Quaker Universalist Conversations

Comments on Craig Barnett’s “A common tongue”

On December 6th we published an excerpt from Craig Barnett’s post, “A common tongue,” on his own blog, Transition Quaker. There were several thoughtful comments which might help us to carry the conversation further.

Cap Kaylor wrote, in part:

I have attended Quaker meeting for years and…[it] has been my experience that we have nothing in common other than a loose set of somewhat left-leaning social justice concerns. That doesn’t mean to say that real and valued friendships have not been formed. But the powerful mysticism that I read of in the early Quaker sources is absent….

The deep silence of communal meditation is one thing. But silence can also be a manifestation of the fact that, in the end, we really have nothing to say….. We have reduced spirituality down to the lowest possible denominator so as not to make anyone “uncomfortable.”

And all we are left with is gathering together to celebrate the fact that we are gathering together. Not enough for many who are seeking the direct experience of the Divine in the fabled “gathered meeting” of old.

Queries

  • Do you and Friends you know share this sense of loss, regardless of where you are on the Quaker spectrum?
  • If so, how do you transcend the wariness of “discomfort” to give voice to your personal direct experiences of the “Divine”—whatever that poetic term means for you?

Glyphs of wood and water, by Mike Shell

Friend Yun shared the following from Quaker Faith and Practice: Chapter 21 » 21.70 Suffering and healing :

Damaris Parker-Rhodes (1918–1986) studied Eastern mysticism and the holistic approach to health; her experience of cancer, of which she died, brought her fresh insights into the Christian symbols with which she had been brought up.

“Following the operation all sense of God disappeared, and anyone who came to my bedside (and the love and visiting I received was one of the great treasures of my life) I asked to take my hand and mediate God’s love to me. In fact healing and prayer surrounded me on every hand, although I myself felt cut off in complete inner aridity except when actually held in the inner place by someone taking my hand and praying.” (1985)

Queries

  • In what ways do you experience moment of a transcendent Presence or Source which which gives you guidance or comfort?
  • How do you share this experience with others when they cannot find it—or at least cannot recognize it—for themselves?


Note & Image Source

Damaris Parker-Rhodes (1918–1986) From Biographical Notes of Authors, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:

Damaris Parker-Rhodes was first an Anglican, then a communist, and then a convinced Quaker. She is active in peace and social issues and has great interest in oriental meditative traditions. Her book The Way Out Is the Way expanded her previous Swarthmore Lecture [Truth, a path and not a possession: A Quaker woman’s journey (1977)] in the light of her experience with cancer.”

Glyph of wood and water, by Mike Shell

Comments

In my current view, anecdotal evidence is evidence, but not sufficient evidence for broad conclusions. Other Quakers and other meetings have different experience. In discernment, discounting shared concerns and friendship as not being significant parts of powerful mysticism of which Quaker tradition reports is mistaken and costly to understanding.

Further, the experiences of which Quaker tradition reports are singular and notable events in their stream of life, likely including long periods of mundane shared concerns and friendship, which did not rise to written reports. Early Quakers were human also.

As Americans, we have particular disabilities in not recognizing the distortions of culturally asserted expectations that are far from reality, whether these expectations involve the benefits of fasting, silence, liturgy, music, or intimate relationships.

Here’s the passage from Craig Barnett’s original post which resonates for me most:

Each of us has our own personal story, our own distillation of narrative and belief worked out through the unique circumstances of our lives. Have we given up on the possibility of also having shared stories, that enable us to talk together in a common tongue, instead of continually having to translate between a host of private languages?

This describes what stirs the most sadness—and sometimes the most loneliness—in me: that I know longer know if anyone else believes what I believe, experiences the Spirit as I do.

When I was part of a traditionally Christian fellowship, the sacred stories always pointed to a truth which I knew my pastor and fellow congregants shared. Not the literal, doctrinal “truth.” The deeper poetic truth: the truth beneath and prior to conscious, conceptual understanding.

Now, in Quaker meetings, I still speak that poetic language in my silence, but I hesitate to speak it aloud. Not for fear of offending others, but for fear of not being understood.

Can we allow Spirit to lead us beyond this Babel?

Blessings,
Mike

Quakers share a way of life, not a set of beliefs. We seek to experience God directly, within ourselves and in our relationships with others and the world around us. We meet together for worship in local meetings which are inclusive and open to all. (www.quaker.org.uk/intro-quakers)

"Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

There are instructions from the Bible, and the requirements are basic for inspiration.