by Mary Linda McKinney
It may surprise you to learn that it doesn’t matter to me what you believe. Whether you believe in The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or an indescribable Divine or in absolutely nothing that is not tangible and measurable in this material world does not affect me. Mostly*.
I talk about God (the Holy Spirit, the Divine, the Light, Christ, Spirit, &) all the time. I do so because my Beloved is the foundation of my life and informs everything I do. My relationship with my Inner Guide isn’t based on belief so much as just knowing–experiencing– that Spirit is in and around and through me all the time.
One thing I trust is that each of us is made in the image of God. This means a couple of important things to me. The first is that God is infinitely diverse and each one of us reflects some part of it, like an eternal Divine Jigsaw Puzzle with billions and billions of marvelous, essential pieces. The second is that because we are all made in the image of God and we are all different, we each have a unique relationship with God. And this includes some of us having zero attachment to anything mystically supernatural. I know many loving, kind, justice-oriented people who avow no connection with anything like what is described by myself and others as being a “divine source.” I believe and respect what they say about their reality.
As Quakers seeking unity, we share experiences but each interprets them through our individual understandings. I see the handiwork of the Creator in the tiny yellow flower that blooms in my yard where someone else sees evolution and another simply nature. It doesn’t matter to me what we call it because the flower is beautiful and gives us the opportunity to pause and be present with it for a moment of decentering our egoic selves. I feel God gathering us into a profoundly deep moment during meeting for worship, someone else experiences a sense of oneness with the universe and the gathered body, and another feels connected and at peace. We are all sharing this moment through our own understandings. What is important for community, especially spiritual community, is that we make spaces where we can talk with one another about encounters with beauty and unity and whatever it is that draws us to meeting for worship.
As for the word “mostly*” in the first paragraph: What disturbs me is when folks’ bring their own orientation into a group in a way that silences other people. It happens in Quaker spaces pretty often: A Christian demands that everything be framed through a relationship with Jesus Christ; or a non-theist assertively implies that any suggestion of theological expression, particularly Christian, is unwelcome. Both of these effectively shut down any possibility of open and authentic sharing by people with different understandings.
It is okay for us to disagree. We’re different people so of course we are going to have different ways of interpreting and talking about experiences. You can feel strongly that I am in need of salvation or that I am delusional to believe I am guided by an invisible force. It is never, though, alright for you to try to convince me of either of those. And it is never okay for me to try to persuade you to conform to my understanding. When we try to change one another, what we are saying is “You are not good enough as you are. You must become like me,” which denies the promise that we are all made in God’s image with our own unique relationship with the Divine.
As the Faithful Meeting facilitator, I invite communities to co-create a space with me in which each person feels safe enough to share what is true for them and also secure enough to stick around when they are challenged by the diverse truths of others. Together, we will listen for the wisdom that arises through the gathered body and find what unites us as a community of Friends.