Keep Quakers wild

Friendly Reminder: A Weekly Reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

Last week, I proposed that we “Keep Quakers weird”–that we live out our Quakerism simply and boldly, and maintain our peculiar testimonies. This week, I offer a thought that represents the flip side of our vocation: “Keep Quakers wild.”

Admittedly, you don’t see the words “Quaker” and “wild” side-by-side very often (at least not without sarcasm or irony). You are more likely to hear something like: “No more laughing, no more fun. Quaker meeting has begun.” But if you look back across Quaker history, you will find some pretty wild characters, following the Spirit into wild places. Whether it was early Friends getting “naked as a sign” or travelling to new countries or attempting “holy experiments” closer to home, there is plenty of wildness to draw from. What else should we expect from a group of folks who surrender themselves to the Divine Wind that “blows wherever it pleases” (Jn. 3:8)?

Nevertheless, we sometimes practice our “weirdness” in a way that isolates and domesticates. We think pacifist means passivist. We think quietness means quietism. We think simplicity means safety. And we need a Friendly reminder like the mystic Evelyn Underhill gave to C.S. Lewis when she wrote in a letter: “Perhaps what it all comes to is this, that I feel your concept of God would be improved by just a touch of wildness.”

I also like what Pope Francis said a couple years ago about the church: “The Church must be like God: always outgoing; and when the Church is not going out, she falls ill.” Creating safe and sacred spaces is important. Having a supportive community is essential. Being weird is our calling. But if all of that keeps us from being an “outgoing” community, we get sick. (“Outgoing” here is meant to indicate direction not temperament, but maybe there’s an aspect of that too. Maybe Thomas Merton’s critique of his Trappist brothers could be said to us at times: “You’re not contemplatives, you’re just introverts.”) Whether you identify as a member of “the Church” or not, healthy spiritual community has what Underhill calls “a touch of wildness.” And practitioners of a living tradition are free to “come in and go out” of safe pasture (Jn. 10:9).

Pope Francis acknowledge that “outgoing” is not always safe: “It is true that when one goes out there is the danger of an accident.” But it’s worth it: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.”

Yes. I’d rather have a Quakerism that is a little messy and bruised than one that is pure and safe but stagnant and sick. May we be an outgoing movement that is both weird and wild as we live into the Light we are given.

Photo Credit: Jean Schnell, “Framing the Light.” Smith Neck Meeting.

Enter to Worship; Depart to Serve display plaque