nonprofit work
Jun 11 2014

Experiencing the sacred through silence


By Barclay Martin, new channels coordinator

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Jim and Ginger, a lovely couple who have been a part of the Quaker tradition for more than 40 years. As it so often happens, it was nothing like I thought it’d be.

In part, what makes the Quaker tradition distinctive is a matter of spiritual authority. For Quakers, spiritual authority largely resides with the Holy Spirit, tempered by the wisdom of the collected people. It is contemplative in style, offering a stillness that evokes the spirit of prayer or meditation. All who attend a Quaker meeting are welcome to respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit by speaking thoughtfully into the silence. Jim and Ginger explained to me that through contemplation the “still small voice” of God can be heard above our own personal ambitions and limitations.

This can lead to deliberate, if slow, decision making.

Though it took the Quaker community nearly 100 years to declare their official opposition to slavery, they were also the first American movement to do so, formally banning it in their denomination, the Society of Friends, in 1776. They are also the only faith community to have ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which they received in 1947 for their efforts in caring for a devastated Europe in the aftermath of the first and second world wars.

Quakers discipline themselves to say only what they know. There’s a little joke in the Quaker tradition that begins with two people looking at a field full of sheep. One person says, “Look, there’s a black sheep!” The other replies, “at least on this side.”

In our brief conversation, Jim and Ginger gave me tremendous insight into the way they care for our world’s marginalized people, and one another. I couldn’t help but think that their way of compassion might influence my own as we work with families worldwide to break the bonds of poverty. It’s a good reminder to listen to the wisdom of each member of our Unbound community, and respond together.

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One thought on “Experiencing the sacred through silence”

  1. beautiful thoughts Barclay! Thank you for sharing. It’s always interesting to learn from and about other traditions. Love the joke.

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