The practice of Quakerism doesn’t just take place on Sunday morning. Many of us have spiritual disciplines that we carry throughout the week. Patricia McBee explores the Quaker disciplines that address this need.
Some years back, a Quaker friend and teacher of mine observed that many times Quakers don’t realize the richness that our tradition has for helping us grow in the Spirit, and so Friends might take a yoga class or something in Buddhism which is very disciplined and very directed, and bristle if they are directed in Quaker meeting. So that intrigued me to think about what are the particular disciplines that Quaker have.
Quaker Spiritual Disciplines
I’m Patricia McBee. I live in Philadelphia and I have been active among Friends since 1970, which includes working for Friends General Conference, doing a lot of work around helping Quakers address spirituality and for six years, miraculously I don’t know how, I managed the building at Friends Center.
The Discipline of “Retirement”
I think the Quaker spiritual discipline that most of us are most aware of is “retirement” (to use the old term), which is to step back from the busy-ness of activity and the busy brain work and just be quietly present. Present to God. Present to the present. Present to being here now, because in that place of quiet we can clear our systems and be more open to one another and to compassion and to compassion for ourselves.
The Discipline of Prayer
Another spiritual discipline is prayer, which is an awkward subject for a lot of Quakers. If you don’t believe there’s somebody on the other end of the phone line when you call up and say, “Could you deliver me some health for my friend?” then what is prayer?
But I believe that many of us know that while there is a deep inner self, there is that of God in each of us, there is something bigger than me as well, some bigger reality. Some reality that encompasses all of us.
And so I see prayer as acknowledgement of that reality and living in the context of that reality.
The Discipline of Discernment
Discernment, the process of steering one’s life based on retiring and opening oneself to the larger reality as part of decision-making about “how I’m living my life” whether it’s a small question like, “Is my child old enough to stay out past 11 PM?” or something global, “Should I stop driving an automobile because of a concern for the environment?”
A Matter of Attitude
Some years back my meeting took a sabbath year, and we were encouraged to take on spiritual disciplines, and I knew that some people would say, “Like I have time to spend an hour every day in worship.” And so I put this little thing together about spiritual disciplines for busy people, like when you reach for the telephone, taking a moment to take a breath. Or when you’re stopped in traffic, taking a moment to feel gratitude for your life and the good things in your life. So it can be a big thing. It can be an hour every day of doing spiritual reading and then journaling and then settling into quiet, and when I’ve done that and when the people I know do that regularly, it’s an amazingly powerful thing. But it can be much smaller and more a matter of attitude than of some set of rituals you go through to get to a disciplined place.