Monday, February 23, 2009

Exchanging This for That

By the mid 1980s, I realized that mainstream Christianity -- the faith I had grown up in -- didn't speak to me. There were too many aspects that one was supposed to accept on faith alone that didn't compute in my cerebral cortex. When I would express my doubts to clergy or fellow adherents, the simplistic answer I received over and over again was "Put your faith in God". However, if humankind was created in the image of this being AND he/she endowed us with a rational intellect, why are religions so bent on asking their followers willfully to ignore their capacities for complex reasoning?

So, for nearly a 20 years, I went searching for a belief system that seemed to make more sense to me. For awhile, I didn't look very hard and counted myself as somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. In the late 90s, I made several friends who were Quakers and I even tried out a Friends Meeting for a time.

What drew me to the Friends was the open-ended nature of their beliefs. There were no confessions of faith or creeds a person had to ascribe to in order to take part. More importantly, their "church service" didn't resemble any other church service that I'd ever been involved with.

One section of Quakers (though certainly not all) held that there was no need for clergy because God or whatever you wished to call it didn't need an intermediary. The supreme one lives inside each of us and all we need to do to find it is to look inside ourselves (foreshadows of my move to Taoism).

Rather than have an organized service replete with programs, unison readings, preselected hymns, confessions of faith and a sermon, a Friends Meeting is conducted in silence! We would arrange the chairs into a circle and then sit there meditating/contemplating for the better part of one hour. If someone felt moved to speak, they did. If you didn't feel moved to speak, you didn't.

The rationale here is that most Christian rituals were devoid of personal meaning. Attendees get so used to the weekly formula that they perform their actions as robots without really thinking about the importance or significance of why they are doing whatever it is. By eschewing these rituals, Quakers hope to instill a deeper personal relationship between you and your creator.

They convinced me of their particular way...for about two months. One day as I was sitting quietly in the circle, it dawned on me that the Quaker's non-ritualized service was a ritual all its own. Every Sunday we followed the same script -- circle the chairs and sit quietly. In the end, it wasn't that much different from the ritualized services they thought they were avoiding.

Something else dawned on me. I didn't need to come to this particular place on a given day at a given time to meditate. I didn't need to sit in this circle with my friends to get in touch with the cosmos inside of me. Some Sundays I just didn't feel like it, so I'd sit their plotting out the coming work week or, maybe, try to remember the words of a song I'd heard on the radio!

I realized that finding the depths inside my heart was such a personal experience that, for me, it was best done all by my lonesome. I didn't need a church, religion or group of fellow believers to help me get there. All I needed was a quiet place to empty myself.


  1. I just wanted to give a shout out to my favorite Taoist. You're posts are insightful as always. All that is ever needed is that which helps the individual find peace.

  2. I am not a Quaker myself, but leaving conservative christianity wonder if I might wind up a Quaker someday. I feel the same way as you about the Quaker services, but miss the community aspect of church, and don't have it elsewhere yet. When I was an evangelical I couldn't understand why a buddist would attend a quaker meeting, or why a quaker meeting would embrace a practicing buddist. It makes more sense to me now.

  3. Not meaning anything about your spirituality, Buddhist or otherwise, just reflecting on a Quaker meeting I have visited that had a Buddhist in attendence....

  4. TB: Right back at ya! :)

    Atimetorend: I can certainly understand why many embrace the community aspect of the church or religion, in general. That said, I may be different in this regard because of my Asperger's. While I rationally understand this need for community, neurologically speaking, I myself do not feel this need at all.

  5. To reflect upon and consider the nature of God, requires me to be apart from people.
    I find people the least representative of anything in creation. And the least inspiring.
    A mountain, a tree, a bird, a mouse: these things display a quiet perfection almost entirely missing in humans.
    Any religious/spiritual meeting has exactly the opposite effect on me that it is calculated to have.

  6. A mountain, a tree, a bird, a mouse: these things display a quiet perfection almost entirely missing in humans.

    So eloquently said!


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