Friday, January 20, 2006

Queries on Quaker Disillusionment

  1. Am I wanting from others what only God can give? Is my restlessness really a call to deepen my own spiritual life, my own capacity for prayer?
  2. Is what I want from others a way of showing me what I need to learn how to give to others? Am I very good at reaching out to others as I wish they would reach out to me?
  3. How am I being called to participate in deepening the spiritual life of my Meeting?
  4. Can I forgive my Friends in Meeting for not being all I want them to be? Is it mine to determine how other Friends should be?
  5. Have I taken the time to take stock of my unmet spiritual needs, as clearly and carefully as I can? Have I offered these in prayer, and then have I been alert for the quiet and maybe surprising ways that Life has offered to address these needs?
  6. What happens if I face seriously the possibility that, in our broken world, my needs will not always be met by others immediately? Can I still survive? Are there things I can do to help ensure that these needs be met? Are they truly needs, or are they desires? Can I live compassionately with my own woundedness? Does my awareness of my own woundedness help me to become more compassionate of others’ woundedness?
  7. Can I keep learning to love more genuinely and fully, even if I do not feel well-loved myself?


  1. Wow. I feel like you just read my mind (heart) and wrote it in a post. Your queries address a lot of what I have been thinking and listening about recently.

    Thank you for posting this.

    Love and Light,

  2. Good questions! I, too, have struggled with them, not only sprititual needs but also our physical needs! But to help me understand understand better, could you try to more fully define what you consider our spiritual needs to be? Could you list some examples?
    A couple of the most important ones that occur to me are our need to feel accepted "as is" & our need to feel valued by those we encounter frequently. And these should be balanced by our need to be accepting & to show others that we value them!

  3. Wonderful!

    I have printed them off. Reading them in 20 seconds doesn't do them justice.

  4. Thank you all for your appreciative comments!

    In reply to Rex: I agree with the spiritual needs you identify. Here are some other spiritual needs I identify for myself (others may draw the line differently between emotional and spiritual needs):

    -- The need to be loved.

    -- Having faith, but, admittedly, it is hard to define what this means. What I mean by it is essentially living from positives instead in reaction to negatives, such as fear. This doesn't mean living from a false, wishful-thinking optimism, but it means something like learning what is real (such as love, and goodness), and learning how to trust that and base our decisions on that. Hmm, I may have to write a posting on this (though some of my past postings touch on this idea).

    -- Finding healing.

    I'll have to think more about this. Thank you for posting such an excellent question!

  5. I am sitting with the same questions, nearly verbatim. I have been searching for words and experiences that point to the spiritual void I have been experiencing among some Friends. But how do we see something that is not there? What is it that we are pointing to when we are pointing to a gap, to an absence, to something that is missing?

    This morning I am reviewing my dog-eared, uber-underlined copy of Thomas Gates' pamphlet Members One of Another, and have found a couple things there that speak to my condition and help me see the invisible void:

    p. 14 "Is being accepted by others all there is to being a Friend?"

    My answer to that is, No. And Gates goes on to explain about the place of shared values, the expectation to be transformed by the Light, the discipline of supporting others to be obedient to the Spirit, etc.

    p. 24 "Mature meetings recognize that some of their members may at times require more than a sense of belonging and shared values, and that the community's responsibility has now moved beyond hospitality and acceptance..."

    But what about meetings that are not mature?!

    Here is what I am weighing:

    Meetings that are not mature may not have the capacity to be able to say, "We do not know how to help you, Friends, with your questions. But let us seek together, worship together, and perhaps we will find others who can help with your questions and with your spiritual hunger."

    Some of my own disillusionment, I am re-remembering, is that I had thought one Quaker community could answer all my needs. Or at least I had hoped that members of the meeting would have been able to verbalize that inability to do so, if it had come to that.

    It is not a bad thing to be able to say, "I give you no more wisdom than I myself have. But now let us look together for another Teacher, for surely there is more wisdom to be learned..."

    Thank you, CS. I'll sit with your queries some more. They are important ones to hold.

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  6. Hi CS,
    Wow, great queries. I wonder if we can take some of these one step further and replace some of the "my spiritual needs" language with "God's spiritual needs." A big part of what we all need spiritually is to stop worrying so much about ourselves (and by extension our own spiritual needs). One of Fox's major openings was realizing that his early spiritual seekings were a failure precisely because he needed to learn that real nourishment comes from the Spirit directly (which some of your queries point to, of course).

    I've been wondering lately whether disillusionment is a necessary part of the modern Quaker path (at least for some). I've known so many interesting and Spirit-led Friends go through a time of doubting. Some drop away, but some stumble about in a spiritual desert for awhile before coming back strengthened. What if we were able to name this phase and find ways to keep Friends passing through it in our prayers. Perhaps queries like yours can help us see disillusionment as normal, indeed as a blessing of sorts.

  7. Thank you Liz, and thank you Martin, for your comments.

    There's a lot I could say in response. I'll focus on just two related thoughts now, because I suspect that additional thoughts will spill over into future postings!

    The first is more a question than a thought: does God have spiritual needs?

