The Loneliness of True Religion

As I met with my study group yesterday, a group of women that meets monthly to help each other discern how each one of us is called to live in this age of inequality, I was struck by the fact that not one of us felt encouraged by our own church/Meeting in that process. When I had my own epiphany of experiencing abundance on Sunday (see 12/9 blog entry), I couldn’t bring myself to go to Quaker Meeting that day, and I know I didn’t think of liberal Quakerism as a forum for my exploration of God’s abundance. (I will probably write more on why that is in days to come.)

OK, I know I’m being unfair. Yes, my comments are a bit sweeping. There are individual Friends I can relate to and who do walk beside me. Such as my husband – God does indeed provide for us, abundantly! Still, the Quakers who keep me going and whose inspiring words sustain my faith are “malcontents” among Quakers. They, like me, have seriously considered leaving Quakerism, have perhaps tried going to other Meetings, the “other” kind of Quaker gathering, churches of other denominations, or worshiping in another faith altogether. Perhaps they have taken “sabbaticals” from Meeting and responsibilities for a while. Some never come back. Some Friends, like me, discover our identity is tied so strongly to the spiritual insights of early Quakerism that we cannot comprehend a way of being that is not Quaker. I could no more leave Quakerism than cut out my own liver. So we straggle along as malcontents, delighting in the words of likeminded Quakers that we do come across. (Praise the Lord for www.quakerquaker.org!)

Picture this happening among Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christers (?), Baptists, and other denominations.

Many malcontents go to seminary, their thirst for “true religion” is that strong. I hear people dream about starting up a “Church of the Savior” type outfit here in Seattle. I know two people who are dreaming about starting up something like the beguinages of old, communities of lay women dedicated to economic justice and service.

Rufus Jones said back in the 50s (forgive me for quoting from memory with an incomplete reference, the book I am referring to is still in storage after our move this summer): Women and men are not going to church today to be entertained or to hear weak lectures on the ills of the world. The church, if it is to hold its place in the walk of life, must be nothing less than a revealing place for God. A place where life in its noblest and deepest potential is revealed.

Query for prayerful consideration:

Where do I find sustenance if/when my faith community fails as a “revealing place for God”?

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9 Responses to “The Loneliness of True Religion”

  1. Paul Carpenter Says:

    It’s always worth listening to those who are seeking the truth, less so those who claim to have found it. Any faith that you haven’t looked critically on and seriously considered if it is worth anything at all, is very much worthless.

    If, after having considered what you were looking for in your meeting, you conclude that it isn’t there, then I think you’re presented with a choice: 1) search for it somewhere else, 2) bring it there yourself.

    I hope you find whatever way is right for you.

  2. Susanne Kromberg Says:

    I appreciate your insight – and if we don’t find what we seek it is great if we can bring it to Meeting ourselves. The one thing we can’t bring ourselves, though, is a community of people who are looking for the same thing we are looking for…
    My solution has been to stay in my Meeting and to create gathering opportunites that can draw in the people who are interested in the things that provide the spiritual sustenance I need, such as Bible study, peace/economic justice book group, contemplative retreats. People come from a variety of backgrounds – Quaker and non – to these gatherings. With one exception, these events are sparsely attended by Friends from my Meeting. That’s quite OK with me, and I am being spiritually nourished.
    But there is still no community….
    It is odd, isn’t it, that it would be so hard to find a Quaker or other faith community that is actively engaging in a faith-based response to economic justice?

  3. Paul Ricketts Says:

    As a Christian who attends a Friends Meeting (unprogrammed ) in which I am active member of
    what attracts me to Quakerism is it
    has always been a religion of Jesus, love and service
    then religion about Jesus, bound up in creeds.
    The pre-Easter Jesus, the teacher of wisdom and
    love and compassion and healing.
    That in a nutshell for me is the heart of Quakerism.
    Denominational labels Quaker or other, are primarily a reflection of participation more than an identity, though I recognize that denominational experience is one of the ingredients. And while I use religious language with
    great in intrepidation, we are all brothers and sisters.
    Paul

  4. Susanne Kromberg Says:

    In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, so we are indeed brothers and sisters at the levels at which it really matters.

