This post has been contributed by Judith L. Favor, who is rooted and grounded in Quaker tradition and contemplative practice. She is retired from pastoral UCC ministry in San Francisco and teaching at the Claremont School of Theology. She created the "As It Is: Spiritual Journaling" e-course for S&P.
I was first attracted to Quakers during a period of homelessness when Friend Susan Murphy gave me shelter and kitchen privileges. On the refrigerator, with magnets, she posted Advices and Queries from Faith and Practice of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The Advices were a bit too doctrinal for my taste, but the queries fascinated me. The first ones focused on Harmony with Creation:
- In what ways do I express gratitude for the wondrous expressions of life on Earth?
- Do I consider the damage I might do to the Earth’s vulnerable systems in choices I make of what I do, what I buy and how I spend my time?
- In our witness for the global environment, are we careful to consider justice and the well-being of the world’s poorest people?
I stood and reflected on these queries while waiting for the kettle to boil and pondered them during breakfast. I worked only part-time, so I enjoyed spacious hours in which to copy a query into my journal and prayerfully reflect on it in writing. My attention was attracted to The Journal of George Fox on a bedside shelf. I opened it to these words: "When all my hopes in men were gone so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell me what to do then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,' and when I heard it my heart did leap with joy … And this I knew experimentally."
The Journal of George Fox is sprinkled with flashes of fresh insight. In 1647, writing what he knew experientially led the uneducated shepherd to claim the reality of the Living Christ within. This brought him into a whole new relationship with self, others, God, and nature. "What cans’t thou say?" he asked, and thousands answered by following in Fox’s boot-steps. They worshipped together in silence and wrote in journals, giving voice to "concerns," that led them to leave farms and shops to travel in pairs and share vivid discoveries of inward transformation. The Religious Society of Friends arose from the depths of vibrant new fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and most Quakers recorded inner experiences, concerns, and questions in their journals.
In 1682, The Religious Society of Friends established the democratic practice of challenging one another to live up to the highest Quaker values:
- What Friends imprisoned for their testimony have died in prison since the last yearly meeting?
- How has the Truth prospered amongst you?
- How are Friends proceeding in peace and unity?
From 1787 onward, Quakers commended queries for personal self-examination, wrote responses in journals, and shared them with Meeting members. Democratically-oriented queries focused "on the right management of one’s own affairs both inward and outward," such as, "What unpalatable truths might you be evading?"
Then, and now, open-ended queries guide Friends in collectively examining our corporate conscience.
- How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcomed?
- Are your meetings for church affairs held in a spirit of worship and dependence on the guidance of God?
- Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways, or be difficult to discern?
In Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, NY, 1984), Douglas V. Steere summed it up: "Here was a religious democracy in which there was a realization in the group that the Spirit might use anyone as its vehicle to speak words of truth to his or her fellows. … Out of this expectation grew the most democratic vehicle of Christian worship that has ever been fashioned."
In election year 2020, I practice democracy in my journal by penning prayers for favored candidates and venting judgments about opponents. I named my journal The Mercy, for it patiently accepts whatever I blurt onto the page, including four-letter words aimed at politicians who misuse power or commit crimes and misdemeanors. On my best days — when blessed with time and patience — I re-read my scrawling lines with highlighter pen in hand and mark the places where I expressed democratic values of compassion, enthusiasm, kindness, or respect.
Here are suggested queries to consider in your own journal pages:
1. Which persons or events helped to shape your democratic values? How?
2. Which values are most difficult to practice in today’s political climate?
3. How do you build, use and share power?
4. What social changes do you see occurring as a result of current conflicts?
5. What kinds of democratic change do you seek from elected leaders?
6. Which candidates are most likely to reduce violence and increase equity?
7. What else cans’t thou say?