I am a member of a Meeting that is wonderfully dedicated to social and peace activism.  However, a small number of members and attenders are seeking balance between activism and contemplation and I am interested in initiating a Contemplative Quaker group.    My thoughts include meeting one time a month in a participants home, meditating for ~45 minutes, discussion on contemplative book or reading for the evening and including a pot luck.  I am also thinking that meeting for a meditation one first day each month prior to meeting for worship might be included.  I would be so grateful to receive  thoughts and suggestions others may have, including experiences others may have in their own Meetings. 

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To me the issue is not an either - or. As I read Friends history, as well as the Gospels, the "activists" who seemed to be most "successful" were often those who were quite contemplative. Jesus, who was clearly an activist at times - even unto death - withdrew for "contemplation" on a number of occasions. John Woolman often looked to "silent worship" during extended periods of time away from his very activist periods.


I do appreciate the times of "worship sharing" when expressions of activism are welcomed, but we also need to make time for contemplation.  Is there a way to provide a "forum" before or after the Meeting for Worship?

I believe that core to Quaker is that activism rises out of contemplation, of inner listening and waiting.  Does Quaker have a word or description for ego?  I think there is a big difference between activism that rises from ego versus being moved or led by the spirit.  Outwardly they may look the same -- to an extent.  In my experience, activism or any action that is moved and led by spirit is almost beyond words -- it happens it flows.  This is where sitting in silence is so important to my spiritual path.  It allows direction and insight to rise up within me -- it is not mine, it did not come from me, rather it comes through me.  This experience rises from inner peace and and has a quality to it that spreads this peaceful feeling to others .  Activism from the ego lacks this same quality and sometimes breeds conflict and discord among those involved.  Cultivating inner-peace from which to act in the world -- this is what appeals so strongly to me about have a "Meeting for Silence."  The silence continues long after this sitting in silence has concluded.

Friend Ray:


I think I understand your point.  It is something I have thought about myself.  Your point that one does not have to be a Quaker in order to be an activist is, I think, crucial.  It appears to me that many Quakers today define the Quaker tradition in activist terms; but that would make the Quaker tradition primarily a political society; perhaps an auxiliary to various political movements.  In addition, I don't think reform movements need Quakers in order to be successful.


I find the heart of the Quaker tradition in its Quietism, in its inward turning.  That is what attracted me to Quakers and that is why I continue to attend.  The political/activist dimension is a very distant second for me.


Thanks for your insights,



Friend David:

Lately I've been putting modern Quaker activism in a larger context.  My sense is that religion in the U.S. has in general become highly politicized.  Evangelicals used to be reluctant to join in the political process, more inclined to separate themselves from the world.  This began to change during the Reagan administration and now it is rare to find an Evangelical who is not deeply involved in some political cause.  The Roman Catholic Bishops have lately ramped up their political diatribes.  Friends of mine who are Catholic say it is difficult to go to mass without hearing some kind of political lecture; much to their distress. 

I have begun thinking that Quaker activism is part and parcel of this general trend.  In a sense Quakers (along with Unitarians and other liberal leaning religious groups) today are kind of a mirror image of Evangelicals.  And both groups have lost touch with their more contemplative traditions.
When viewed in this way Quaker activism isn't really radical; it's simply going along with the drift of the culture at large.  Personally, I would like to see a return to the heritage of Quietism, and a rethinking about separation from the world.  But that's just me.

Thanks for thy insighful remarks.

Thy Friend Jim

David Nelson Seaman said:

You are of my mind, Jim. I sense the Quietist tradition of the old Liberal Quakers has been neglected, subjegated to so many political agendas, that individual spiritual needs fall to the wayside with so much clamor to be an "activist" of some sort. I am often reminded when reading Elias Hicks that he was a Quietist, who felt strongly about the presence of God in meeting. I have often imagined that the Quietists of his era would hardly recognize todays modern offshoot, the Friends General Conferance. We tend to forget the activism of early Quakers was in response to the excesses of the Church of England and its demands for conformity to a state religion, which was at the expense of individual experience and immediate revelation. Many of my most memorable "Quietist" moments have occured while alone with a book, and the time of reflection thereafter. I would suggest the term "Quietist", as oppossed to "Contemplative", however, for Meetings of Silence, as Mary has proposed. Meeting time set aside for silence worship should have priority over politics.

Jim, I would like to quote you on Facebook. May I? I will post it anonymously if you prefer. ~Paula

Friend Paula:

Sure, go ahead and quote.  I'm not on Facebook, though, so they won't be able to post to my page.

Thy Friend Jim

Paula Deming said:

Jim, I would like to quote you on Facebook. May I? I will post it anonymously if you prefer. ~Paula

I guess I really don't want to forget John Woolman's "activism." It clearly was derived from his spiritual leadings, that led him to strong activism. Among the issues he dealt with were quite "contemporary:" Racism (in his case very strong but he was up "against" Biblical literalists who supported slavery as Biblically allowed, and because it seemed "natural."  Any parallel to homosexuality?), Economic inequality - "Plea for the Poor; Environmental Sustainability; etc.

Granted that John Woolman was not "involved" in governmental "politics," but clearly was heavily involved in "Quaker politics." He was also very involved in "social media" of the day, given that publications and letters were exchanged widely.



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