Michael Birkel covers a lot of ground in this excellent overview of the Friends of God and their distinctive practices. He is the editor and author of several other books on Quaker themes. He begins by noting that these peacemakers emphasize the connection between silence and witness: "Worship in the Quaker tradition is fundamentally receptive and contemplative. Witness is active, testifying to the power of God to transform the human condition and seeking to engage the world to improve human society."
The Friends believe that revelation has continued beyond the biblical era and that God lives within each individual. The silence in Quaker worship respects the mystery of the Holy One. If a person does speak in a meeting, it should be for the welfare of the whole community. Much discernment goes into what is said and when to say it. As Birkel puts it, "A community that emphasizes the present availability of divine guidance must take discernment seriously." The author also discusses "the clearness committee" and its role in helping individuals make important decisions.
Birkel reveals how Quakers nurture the inner life by prayer, meditative reading of Scripture, traveling ministry, spiritual nurture by elders, journals, advices, and queries. Best of all is his commentary on the Quaker emphasis upon "testimonies," the ethical stands they have taken for peace, justice, equality, integrity, and simplicity. He concludes: "The testimonies, like Christianity itself, are radically counter-cultural. They challenge the values of society based on unbridled greed, distrust, violence, and oppression. . . . The testimonies were intended to open the heart by challenging the conscience and conduct of others, often in an alarming way so as to get their attention and get them to reflect on their own behaviour." This paperback makes it clear that Quakers with their many worthwhile practices have much to offer spiritual seekers.