A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who's Your Coreligionist?

I just finished reading "Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Society of Friends," by Michael Sheeran, a Jesuit scholar who studied Quaker meetings for business in Philadelphia in the 1970s. I found the following particularly notable:

"When a Christocentric Friend stood at the 1975 Yearly Meeting to proclaim, 'I consider all of you my Friends, but many I cannot consider my coreligionists,' his remark ws generally greeted with shocked dismay. But those individuals this reporter interviewed combined concern over the inappropriateness of the remark with acknowledgement that the point could not be ignored.

It would appear, in short, that the cleavage is between Chistocentric and universalist Friends.

After most interviews were completed, this reporter began to feel uneasy with this understanding....when the reporter reflected on the atmosphere and the tone of his interviews instead of the words that were exchanged, he began to find that the Christocentrics and certain uinversalists shared a sort of profound reverence for the gathered meeting for worship which was not readily found among other Friends.

When asked what they treasured most about Friends, Christocentrics and some universalists would typically recall a meeting for worship conducted in the Light. If asked to recall the business meeting decision that meant the most to them, they would often describe how some incident led the group to a gathered condition. Their words to explain the experience varied markedly, of course, but for both groups, the experience itself was what counted.

Asked the same questions, other universalists and Friends favoring what we have called the social action and the democratic myths might recall the same decision at a meeting for business or express their pride in a decision well made, but would be apparently unaware of the special atmosphere experienced by the others. Even when told directly that others in attendance reported a special sense of being gathered, such individuals were likely to comment, 'That sort of thing doesn't much impress me,' or 'other people can talk about their experience; I can only talk of mine.'

Put simply the real cleavage among Friends is between those who experience the gathered or covered condition and those who do not....

In this very important sense, those who share the experience, be they Christocentric or universalist or whatever else, are the coreligionists."


Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Dave Carl,
Yes! That's the heart of that book. If people read anything from it, just those few pages in and around what you quoted. I've found Sheeran's insight very helpful and do indeed think the biggest clevage is between those expecting God (or some sort of divine guidance) and those not. When we come together to conduct business or live out the lives of our meeting, it makes such a difference whether we think we're alone in our work. Thanks for highlighting it again. Somewhere I wrote a review that quoted some of the same passage--yes here it is.

So this passage ring true to your experience? What does it mean, etc. I'd love to hear more about the ways you found it notable.
Your Friend,
Martin Kelley
aka the Quaker Ranter

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, leave it to a Jesuit of all people to put his finger on what I too see as the core of Quaker worship and how it's variously perceived.

Also there is this, a few pages back from the long citation quoted here:

… One evening, the writer was sharing supper with two friends in their late seventies. He mentioned he was curious how Friends understood God. One of his companions paused and remarked: “Well now, I guess I don’t really know. I know what I think.” Then, turning to his comrade, he said: “Thee and I have been worshiping together for almost fifty years. I don’t know what thee thinks about God. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it.” The other grave Friend agreed, adding: “I really don’t think it matters much, either. If thee shares the experience in the worship, it doesn’t much matter how thee puts it into words.”

Greetings from Tampa (FL) Meeting!


4:08 AM  

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