, since girls were then required to wear skirts, they showed up with bags of jeans to put on under the skirts that then went into the bags.
In stark contrast to this young learning community was an administration that emphasized the importance of physical discipline, teacher as “tiger” banging a student’s head against a locker. When the principal called me to his office at the end of the school year to tell me I would not be re-hired, I assured him that I would be leaving for a year in France, for which my husband had received a Fulbright award. What I most respected, of course, were those students, in all their varieties.
Annette L. Benert
Self-centered agendas of terrorists
Sometimes I just feel defeated by the Western response to terrorism (“Can There Be a Nonviolent Response to Terrorism?” QuakerSpeak.com interview with George Lakey, Apr. 2016). It’s not that terrorism isn’t real, but we seem to be turning our police forces into military forces, and violence seems to be the only response.