Deep River, Sandy Springs, Holly Springs, Goose Creek, West Branch, Back River, Clearwater. These are a few of the names of Quaker Meetings taken from bodies of water. There’s even Gunpowder, named after a river in Maryland as it runs through a town named Sparks.
For me, Stillwater itself is a special place in the hills of southeast Ohio as well as I river we used to hike along in the western half of the state.
This time of year, many people’s thoughts turn to religion or at least hope and faith. While Quakers traditionally do not observe Advent, at least as a religious requirement, the essays of Stillwater carry reminders of aspiring to live daily in an awareness of the Divine and a circle of kindred souls. Many of these have previously appeared on the Red Barn before being collected here.
In the Society of Friends (Quaker), many of the local meetings for worship are named after bodies of water. The awareness of natural streams rather than human development is telling. The Bible, after all, also flows with water imagery as it speaks for a desert people.
Stillwater can be seen as an allusion to Psalm 23 or to the old-style Quakers who clustered around Stillwater Meeting in rural Ohio.
These are reflections on living with a community of faith, its strengths and challenges, and the guidelines it offers.
Stillwater reflects the importance of kindred souls on the spiritual journey. In Quaker practice, it’s the essence of Meeting – the gathering for worship or service. While these essays were addressed to one local circle on the Quaker path, the challenges and lessons stand as models for others to consult and, as useful, adapt.
A lifetime of Quaker practice and inquiry comes to play in the reflections of Stillwater. The essays are submitted in all due humility, even as reminders to myself. Still, they’re open to all as an invitation.
The kids raise a valid point when they notice how much we teach them about Quakers back then – but what about now?
Yes, what about NOW!
We need to get our act more together and acknowledge many of the remarkable ways we continue to witness today, usually in individual callings that deserve more support from the rest of us. So maybe the kids’ question can help us better focus on our greater purpose.
I’d like us to proclaim more of the courageous work of Friends internationally, too – I can think of examples in Cuba and Kenya in our own time.
Not all of the action involves peace and forgiveness issues, either.
Consider, too, two points from a visit to an Evangelical Friends Church on the other end of the Quaker spectrum from my own Meeting:
“Is Jesus Christ going to be exalted and praised?”
Her shocked look haunts me, considering the big Quaker gathering where I’m headed. I think, Yes, but in ways you wouldn’t recognize.
Also, humbly, as another realizes from one difficult exchange with a customer at her business previously that week: “I may be the only Jesus they’ll see.”
Decades ago, faced with a question of just what Friends believe, I embarked on an exploration that might provide a more inclusive answer than “Some believe this …” or “Most do that …”
To the surprise of many, the Religious Society of Friends does have a rich underlying theology, one so radical our First Publishers of Truth (one of the original names for the Quaker movement) couldn’t voice it in its fullness in the earliest years before settling into a system of practice rather than fully pursuing its intellectual implications.
Call it an alternative Christianity if you will, but even Friends need to understand its dimensions.