I have long sensed in Quaker faith a double-helix

For a long time, this double-helix impressed me as an experience of the Spirit, on one side, and of Scripture, on the other.

Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s disciple Otto Rank, I now also see it as an awareness of our immortality, or spirit, on one hand, and our mortality, or knowledge that we will die, on the other. (Rank argues that our denial of our awareness of our mortality is the central struggle of human lives, rather than sexuality, as his teacher did.)

I could even see the double helix as a stand of Christ as the Light alongside a strand having Jesus as the embodied Christ, or even as Quaker faith alongside Quaker practice.

This double strand appears, too, in the Light/Seed connection. In terms of modern science, if one is energy, the other is matter. If one is Logos, the other is Incarnation. If one is the unity arising in wisdom, the other is the chaos of discovery and exploration.

Rank argues that our greatest insights arise when we span the two strands of awareness, leaping from one to the other and back, and I find that true in our spiritual practice as well, when our abstract faith is tested by everyday challenges.


What would I be if I weren’t Quaker?

It’s an insightful exercise, from time to time, unearthing answers that point to individual tastes in worship, spiritual practice, and friendships.

My answers have changed over the years – from Judaism to Zen or Unitarian to Mennonite (of the faster variety) or maybe even Greek Orthodox. I know strongly, too, what I would never be – and we’ll leave those unnamed.

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Without being named as such

Truth works as a unifying element in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-14). At first blush, it would appear in the instruction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” with all of the puzzling possibilities of intent: was this meant only for statements of a courtroom nature or made under oath, or was it limited to interactions with people in one’s own community?

That interpretation, however, would allow a “dual sense of Truth,” in which people be free to lie at all times except when under oath or among their own kind; Quakers instead insisted this demanded a universal witness to Truth, one applicable at all times and in all places.

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So what have our children learned, as far as religion goes?

What seeds have we planted? Actually, I’m thinking of this not so much as a curriculum matter for the Religious Education committee or as a reflection for parents but rather as a consideration of what’s happened in American society in general – the kind of place where soccer practice is now seen as more valuable (“value enabling”) than Sunday School. Or where a child may develop an aversion to being viewed, in any way, as a “Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”


Consider the tensions many of us feel in the workplace

As Rabbi Michael Lerner writes in The Left Hand of God, it comes down to the conflict of values between our dog-eat-dog competitive economy and those we hold dear and sacred. Fundamentalists, at least, attempt to resolve it by separating the two worlds, but at what cost? Children, of course, pick up on this, tuning out what they see as useless to their survival. And that includes what they observe at home.

The Amish and other old orders attempt to hold the values of workplace, home, and faith in one sphere, but we can easily imagine the difficulty that, too, presents.


Truth appears variously

As my Concordance relates, it’s “what is opposed to falsehood, lies, or deceit,” “fidelity, sincerity, keeping promises,” “opposed to hypocrisy, dissimulation, or formality,” and is often conjoined with mercy or kindness. We also have “in truth,” “in the truth,” “thy truth,” “word of truth,” and even “walking in truth,” which sounds very much like the Quaker insistence on “walking in the Light.”

Crucially, Christians have Jesus appearing as the embodiment of Truth – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).


Actions, then, rather than words

Without the music of hymns and praise songs, the pageantry of robes, processions, lighting of altar candles, and communion, or the attentive consideration to set prayers and sermons, what do we give our children to cling to? (In the old days, did the plain clothing and “thee/thou” speech offer some refuge or rooting?)

Or what invitation do we extend to those “voted off the island”?

What I’d suggest is that the answer is not found so much in any catechism or ceremony as in the way we treat our smallest members, our moments of laboring together, and, yes, the repeated ritual of a certain casserole on youth retreats and its reception.


Time for Yearly Meeting

Oops! At least it wasn’t the R that fell.

Like many other Yearly Meetings in North America, ours holds its annual sessions in August, these days gathering for nearly a week on a college campus. It’s a powerful time of faithful work on business decisions and administration, worship, Bible study, inspiration, fellowship (often around food), music and dance, and friendships old and new.

The golf carts are a popular way to get from one end of campus to the other, especially when you’re on a tight schedule. The volunteer drivers, I might add, are usually well into celebrating their inner child.

Truth would not appear to be animated

Especially as a partner in the Light/Seed dynamic. A basic impediment to perceiving the three as an integrated system at all arises in a discontinuity within the terms themselves.

While Light and Seed can both have visual parallels, allowing them to be consciously applied as metaphor, Truth brings no image immediately to mind. Thus, it is technically a concept, even though I now sense that Friends applied it as metaphor, with its host of overlapping and compressed meanings and experiences. In addition, while Light and Seed can be discussed as complementary workings – one as energy and the other as matter, for example – Truth initially appears to be inert, sitting motionless somewhere outside of that orbit.

While Light and Seed can be applied as either nouns or verbs, Truth remains a noun or, as “true” and “truly,” a modifier – but crucially, never a verb, much less taking action on its own.