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A Quaker Book of Wisdom

Published: June 5, 2020


Review: A Quaker Book of Wisdom, Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service and Common Sense by Robert Lawrence Smith, published by William Morrow Paperbacks, 1998, 190 pages .

Robert Lawrence Smith was born in Morristown, New Jersey, into a long line of Quakers. Taking his inspiration from George Fox, and from his own nine generations of Quaker ancestors, Smith exhorts us “to live more simply, more truthfully and more charitably.”

Beginning with the Quaker belief that there is that of God in everyone, Smith explores the ways that we can recognize the inner light that each of us has and use that inner light to help guide us in how we conduct our lives.

Smith says, “For Quakers, wisdom begins in silence. Quakers believe that only when we have silenced our voices and our souls, can we hear that still, small voice that dwells within each of us – the voice of God that speaks to us and that we express to others through our deeds. Only by listening in stillness for that voice and letting it guide our actions can we truly let our lives speak.”

Using his own life as a guide, Smith writes about his difficult decision to fight in World War II, and his later opposition to all wars.

Smith is eloquent in his “advices” to the reader. Here are some which resonated with this reviewer:

“Humility is simplicity of spirit, and simplicity of spirit is at the heart of Quakerism.”

“Heart and hand are two inseparable agents of faith and work that reflect two sides of Quakerism: its mysticism (reaching within for truth) and its activism (reaching out to others).”

“A person who is preoccupied with materialistic desires is ill prepared to sit in silence with other worshipers and listen for that still small voice of God.”

“Quakerism is the only Faith that is commonly in a cascade of negatives. Quakerism expressed has no theology, no body of religious dogma, no sacred books, no written creed. There is no liturgy. There are no crucifixes or religious images in Quaker homes.... Look for truth within yourself and within the Meeting for Worship. Live a life of simplicity, love, and service. Let your life speak.”

“Ernest Hemingway wrote, ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’ I feel the same way about Meeting; it is a moveable feast of the spirit. No matter where you worship, or who joins you in your silent search, the truth is always waiting for you like an old friend.”

From his role as headmaster of Sidwell Friends School, and as a lifetime Quaker, husband and father, Smith writes convincingly of Quakerism’s ability to offer us the practical tools for living a more meaningful, and a more examined life.

from Jim Shields, Honolulu Friends Meeting (5/31/2020)