Thursday, January 7, 2016

Becoming a Quaker: The First Step

After a year of attending Quaker meetings, I've decided to take the next step and apply for membership. For me, this is a big undertaking. I don't join things, in general. But I feel at home with the Quakers in a way I haven't with any other spiritual community.

I read from others about what to put in a letter requesting membership, and there really was no consensus. Some people said they wrote three pages, while others said they wrote three sentences. I suppose it comes down to how much of yourself you want to introduce ahead of time versus how much you want the clearness committee to handle. For me, I thought it was be wise to give a deeper overview of myself, since I really don't know anyone at the meeting very well. My letter, when it's read at the next meeting for business, will give everyone a chance to find out who I am.

When I handed my letter to the clerk, he reminded me of the process, including the committee I'll meet with. He said they'd ask me "the tough questions" before any decision was made on my joining. I'm not sure what to expect, and I halfway anticipate that my request will be rejected, but I at least have to try.

Here's the text of my letter.

~ ~ ~

Dear [clerk],

I would like to apply for membership at University Friends Meeting.

I’ve rewritten this letter several times. I finally decided to focus on how I came to admire the Quaker way, in the context of what I’ve been seeking in a spiritual tradition. I hope it offers some insight into what led me here and conveys my sincerity about wanting to become a member of UFM and the larger family of Friends.

Following are a few points explaining what I’ve been seeking in a spiritual path:

One that is rooted in the Christian tradition but allows people the room to draw inspiration from other spiritual traditions and practices. I've been a spiritual seeker for most of my adult life. My journey has been influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, the Transcendentalists, Alan Watts, Indian thinkers such as Jiddu Krishnamurti and Paramhansa Yogananda, Catholic social activists such as Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, and the great peacemakers of our age, including Gandhi and Dr. King. Those influences, along with other life experiences, have caused my views to evolve to the point that I could no longer return to the Christianity of my youth. Yet I began to feel a strong pull, about a year ago, to reconnect in some way with my spiritual roots.

In his book Living Buddha, Living Christ, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh encourages spiritual seekers to practice in a way that could reconnect them with their original faith traditions. I thought about those words often through the years, wondering how that would ever be possible for me. I visited a UU church, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, even though I found myself largely in accordance with the UUs’ guiding principles. Finally, everything changed when I discovered the Quakers. The inclusiveness, silent worship, absence of clergy, and commitment to equality and peace were what immediately drew me in, and as I learned more about the Quakers, I became more convinced that I’d found where I belong.

That was a little more than a year ago. In my eagerness to find the spiritual community that felt like the best fit for me, I attended five different meetings in the area (UFM, Salmon Bay, South Seattle, Eastside, and Tacoma) and visited two Quaker churches (North Seattle, and East Hill in Kent), in what I jokingly called my Puget Sound Quaker Tour. The churches were not for me, but I felt at home in unprogrammed worship. Each meeting had its own particular dynamic, but UFM was where I felt the most comfortable.

One that, instead of providing me with ready-made answers, invites me to ask questions, giving my spiritual understanding room to grow, mature, and change as needed, rather than stifling it with dogma. I was raised Catholic, but whenever I had questions about what I was told to believe — and there were many — those questions were discouraged and I was told to take things on faith. That didn't work for me then, and it doesn't now. I want to be challenged. I want the freedom to sit with a question and explore its meaning and ramifications. I'm not even so interested in finding the answer as I am in what doors the question may open, and I find the space to do that in the quiet of Quaker worship. To that end, I find that Quaker queries are a bit like Zen koans, in that they force me out of my comfort zone and make me confront my beliefs and assumptions, lest I grow complacent in thinking I have all the answers. I’ve found that whenever I think I have all the answers is exactly when I need to start asking questions again.

Over the past year, I’ve immersed myself in Quaker reading: George Fox’s journal, John Woolman’s journal, the writings of William Penn, and even contemporary authors such as Philip Gulley. I’m also a subscriber to Friends Journal. I have a copy of North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, and my sister in England, knowing I was interested in the Quakers, sent me a copy of the Britain Yearly Meeting’s Quaker Faith and Practice. I’ve learned much over the past year, and I look forward to learning more from all here who are longtime Friends.

One that promotes the equality of all people and endeavors to make the world we live in a better, more peaceful place. I’m often dismayed when all around me I see people who are so focused on their belief in another world that they forget to live in this one, or when I see people promoting anger, hatred, divisiveness, and violence in the name of their god, such that they forget to love their neighbors and their enemies, to help the broken, and to do as they would wish to have done to them.

Radical equality, a commitment to peace, and an abiding belief in human goodness are values that resonate with my own worldview, and I see them reflected in the Quaker family. I also believe in the power of love, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. I think those values are sorely lacking in today’s world, and I find myself attracted to people and groups that support and promote them.

As domestic and global events began to take a dark turn recently, I thought about George Fox’s ocean of light and love that flowed over the ocean of darkness. I feel we desperately need to find that ocean of light and love today, but I don’t think we can find it without putting in the work ourselves to make it happen. A cartoon I read recently had a man looking around in despair at the state of the world, and he said he almost asked God why he allowed so much pain and suffering. But then he decided not to ask, because he was afraid God would ask him the same question. In other words, it’s up to us to make things better.

I know that it’s incumbent on me to at the very least set an example for others to follow, and ideally to actively be the change I wish to see in the world. I have a 4-year-old girl, and I want to be an example for her, as well as leave her a world that’s a little bit better than how I found it. So I’m doing all of this as much for her as I am for myself or anyone else. But I’m aware that I can do more. My service work has consisted mostly of making financial and material contributions to charity, including monthly donations to the American Friends Service Committee and Doctors Without Borders. Though that may not be much, it’s something I can build upon, and I hope it speaks to my commitment to do what I can to help build a better world.

I don’t know in what ways I can contribute to the life of the meeting. I do know, however, that I want to, in whatever way possible. I’ve come a long way from my Midwestern Catholic upbringing, and it’s been a long journey looking for my spiritual home. I feel happy and fortunate to have finally found that home among the Religious Society of Friends. 

There’s much more I could say, but for now I hope this is enough. I’m happy to share more about myself and answer any questions you may have.

I look forward to getting to know the members of the meeting, and I hope you will consider allowing me to join as a member of UFM.

Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment