I am reading To Be Broken and Tender by Margery Post Abbott right now and am thoroughly enjoying it. In it she spends a lot of time discussing the conflict between evangelical Friends, liberal Friends, programmed meetings, unprogrammed meetings, etc.

I've also read quite a few other books, postings on Quaker Quaker and other Quaker blogs. 

One of the things I've loved and appreciated about getting more into the Quaker faith is that it's about an individual's experience of God / Divine / The Light. I grew up within a variety of religions and associate much of the traditional Christian language and acts negatively. Through Quakerism, my comfort with other people's language around Christianity has been eye opening, and I find myself disassociating a person with their words around spirituality and focus on their actions and their spirit.

All that is to say, I personally fall squarely into a non-theist liberal Quaker camp, but have learned the skills to appreciate anyone's spirituality (Quaker or otherwise) and spiritual language. 

What I don't understand is the rift between the various Quaker communities. The testimonies are the same, and key tenants like a person's inner relationship with God, and the idea of that of God in everyone. I just don't understand how anyone who would self identify as Quaker, question the authenticity of a group because of language or spoken beliefs. I know I am not the first to struggle with this, but I would really like to understand more and hear more people's thoughts.

I realize that the unprogrammed "liberal" Quakers are the vast minority (around 11% of the Quaker population), so that may play a part, but that doesn't seem like that is enough.

It just seems to me that the word in English for table is "table." In French, the word is "table," but with very different pronunciation. Still very familiar to the English speakers. In Danish and Norwegian, the word is "bord" and we may even understand it easily as a table is made of boards. In Spanish, "mesa," so rather different, but in Chinese, it's 桌子, loosely pronounced "tous schu." 

At no point do we spend much energy discussing whether or not the Chinese have a better or worse grasp of what a table is. Or whether or not a table is something different because it has a different name. The idea that another culture, no matter how foreign the customs or how different the language, wouldn't be talking about the same thing, used in roughly the same way, is silly to think about.


So why do many Quakers do that? I don't understand and maybe you can help.

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I can relate to what you say, Barbara, though from a Buddhist perspective I would think of this voice as representing the qualities of wisdom and compassion, both of which can be developed by practice.  I could also talk about accessing higher levels of consciousness, which can feel "other-worldly".

So are we actually describing a similar experience but with different assumptions?

Barbara Smith said:

3. I do not have a dialogue in my head, it is a monologue. When it became a dialogue was when the Spirit of Christ entered in. I am beginning to distinguish between his voice and mine by the following: mine is chattery, wandering, repetitive; His is sure, succinct, calm and definite and seems as if a brand new idea is dropped into my chattering mind from above. There is no arguing, no discussing, it is just suddenly presented as the way to go etc.

4. Following that voice leads always to Peace, harmony, selflessness, love of others, inclusiveness, steadiness, and so on. My own choices do not necessarily produce any of these.

Spiny - yes I would say the Source of both of those experiences is the same. The difference is that as Paul said, when I try to do right I do what I do not want! I have tried practising those qualities for 59 years with some but not much improvement, especially not when pushed under trying circumstances! Then it all fell apart again and I was back temporarily at square one. That is explained in a Christian understanding of the human being. We are NOT capable of pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps (unless we lived on top of mountain in a Buddhist monastery)! this has been my experience and this is where Love and God and Christ entered in and swooped me up and took over and now I am on the path and on solid ground and not backsliding (much) even under very trying circumstances. As Randy said it seems the longer you are following Christ the easier it becomes and the less fragile and susceptible we are. Not so with practising on our own. At least not on MY own.


What an engaging discussion, Friends!  Barbara, I find your list of “discernment guidelines” (if I  may call them that) to be most helpful, especially when you say, “following that voice leads to peace, harmony, selflessness, love of others, inclusiveness, steadiness, and...my own choices do not necessarily produce any of these.”  
I can not, of course, speak for anyone else, but I know in my experience these things are not natural to my nature, so when I am led in these things I know the Spirit is at work and God hears our prayers.   We might not be able to explain this as some objective reality, or understand it in some intellectual capacity; it is, after all, an inward experience.  But when we know those things  which are in the proclivity of our nature, but nevertheless seek those things which are of a higher  nature - of peace, harmony, selflessness, love, etc.,..and have the POWER to follow those leadings  and deny our natural tendencies, I do believe we have submitted - to some degree - to the Light of Christ which will guide us.
I also very much agree with Forrest’s statement that “trying to follow an idea of ‘what God said’ can lead to disaster.”  I believe this is why Quakers have maintained that our leadings should be tested against scripture - understood in the Spirit in which it was given - and discerned through prayerful community.  I truly feel that Friends’ witness has been greatly diminished when those two things are absent.  Which is not to say that the Spirit can not guide us as individuals, but I also believe those leadings will remain incomplete and not fully realized without corporate and scriptural  discernment. 
Forrest, I received much from your post, “How to Worship God.”  “What might come to light if we were to truly face the Light” is an excellent query for all of us.  Perhaps this is why the spirit of Repentance is so important.   To approach God in humility, also not a natural tendency for human beings, requires some deliberate action.  Oh, if I had a dime for every time I “approached God with a heedless attitude that rendered me unteachable”!
Peace and Hope.


Hello John,

I share your view that the table is THE TABLE, no matter what it's called, and I'd like to add a thought. Maybe the "are you pronouncing table right"-discussion is a luxury in areas where there are relatively many Friends, enough to split up into different "dialect groups", so to speak?

My local Meeting for Worship is tiny, tiny, tiny, and I simply don't have the luxury to start a one-woman-Meeting for Worship with people that share my exact beliefs. There are none, that's why. As a Friend in a small meeting, I have to watch out for the table, for the shared ground we stand on, for the beliefs that unite us. If we don't, there will not be a Meeting for Worship.


I understand this Susann because my local meeting is also relatively small.  On the other hand we are a diverse group with different ideas, and it has been useful and interesting to share these perspectives with each other.  For me it's a great strength of Quakers that different perspectives can be freely shared without feeling that there is a "party line".

Susann said:

My local Meeting for Worship is tiny, tiny, tiny, and I simply don't have the luxury to start a one-woman-Meeting for Worship with people that share my exact beliefs. There are none, that's why. As a Friend in a small meeting, I have to watch out for the table, for the shared ground we stand on, for the beliefs that unite us. If we don't, there will not be a Meeting for Worship.

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