Everyone needs meaning in their lives. Everyone needs purpose. Quakers find them through a blend of spirituality and action. And for many of us, it can be hard to distinguish between the two.
Quakers often talk about a ‘Spirit’ working inside people. We recognise and accept there is a part of us that is not our intellect, not our emotions, not our ego; but something central to our being that can guide us, help us connect to others, provide insights and help us make sense of our lives, if we trust it and give it time to work.
We find we may be prompted by the Spirit while sitting in silence and stillness, and unexpectedly at other times. Through these promptings we find meaning and purpose from everything that happens in our daily lives.
Quakers record the shared wisdom from these promptings in a helpful pocket-sized booklet called Advices & Queries, a kind of maintenance manual for Quakers. (It is available for free online and in print from the Quaker Centre and your local Quaker meeting.) Here is an extract from it:
Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak.
That is a quite a challenge, but it is one that many Quakers accept. Some realise they have developed a different set of priorities from the ones they had earlier in life. Others see their already passionately held beliefs supported and strengthened by the Quaker community.
People with religious backgrounds aren’t expected to turn their back on them when they come to Quakers. Many Buddhists, for example, have found a spiritual home in Quaker meetings, allowing Quakerism to enhance their philosophical tradition while at the same time giving a Buddhist slant to their Quaker beliefs. There are Hindu Quakers, Muslim Quakers and Roman Catholic Quakers.
It often happens that social and political activists – from the peace movement, say, or from climate-change campaigning – discover Quakerism almost by accident through their work. They may never have considered joining a religious group, but the more they sit with Quakers the more they find themselves changing, as one passionate concern nurtures the other.
Quakers try always to look for the good in everyone. We accept that as human beings we all have the capacity to act for the benefit of others or to their detriment; to act for good or to act for evil. We know that if we connect to that deeper part of us we can find ways to act for the good of others and the world.
I had expected, or at least hoped, to find an idea, an interpretation of Quaker faith that I could then put into practice. But it came the other way round. I found a practice, and out of this arose the faith.
- Rex Ambler, 2002
People often say that religion and politics don’t mix. Quakers don’t agree. For us, religion and politics, religion and peace, religion and truth, religion and equality, religion and simplicity, religion and sustainability are all part of a bigger picture. And if any one of those ‘testimonies’ begins to speak to you in such a way that you start to take it seriously, to the extent that you can’t ignore it, that you even want to base your life around it, you are inevitably well on the way to thinking like a Quaker. Quakerism is a religion of everyday life.