Speaking Fluent Wishy-Washy


Dear Editor: I loved William Matchett’s delicately profound “Notes on Quaker Speech.” I share his sentiment that locutions like “Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business” are tortured and twee. It has been said that Friends abolished creeds, but couldn’t exterminate the creedal impulse. So if Friends are resistant to propound any set of beliefs, it must be all the more tempting for us to cherish certain phrases that signify group identity instead. Sadly, I’ve met people who equated “understanding Quakerism” with “speaking fluent wishy-washy.” In the interest of spiritually immediate language, here are a few more Quaker phrases I wouldn’t mind never hearing again.

“That of God” is a George Fox original, but its current popularity likely comes from its effect of putting God at arm’s length. Is there a reason we can’t simply refer to God or the godly in someone, or state that we are all the children or creation of God? Do we have so little faith that we have to hedge about the nature of people’s God-portions? “Let me tell you, that jerk only got God’s toenail clippings.” Or did God leave his cellphone charger in me the last time he visited?

“Proselytize” – what a humble brag. Truly, the first time a Quaker learns this word is when she learns that “we don’t do it.” Neither do we defenestrate, but we don’t advertise the fact. Thank goodness we can summon this golem when someone tries to do something foolish like share her enthusiasm about her faith.

“Hold in the Light” – I appreciate Friends Journal for highlighting the recent provenance of this invented tradition. Truly, “holding in the light” is a worthy practice, as anyone who has assayed the “Experiment with Light” will attest. Asking God to illumine a dilemma is the center of our faith. But the phrase is quite shopworn. Does Aunt Helen’s cold really require divine intervention? How often are we really summoning Christ’s infinite love? Could we not “pray” instead, or would that make us seem uncomfortably like a religion?

Evan Draper, West Philadelphia Friends Meeting (the other PYM)

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