    The second is an explanation about why some of the language in the queries does focus on our own spiritual needs: it is because when we become disillusioned with Quakerism, I think it has a lot to do with disappointment that our Meetings (and/or other Friends communities, organizations, or institutions) are not addressing our spiritual needs.

    I do think that this is a stage that many Friends go through. I know I went through this several years ago. What I gradually came to realize was that my own crisis was actually a transition from wanting my Meeting to help me gain spiritual strength as I dealt with life's challenges, to realizing that in fact I had gained quite a lot from my Meeting and it was now time for me to start giving back.

    But not all of my spiritual needs had been met. Life continued (and continues!) to give me daunting challenges.

    But my approach to attending to my own needs changes. I don't so much turn to people. I turn instead to God in prayer.

    I attend to my own needs (with God's help) because it is the nature of needs that if they are not attended to we break down and become unable to look outward and truly help others. I wish I had no needs. I wish I could be totally undistracted by myself and only focus with love on others. During my spiritually strong times, this is in fact how I feel. But, sometimes, in spite of myself, I get depleted. What then?

    No longer do I get upset with others for not being sympathetic or understanding, or for not taking good care of me. Instead, I pray, or take a walk, or read a good, inspiring book, or play music -- these are the things that restore my soul. These are how I get back in touch with why it all matters even if I fail, even if I get tired, even if my love seems to have no effect, even if the horrors of the world seem to continue unabated.

    Life matters. Love matters. Goodness is real, and is much more powerful than violence. My spiritual needs are: that I need to be reminded of these basic truths, and find my way to continue on.

    And not always can all of my needs be met. Sometimes I am still in despair as I stumble out of bed to face another day of horrifying news headlines, and/or people in my life who sometimes ask more of me than I can give. But I cannot use my despair as an excuse to give up. I limp forward and do the best I can anyway, because I know it is right to try even if I cannot feel the courageous energy and soul-sustaining joy I wish I could always feel.

    That is faith: I know these things are true even if I cannot feel them, even if they do not carry me along, even if my every motion feels forced. I am patient even with my own struggles, and wait for the day I know will come: the day when joy and clarity do return, and my body and soul feel filled with Light.

    I know that God is with me even during the heavy times.

    This is what faith is.

  8. God's spiritual need: relationship. (Need, not dependency.) Hence Anthony Bloom's wonderful expression, "God loved us into being."

    Sometimes disillusioned Friends have compared their meeting or church to their 12-Step group or other support group, with the meeting coming out on the losing end. I have gently protested against the comparison. Within the church there should be safe places for times of unusual vulnerability and for healing, but the church should be public, whereas program groups should be anonymous. The church cannot provide a public proclamation and public access and still be perfectly safe.

    Profound thanks for this post! I've only touched on a tiny angle of a really precious contribution that you've made.

  9. Thank you for the queries and I appreciated what Martin said also. Somehow we need to keep rooted in us, both a concern for ourselves and the other - especially God's own agenda. Lest we fall into an I, Me, Mine type of faith (though I don't think this is what you are doing at all). Your queries are very useful and thoughtful, I'll most likely use them in our small group this week and test them out.

  10. Thank you, Johan, for your thoughts on God's need for relationship (but not dependency), and for your thoughts on safety! Yes.

    And thank you, C. Wess Daniels, for your thoughts on the difference between I/me/mine faith and faith rooted in we/us and God's agenda.

    I very much agree that faith needs to be rooted in we/us and especially God's agenda.

    The question of how to discern God's agenda (and whether we can be sure we get it right) is a very important one.

    In my own thinking and way of speaking, I come back to "I" so often as a gesture of humility. While I cannot always be sure of God's will for us all, what I can do is become clearer about my own needs so that I do not inappropriately project them onto others, and so that I do not inappropriately get upset with others for not attending to me or my concerns or my callings in ways I might wish (but that they might not actually be called to do).

    Then, if I find that others are not addressing my needs, concerns, or callings in ways I would wish, I take these needs to God in prayer, and say, "how exactly are you calling me in this? What am I being asked to do?"

    Often the challenge is to learn from my own experience how to understand the needs of others and respond to them more effectively. Or, from my own suffering, I learn more about injustices built into our society, and can discern ways to transform those unjust structures into just ones -- not just for my sake, but for the sake of all who struggle as I do.

    My call to humility is a call to live authentically my own experience. It is only when I know clearly who I am and what my own needs are that I can begin to see others for who they really are, instead of seeing them distorted through the lenses of my own unprocessed and denied needs.

    More and more I am aware of how much we try to control each other, often in very subtle ways, often under the cloak of some kind of call to righteousness. And more and more I see this reflecting our basic inability to live from our own true center in faith.

    I cannot change others, in my Meeting, or in the wider world. But I can learn to see and accept them for who they are, to treasure them, to reach out to them, to love them. Instead of berating others for my own disappointments, I must learn how to process disappointment effectively. I take my disappointments to God in prayer and learn from them and try myself to become a better, more loving person.

    This is my own fundamental, recurrent spiritual need: to learn how better to love.