This is the first of a set of interviews with people who have had a long history with Quakers and Quaker Universalist Fellowship. Cherie Roberts interviewed Rhoda R. Gilman in August of 2013.
From 1995 to 2011, Ms. Gilman served on the board of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship. In that capacity she edited numerous pamphlets, authored one, and from 1995 to 2002, conducted an international listserv and discussion group by email. A number of her short essays are included in two collections published by the QUF in 2007, Universalism and Spirituality and Universalism and Religions.
QUF: [How] would you describe the scope of Quaker universalism and its context in the world?
*RHODA*: I think it means moving from a focus on the Society of Friends and the individual spiritual journey to the inclusionism of universalism. It’s a focus on spiritual and moral unity of all human societies, which we are beginning to see the absolute need for if we are to survive, in addressing the destruction of the earth and the moving beyond purely human spiritual needs.
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of the scope of your concern beyond ourselves?
RHODA: To a concern with all human beings, just not the Society Of Friends or Christians, and to our being part of the great web of life on this planet….
We need to be careful about claiming human exceptionalism to other forms of life…. I think we need to be fully aware of the limitations imposed by our dependence on our own physical senses and our physical brain, which gives rise in some ways we do not fully understand to our minds and thoughts. Which leads me to mysticism and dealing with that which we cannot know but which our intuition and our yearnings tell us is a part of human nature….
Alfred Korzybski, put it very well in the simple statement, “The map is not the territory,” by which I think he clearly meant that our view, the view that our mind and physical senses give us of the reality around, is not the reality itself. It is the map.
I feel that mysticism is an effort to get beyond that map to the true reality, the essence of reality, that can’t be captured in words. For that reason, silence has to me taken on a much more significant and living aspect than we usually assign it. I think true silence is the silence of the mind and absence of thought and the words that bring thought. It is a sense of pure awareness….
I think silence and meditation are distinct from contemplation, which focuses on a particular idea. I think meditation is the effort to get beyond ideas and beyond mental activity. I think that a lot of changes in the view of Friends, which are related to the concept of universalism and its relationship to mysticism….
I think other religions have also changed. Buddhism. I have seen great changes in Buddhism, even in my own lifetime. In my rather brief acquaintance with Buddhism, I have seen it spreading to a whole population including women and lay people, rather than being limited to a clergy of monks and a few nuns. It’s undertaking the phenomenon called “engaged Buddhism,” which is essentially Buddhism with an active sense of social responsibility. In this country, it is exemplified by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
Read the full interview at Quaker Universalist Fellowship Interview with Rhoda Raasch Gilman.
The image of Rhoda Gilman is from Historian Rhoda Gilman, a 2012 Public Radio Exchange (PRX) interview in which Ms. Gilman spoke about her passion for history and politics with KFAI producer Britt Aamodt.