Quakers Do What! Why? by Rhiannon Grant reviewed by Mary Ann Petersen
I am convinced again, Friends! Credit goes to Quakers Do What! Why?, a 72-page booklet from Quaker Quicks, written by Rhiannon Grant. In it, she takes the reader through a wide range of beliefs and practices of unprogrammed Quakers, using a friendly, conversational style. For example, the first chapter is titled: “Wait – Quakers still exist?” This book is great for people interested in exploring what it means to be Quaker as well as being full of great reminders for seasoned Friends.
Grant, a lifelong Quaker, wrote this book because she thinks Quakers are “interesting, sometimes amazing, sometimes horrifying, and potentially have a lot to share with the world – but can be very shy.” She covers the Quaker concept of God (or whatever term you prefer), Quaker vernacular and references, and some historical background. She also differentiates Quakers from Shakers, Amish, and Mennonites, and she defines conservative, liberal, evangelical, and convergent Friends. Each chapter offers additional resources for readers who want to dig deeper.
The book is not so much theoretical as it is practical. Grant makes the point that “worshipping in silence is a big, unusual thing about Quakers.” She explains that Quakers choose to worship in silence because it gives space for them to be open to the Spirit. “Unprogrammed worship makes all people equal and puts God in charge.”
I like how Grant illustrates that liberal unprogrammed Quakers can include a wide diversity of understandings about faith, and yet they can still worship together in unity. Disagreements may arise, yet people can learn to accommodate more than one notion about the nature of “spirit,” who God is, and whether or not the group needs to agree on these. Written for a faith without a written creed, this book sheds light on the shared sacred spaces between and among us, and demonstrates how we can hold this space in honor and reverence.
Grant explores the perennial question, “How do you know if something you feel led to say during meeting for worship is really from God?” Some Friends would fill volumes of books in reply. Instead, Grant writes like a patient friend who is talking with you about the discernment process of vocal ministry. She ponders: Without a lot of direction and instruction in place, how can we cultivate our relationship with the divine? She considers: We need freedom for seeking authentic connection, and yet, we also need some framework to support us in our seeking. She proposes: One method of testing divine messages is to consider the possible outcome of the message. Ask yourself, does the message lead to joy, peace, healing, truth, inspiration? If so, it probably comes from a divine source, since the divine source is loving in nature.
Helpful translations of peculiar Quaker terms and processes are also included in this book. “Threshing” is a term I had heard before, but I never really understood. Grant explains that a “threshing meeting” is used when a decision is complex and needs special attention, “views can be aired on a topic, but there is no attempt to reach a conclusion.” The intention is for a group, gathered in the Spirit, to seek the right way forward together.
Grant is upbeat about the future of Quakers. She sees we hold many helpful life tools and are able to adapt and evolve. She acknowledges that much of the content of this book emerged from the questions that people asked her in response to a badge she often wears, “I’m a Quaker, ask me why.” I think that all of us who are ready should wear this badge! Quakers Do What! Why? is a book that encourages us to be seen in action – and open to talking about it. ~~~
Mary Ann Petersen is a member of Eugene Friends Meeting (NPYM).
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