Some people believed that God spoke to everyone. That His voice made an Inner Light in every heart, and all each person had to do was be still and quiet and listen to the Light of Truth inside themselves. Bibles and pastors and bishops and priests were unnecessary, and each person was equal, having God’s Light in their heart, and the call to listen to that Light above and beyond what anyone else said, and to share what they received if they felt so called or inclined.
Because God’s Light was inside everyone and they did not believe in authorities, they did not treat people with deference. They did not consider women differently than men, even though that was the norm of the time, and they had a number of woman speakers who went out to spread their beliefs, as they also had men who did this. They would not take off their hats to any man or show special deference to a man because of the position society accorded him, but instead respected all as humans who had God’s Light in their hearts. They did not take part in war or take sides in the wars of nations, but tended to the wounded and in need of both sides.
They became called Quakers. The story I read was that they took that name because when one of them was hauled before a judge in England for their refusal to show especial deference to those considered authorities, he told the judge that he would quake before God.
(And, as far as I have been able to tell, they did not as a group have any particular beliefs about hell or wrath. They had no Bad News to intermingle with their Good News.)
And, much earlier, there was a man named Molinos who taught that people did not need prayer beads or rote prayers or to go to Mass in order to pray and connect with God. And who also taught that everyone should get to receive Communion as often as they wished.
I’ve been thrown out of every Christian Institution that is, every ‘Church’ I ever participated in, for believing that we don’t need pastors or priests or Bibles. Each person can get to know the Truth through His Holy Spirit without any of these things. They aren’t essential, and our call is to get to know the Truth through what He tells us in our hearts. Pastors and priests are not right at all; there is a lot of good in the Bible, but what comes first is the Light in our hearts and following that, not what other people say. (After all, how can we need these things that can be taken from us, to know the Light of the World, that gives light to each person born into the world? If they can be taken from us, they may be good, but they can never be what comes first. What comes first is the Light in our hearts that can never be taken from us, that all we have to do is listen for.)
And I’ve been thrown out of ‘Churches’ for my refusal to honor flags and pledge allegiance to nations. To shown an honor to ‘authorities’ that is not simply the honor given to all men because they are creatures of the Creator who carry the Light in their hearts if they look for it.
There are times I am confused. Part of me wants to say, “I am a Christian!” and carry it as far as it goes. It’s not any kind of fair that Christians, for believing in the Resurrection, are associated with the United States of America and the West, are persecuted for being Americanisers and American spies. It is so not right that people see Christianity as an arm of America and American culture. But it kind of reasonable, too, since so much of American Conservative Culture calls itself Christian, pays lip service to the Resurrection, and it is far from improbable (an understatement) that some so-called ‘Christian missionaries’ are American spies.
So I sort of want to stand for that.
At the same time, I’ve recently decided that I think ‘Christian’ is rather a stupid word. ‘Christ’ is not a very helpful title. It might mean a lot of some people; I don’t have a problem with that. But I personally don’t care for it. ‘Anointed One’. It’s a bit like saying, ‘People of the King’. Well, which one? What is special about this one? It does not seem to me to say a lot.
And it has so many associations, not just the ones with America, that I don’t really care for.
Of course, Quakers are Christians, right, and ‘Quaker’ isn’t the most insightful name either, but at least it’s got less of those associations, and I kind of like the story of how it came about. And it rings totally differently to tell someone you’re a Christian and to tell someone you’re a Quaker.
And, really, I think I am? There are no gatekeepers about who can call themselves Quakers, like there are about who can call themselves Catholics (though I hate that, come up with a stupider word than ‘Catholic’ or ‘Orthodox’ if you want to be such jerks; that’s another thing I want to do is reclaim those words. Both of them are beautiful and meaningful and do not have a lot to do – if anything to do – with a greater portion of what one is expected to believe and be to call oneself that.). I am a bit more sacramental in my approach than is typical for a Quaker. But, hey, I don’t think everyone needs to celebrate the Sacraments to be saved or to have a connection with Jesus, and I don’t think that you need anyone but yourself to celebrate the Sacraments either, if you do want to celebrate them. So I think it’s okay. After all, this is about following the Light of Truth in our hearts, not about all having exactly the same practices. Or about having the same background that leads us to feel the same way about things. If practicing the sacraments makes you worry that if you can’t practice them you won’t have a relationship with Jesus, then by all means you should not practice them, just like if when you read the Bible you end up worrying that you’ll be cut off from the Light if you’re ever tossed into a prison cell without your Bible, then you probably shouldn’t read the Bible. And you shouldn’t celebrate the sacraments either if you can’t do it without needing someone else to celebrate them for you, feeling like you or another person are some sort of authority or special priest.
So, yes, I think I’ve decided I am a Quaker. Even though it sounds a little weird.
At least, I will call myself that when I have to use a word to explain something shortly. I really don’t believe in labels and I don’t like labels, and I definitely don’t like using labels to describe myself, but it’s about the closest to a no-label that I’m going to get. And sometimes it’s helpful to have one word, even if it isn’t really quite right, instead of going on for sentences and sentences that the person might not have the time or attention to read or listen to carefully. And Quaker is the closest I’ve ever gotten, and even if I were to decide that Quietism is better (the derogatory name the RCC of the time gave to Molinos and the followers of his teachings) that one is pretty esoteric and most people won’t have even a notion what I mean.
I believe in the Light of Truth in my heart and in your heart. You don’t need anyone else to lead you to the Light. You don’t need anything else to lead you to the Light. And you should certainly never put what anyone or anything else says above what you see in the Light in your heart.
I respect all people – or I intend to, at any rate; this is a profession of belief, not one of perfection – as creatures of the Creator, within whom His Spirit resides. I mean to respect all creation.
I offer no other respect. I acknowledge no authorities. I acknowledge no caste. I do not acknowledge male or female, slave or free, learned or unlearned, rich or poor or any other.
And I believe in awe. Before the Creator and before His Creation, but not before the ideas of ‘authority’ and the institutions imagined by some of His creatures to set themselves apart from each other (or whatever the reason is).
The more I think about this, the more it fits. For what have I been telling people except ‘This is what I see, this is the Light I see. I’m coming to you in the spirit of sharing. I don’t want you to dismiss what I say because it sounds to you a little like something else that I believe it has nothing to do with, but I am not trying to convince you to believe it. I do not want to convince you to believe it. Believe only that which speaks to you.’
Yes, it’s taken me some time to get to the point where I know how to say it right (if I do know how to say it right now). And I’ve definitely had to work through some things and unlearn some things. But this is what I’ve been heading towards.
Copyright © 2022 Raina Nightingale