A Quaker View of Faith and Practice
The following letter was submitted by Linne Jensen, a member of the Cannon Valley Friends Meeting, to the Faith Column of the Northfield News on 11/29/2012:
In this holiday season, when Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus, what sort of celebrations do Quakers have? The simple answer to this question is that Quaker celebrations of Christmas are as varied as Quakers themselves.
The Quaker faith does not prescribe the ways Quakers are allowed to find spiritual meaning. The fact is that Quakers hold a range of beliefs about Jesus and the Bible. Quaker founder George Fox was a devout Christian and many contemporary Quakers consider themselves Christians. At the same time, some Quakers find resonance with humanism while others are Unitarians, Buddhists, or practitioners of Jewish traditions. Quakers respect and honor Christian and non-Christian religions alike. It follows that Christian Quakers celebrate Christmas much the same as other Christians while other Quakers may not celebrate Christmas at all.
The key to understanding the variations among Quaker celebrations is considering what defines a person as a Quaker. If Christians and Buddhists and Jews can all be Quakers, what does it mean to be Quaker? What exactly are Quaker ways?
Since early times Quakers have shared the testimonies and practices that have helped them to lead full spiritual lives. Some groups of Quakers have put together books describing the many aspects of what it means to be Quaker and called them “books of faith and practice.” Among all these books, and indeed among all Quakers, two concepts are consistently expressed. One is the belief that each person contains a bit of divinity inside. Quakers express this by saying “there is that of God in everyone.” The second is the belief that each person can receive guidance directly from the Spirit.
Quakers express the guidance they receive in two ways. First, Quakers listen together, usually in silence, and speak to one another any messages received from the Spirit and meant for the group. Communicating their experiences with the divine in this way is called “vocal ministry”. Second, Quakers communicate messages received from the Spirit and meant for them personally as a “leadings.” Receiving a leading is hearing from the divine what one is meant to do in the world. When Quakers say they are “following a leading,” they mean that they are acting on a message they have received from God. From these core beliefs follow all else.
Recognizing that of God in everyone leads to the acknowledgment that all people are valuable. Recognizing that each person can communicate directly with God and receive leadings results in the understanding that all people have contributions to make in the world. Statements of experiences involving the intrinsic value of all people and the contributions people have to make are called testimonies.
Commonly recognized among Quakers are testimonies of equality, integrity, simplicity, community, and peace. The Christmas story is one that relates the equality of shepherds and kings, the integrity of a virgin and her husband, the simplicity of a manger, the community experienced when people gather together, and the peace brought into the world by the birth of a baby. Intentional or not, the celebrations and activities of this time of year are connected to an eternal and enduring story, and as such, are spiritually meaningful.
–By Linne Jensen, 11/29/2012