The Quaker Way

Today, in preparation for orientation, we explore the Quaker Way with a post by Madeline Schaefer:

I have spent a lot of time over the years thinking and talking about Quakerism and most of that time I have been very, very confused.  Quakerism is all about questioning, after all.  What is Truth?  What is silence?  What does it even mean to be a Quaker?

Perhaps part of why I have always been so confused is that the point of asking these questions is not to find an answer.  It is to undermine our own understandings of where false Truths may lie, and to love the richness found in the asking.

After all, we are searching for a true way to live, not a code of ethics.  And we will not find answers in words, but in life itself. The Truth, therefore, is something that we live, every day, in our own time.  We speak of it because we are human.  But we only know it by choosing life in our actions every day.

For many years, I thought that by going to enough Quaker conferences and reading enough books about spiritual enlightenment, I could actually develop a plan for how to live a perfect, good and whole life.  And while it did help me further articulate my experience, I only really understood my own Truth when I finally had the courage to let go of myself. By shaking loose from who I thought I was or what I thought I needed, I finally had more space to live my life. I was subconsciously choosing to be with something more real, and that thing was my life.

I may have never come up with a good definition of Truth by letting go, but my life has become clearer.  And it was only through sitting with my own mess that I found the lightness to live fully in the present moment.  Moving toward life involves giving up all of the wonderful coping mechanisms you were using to deal with your own loneliness.  And it sucks.

But there is something almost magical hidden within that painful non-action.  Being with your messy self, heals that messy life.  Sitting in your own pain, your own confusion, may not give you answers, but it will give you strength. You may not feel “transformed,” but your life is changing every second, and you with it.

Quakers don’t talk about suffering very much, particularly in the context of Truth, but letting go often involves a good deal of suffering.  It is often excruciatingly painful to give up all of the habits that you used to negotiate your own loneliness. If, as the Buddhists teach us, life is suffering, then Truth must be hidden inside of that suffering. Perhaps knowing Truth must and always will involve pain.

Being a Quaker or part of a Quaker community such as Quaker Voluntary Service involves lots and lots of talking.  For many Quakers, it is through the process of talking with one another that we learn who we are and where we may need to let go.  We will likely never find answers to the questions we pose to ourselves and one another.  But we can live in confusion with others, and then live our lives.

You may become frustrated with all of these questions, all of this searching.  But it will lead you somewhere, even if the answers you are looking for evade you, and the process of being yourself involves sometimes painful discomfort. We cannot help but choose life on this path full of questions.



Madeline opens with three good questions. How would you answer them now? How do you hope your answers might change over your time with QVS?

  1. What is Truth?
  2. What is silence?
  3. What does it even mean to be a Quaker?

Madeline mentions going to Quaker conferences and meetings in hopes of finding a plan for living a “perfect, good and whole life.” What are you hoping for from a year of living in the Quaker Way in community? What might you need to let go of in the coming year?

What pieces of yourself or your “mess” might you be called to sit with this year?

Reading this blog entry, what do you hope for? What do you fear?

Madeline talks about the Quaker Way as a way of searching and asking questions in community. What are you searching for in this year? What questions do you hope to ask in community?




One response to “The Quaker Way”

  1. Paul Bernstein, Ph.D. says :

    Thank you, Madeline, for your honesty. What you call “one’s inner mess”, a gifted spiritual explorer named Joe Klein calls our “inner matrix”. And like your sharing, he has found that some key methods for letting go of our limitations often go AROUND words, rather than by using words. Therefore, I recommend that readers of this blog might benefit by taking a look at his methods (at I am finding them to be quite effective, and fully in agreement with your affirmation of “life itself”.

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