By Rachel Stacey
Member of QUF and student at the Earlham School of Religion
Freshman year of high school, I picked up a flyer for YouthQuake, a national Quaker conference, at the thanksgiving conference of my regional Young Friends. While the questions on the application were completely foreign to me (asking all sorts of questions about Jesus and Christ), something drew me to that event…
The previous summer, I had attended the annual sessions of Baltimore Yearly Meeting where Tom Fox had facilitated a workshop on Christianity for the young friends. [Tom Fox was a Friend who joined Christian Peace Teams and was murdered in Iraq.—Ed.] It was the first time I had really heard and taken in the non-violent context of Christianity and become interested in learning more.
Tom encouraged me to attend YouthQuake and about two months later I was on a plane with my mother to Seattle, WA. We met up with Tom in the airport and were shuttled into a school bus with many other young friends. I ended up sitting next to a group of girls from Friendswood, TX. These young women were members of an evangelical Friends church and experienced Quakerism in a manner that was completely new to me. Throughout the conference, the Friendswood girls adopted me and taught me about their Quaker community.
One day towards the end of the conference, I was struggling with all of the new information I was absorbing. I was on the edge of tears and walking back to my room to ‘get myself together’ when the Friendswood girls intercepted my path. They saw that I was upset and decided in that moment that they needed to pray for me. It was the first time I had heard vocal prayer on my behalf and I burst into tears. Mortified by my emotional reaction I ran back to my room and stared at myself in the mirror until I calmed down. My last question to myself that day was “What was that?” Prayer held a power I had only experienced when moved to speak in meeting.
This event sparked a journey. While some teenagers rebel against their parents by doing drugs, having sex or setting things on fire, my rebellion took me to church. I sang in a Baptist choir, attended Catholic Mass and went to every Meeting for Worship possible. Over time participation in these different communities raised deep theological questions. By the time I entered Earlham College I was brimming with the need for answers.
My religious questioning found a wealth of opportunity at college. While I had grown up with friends of other faiths, including Judaism and Sikhism, I knew little of other religious communities beyond Universalist Quakerism. My seeking and thirst for experience demanded a rigorous social schedule. Each week I attended multiple church services, Shabbat dinner at the Jewish Cultural Center, Buddhist meditation, Christian Fellowship, Earlham Young Friends, Gospel Choir, Inter-faith house activities and countless conversations about faith and practice. I took religion classes on African American church history, Abrahamic Scriptures, Christian theology and contemporary religious movements. By the time I was a senior a religious professor pulled me aside and told me that if I took the senior seminar and wrote a thesis I would have a religion major. In the end an accidental religion major was more of divine providence and two years after graduation I returned to Earlham to study inter-religious dialogue at the graduate level.
One of the most profound experiences I had during my undergraduate exploration was celebrating Ramadan. I lived in a downstairs apartment with a few friends and the professor of Middle East studies lived upstairs with his son. A whole group of us were taking Abrahamic Scriptures which was co-taught by this professor and a Quaker professor. During Ramadan, we gathered a group of about 10-15 people at 4am in the morning for breakfast. It became a time of deep conversations and sleepy laughter.
My interest in inter-religious dialogue has continued in many ways since my graduation from Earlham College; one of which is working with the Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF). In reflection of my journey, I feel that I have become a more informed global citizen through my experiences with other religions. I have also come to understand more deeply my own Quaker faith and where I dance in the complex matrix of this world.
I begin this project, publishing a blog entry each day of Lent, as a exercise of bring together different voices involved in inter-faith dialogue, reflect on some of my own experiences (as a Quaker) with different faiths, and offer up some meditations from different faith communities around the themes of peace, witness, and surrender. What will you give up/ take on during this time of cleansing, renewal and rebirth? I hope that you’ll check back here every so often and find some interesting and/or inspiration notes to help you on your journey.