What is the Quaker faith? It is not a tidy package of
words which you capture at any given time and then repeat weekly at a worship
service. It is an experience of discovery, which starts the discoverer on a
journey, which is lifelong. The discovery in itself is not uniquely a property
of Quakerism. . . . What is unique to the Religious Society of Friends is its
insistence that the discovery must be made by each of us individually. No one
is allowed to get it secondhand by accepting a ready-made creed. Furthermore,
the discovery points a path and demands a journey, and gives you the power to
make the journey.
Boulding, 1954 (Revised 2000)
Friends have faith that the direct and unmediated experience
of the Divine is available to everyone. That which Quakers call the inward
Light lives in each human being. Faith is inseparable from practice.
Friends are encouraged to assume personal responsibility for making their lives
an active and living witness to their faith—every thought, word, and deed
testifying to the transforming power of the divinity within themselves and
others. Friends feel called to obey the Light and Power that leads and guides
them. Each person is asked to practice the personal discipline that leads to
growth of the spirit. The presence of the Spirit is often described as “that of
God in everyone.”
During the three and a half centuries of our history,
Friends have used many names for the source of our faith—among them God, the
Inner or Inward Light, the Divine Principle, the Seed, the Christ Within,
the Inward Teacher, Jesus, Holy Spirit. The names we use today are appropriate
to our experience. Some of us may use different names at different times, for
our experiences may vary throughout our lives.
Our traditional testimonies—truth, equality, peace,
simplicity, community—are outward and visible signs of our faith. The
testimonies point the way as we put our faith into action. Communal and
individual concerns and actions are weighed in the light of these testimonies.
The critical question remains “Is this of God?” not, “Is this right?” From the
early days of the Religious Society of Friends, individuals sought truth in the
seasoned discernment of the Meeting. In our experience, this process reveals
the full creative possibilities of the spirit.
Meeting for worship embodies the source and expression of
many of our cherished practices. We come into meeting from our separate
journeys. Our personal acts of devotion and service prepare us for our worship
together. As we join together, we seek that sacred realm where our spirits
unite with the Divine and with one another. We meet in expectant waiting as we
become centered on the Divine Presence. “As we enter the depths of a living
silence . . . we find one another in ‘the things that are eternal’. . .
We listen for the Divine by endeavoring to become still within, thus opening
our minds and hearts. When we succeed, that which we call “the Divine Voice” is
made known to us in both silent and vocal ministry. Waiting in stillness, a
message may arise out of the depth of one’s soul that seems intended not simply
for oneself but for the gathered meeting. It is our practice that before
speaking one tests this “opening” of the Spirit, but does not fear it. When
someone accepts the call to speak, fellow worshipers are called to listen with
openness to the message expressed. At its best, vocal ministry is drawn from
the Divine Presence, the message coming not from us but through us. We find in
meeting an experience of the Divine—one eternal reality present for and
directly accessible to everyone.
Friends live in the faith that the Divine Spirit exists, whether
perceived or not. The Spirit has been active throughout time. Although the
roots of the Religious Society of Friends lie in Christian England, today the
Spirit speaks to Friends through a wide range of sources, including the
religions, spiritual practices, texts, and teachers of many cultures.
For Quakers, living life is a sacrament. Knowledge of the
Spirit is enhanced by the practice of spiritual disciplines—worship, study,
contemplation, prayer, action. For early Friends, the Bible was a
rich and sustaining record of inspired revelation. The Spirit they knew in
their hearts spoke to them through it. They also made a profoundly important
distinction: the power that inspired the Bible is still speaking. For
this reason, Friends avoid using writings as a final or infallible authority.
The vitality of our community
lies in our ability to see that the life and power of the Spirit reveals itself
in diverse ways. George Fox and the early Quakers offered a radical
response to lifeless religion. Friends found that the presence of the Spirit
needs not be mediated by rote ceremony. The absence in our worship of
traditional rites grows out of our faith in the primacy of the inward
experience of the Spirit. In every generation, Friends have found new paths and
revitalized the ways we live our faith.
Inspiration comes from the Spirit, which reveals itself to
us in many ways.
Elise Boulding, revised by her in a letter to Robin Powelson
Faith & Practice: The Book of Christian Discipline of the Yearly
Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain,
London: the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in
Britain, 1995: 2.01