I recently finished reading A Plain Life by Scott Savage and found it to be a deeply satisfying read that challenged me to continue on the path I have chosen toward simplicity and spiritual integrity. I found his writing stirred me toward deeper contemplation of my commitments to family, community, planet and the Divine and made me feel more deeply that my spiritual home is among the Friends.
Then I read his opinion about universalist and Pagan Quakers on Robin M.'s blog
and was a little shaken. In fact, for a few moments, I was not sure I wanted to finish reading the book. Then I realized that his opinion about people like me had no bearing on the beautiful and powerful message of his book. I would not rob myself of the blessing of his words. I finished the book and now include it as among those that have been most personally powerful for me in recent years. His story of choosing a life of simplicity and integrity resonated with me as I too move toward plain dress, toward deeper engagement with my family, community and environment, and as I more mindfully address the issues of commercialism, technology, and materialism in my life. I take heart from the story of his journey. It serves as a beacon in my own journey.
I cannot say that I do not have sad feelings about his opinion of non-Christian Quakers. I certainly don't expect everyone to be delighted about my heterodox spiritual positions. I think that my sadness came more from my sense of surprise. It is early in the game for me and I did not yet know that it was possible for a Friend to reject me as unqualified. Naive, I know but although I fully understood that many Friends are Christ-centered, I did not know that there are some who consider those of us who are not as unqualified to share in community with them.
I came to spend time with Friends because I wanted a spiritual home where my spiritual vision would be honored even when not shared. I love being around those who can speak the truth in many spiritual languages and who can delight in each other's difference because they know that at the deepest level, we are all of us brothers and sisters. I love being among Friends because they honor the path, the process, and the conversation more than the "answers". It is this that provides form and support to what might otherwise be a spiritual free-for-all. They are a listening people who temper the desire to act, think, and speak brashly within the discipline of Silence. Therefore, I can join them as I too seek to live a more disciplined life and as I continue to listen to the Voice that guides me. What I believe makes sense within a Quaker context. That's exciting for me because I have been without a spiritual community for a long, long time.
When reading A Plain Life, I could see my deeply held values in the personal discipline he described. I seek to honor my spirituality in my everyday activities, to resist being swept away by consumerism, convention, greed, apathy, and self-indulgence, to bring my growing rage and radicalism to the heart of the community where it can be channeled into loving action rather than angry reaction. So while reading A Plain Life, I felt more Quaker. Funny isn't it? A man who said a lack of faith in Christ was "a deal-breaker" made me feel more Quaker. Was my feeling of welcome a misunderstanding? Should I pay more attention to his clearly stated position regarding non-Christians in Robin's blog or was his true spirit calling me to join him through his beautiful book, even while his conscious desire was to dismiss folks like me?
That is so often the way it works. I like to think that sometimes light shines through us despite our stubborn obedience to "truth." When we take it upon ourselves to define the boundaries of "truth" then we are on dangerous ground, strutting about playing at being little gods. When we are defensive, we lash out. When we lash out, we are likely to injure those we were called to love. But when we tell our own sincere stories with passion, faith, and love, we make space for others to grow as human beings especially when we show our eagerness to hear their stories in return. A story honestly told honors and upholds a community. It invites and caresses the "other." On the other hand, when we define the limitations of our tolerance, the boundaries of our faith statements, we exclude those we are called to love. The message that we belong together within the body of the Divine is a message I was taught as a Christian child. It is a message that was reaffirmed by my pagan beliefs. All life has kinship within the Body of the Great Goddess. There are no exceptions. Jesus said "love your neighbor..." He did not list restrictions. So that is how I choose to live even when I am hurt. There are no "deal-breakers" for me. I am called to listen even if others do not want to hear me.
And there have been so many, many times when others have not want to hear me. There was the time I watched a group of fellow students engaged in a theatrical therapy demonstration stomp Goddess worship into the ground while I tried not to cry. There was the time when members of the interfaith group I joined said they didn't think our community could handle community courses that included Neo-Paganism. So wouldn't you think I would stop being surprised when others turn from me even as I eagerly seek them? It certainly is not a new experience. One other incident springs to mind as being particularly painful because it was so personal.
When I was beginning my doctoral work, I met a fellow student at our entry colloquium. He was an older man, a retired minister. I liked being with him since my own father was a minister and I could really identify with him. We sat next to each other and chatted amiably between sessions. When he told us that he had decided to drop out of the program, we shared a tearful hug. In a short time, I had made a good friend. Later I wrote to him telling him how much his presence at that colloquium had enriched the experience for me. He wrote back to me saying that one of the reasons he left the graduate college was because he was disturbed by my desire to obtain a religion studies degree focused on Neo-Paganism and feminist spirituality. He said he did not want to graduate from an institution that would accept me as a student.
Such things happen. And when they do, we are charged with a decision. Do we bitterly reject the human being who excludes us, or do we continue to love them and in so doing, continue to appreciate the blessings only they can contribute? I am beginning to learn that there are far deeper antagonisms among Friends than I imagined. As I immerse myself in published and online literature, I am often taken aback by the negativity, ill-will, and anxiety that whirls dangerously between Christian and universalist Quakers.
No matter. Though my reactive mind stomps and grumbles, "I know when I'm not wanted," my deeper mind tells me to be still and hear what there is to hear. Scott Savage wrote a book that brought grace to my life. His story welcomed me, maybe not the pagan me or the universalist me, but the essence of me that no labels can ever touch. His work helped me look to others with deeper love as my brothers and sisters. And though he may call my non-Christianity, "a deal-breaker," I cannot believe that that which illuminates my heart is any different than that which illuminates his. If he draws a circle that shuts me out, I will merely draw a larger circle that draws him in.