Quaker author Lloyd Lee Wilson believes that there are many paths to God, but that once you’ve picked one, you have to be “all in.” What does that look like for the Quaker path?
I think one of the things that many spiritual traditions share is the teaching that the eye cannot see itself. In order for us to make even the individual spiritual growth that we desire, it’s necessary to have some other eyes than ours looking at us objectively and telling us truthfully what they see, or what they don’t see.
Committing to the Quaker Spiritual Path
I’m Lloyd Lee Wilson. I’m a member of Friendship Friends Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is part of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
Immersing Yourself in a Faith Tradition
It is, I think, impossible to get the benefit of any faith tradition without immersing one’s self in it. I believe like the Sufis that where thee digs thy well and where I dig my well may be on different creeks, but they come from the same living water and they flow to the same ocean. I feel that there are in fact many paths to God, but they are distinct paths. If one is intent on making that journey, the best way there is to follow the path of the faith tradition thee has chosen.
The temptation if we don’t is to avoid those things we don’t like. If we begin to treat our spiritual growth as a buffet or a salad bar—we’re only human, we take more than we need of the stuff we really like and we shy away from the stuff that doesn’t taste good or that gave us heartburn. But it is the nature of the faith journey that it’s often those things that we don’t like the taste of that are making the growth in us that we need in order to go forward.
Exchanging Individualism for Corporate Discernment
We live in an age of rampant individualism. It’s all around us, we breathe it in with every breath. I think that one of the hardest things about committing to the Quaker faith tradition is exchanging that individualism for a sense of corporate discernment and corporate wisdom. We go through our meetings and we’re asking, “My meeting is not giving me the things that I need for my spiritual journey.” It’s a question that I hear all the time. But I think that the real question–the question that will help us more–is to ask, “How can I be the member my meeting needs me to be in order to do the spiritual work God has given it to do?”
So to make that switch first of all requires a great deal of courage. To give up the fact that I’m going to be my own defense here, I’m going to look out for myself and be responsible for my own spiritual journey. It takes a lot of trust to feel safe and secure, to feel that yes, these people are seeking to discern God’s will, that together we can discern it better and I have nothing to fear. That’s very hard, very hard.
Committing to the Quaker Tradition
Quakerism has not been a perfect journey for me. I have never sat down in the perfect Quaker meeting and never expect to. But even those difficult places are places where we grow and we grow as a community. So that’s the concept I’ve been trying to articulate in my writings and my talkings about Quakerism: that it’s not a salad bar situation. You have to step inside of the tradition: commit to the tradition. Commit to something larger than yourself and then you begin to understand, “OK, this it the part of the tradition that’s real for me, I can take this in.” But you can’t stand outside the tradition and even understand it, much less critique it.