When I first started to attend Quaker meeting as a young adult, I was immediately drawn into the experience of deep, expectant opening to a living sacred presence, both within myself and among those of us present. This was and is an experience of a profound encounter with expansive love and compassion. I gradually learned an openness to promptings of this spirit. I found and find this radical openness to be both profoundly exciting and scary. It remains the core of my spiritual and religious practice today.
To borrow the garden metaphor, there are times in my life my garden is well-cultivated and tended, and times when it is more like a field of wildflowers. When it has enough rain, it blooms, and when not it goes fallow and I grow restless and seek out more rain for new seeds to sprout.
My view is that what is true will remain true if tested. I have come to appreciate the Quaker testimonies (SPICE or SPICETEAS as suggested by Larry Spears), phrased as queries, as a way of winnowing my explorations: Is the message clear and simple enough to understand and use? Does it promote peace? Does it contribute to wholeness and health? Is it an approach of honesty? Does it contribute to community? Does it promote equality? Does it lead to care of the world and its peoples?
Over and over again, I return to the same values I grew up with: love, compassion, justice, equality and nurture; in other words, that which supports life and wholeness.
In reading the journal of George Fox, I related to his setting aside all he had been taught and listening for the voice of God to speak to him directly. I ask that question also “what speaks to my condition?” What is the voice of this spirit saying to me? If I follow the path of integrity (the “I” in SPICE), this means casting a wide net, not limiting myself to what is easy, conventional or commonly accepted.
Having grown up in the Episcopalian church, hearing passages from the old and new testaments each week, often the words that come (when there are words, and often my felt sense is wordless) are from Jesus, “take up your cloak and follow me.” In Jesus, I find an example of total commitment not only to love, compassion, and justice, but also to a radical kind of equality and to a willingness to take risks in witness to these passions. The phrases deep within Quaker tradition of “the seed of Christ” and “the living presence of Jesus” are deeply meaningful to me.
Through the years, other traditions of faith and spirituality have contributed to my spiritual growth as well. Certainly the writings of a wide variety of Friends, both vintage and modern have been central. Buddhism, earth-based spirituality, and even nontheism are among approaches that have afforded me new knowledge, windows and lenses with which to view my experience and questions. A radical openness means that, being willing to follow my curiosity, my promptings, and my need.
I do deeply appreciate the value of following a dedicated religious and spiritual path that is not so eclectic. I understand the value of being deeply immersed, educated and committed to a particular religion, philosophy and even a secular approach. I am thankful for sermons, books, essays, and discussions with those of a variety of faiths or no faith.
The other half of the question of religious and spiritual path for me is how to live out these values in my life and actions in the world. I find that naming them is so much easier than putting them into practice in a consistent way.
When I take this challenge it is a constant growing edge – living in peace and community, how to meet my own needs mindful of the needs of others, how to spend my time and resources, how to raise my child and what to teach her, and on and on.
Over the course of my life the quest for living my passions and values has taken different forms in career, unpaid work, relationships, recreation, and use of my resources. At present I am focusing on one day at a time – what opportunities do I have this day to offer love, compassion, further justice and equality, health and wholeness, including to myself? What can I do to keep moving forward on this path?
Like Mike Shell, I believe that “all of us are one kindred, regardless of our traditions, our religions, our politics, our behaviors and beliefs.” I also believe that recognizing our commonality and communicating is necessary to our common welfare and even life itself.
“Timucuan Path,” photo by Mike Shell. Unpaved road, Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, Ft. George Island, FL (5/30/2011).