    There are also differences in belief that make a difference to me. When people ask me whether Quakers are Protestants, I say no. At the heart of Protestantism, as I see it, is the belief that the Bible is the Word of God. Neither are Quakers Catholic, in my opinion, since Catholics see the Church (the Pope as the final authority) as the Word of God.

    For me, the heart of Quakerism is a third option, neither Catholic nor Protestant: the living Christ is the Word of God, and the true authority. In the final instance, that is found in personal experience (although tested by the community). That belief is so fundamental to my life, my decision-making, and my experience of God that I find it hard to participate in faith settings that don’t put experience first.

    That’s what I think of as my Quaker identity, although I’m the first to admit that that belief is not the exclusive domain of Quakers…

  5. Paul Ricketts Says:

    Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.
    Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart, in my heart
    Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart

    I agree when we experience the transformative
    power of love in our lives we become more loving,
    more like Jesus each day.

    I have come to love this prayer from the Roman liturgy.
    In this great sacrament you feed your people and strengthen them in holiness, so that the family of humankind may come to walk in the light of
    one faith, in one communion of love.

    The sacrament for me in this prayer, in which we
    experience transformative power of love is the
    Meeting for Worship.
    Paul

  6. Joanna Hoyt Says:

    I’ve been struggling with this question too. I actually was part of a very rich, deep, supportive and challenging Meeting (Portland ME) which helped me to discern a calling that took me ten hours away, to a Catholic Worker farm where I don’t have access to a Meeting in which I am able to participate constructively. I miss that. And in big Quaker gatherinjgs I often hear people saying that this is their true home, this is where people really understand them,this is whee they can really feel God, but that is not my experience. So for now sustenance comes from daily worship with my family, and with whoever else comes to join us; we’ve worshipped after the manner of Friends with Catholics, Pentecostals, mainstream Protestants, and a self-described agnostic who nevertheless times his visits to include as many prayer times as possible. And we meet monthly or every other month with a group of Friends for extended worship and discernment of our callings. I wasn’t born Quaker, and I’m ambivalent about whether to call myself Quaker. I am trying to be faithful to God–most of the time– and find fellowship and communion with others who are trying to be faithful. I don’t mean to gloss over your distinction between primacy of Scripture/Church/direct revelation; but I think the difference between these is much less than the difference between faithfulness and acculturation/security-seeking. I find many Quaker writings, and many other writings, helpful in this process; I find that the Quaker practices are especially helpful in drawing me closer to God. I’d like to have a group in which I unequivocally belonged, but I don’t have that. and it isn’t what I really need.

  7. Allison Says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m a malcontent, as I am completely new to Quakerism, so am delighted to find something that matches my beliefs as closely as it does. But there are things I’m critical about, and decided the only way to work on them was to embrace Quakerism and hope that others feel what I feel. I put some of it into words here: http://rainbowruminations.blogspot.com/2007/12/rant-what-young-people-need.html

  8. Bill Samuel Says:

    What I think is of enormous value is to have others with whom you can have deep spiritual sharing. This doesn’t have to be your meeting/church or even within it. It can be a small group which meets more or less regularly. It can be particular people whom you see occasionally either one-on-one or with more than one. Today, it can even be people you have never met in person but with whom you share over the Internet. Sometimes it is even the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before.

    “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) I do believe this is an important passage, and it actually seems more like small groups than large worship gatherings.

    Ultimately, of course, the most important one to meet with is God.

  9. Paul Ricketts Says:

    Friends,
    I just finish reading a blog message by Will Taber blog.
    His blog is public and is part of the larger Quaker Blog community.

    http://gtitl.blogspot.com/2007/12/christmas-and-adult-christ.html

    I have always enjoyed his blogs but this one in particular
    spoke to my heart.

    He says, What about when the infant Christ has grown within us and has become the adult Christ? Are we willing to share an adult, fully grown faith with each other? Can we learn to speak with the spiritual voice of a mature adult and not just in the tentative words of the spiritual infant?

    In the scriptures we read, ‘’And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God
    was upon him. . (Luke 2:46)

    My prayer for Religious Society of Friends in the New Year
    is that we will continue to follow the example of Jesus to
    grow and became strong filled with wisdom
    and know that the grace of God is upon us


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