Spiritual Practices for Isolated Friends
The Greatest of these is Love
Sitting in Silent Waiting Worship
Set aside time for "private retirement"
Contemplate Advices and Answer Queries
Traditional Quaker Witnesses
Some other Quaker Observances
Read Some Good Books
Try Keeping a Journal
The Solitary Witness
Solace and Encouragement for Difficult Discernments
- The Greatest of these is Love
In the absence of a community to aid in discernment, the isolated Friend must rely more than ever on the Holy Spirit, the Christ Within, the Seed and the Comforter to be Teacher, Guide, Companion . . . I describe my own experience of the trinity in this way: I have felt the Holy Spirit move me to action, Christ companioning me on my path and God calling to me from further down the path than I can see. Christ accompanies me through the brambles and across the raging rivers, with the energy of the Holy Spirit to keep me moving forward and the sweet promise of God's reward as I seek the path he has set out for me. The greatest proof we will ever have of being on the right path will be that we grow in love, both in our ability to give and to receive. I write more about this here
Prayer at its best invokes appropriate humility, confidence in the obscurity of faith, openness to the loving truth from whatever direction and however painfully it may come, and an overflow of compassion. These are the fruits to look for.
Spiritual Friend: Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction, p. 142, by Tilden Edwards
Thee will find the Way and the Truth through prayer. People have many reasons for struggling with prayer. They want to make it absolutely pure, really big, all-encompassingly important, and intensely, spiritually special. God is calling to thee right where thee is at, all thee need do is respond. Submit humbly. Prayer is an act of submission that can go against our lifelong ego-centric trainings. If thee is struggling with this, I feel free to suggest a couple of books. One, Brian Drayton's On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry, has a chapter on prayer that is short but pithy. I can also recommend the prayer chapter in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. He has a book called Prayer but I could never get into it and can't personally recommend it.
The Tract Association of Friends has an online text version of Virginia Schurman's concise, thoughtful and helpful pamphlet: Prayer.
- Sitting in Silent Waiting Worship
Set aside time regularly for silent time to Listen for God's call. There is no substitute. Thee must learn to wait in silence and allow God to fill it. A good practice is to try an hour of waiting worship on First Day (the day known as Sunday) and then to also give God some of thy time in the middle of thy week. Quakers have historically had worship on days in addition to First Day to emphasize that every day is holy. I have known some isolated Friends who timed their waiting worship to coincide with that of a meeting for worship elsewhere, letting Friends there know of their distant participation so that each may have a mind and a heart for the other. See also Affiliate Memberships.
- Set aside time for private retirement
Friends have always been advised to set aside time for God in moments of what I have heard called "private retirement." From Caroline Stephen's Quaker Strongholds: "...as Friends love to say, our worship does not begin when we sit down together in our public assemblies, nor end when we leave them. The worship in spirit and in truth is in no way limited by time and place. The same idea of waiting "in the silence of all flesh" to hear the voice of the Lord speaking within us, characterizes the Friends' private times of worship; or, as the more cautious expression is, of 'religious retirement.'"
- Contemplate Advices and Answer Queries
Traditionally, Quaker meetings have contemplated Advices accumulated in the Yearly Meeting Discipline and then answered Queries set out in the Discipline as well. In Ohio Yearly Meeting (OYM), Monthly Meetings still write answers to each of the Queries, forward them to their Quarterly Meeting, and then the Quarterly meeting forwards them to the Yearly Meeting. I have, for years, used OYM's Advices and Queries as part of my spiritual practice. It has not be entirely satisfactory in some ways, as it is designed for a community (which I do not have often longed for) to contemplate together, and I have found some of the references to group spirituality somewhat painful at those times I most feel its absence. I have cobbled together, from several sources (though primarily OYM) and with some assistance from the Holy Spirit, some Advices and Queries for Isolated Friends (using Traditional, Conservative Quaker plain speech).
- Traditional Quaker Witnesses
There are some specific traditions among Friends that deserve serious contemplation as disciplines to be observed. The ultimate test for adopting any spiritual discipline is the leading of the Spirit, the Seed, the Inward Christ. Over the centuries, many weighty, seasoned and worthy Friends have found these disciplines required of them and also have found them helpful in their own spiritual development.
- Plain dress
I wear plain dress, and I have seen how this discipline I have been called to has had a spiritual impact on people I meet on the street or in the store. God knows better than I what might come of it, but for some people my plain dress witness offers an opportunity in which I suspect they begin to hear God's call. God called me to a plain Quaker Christian witness and then he sent me to Quaker meeting. What is clear to me now is that the day before my convincement, I could have walked into the meetinghouse, felt perfectly at home, and never had to change a thing about myself or my understanding of God or Christ. First God changed my heart, my clothes and gave me my first true taste of the humility required to live in the Truth. Then he sent me to Quaker meeting.
- Plain speech
I try every day to observe the discipline of plain speech. I fail many many times each day. It has been edifying to realize how little I can control what comes out of my mouth and also humbling that I can fail so consistently at a practice that weighty Friends I admire observed. Go to my Plain Language page for other Quaker's testimonies. This also includes speaking plainly in the sense of not using flowery or effusive language and being strictly truthful, avoiding exaggeration and emotional manipulations.
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:34-37.
