How Mysticism Informs Quaker Activism

Jennie Isbell explores her journey from skepticism into activism.

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Jennie Isbell explores her journey from skepticism into activism.


A great bit of my help in understanding the difference between mysticism and activism came from reading a bit of Rufus Jones, when he explains that the Christian mystic is fundamentally frog-like in nature, traveling between land and water—and maybe that’s all of Christian identity, actually—that people of faith are required to take that faith and come to places of not-faith and live faithfully.

How Mysticism Informs Quaker Activism

So I used to have a pretty bad attitude about activists. Even during my involvement with Quaker meetings, I have run away from the people coming coming to me to get me to write political letters and I have made fun of bumper stickers in the parking lot. I now have bumper stickers, but that’s another story! But there’s a bit of conversion that has happened in my sense of the mystic and the activist aspects of being a person.

The Spiritual Impulse to Act in the World

No matter what else we may imagine the life of Jesus to be, it is certainly understood to be a revelation of God’s love through a human life, and what that means, among other things, is that humans and God are not so far apart as we may be led to believe—that God’s love would be revealed to us through a human life.

That sort of ups the ante in terms of what it means to be incarnation people, because if God’s love can be revealed through a human life then God’s love can be revealed through my life. And what a thing to need to live into—to live up to—if in those mystical encounters of prayer and contemplation and communion with others on the path, I find myself truly compelled to live in response to the glimpse I’ve been given of the holy, then: wow. We better get to it, you know? There are people to feed and people to love and people to to bring back.

Becoming Active

One of the things that kept me out of being activist for a very long time was a fear of getting it wrong—or a fear of needing to know more than I could stand to know, actually—just more than I was interested in knowing. I think that’s one of the reasons, I just want to say, my involvement with Friends Committee on National Legislation has been a life changer.

The feeling companioned and equipped for important work during these lobby events that they have a couple times a year has helped me understand the way in which my own contemplative practice, my own sense that God has intentions and hopes for the world and that God is deeply relational and we’re giving glimpses of God’s way for the world and that we are in fact compelled—we’re under compulsion to respond to those if we really believe we’ve been given them, that they can still be a stop, a fear. I don’t know enough or I’m scared And yet Friends Committee on National Legislation has the the nuts and bolts down and have kind of held my hand through becoming more active in the political arena in a way that feels mature and effective, and has made me understand that the letter writers that I ran from have been been blowing on the coals trying to re-light the fire of clarity that those of us who are given over to mystical inclinations must act in the world.

It has been an honor to serve Friends as the founder and director of QuakerSpeak. Now I am pleased to announce my next endeavor, a Quaker media project for the modern era. Find out more at

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