"A Quaker's View" first appeared in 1990, as a column in the WHF newsletter. Articles from that column are now available online (though some have been lost).

Nothing here is meant to be the last word in Quaker Orthodoxy. It is, after all, "A Quaker's View."


Greetings dear Friends! This is Pendle Hill, once again, with Another Quaker's View. In this column, we consider the Quaker concept of "measure."

The experience of God was central to the early Friends. Isaac Penington, for example, wrote: "It is not enough to hear of Christ, or read of Christ: but this is the thing, to feel him my root, my life, my foundation; and my soul engrafted into him, by him who has the power to engraft."

Not surprisingly, those who experienced God felt themselves changed by the encounter. Once again, Penington speaks well for the early Friends: "The sum and substance of true religion doth not stand in getting a notion of Christ's righteousness, but in feeling the power of the endless life, receiving the power, and being changed by the power."

Experiencing God was like tapping into a source of eye-opening power. As that power surged through someone, they were inevitably transformed by the experience. The early Friends directed people toward an inward encounter with the living God, and they counted upon personal transformation as a result. George Fox described the change as "coming into the state which Adam was in before the Fall." In other words, it was like becoming the people we were created to be.

There is a telling story (probably not historically accurate) about George Fox and William Penn. Befitting his station as the son of an admiral, William Penn wore a ceremonial sword. Since he knew the Friends were opposed to warfare, he wondered if wearing his sword was appropriate. George Fox advised Penn to, "Wear it as long as you can."

Often this story is told to illustrate the nonjudgmental way of Friends. After all, in some other traditions, Penn would be given an ultimatum about exactly what to wear and when and how. But it is important to realize that Fox has not said, "Wear whatever you want." Clearly Fox anticipates that some change will occur (assuming that the time will come when Penn will no longer feel able to wear his sword). Fox expects transformation, but the timing of that change is left unspecified. Timing is under the jurisdiction of God's inward authority not some well-meaning but misguided outward spokesman for the Divine.

The Friends had a clear vision of what it meant to live a righteous life (i.e., without deceit, without violence). But they realized that we human beings move in that direction only gradually. Furthermore, we move along different fronts. One person may be called to give up smoking the minute she encounters the transforming power of God. For someone else, God may begin the process of transformation by calling him to reconcile with a brother.

Each of us is given some specific "measure" of Light, and we are responsible to this inward nudge toward wholeness. It is not outward conformity that counts; it is obedience to the inward voice.

The idea of "measure" fits in with the Quaker emphasis on God's direct and active involvement in the lives of those who seek the Light. "Measure" assumes that God is active, like a sculptor chipping away here, smoothing out there. Changed lives do not roll off an assembly line, but take shape under the direct care of a loving God.

Remembering this idea of "measure", we may be able to give one another room to grow according to God's unique vision for us as individuals. We can hold each other accountable to growth without prescribing exactly what that growth should look like. Hopefully this part of our tradition will also inspire us to look inward for the area where God is actively working for change in our own lives.

Here are some questions to consider:

1. Do we need to make sure that no one takes advantage of our lack of rigidity?

2. What is the Measure of Light God is giving you at present?.

3. Are there some issues that are not, "wear it as long as you can" type issues? Are some things so basic that they must happen right away?