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12
- Silent grace before meals
Consider adopting this Quaker discipline. Each meal is our opportunity to commune with Christ and to thank God for his Grace in our lives. The Quakers dropped formal Communion, but asserted that they kept it in spirit, and made each meal a Communion. Without this mindfulness, an important grounding in Christ is lost.
- Bible reading in the manner of Conservative Friends
Conservative Friends gather and sit in silence, each with a Bible, and as someone feels led, they stand and then they share a reading from the Bible, followed with the chapter and verse. As in meeting for worship, this reading is met by an extended period of silent contemplation. Then, as led, someone else will rise to share a reading from the Bible. (These readings are generally fairly lengthy, not just one or two verses.) This practice can be adapted for the isolated Friend. Give to God an hour, Bible in hand, and see what gifts God will offer to thee. Be open to the gifts God will give to thee, no matter how humble they may appear. Friends have also observed this practice with "Collections" which included the writings of ancient and weighty Friends. Here are some offerings for reflection.
- Some Other Quaker Observances
In Conservative meetings for worship, if someone prays, the men remove their hats. They leave their hats on if someone is rising to speak but is not offering up a prayer. Women, when rising to speak, remove their bonnets (if they are wearing one) but do not remove their caps. Some Quaker meetings have observed the practice of all members rising when someone offers up a vocal prayer.
- Read Some Good Books
Quakers over the centuries have kept libraries to aid in solace, discernment and spiritual growth and guidance. Here are some suggestions specifically geared for Isolated Friends, as well as suggestions for Seekers (as opposed to "Finders") and some books for discussion. Read just a few and thee will be surprised to learn thee is on the same path as those who came before, and they are excellent, excellent company. Of the modern writers, I highly recommend Brian Drayton's On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry. It seems clear to me that all isolated Friends, all people that are called to Quakerism without the aid and accompaniment of a meeting, are being called to a Gospel Ministry.
In particular, Drayton's sections on devotional life, prayer and scripture offer wisdom about the solitary faith life of those called to Gospel ministry and by extension offers solace and wisdom for those whose Quaker faith is by necessity largely solitary. So many books on Quakerism can leave the solitary Friend aching for the companionship a Quaker community might provide. This book offers opportunities for personal spiritual growth that do not require community to feel fulfilling and is encouraging in its description of the Quaker experience that is the same now as it was three centuries ago.
Be sure to check out the Tract Association of Friends. Their website offers many of their tracts for reading, and the books they offer for sale are excellent, time-proven Quaker witnesses and relatively inexpensive.
I have Suggested Reading for Isolated Friends and Recommended Reading for Seekers web pages also.
- Try Keeping a Journal
Brian Drayton recommends this in his book On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry. I quite agree. It is always good to record reflections upon thy path as thee journeys along it. Can help keep thee grounded and honest and offer a real opportunity to find progress in thy strivings.
Here are some journals from weighty and seasoned Friends that offer guidance and solace to those who are to follow. I list just a few of the many available. Every journal I have read has spoken to me and moved me.
- Purchase the companionship of the Tract Association of Friends' Yearly Calendar or use the online forms to create a "custom" calendar. It is a calendar presented in the traditional plain language format of "First Month" "First Day" etc. It also offers wonderful quotes for each month.
- The Solitary Witness
Try to discern what God is leading thee to in thy solitary witness. Is he sending thee to witness to other Christians? to thy neighbors? to others via the Internet? to write a book or self-publish a pamphlet? Keep open to the nudgings of the Spirit and Testify to the Truth as thee Knows and Experiences it. This is a difficult path. And yet, some of us, find ourselves in just such a plight. God is good. Find what good he is calling thee to, find the compassion for others that is a Seed planted in the Heart by God. Nourish this Seed, and wait patiently for it to take Root and to Sprout.
- Solace and Encouragement for Difficult Discernments
More on Quaker Discernment on this website.
- Trust that the Spirit will move thee.
Sometimes we just need to have faith that we are in a required period of discernment, waiting for the next step to be made evident. Thee may feel an urgency but not know what to be urgently about doing. Wait. Find what patience thee can in knowing that the True Path will be opened up for thee in God's time, not thy time.
- Try forming a Clearness Committee.
Options include finding Quakers online who are willing to help thee discern thy way, or asking non-Quakers that thee admires to assist thee. The second can be more problematic as the Quaker faith in the power of patient waiting is foreign to many people.
Tract Association of Friends' book called Early Prophetic Openings of George Fox. Use their online order form to purchase it. They charge only $1.50, but the witness of his own struggles offer solace, comfort and guidance that speak particularly to those facing difficult discernments. The Book of Jeremiah (Bible), Paul Lacey's Leading and Being Led and Elizabeth Stirredge's Strength in Weakness Manifested have been my most constant companions during some of my difficult discernments.
- Take the leap.
Sometimes the only way to discern if a perceived next step is the Right and True Way is to take the step. If the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) is made manifest, thee has thy answer. If not, thee also has thy answer and can return to more patient waiting for an opening.
- Attend a Gathering
Consider attending the Wider Gathering of Conservative Friends. Here is info on the 2010 Gathering. They are held even-numbered years at Barnesville, OH, and odd-numbered years in alternating locations.
- Affiliate Memberships
Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) allows what are called "affiliate memberships" for isolated Friends. The process for applying is in the Ohio Yearly Meeting Book of Discipline. Individual monthly meetings can also accept isolated Friends into full membership.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.