Thinking of famous Quakers, historical names tend to be the first ones that come to mind.
George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends in the mid 1600s. Margaret Fell, John Woolman, William Penn, and Elias Hicks are familiar names to Friends that all lived prior to the 1900s.
While you’ll probably recognize the names of these more contemporary people, you may not know that they all are, or grew up as Quakers.
United States Presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, actors Judi Dench and James Dean, and musicians Bonnie Raitt, Joan Biaz, and Dave Matthews all had Quakerism play an important part of their lives.
Baez has said that the Friends peace testimony has been a strong influence on her music. About her Quaker upbringing, Dench said “I think it informs everything I do. I couldn’t be without it.”
And if you need one more famous Quaker, how about Cassius Coolidge, the man who created the iconic Dogs Playing Poker painting?
This is the seventh in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.
Elizabeth Freyman’s Walking Cheerfully is a delightful website (walkingcheerfully.com) that is designed and written to be shared with children, providing inspiration for First Day School programs.
Walking Cheerfully describes the Stewardship testimony as “the responsibility we have for the gifts we have been given.”
It goes on to say:
“What if the gift I am thinking of isn’t even mine, it is something I am sharing with others? I think the thing I love most about the testimony of Stewardship is that it leaves space for the possibility that we are not the owners of the gift that we are caring for, we might just be taking a turn with it.”
The Fort Meyers Quakers in Florida describe the testimony this way:
“To Friends, good stewardship means taking care of what has been given, not just for ourselves, but for the people around us and for future generations as well.”
As we try to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given, we can reflect on some of the queries the Fort Meyers Quakers ask:
- Do we respect life and nature? As human beings, how do we act as caretakers of the Earth?
- Do we think about what happens to the Earth and its creatures as a result of our own behavior? How can we help make the world a welcoming place for all the different animals and plants we share it with?
- How can I be a better steward of our environment in my consumption and recycling habits? How can I help others care for the environment?
The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice sums up the testimony very well:
“All that we have, in ourselves and our possessions, are gifts from God, entrusted to us for our responsible use. From the beginning, it was through the wonders of nature that people saw God. How we treat the earth and its creatures is a basic part of our relationship with God.”
This is the second in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.
In his book “A Quaker Book of Wisdom”, Robert Lawrence Smith wrote “If I were asked to define Quaker simplicity in a nutshell, I would say that it has little to do with how many things you own and everything to do with not letting your possessions own you.”
Smith also wrote, “Living simply is also not about finding a quiet corner where you can contemplate your life and feel good about yourself. Far from it. It’s about giving yourself the freedom to pursue that indestructible impulse to do good in the world, to go toward the best.”
Simplicity can also support other Quaker testimonies. A simpler life requires fewer resources, supporting the testimony of stewardship. Needing fewer resources makes those resources available to others, supporting equality. And with few distractions, our time and attention are available to help build community.
Even outside of the Quaker community, many people have been drawn to the practice of minimalism. Although some proponents of minimalism say it’s about limiting the number of possessions you own, others view it more like the Quaker approach to simplicity.
Minimalist Joshua Becker said, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value, and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” Colin Wright tells us to “Get rid of the things in your life that don’t add value so you can focus on the things that do.”
A simpler life, with fewer possessions, fewer demands, and fewer distractions, brings into focus that “indestructible impulse” Smith wrote about, and can help us identify and pursue what it will take to make our lives and our society as good as they can be.
Are you open to the many ways Spirit may speak to you?
— New England Yearly Meeting Advices
The silent meeting for worship, which we use at Peachtree Friends Meeting, is one of the things that attracts many people to Quakerism.
But for some, it can also be a little uncomfortable. In today’s society, we almost never sit with other people in silence for a sustained period of time. An hour of silence can feel awkward, especially when attending a meeting the first few times.
Even if you think this could be difficult for you, we encourage you to attend a Peachtree Friends meeting for worship. If you need to stand or walk or read or write during the meeting, that would not be a problem.
And fortunately, our meeting space is very accommodating as well. There’s plenty of room to move about inside – and even outside if you like the weather that morning. We would just ask that you be as quiet as possible.
A Quaker silent meeting for worship can be a powerful spiritual experience. We invite you to join us on First Day and try it out.
Stand still, wait for divine guidance, then act.
— New England Yearly Meeting Advices
In his book, “Being a Quaker”, Geoffrey Durham wrote about the traditional Quaker silent meeting for worship: “What Quakers are doing in their meetings is waiting on the Divine.” And he wrote about the many positive ways he has been led in his life as a result of silent worship.
But Durham also pointed out that when he first started to attend Quaker meetings, he did not always settle into the correct frame of mind. It turns out many of us at Peachtree Friends have had, and sometimes still have, the same problem.
A few weeks ago, prior to meeting for worship, we got to talking about that. We all agreed that sometimes the distractions and worries of day-to-day life make it difficult to settle our minds.
I knew that was true for me, a relative newcomer to Quaker worship. (I told everyone about the time I spent the entire meeting with an Elton John song running through my head.) But it was actually encouraging for me to hear that even lifelong Quakers who attend Peachtree Friends meetings sometimes have the same problem.
For some it’s prayer that focuses them, for others it’s focusing on a meaningful word, for others it’s intentional breathing. Sometimes it takes a little bit of effort to let go of our distractions, but it’s always worth it.
We welcome you to join us this month in silent waiting on the Divine – even if you bring an Elton John song with you.
“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and this is our testimony to the whole world.”
That statement is from a document written in 1660 by representatives of the Religious Society of Friends, including George Fox, to the King of England. It is commonly referred to as the Declaration of Friends to Charles II.
So it’s fair to say that the Peace Testimony has been an integral part of Quakerism for at least 362 years. It’s based on the Quaker belief that everyone has that of God within them. It’s not hard to see that war is incompatible with this belief.
Over the years Quakers have converted the testimony into action by refusing to serve in armed forces (or by serving in an ambulance corps only), protesting war, becoming conscientious objectors, and refusing to pay war taxes.
It can be hard for Friends to know how to manifest the Peace Testimony today. The best way to start might be by simply focusing on and listening to the Light within us. By letting it guide our thoughts, words, and actions, we can increase our own personal peace.
Maybe the first, and most important, step towards world peace lies within ourselves.