As Quakers, we’re not confined to a liturgical calendar or its requirements. Even so, through much of our history, members of the Society of Friends lived within the limitations of strict discipline, which included plain dress like the Amish and plain speech of the “thee” and “thou” sort.
These have greatly loosened up over the past century, which is not to say we don’t live out a distinct set of values – we’re just more flexible or forgiving. Non-violence and pacifism, equality, simplicity, social justice, and truthfulness remain forefront in our daily lives. Few Friends I know smoke, and in our circles, I suspect the majority now drive Priuses as a consequence of faith. Many, but by no means all, participate in vigils or social witness demonstrations.
But being Quaker doesn’t preclude us from what Douglas Steere coined “mutual irradiation,” acknowledging that we can learn from others’ religious practices and experiences and encourage them in their own. It’s not the same as a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism, but rather a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by our differences. It’s something I’ve been enjoying among the Greek-Orthodox where I live, and found with Mennonites and Brethren earlier. It’s also a principal reason I participate in the Dover Area Religious Leaders’ Association and our joint services.
Of course, remarrying has changed some of my perspectives. With children, especially, there was no way of downplaying Christmas, not in contemporary American society. (Historically, Friends were among those who considered it a pagan import.) I’ve previously posted about the revolutionary ways observing Advent has helped me cope with the commercial assault of that holiday.
Eliminating a liturgical calendar also meant we also didn’t observe Easter. (Every day was to be holy.) And without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Advent or Lent.
There’s no way to totally ignore these, not when no longer live in close communities of our own and are often the only Quaker in our workplace. On top of that, many of us come from other faith traditions and carry within us many of those teachings and traditions, one way or another.
All of this leads up to to a desire in our household to use Advent and Lent as times of renewal and rededication. We try to do a special reading together, at the least, and usually give up alcohol.
For the record, by the late 19th century, most Quakers had banned alcohol altogether – it’s not uncommon to meet Friends who have never had a drink in their life. On the other hand, when I admitted to enjoying a glass of beer or wine, one old Friend replied, “Jnana, in thy occupation, we’d be surprised if thee didn’t.” Remember, I was a newspaper editor.
So, here we are in what the Eastern Orthodox call Great Lent, and I’m surviving without my daily martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Abstaining reminds me of just how habitual these things become. Besides, I believe saying “no” for a season can be strengthen one’s willpower for other decisions, too.
One year, my wife and I went largely vegan for Advent. She had reviewed all of the Eastern Orthodox dietary rules for that observance and concluded they were essentially vegan with the additional elimination of olive oil and alcohol. Oh, and when she concluded that since olive oil would have been the only oil in the eastern Mediterrean, she extended the ban to all cooking oils.
It was a tough period, as I posted at the time. She did come up with some marvelous dishes all the same, but rather than being freed from considerations of food, she was spending more time trying to find ways to manage.
This year, for the period of Great Lent, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Remember, we’re not confined to the ancient regulations, we’re doing this voluntarily. (And, as I’ve learned, the Orthodox rules are only suggested, not required, of the faithful.) What we’re doing is inspired by food guru Mark Bittman’s book Eat Vegan Before 6:00. In short, we have more options when it comes to the evening meal – especially, as we’re applying this, on the weekends.
Since I’m already trying to observe a Healthy Heart diet, I’m not seeing a lot of change. The biggest challenge has involved my morning coffee, which is already down to a single cup a day, thanks to another medical restriction.
No, alas, there are no wonder substitutes for dairy.
Homemade almond milk comes closest – we find much of the commercial variety to be vile. But almonds are comparatively expensive, and soaking the nuts and grinding and straining take time.
Oat milk, made from oatmeal, starts cooking in hot liquid, leaving an unpleasant layer of sludge in the bottom of the mug.
Coconut milk tastes like coconut, which I find disconcerting.
Black coffee seems harsh on an empty stomach – a sliver of lemon helps a little, somehow.
So I’m counting the days till Easter – the Orthodox version, which comes at the end of Passover, a full week later than the Western celebration.