Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thinking about Testimony

During the course of this week, I found myself being asked on two separate occasions how I came to the Quakers.  First, at spiritual formation group with Donna and Janet, and then a couple of days later, one of my husband's friends who was unfamiliar with Quakerism asked me why I started worshiping with the Quakers.

I grew up in an evangelical church that placed a strong emphasis on a dramatic conversion experience, the moment that one became "saved."  Recounting the who, what, where, when, and why of this conversion was called a testimony.  And, occasionally, members of the church would be called to give "their testimony."  For some conversions may indeed  happen like this, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that spiritual transformation, for me has been a gradual, steady thing, perhaps with the occasional dramatic burst of insight.  But, I am also curious--as a new Quaker-- about the tradition of testimony and the use of the word testimony.

I think there is value in telling our individual spiritual stories, but to use the word testimony only in relation to a conversion experience is detrimentally limiting.  And, as we start this blog as a group, I wanting to share and read our spiritual stories. 

This week, (in a separate post) I will share my story of how I found the Quakers--which some of you already know, but I also realize that I haven't had the opportunity to hear other members' stories. 

So, for those of you that would like, (and if you want an idea for what to write about on this blog), how about this? 

How did you come to find your spiritual home with the Quakers?


  1. Sarah, I think this is a really fascinating question about the word testimony. In the Quaker sense of the word, I understand it to be along the lines of "this we hold up to the world as an important avenue to experiencing God/holiness in our lives." Things we understand as distractions (such as unnecessary complexity,) antithetical behaviors (such as taking part in extreme conflict,) guilt-provoking erratic or contradictory values (such as cheating even sometimes), serious ways of limiting our joy such as not perceiving and celebrating "that of God --the sacred--in each other", by tendencies to compare and judge people and other beings, and by ignoring our part in the web of life--we see as particular obstacles to growing into the fullness of experiencing the great living Oneness of the Universe. And we express them as positive spiritual goals, (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship of the earth) necessary for ourselves and our religious groups to clear the way to our own spiritual wholeness and connectedness.--As I was writing this, I thought maybe the testimonies could be seen as signs of having arrived at oneness with God, but I sort of like the idea of clearing the clutter of error as we dance back and forth towards the deepest love and wisdom of our lives.

  2. Now back to your "how did we come to Quakers" question. My father was a liberal-minded Presbyterian minister, so I heard a lot of good (I think!) sermons growing up. The problem was I was a rotten listener, and it turned out that I have Attention Deficit Disorder--hard for people to believe, but my brain is very hyperactive :) The fairly traditional salvation theology troubled me as I grew older, and I was particularly distracted by all the upping and downing in traditional services, feeling like I seldom made any connection with any sense of inner spirit. I came in contact in college with Bishop Robinson's book Honest to God, which made sense to me as he talked about "God" as "the ground of all being." After I left home, I joined Presbyterian Churches wherever I lived, but always felt very different in my beliefs, and often in my values. My folks both had a lot of respect for Friends and belonged to the Wider Quaker Fellowship. Gradually I realized the Quaker silence might really give me a chance to connect in a way I couldn't in a traditional service, and the more I learned about the testimonies and the history, the more I had a sense of coming home to my own "tribe". I love, love, love the silence, the stillness, the inner and outer quiet ; I love my fellow sojourners and I love our path as we try each in our own way to experience what it means to be faithful to the light of love and truth in our lives. I consider myself a Christian, but in the sense of trying to follow the teachings of a thoroughly authentic person of enormous compassion and inclusiveness, and a profound sense of connection with the holy.

  3. Here is a (mostly) materialist who only recently became aware of the "Sacred Depths of Nature". I can't claim to have a 'testimony' or even to being a Quaker, but there is a story of the journey to tell (later).

  4. More on the "testimony" line: found a quote from book -The Spirit of the Quakers-- which I like. "Truth is then neither a philosophical notion or a matter of ethical principles--even ones as worthy as the Quaker testimonies. Such codifying of behaviour is actually the very opposite of the experience to which Quakerism points us, which is obedience to something alive and dependable within, a source of revelation available to all beyond any system of religious belief. This is surely what Penn meant by the 'one religion' of the humble, just and meek--this was not prescriptive, how we should live, but descriptive, how we will live when we are 'dwelling in the light'. " (Speaks to my question of whether we should actually aim toward the testimonies?)