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On Division

Mary Klein
On Division (January 2024)

In Listening Spirituality, Volume II (1999), Patricia Loring explains that from the start, “Friends have sought to enter as a body into the presence, guidance, and service of God. . . The experience of listening, and of being gathered together in that which we hear, has shaped and ordered our nonhierarchical organizational forms, with the intention of giving the leadership of the corporate body to God . . .” However, “So much havoc and pain have been wreaked on the world by people who were certain they were performing God’s will that it’s very important to have safeguards for the process of distinguishing a true leading from a false one.” As we in twenty-first-century America now reflect on our spiritual ancestors’ sometimes murderous roles in the formation of this country, we must take Loring’s admonition to heart.

The world cries out from all directions for help. A Friend might feel an urgent need to respond, to take some action, any action – or take one particular action. Either way, a Friend in the traditional sense of “Friend” would stop long enough to make their best effort to identify the motivations driving their need to act. Social conditioning? Peer pressure? Unhealed personal trauma? Or is the Spirit of Universal Love seeking to express itself?

Countless good works are accomplished every day. (Countless bad ones, too.) But although a work might be unquestionably A Good Work – effective, joyful, improves people’s lives – it might not be Quaker witness. And if not witness, if we’re not out there “answering that of God in every one,” we might as well join the Rotary.

Traditionally, Friends have tested would-be acts of Quaker witness before and while they occur, seeking to determine whether they are actually true leadings of the Spirit. Before such actions, Friends can carry out thought experiments. One test is to consider whether the proposed course of action “has Life” – that is, whether an inner imagining of the action brings forth a visceral sense of encouragement and growth. Another test is to consider, “Would this action expand the Love of Divine Unity in the world?” Again, this is not an analytic exercise. The test is intuitive. And sadly, human intuition is fallible.

During an act of Quaker witness, participants can notice how well the action is “bearing fruits of the Spirit.” That is, they can pay attention to the fullness (or absence) of faith, hope, and love during the action. I have served as a “peace-keeper” at demonstrations where I played my role as a happy cog in the traffic machine – fun, but not much fruit. I have also taken public actions that have strengthened my faith that life has a place for all of us, my hope that life has a purpose for all of us, and my love for just plain all of us – the now-ness, the jostling, the sunshine, the singing, the conflict, all filled with love. Of course, the vast majority of Quaker witness has little to do with street demonstrations. But those are the examples that come to my mind as I look toward 2024 and all the disagreement this year proposes to bring us.

“[Concern] for the social order and prophetic witness among Friends . . . can be a very special kind of fellowship,” writes Loring. “It usually involves a sense of empowerment: not only seeking to empower others, but the empowerment that can come to us as we are joined together and energized by the movement of the Holy Spirit among us.”

It’s not enough just to tend our personal sources of loving-kindness, as if some numinous domino effect will carry our love out into the world. But it’s not enough just to jump into the closest fray either, for standing up and being counted. Both of these are important – to be loving and to be visibly so – but not just any old acts of love or visibility will do. The point of “expectant waiting worship” is to wait, expecting to be called, expecting to learn what will do. So we need to stay awake, and we need to stay ready.

Ready means keeping track of where our centers are, embedded in the Larger Reality. Then, whenever we get knocked over, even if we’re lying down dizzy, we’ll be better able to reorient ourselves and stagger back up, so that we can play the parts Life calls us to play. ~~~

Patricia Loring

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