Hello Friends and friends of Friends! I am your host, Pendle Hill, and this is A Quaker's View. In this column, we take a Quaker's view of spiritual friendship.
Many of us grimace at the phrase, "organized religion." It is under the categorical umbrella of organized religion that we find narrow-minded busybodies, suicide bombers, TV evangelists and other undesirables.
Have you ever noticed that no one describes himself or herself as a practitioner of organized religion? By definition, we have come to accept this term as negative. It is a term used to identify others -- never to identify one's self.
Those of us who want to explore the spiritual side of our lives often take great pains to disassociate ourselves from anything "religious." We draw a clear distinction between our spirituality (which is private and personal) and religion.
By making spirituality a private matter, we may have solved one problem -- but we surely created another. By isolating ourselves, we cut ourselves off from spiritual friendships.
It has become cliche to announce that God is available to us in isolation. As the saying goes, "I don't need to go to church in order to worship God." This idea is popular, I believe, because it asserts that God is available to us without the added cost of messy human relationships. In other words, it is a bargain.
But like so many bargains, this assertion is mostly sleight-of-hand. While God is certainly available to us in the most remote of circumstances, God is not content to leave us in isolation. An authentic relationship with God almost always calls us to a more authentic relationship with those around us.
As Friends, we are emphatic about the universal availability of God's spirit. We boldly proclaim that there are no prerequisites to a relationship with God. Yes, God will meet you in your isolation. God will meet you in the cavernous hollows of your own private thoughts. However, the need for community looms large in Quaker thought -- from our ideal of gathered worship to our practice of corporate decision-making.
During the earliest years of the Quaker movement, Friends went out in pairs to proclaim their message. Usually, one member of the pair was an older person and one was a youth. For example, pairs of Friends went to each of the major metropolitan areas in England: Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough went to London, John Camm and John Audland went to Bristol, and Richard Hubberthorne and George Whitehead went to Norwich. Quakers also paired up to take their message beyond England (into Europe and the New World).
The pattern of traveling in pairs was so universal that we may safely assume it was intentional. After all, both Mark and Luke report the followers of Jesus going out two-by-two. And the book of Ecclesiastes offers this good advice:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, her friend can help her up. But pity the one who falls and has no one to help him up!"
Indeed, by traveling in pairs, the Quakers were able to support one another. For example, Elizabeth Hooten recounts the way she and her partner, Joan Brocksopp, were able to care for one another. These two early Friends traveled to Boston, a city notoriously hostile to the Quaker message. For daring to enter the city, the two women were thrown into prison until the Court could decide an appropriate punishment. At last it was decided that the pair should be escorted into the wilderness, and after two days, abandoned. Elizabeth writes:
". . . And there they left us towards the night amongst the great rivers and many wild beasts... and that night we lay in the woods without any victualls, but a few biskits that we brought with us which we soaked in water, so did the Lord help and deliver us and one carried another through the waters and we escaped their hands."
A companion on the Spiritual Journey provided these Friends with an invaluable resource. They were able to support one another in times of crisis. They were able to comfort one another in prison and in times of hardship. When their message was well-received, they were able to work together as teachers.
Although God is available to us in isolation, perhaps we become more available to God when we journey with a Spiritual Companion.
A spiritual friend can embody God's love for us. He or she can keep us moving when we grow weary. A companion can help us up when we stumble. A well-matched companion can help us carry the load. Traveling with a companion commits us to do more than "shop" for Spiritual Truth.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. To what degree has your relationship with God called you into relationship with other people?
2. Has there ever been someone in your life who has served as a Spiritual Companion? What was it like?
3. How would you go about finding a Spiritual Companion? Or, if you feel that you have one, how could you make your relationship more intentional?