I first began checking out Quakerism about ten years ago, after a decades-long avoidance of organized religion. I was raised in an especially harsh strain of Catholicism. My understanding of the Abrahamic and mainstream religions was that they required the same unquestioning demand of followers and the same calls for women’s subordination. After an upbringing of hearing “Nice women don’t go to college” and “You aren’t meant to understand this; we’re telling you to believe it, so believe it,” I’d developed an aversion to organized religion. Once I broke free of the blind following—and instilled fear—of my family elders, it seemed to me that we are all endowed by a Spirit with brains that are meant for thinking for ourselves—women as well as men. And I was no longer convinced of the existence of a Spirit.
I’m sure I needed those years as a free-range, spiritual-but-not-religious being before I could develop an openness to organized religions. If I was going to join a religion, it was going to have to honor my right and responsibility to be true to myself and to think for myself. And after my upbringing of elders reprimanding me for my “boldness” and “impudence,” I needed remedial coaching in how to be bold and impudent. During those nonreligious years, I grew the skills of questioning I needed to follow a religion with inner strength.
Quakerism called to me once I’d reached a place of self-confidence. I admire Quakerism for the testimonies, the history of activism for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery, and the respect for Friends’ rights to question and to think independently. Learning about these beliefs felt like I’d emerged from one of Plato’s caves to feel the warmth of the sun on my face for the first time. I became an attender at Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting, feeling ready to dwell in a house of worship for the first time in years. Silent worship is suited to my psyche. I heard Friends stand and minister, free to do so. I savored feeling free to be still and silent and to wait for Spirit or inspiration to come to me, and I felt free to call it “inspiration” or any other name that fit for me.
I’m ready for an association with Quakerism, but I still balk at membership. The hang-up is in me, not in Quakerism and not with Friends. I’m still unsure about my “faith.” I’m not 100 percent convinced that every conflict on earth—for instance, those arising from terrorist organizations like ISIL and Boko Haram—can be overcome only with negotiation. I don’t feel led to study the Bible. I do become contemplative and still in meeting, but I’ve never felt the presence of a Divine.
If I’m to feel ready to become a Friend, I have an obligation to bring to Quakerism the right inner spirit. True, Friends don’t follow a dogma, and that’s a big selling point of Quakerism for me. But Friends must stand for beliefs. I haven’t yet shed my associations of the Bible with repression. The same legacy that drew me to Quakerism also holds me back from becoming a Friend. This is a task and a journey I’m still undertaking.