397 Whatever benefits the earth, benefits all the children of the earth
Day 397: Saturday, April 17th, 2021
Whatever benefits the earth, benefits all the children of the earth
A QUAKER TAO by Brother Toby
If we are careful and not too impatient, it is likely that Americans will be coming out of the worst times in the COVID-19 pandemic by late summer. It is the hope of many that the experiences we have undergone will help us look for better ways of living together. As we begin to readjust our moral compasses, I have been thinking often about the Quaker Testimonies.
Quakers, more formally known as The Religious Society of Friends,
“believe in living life in the spirit of love and truth and peace, reaching for the best in oneself and answering ‘that of God’ in everyone”
The Testimonies are guidelines to help accomplish that objective. They are not imposed on individuals. They differ from the Ten Commandments, and similar lists of things that tell us what to do or not to do. Each person must search for how the Testimonies can best be expressed in their own life. They encourage those who follow them to value the questions that arise from their own experiences as they attempt to follow the guidelines of the Testimonies. Those Queries, as the Quakers call them, are very important.
Long ago the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (370-287 B.C.E) wrote that people must guide themselves with the torch of chaos and doubt. Eventually there emerged the Tao Te Ching which is frequently translated as “The Path of Virtue.” In my own edition of The Tao, I subtitled it “The Sacred Way.” I see the Quaker Testimonies in a similar light.
As I have stumbled along my own long path in life, I have been significantly helped by Quakers on a number of occasions, especially during the Civil Rights Struggle, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Now, as we in this country face another opportunity to reform our method of living together in a harmonious fashion, I think it is well to look seriously at the Quaker Testimonies.
It happens that at present there are two people who are providing important and delightful assistance at Starcross who have been educated in Quaker schools. They informed me that the Testimonies are referred to as the SPICES; each letter standing for one of six Testimonies. “SPICES” is an educational aid for the students but it also brings to mind ways of adding zest to the path we make through life.
Now let us consider each of the SPICES: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship —
This is the root of the Quaker way of life. Historically, Quakers have been known for simple, or “plain” clothing, speaking, Meeting Houses, and much more. Embellishing their lives is seen as getting in the way of their spirituality. As the AFSC states, “clearing away the clutter makes it easier to hear the ‘still small voice’ within.”
One Quaker put it simply, “I keep my life simple so that I am free to harmonize with my soul's purpose.” This is not letting outward concerns, which Quakers term “cumbrances,” interfere with their interior explorations.
For Quakers, every day is sacred so historically they did not make a special occasion of celebrating political or religious holidays. In a similar fashion, every meal was a holy gathering, and so they had no Eucharistic or communion liturgies.
In the present world, Quakers guard against consumerism of any kind. It is all part of what the AFSC terms “spirit-led restraint.” It would seem that living simply should be simple! But it often isn't in today’s world!
Years ago I had a Quaker friend who was a single mother with two school-age children. She did consider Christmas a special day, which would have raised her grandmother's eyebrows somewhat. She had a small tree with a few lights on it because of the children. However, she didn't go into any kind of elaborate decorating, nor send out cards, or give presents so far as I can recall. The time she saved from not doing all the hectic things that occupy most of us, she used for gatherings with friends and family. She discarded the activities that were of little concern and focused on those that really meant something to her.
All of us are frequently left with the question of what actually matters to us and what does not. As Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), the German born-American artist, once said,
“To simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Quakers do not engage in war and violence. They will not participate directly or indirectly in any form of aggression. They actively use nonviolent means of eliminating causes of conflict such as poverty, exploitation, injustice and also vigorously attempt to transform the institutions of society into instruments of peace. Quakers seek to find something sacred in every person regardless of any differences.
They ask themselves how they can nurture the seeds of peace within themselves, their families, their communities, and the world. It is a question we all ought to ask ourselves in these days when our country is so divided. Desires for revenge, even while struggling for just causes, can often obliterate the possibility of lasting harmony. As Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) said, “Hating those who hate you just results in more hatred in the world.”
Quakers attempt to always speak the truth with others and with themselves. Lack of integrity is felt to separate oneself from their own soul, from the light within, and from family and community. At the same time, Quakers believe and demonstrate that we must have the courage to “speak truth to power.” George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of The Religious Society Of Friends, put it simply: live “so that your lives preach, let your light shine….”
One of the most influential spiritual voices of our time comes from the Quaker Parker Palmer (1939-) who wrote,
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of whom we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks — we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.
There are two aspects to this “SPICE.” The first has to do with the unique and refreshing concept of Quaker worship. They sit in silence until “moved by the Spirit” to speak. Although I must add that on one occasion when I was attending a Quaker Meeting, a friend of mine once took some notes out of his pocket as he rose to speak. I asked him after the Meeting if he wasn't supposed to be moved by the Spirit. He immediately responded, “I am always moved by the Spirit, but not necessarily at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning!”
The second aspect of community is a quest for authenticity whenever in a relationship with others from any group or interpersonal relationship, to international relations. When Quakers gather with others they strive to be conscious of ways in which they can facilitate everyone in that community in increasing their strength, wisdom, vision, and creativity. And especially of great importance, in these fractured partisan days, to be sure that everyone is heard. One of the questions that members of the AFSC ask themselves is “In what ways do I honor the diverse gifts, talents, and resources of the individuals and communities with whom I work?” That is surely a question for all of us to ask ourselves frequently.
Quakers believe that all people are created equally in the eyes of God and they all have a sacredness within them. Historically they have been among the first to seek social justice for all people. They worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and continue efforts to weed out the systemic racism in our country.
The AFSC is constantly reminding both Quakers and the general population of the necessity to persistently examine our own biases and privileges in the ongoing struggle for equality in our communities and our society. When asked to define “Equality,” a young student in a Quaker school simply wrote,
“It means EVERYONE has the same human rights
and should be treated fairly.”
We all have an obligation to take care of what we have been given, not just for ourselves, but for the people around us and for future generations. The AFSC calls for us to be “attentive to conserving energy, recycling, and reducing waste.” For Quakers this means reducing personal consumption by developing a simple lifestyle. Another young student’s reflection on stewardship was simply, “It is important to leave the world a better place.”
One of the AFSC’s publications quotes Oben Lyons, a Native American Faith-Keeper, who wrote,
“Whatever benefits the earth,
benefits all the children of the earth.”
Coming to the end of this Friday Reflection, it occurred to me that it might have been more appropriate to ask a Quaker to write it. However, I trust the Friends will be indulgent about the efforts of a friend of the Friends.
When the time comes for us to reset our post-Covid moral compasses, let us sprinkle them with some of the Quaker SPICES.
Announcement #1 from Sandy McKeith about the film Rebel Hearts
In my continuing (and continual) unabashed promotion of Rebel Hearts, this you tube video is a discussion with the producer and with my friend, Lenore Dowling about the IHMs and the film. The first 25 minutes are about the IHMs. The film will be on Discovery Plus in the future. Here's the link to the YouTube video (the first couple of minutes are a bit confusing but after that -- fabulous)
Announcement #2 Discussion on "The Prison Within"
The Prison Within is a powerful documentary about a restorative model of admitting guilt and making restitution. Shot almost exclusively with circles of men incarcerated at San Quentin. This link takes you to a discussion with the cast and crew of the award-winning documentary and the executive director of the Insight Prison Project.
Well worth the watching (You can also rent the documentary on YouTube)