by Mary Linda McKinney
Over the last couple of years, I have spoken with dozens and dozens of Friends and have heard the same frustration, the same hurt over and over: I can’t bring my authentic spirituality into my Quaker community. Friends have told me, “I’m a Christian and my meeting does not welcome Christian expressions of faith.” In equal measures other Friends have said, “My meeting is primarily Christian but I am not. I don’t feel safe sharing what I really believe with them.” What I have heard from many Quakers is that we Friends have a heartbreaking mistrust of other Friends who speak different theological languages. Friends don’t trust the people we worship and wash dishes after potluck with because we have diverse experiences of Spirit and express ourselves in varied ways.
My stars! Does this make me sad. And, frankly, I think this mistrust and exclusion is tearing us apart. I think it closes us off from the movements of the Spirit and blocks us from faithfulness. It prevents us from being Beloved Community, from truly knowing one another. It causes rifts and hurts and power struggles. I suspect it drives away seekers who are looking for a spiritual community. I know it alienates long-time members and attenders who yearn for experiences of being gathered into unity by the Presence but whose meetings share little intimacy beyond an hour of silence each week.
How do we bridge this enormous divide? How do we learn to trust one another and find what unites us? My sense is that we need to talk. We need to make specific and intentional time for Friends in community to sit down and share with one another about what is true and real for us, what is suspected, hoped for, believed, experienced…and also about the experiences we have not had that make us unable to express what we do not know.
Faithful Meetings was created to provide Friends communities opportunities for these conversations. Topics and practices important to Friends will be introduced for each gathering and folks will have space to explore their meanings and significance. We will listen for what is alive for the group, for where Spirit wants to lead us, with plenty of time to follow those leadings.
If you are interested in learning more about Faithful Meetings, register here to join an information session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss bringing a Faithful Meetings information session to your community.
I use the word “God” to describe my experience of the flow of Divine Energy that infuses and unifies as it flows through everything. I’m also comfortable using the word “Christ” to describe that Divine Energy within me, which intimately knows every smidgen of my being. I use “Christ” because when I read about Jesus, I recognize God flowing through him (much more fluidly and consistently than I’m aware of God flowing through me) and understand why he is referred to by both his human name and his profound connection with the Divine Energy: Jesus Christ. I also see this Energy in Hindu texts where Krishna is guiding Arjuna, feel it in Sufi hymns of praise, and hear it when my Native American siblings offer prayers to Spirit. In my way of understanding, Christ is present in all of us, inviting us into the Divine Flow so we can “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” In my experience, God is always with us, inviting us to recognize the flow and to join it.
But that’s just my way of understanding it. I don’t expect you to use the same words or have anything like the same understanding. What words do you use to describe your spiritual experiences? How do you understand words like “God” and “Christ”? How do you describe your relationship with Spirit?
If you would like, please share your responses to these questions in the forum.