“A Leading to Read”
A regular column by the Library Committee reviewing books in the Meetinghouse Library
LETTERS TO A FELLOW SEEKER: A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE QUAKER WAY by Steve Chase. Reviewed by Ali Aghbar
Letters to a Fellow Seeker, covering the basic aspects of the Quaker way, is an excellent introduction for those seeking to learn about the spiritual path of Quakers, also referred to as the Religious Society of Friends, or Friends for short. In the Introduction Steve Chase lists the reasons he adopted, forty years earlier, this path. He wanted to have a direct experience of divine love and guidance, be part of a spiritual environment in which he could pursue his calling to work for a “more spiritually fulfilling, socially just, and ecologically sustainable human presence on this planet,” be able to promote the goals of non‐violence, and be a part of a support group that would help him accomplish these goals. He found his answer in a Quaker community.
Chase addresses seven topics of interest to seekers in seven letters.
He invites readers to imagine they are the recipients of these letters. I will present some of the main points of each letter below.
Letter 1, My Journey to the Quaker Movement. Chase had his first encounter with Quakers as a teenager, when he saw a group of Quakers in Galesburg, Illinois, holding a silent vigil in the town square with signs opposing the Vietnam War. He soon went to his first Quaker meeting and had a positive experience. He learned that Quakers do not have a pastor or priest and that they meet in silence. Every man, woman, and child at the meeting, guided by the light within, may stand up and minister to others.
He soon learned that rather than simply believing in Jesus in hope of eternal life, Quakers looked to Jesus as an example of how to live their lives here and now. They cherished simplicity, equality, and compassion and yearned for peace and social justice.
Letter 2, Are Quakers Christians? Quakers are Christians, says Chase, if one defines the term as being Christ‐like in the way we love others. The Quaker movement started in the 17th Century, when there was a great deal of opposition to church dogma and structure in England and a desire to return to “primitive Christianity.”
Quakers, led by George Fox, separated themselves from mainstream Christianity of the day because they wished to be guided by the Inward Teacher without mediation from a priest.
They found that they could do this when they worshiped together in silence and in a simple atmosphere. Throughout centuries, Quakers have been less concerned with a formal creed and whether the Bible is the infallible word of God and more concerned with love and justice and following their Inward Teacher.
People from other faiths, and nontheists who feel this way, can find a welcoming home in a Friends meeting.
Letter 3, Silent Worship and the Inward Teacher. Chase explains that a Quaker meeting for worship occurs when two or more people gather to wait on the Inward Teacher (or Inner Light or “That of God” in us). The experience is hard to explain and may vary for different people. The best way to have a feel for it is to attend a meeting.
Letter 4, Ministering One to Another. With no ministers and no formal program at their meetings, Quakers minister to each other.
One form of ministry is vocal ministry during the meeting for worship. If we feel a call to speak, we should ask ourselves whether our message is clear and whether it may speak to someone else’s spiritual needs. Other forms of ministry include holding others in the light, providing hospitality, welcoming newcomers, working with the children in the Meeting, participating in committees, taking care of the physical needs of the meeting house, or helping achieve the goals of social justice.
Letter 5, Quaker Faith and Social Action. Quakers may appear as “do‐gooders” to the outside world, but their endeavors for peace, justice, and the environment are “an outward expression of an inward spiritual experience, an expression of values that emerge from our worship as well as longstanding . . . calling of our community.” Throughout their history, Quakers have lived lives of radical nonconformity similar to what Martin Luther King calls “creative maladjustment.” Chase provides examples from early and modern‐day Quakers. One current example is the efforts of the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) to make the PNC bank stop financing mountaintop removal.
Letter 6, The Struggle to be Faithful. Quakers, both individually and as a group, should not be disheartened if they experience occasional setbacks or when it takes them a long time to achieve their high goals. It is important to remember that, despite their failings and slow discernment process, Quakers come through eventually, as they did in condemning slavery or adopting marriage equality for gays and straights before other denominations.
Letter 7, My Invitation to You. Chase points out that regular attenders are welcome and encouraged to participate in the life of the meeting by becoming members of various committees with or without formal membership. However, at some point, when the meeting has become a central part of their life, regular attenders may wish to fully and publicly commit themselves to their meeting by seeking formal membership. Chase describes the process of becoming a member at his local meeting.
Letters to a Fellow Seeker, which includes a list of “Advices and Queries” and “Additional Resources,” answers many questions that seekers may have. Chase recounts many anecdotes and examples from personal experience which clarify his points and make the book a pleasure to read. It is a good first book to recommend to seekers at our Meeting.
The holdings in our Meeting library can be checked from your computer at home at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/PittsburghFriendsMtg..