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Not One Quaker Experience but Many

 

The twelfth month, in which many Christians traditionally commemorate the Nativity, seems an especially poignant time to consider the relationship Quakers and the Religious Society of Friends have with Christianity today. When we began to plan for this issue, our team knew it was important to account for the wide breadth of Quaker perspectives on Christianity that Friends hold. I hope you’ll let us know how well we’ve succeeded. Our audience (you among them—thank you!) includes Friends but also many with other spiritual identities, for whom Friends Journal is a lighted window into Quaker faith and practices.

It has been an axiom of ours at _Friends Journal _that there is not one Quaker experience but many. Our continuing‐revelation faith requires each of us to look to that of God in ourselves, act and testify as led by Spirit, and answer to that of God in others. Our Society has therefore evolved differently in different places, and it stretches to accommodate a wide range of thought and testimony. Our Quakerism encompasses many journeys. I’ll tell you a little bit about mine.

My parents came to Friends from the Catholic tradition. When I was a young boy in Anchorage, Alaska, they became convinced Quakers. There was little explicitly Christian content in the Quakerism I grew up with, but a rich contemplative and community spirit. Thinking back, I assumed the lack of traditional Christian content in my childhood religious education to be a product of my parents’ walking toward the mystical side of spiritual experience. Then I thought to myself, why rely on assumptions? I called my dad.

My dad, Bill, told me he was drawn, early on, to contemplative and mystical experiences. This fit within Catholicism as he knew it at the time—think of Meister Eckhart, who taught “All that God asks you most pressingly is to go out of yourself … and let God be God in you.” “When you enter the contemplative Christian realm,” Bill said, “the borders begin to blur, to blend, to mix.” When he encountered the feminist theologian Mary Daly and the Bible and Church hierarchy began to fade from importance, the mystical center remained, and he found a home for his seeking journey and a community with Quakers. And so the Quakerism my brothers and I absorbed from our parents was rooted in seeking that of God within, rather than in scripture.

Engagement with Christian Friends through programs like the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage and Friends World Committee gatherings has helped Bill (and likely many Friends like him) maintain an openness to Christian thought. Worshiping with those whose level of Christ‐centeredness differs is an exercise in “faith translation” for Bill, but one that strengthens his own sense of community and God’s love.

I consider myself a Quaker and an aspiring follower of the teachings of Jesus. For me, existence is a learning experience enriched by contemplation, but even more so by encounter with other people, seeking out God in every one. On behalf of the dedicated staff and volunteers who put so much of ourselves and our own faith and curiosity into curating and crafting Friends Journal, I invite you to “read for Spirit” in these pieces, even if you find you disagree. And we hope you will visit us online at Friendsjournal​.org, where we’ve published several more insightful perspectives from our vibrant community.

Gabriel Ehri is executive director of Friends Journal.


Posted in: Among Friends, Quakers and Christianity

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