Quaker Universalist Conversations

On discernment

A month ago we published our interview with Daniel A. Seeger. Reading through this interview to find an extract for a promotional blog post, I found one passage in particular which speaks to my condition.

Friend Seeger writes:

I practiced a kind of smorgasbord approach, or syncretic approach, in terms of my interest in expressing spiritual truths.

Religious symbols-4x4

But I also became wary of universalist dabbling — you know, a little Buddhism here, and a little pinch of Taoism there. I began to feel that to have an authentic and deep spiritual life one had to specialize in one tradition and its particular disciplines and vocabulary….

Finally, I tended to be wary of the thought that all religions are essentially alike, another belief to which some universalists were inclined. There are, indeed, some tantalizingly common themes which can be discovered throughout different spiritual cultures, particularly in the ethical sphere. The various versions of the golden rule, which crop up in different religious cultures, is an oft-cited example.

There are, indeed, some tantalizingly common themes which can be discovered throughout different spiritual cultures, particularly in the ethical sphere. The various versions of the golden rule, which crop up in different religious cultures is an oft-cited example.

But there is also great diversity and some outright contradictions, among religious cultures, and not to appreciate and savor these, and ponder their implications, is to deprive the universalist exploration of its capacity to stretch and challenge us.

In my twenties, I was a dabbler. In my thirties, I wanted to reconnect with the authentic religious core of my childhood, when I knew the Jesus my parents loved and trusted, without the accretion of theological abstractions over which people have persecuted and killed each other for centuries.

In my forties, I became a convinced Friend, having learned that I could speak my “native religious language” in my particular meeting with fellow worshipers who knew I was speaking the poetry of sacred story and not the axioms of orthodox doctrine.

In my fifties, I had come to understand that Quakerism is neither a theology nor a political philosophy, but rather a spiritual discipline, grounded in the Christian tradition yet not requiring Christian confession, which aspires to ever greater objectivity about the intersection of the spiritual and the material in human consciousness and action.

"Welcome new light," image by Alice Popkorn / Flickr (2008, Creative Commons-Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Now, in my sixties, I am sometimes troubled by a liberal Quaker tendency to equate an individual’s “inner experience” with what George Fox calls “that of God” or “the Inner Light.”

For Fox there is but one sacred whole. All individuals have the potential to test their habits of faith and practice against this reality and to be corrected and taught by it. Our “inner experience” is the finite and fallible effort of human consciousness to pay attention to and understand this reality—colored by everything we have experienced outwardly or been taught by our families and cultures.

Fox wants us to discern the differences between our individual inner experiences and the unity of that one sacred whole.

Whether I am a Taoist or a Hindu or Shi’ite or secular humanist or a scientist, I can receive the “measure of the Light” I am ready to accept by opening myself to discernment of the gaps between what I think I believe and what is real.

And so it is.

Blessèd be,
Michael

Comments

Thank you, Michael – Lacan couldn’t have said it better himself! Sloppy solipsism is the slippery slope of modern-day Quakerism.

Also, I thank you, Michael. Much of your presentation in this piece coincides with a few other. Your reference to George Fox’s ‘sacred whole’ relates very well to today’s “global consciousness”. Quakerism is a way for many to understand themselves in the unity of our world.