Quaker

With the Dover Quaker meetinghouse in New Hampshire.

I wasn’t raised Quaker but came to it by a roundabout route as a young adult. As you’ll see in my writings, my spiritual life has journeyed far from the mainstream Protestant confines of my Midwestern youth. Sensing something essential was missing in our denomination – and undergoing a harsh emotional crisis during my senior year of high school – I rejected everything I’d been taught, or so I thought, and drifted through degrees of agnosticism and logical positivism before encountering yoga a year after graduating from college.

That chance introduction during the high hippie era led to weekly physical exercise sessions that awakened a desire within me to learn even more, which I did eight months later by moving to our teacher’s headquarters, or ashram, in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. It was a life-changing though seemingly irrational decision, yet one that led me into deep meditation, spiritual discipline, and intimate community, as I relate in my novel Yoga Bootcamp. The one big difference was that our leader was a woman, not a male swami.

It was, however, no place for me to live forever, and so 18 months later I resumed my secular career in the “outside world.” That move also steered me into sitting in silent worship on Sunday mornings with Quakers, or the Society of Friends, not knowing the denomination had been the faith of my Hodson/Hodgson/Hodgin ancestors from its very beginning in England and Ireland, a side I present in my genealogical blog, the Orphan George Chronicles.

In my moves since then, I’ve practiced with Friends in all of today’s branches, from liberal “unprogrammed” open-worship to old-order Wilburite discipline to evangelical pastor-led services, in addition to treasured Mennonite and Greek Orthodox connections. Mixing in insights from the ashram’s Hindu roots and my fascination with Zen and Tibetan Buddhism and even Native wisdom, I’d describe myself as a Christocentric convergent Friend. Or, to add a touch of scandal, to declare that Christ is bigger than Jesus. Quite simply, I’ve found what was missing in my adolescence, romantically as well, thank you.

As I looked in 1990, living in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jeanne Morris)

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MY MOST RECENT PROJECT is a history of the Dover Quaker Meeting, or congregation, my religious home for most of my 34 years in New Hampshire. Serving as its clerk, or presiding officer for five of those years, and as clerk of the larger Quarterly Meeting for six, has been a most humbling and deepening labor – one where many of those Mennonite and ashram experiences proved valuable.

Available as an ebook at Smashwords.com and its affiliates. Or, if you prefer, in paperback through your local bookstore or library, should you order it there.

In addition, nobody had any idea that Dover Friends’ roots along the Piscataqua River went back as far as they do until I delved into this research.

According to my calculations, we’re one of the seven oldest Quaker Meetings in America or even the New World. It’s definitely older than any in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Maryland.   

My research also pointed to a much different understanding of New England history, with a countercurrent to the dominant Puritan character of the colonial era.

Do take a look. Just click here.

It’s also offered as a print-on-demand paperback through Draft 2 Digital at selected bookstores and libraries. I’d love it if you ordered a physical copy there. 

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Sitting in weekly silent Quaker worship has provided me both the freedom and nurture for ongoing, continued spiritual growth and discovery. In joining with the Society of Friends, as we Quakers are formally known, I’ve come to treasure our communities of faith and a host of very remarkable individuals. Guided by sets of questions (the queries) rather than creeds, and by direct, daily experience rather than ethereal speculation, Friends embody a radical Christianity that emphasizes simplicity, equality, honesty, nonviolence and pacifism, and personal integrity.

As clerk (the presiding officer) at Friends business sessions, where all decisions are made in unity, without ever taking a vote, I’ve learned to sense that one individual, rather than the majority, may be closer to the optimal outcome – and to allow room for “Way to open” as others unite around that position or even a third unanticipated solution that may surface to our awareness.

When we’re faithful and closely follow our Guide, the process of reaching this harmony can be exquisite. When we fall short, though, what we feel can be excruciating, ultimately demanding forgiveness and contrition.

My close examination of the writings of the original “Children of the Light” and “Seekers After Truth” in mid-1600s Britain has convinced me that the first Quakers perceived an alternative Christianity – one they dared not voice fully, given the deadly consequences of the blasphemy laws of the period. Couched in their interlocking metaphors of the Light, the Seed, and the Truth is an outline strikingly different from conventional interpretations of Christ and the person of Jesus.

I examine these in four booklets you can read and download for free: Revolutionary Light, Starting from Seed, Seeking After Truth, and Thinking in Metaphor.  

These and Quaker broadsides are among my many writings and albums available at Thistle Finch editions, a WordPress blog. 

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Related work has appeared in the magazines Friends Journal, Quaker Life, and Quaker Theology. I have presented workshops at New England Yearly Meeting and the annual Friends General Conference.

My essays on Quaker spirituality also appear at my blog As Light Is Sown.

Tintype portrait by John DiMartino Jr. (johndimartinojr.com)

 

 

9 thoughts on “Quaker

  1. Thanks for following our blog. I hit “like” on your post featuring the wild turkey which was a coincidence as we just saw two in Marfa, TX. Then looked again at your site when you became a follower and – surprise! Wasn’t sure if you realized that we are also Quaker. Guess we should have realized!

  2. Hi Jnana – I am finding ‘likes’ a useful way of connecting to different thoughts and words. As now. Leaving aside the bloggers wanting to make me rich and drive traffic to me, reading thoughtful pieces is a new education. Thanks for clicking the like button. It has brought your words and thoughts into my life and soul. Did you know goodbye was short for God bless you? I only heard that yesterday. God-b-ye for now.

  3. I’m so happy to have discovered someone of your persuasion through these blogs. I’ve long felt an attraction to the Quaker path, but there are no such gatherings here thatI know of [SW Michigan]. God bless you also, friend!

  4. Intriguing and barn-like for sure, this blog. Where can I rummage through to find out more about your ashram experience or where you roam today in your beliefs or “spiritual” attic? Thanks for your like of my blog post on demystifying mysticism.

    1. My novel “Ashram” looks at a single day in the life of eight aspirants living with their teacher on a mountain farm. As I look back on the experience, I am reminded that the important lessons were often very down to earth rather than ethereal — insights into our individual emotional workings, the character of others, and the practical matters of making homemade bread or mixing cement. The ebook is available at Smashwords and other digital retailers. Go to the Novelist section of my Bio, and thanks for asking.

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