As I sit in Quaker silence, my mind roams back over the wild places I know – icy cold snow falling all around me at a favorite mountain lake, trees I have held and spoken with, and vistas where my gaze enfolds itself into the hills and valleys far off and far below. Wilderness speaks itself deep in my soul. The untamed beauty of coastal shores and mountains run through my body and connect me to an energy bigger than myself. And though I don’t know what this energy is, I continue to step back towards it, wanting to find out.
Many Friends seek wild places for similar reasons. And, somewhat surprising, many Friends sense divine energy in all types of places, even buildings, which don’t seem to speak to me. They have questions – wild, untamed questions bubbling over, asked faster than they can ponder them. Then these Friends sit, and listen, and continue to ask.
One of the best gifts of Quakerism is the practice of listening together and hearing The Voice that unifies us all. I love those moments. I love those times when we all turn our faces and start walking in one direction. But that unity of agreement is not what thrills me about Quakerism, not why this faith speaks to my life in the forests and the wider world.
What I love about Quakerism is the sheer diversity of thought among Friends. Especially after traveling and meeting Quakers in various countries, it continually astounds me what a diverse group of people we are. Though I certainly know that diversity can sometimes lead to differences of opinion, which can sometime cause rifts and pain, I choose to see it as a gift. Diversity can actually hold us together by freeing each one of us.
When you walk into a natural forest and take an intense look around, you see all different types of plants, trees, animals, and fungi. These organisms are a diverse group, interrelating in ways we don’t even appreciate yet. They need each other’s perspectives, abilities, and care. So do we. We come into community together, perhaps not even appreciating the intrinsic diversity we’ve been given, but there that diversity is, flowing under the surface – the tumult of ideas, beliefs, experiences, expressions of self, and backgrounds. It’s where we all have a place at the table, and even when we don’t agree, we can still pull out chairs for each other and share a meal together.
This is why I know I will always have a home among Friends. No matter what questions I ask, I know there is a wideness among us, wide as the wilderness, reaching out and encompassing anywhere I choose to go. I will always have something to bring to the table of Friends, and there will always be something I do not have that you will bring to the table. By being so different from one another, there is never an ultimate “box of Quaker” to put anyone into – it simply doesn’t exist.
In a world where people love their labels and their boxes, Friends can be a wonderful example of what it can be like to embrace someone different from yourself and be in community with them. It’s not easy – it can be hard, in fact. But by embracing the diversity we already share, we release ourselves to hear The Voice and find freedom by not trying to place The Sacred into a box, experiencing it for whatever it chooses to be. ~~~
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt is a writer, poet, workshop leader, and spiritual director whose work is described at sarahkatreenhoggatt.com. Her ministry reaches out to seekers at the edges of spirituality, through explorations of joy and loss. She is co-clerk of Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.