Viewpoint: Finding Quakerism on My Own

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.



2 thoughts on “Viewpoint: Finding Quakerism on My Own

  1. I’ve been through a journey quite similar to yours. I was raised in the Mormon (LDS) church and I too understand the damage that fanatical conformist religion does to our psyche. I’ve had to overcome some of my own hangups. I’ve had to allow Quaker teaching to redefine words that used to be used as chains to bind people to practice, rather than free them to connect with God. I have recently started attending the Salt Lake City, UT Monthly Meeting.

    I am sorry to hear that you’ve not felt the presence of a Divine. It can be difficult to determine whether the feelings come from the light within or a light without, because it feels so comfortable and familiar, like a part of us. And that’s because it is! So it can be hard to realize when it comes from without and when it comes from within. I find it comes from without in my darkest times because in those times, I am not in the right frame of mind to listen to light from within… so it must be strengthened from without.

    I’ve been able to overcome my hangups with the Bible because Quakers have helped me realize that it is an imperfect book. My former faith felt it was imperfect too, but blamed those on “bad translations”. So in other words, they taught it was all good except where translated badly. (Like I could tell when, right?!) But Quakers teach that books are written by humans – just like you and I – that felt inspired by the same Spirit we can seek. Quakers gave me room to realize that the repressive and anachronistic parts of the Bible are not of God, but are ideas of the men who wrote the book. They ask that we read books with the Spirit to find the truths that resonate with us while discarding the rest.

  2. Thank you for posting this. My father was Quaker and mother was Methodist. I was raised in the Methodist faith and served in the church as organist, choir director, Sunday school teacher, board of directors, sexton – you name it! I finally left the church because I was just doing a job and not really worshiping. Since I left the church, I have grown closer and closer to God. I am intrigued by the Quakers. I like sitting quietly and waiting on God’s word to me. But I find that the Quaker churches around here are extremely politically active, which I do not care for. I’m at a crossroads.

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