When I took a 9-day solitary retreat this winter, I brought three slim books with me to provide spiritual guidance and companionship, for those moments when I needed some help to turn again to the wisdom that comes from the Light within. The distilled wisdom offered by the wise contemporary Friends David Johnson, Marty Grundy, and Brian Drayton served me well. Each book contains potent descriptions of the Quaker way; usually one short section provided enough spiritual sustenance to chew on for a while.
In Surrendering Into Silence: Quaker Prayer Circles, David Johnson offers an overview of the inner cycles of transformation that occur when someone becoming serious about their spiritual life takes up regular spiritual practices. He explains that these cycles are universal, but describes them primarily with reference to the writing of Quakers through the centuries, with support from the teachings of other contemplatives. He beautifully describes these rhythms in simple, clear language. At the end, he emphasizes the important role of a committed faith community in enabling people to really enter fully into spiritual transformation.
Marty Grundy’s book A Call to Friends: Faithful Living in Desperate Times begins with an overview of why she characterizes these days in which we are living as a time of desperation. She describes the Quaker path as rooted in inner spiritual experience and manifesting in culture-changing action. In talking about the depth of spiritual life to which Friends are called, she quotes Thomas Kelly:
What is urged here are inward practices of the mind at deepest levels, letting it swing like the needle, to the polestar of the soul. And like the needle, the Inward Light becomes the truest guide of life, showing us new and unsuspected defects in ourselves and our fellows, showing us new and unsuspected possibilities in the power and life of good will among [humans].
Grundy insists that Friends are called to a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, and then into transformed social relationships, following the guidance of the Inner Light. Only when we give ourselves to be transformed by love in the crucible of relationships, especially in our Quaker meetings, can we offer the gifts we are called to give the world now. She writes in conclusion:
It has come to me over and over that Friends have the answer to what this hurting world needs so desperately. Or rather, I believe that our fundamental tradition is the antidote to today’s ills. This is nothing less than a radical invitation to live in the Kingdom of Heaven of which Jesus of Nazareth spoke. Right here and now, breaking into the corrupt, confused, frightened, sick United States Empire, we are invited to live in a new paradigm.
Like the other two authors, Brian Drayton is a faithful Quaker respected for the gift of ministry who has traveled broadly among Quakers. His book, Messages to Meetings, is a collection of letters, blog posts, and notes he sent to Meetings and other Quaker bodies after visiting them. They contain gentle guidance and reminders that are useful not only for the original recipients, but to the readers of this book. I was touched by a letter in which he explained how important it is to look for and affirm the presence of God at work in one another. When we see and affirm that the life of God is active in our fellow Quakers, we foster the work that the Spirit is doing among us. In another letter, he offered a beautiful description of the inner workshop in which we are gradually liberated and transformed by the Light.
A wordless, steady regard, in a time when one is quiet in reverence, is a powerful way of working–or rather of allowing oneself to be worked upon. When we are truly centered, even for a short space of time, we are tender, that is, vulnerable and teachable. … One of the results of this kind of contemplation is heightened awareness. In that receptive place where we are most able to hear (or see or feel) the truth, we are often given fresh understanding. … as we feel safe or grounded, we may be given to see barriers that need to come down if growth is to occur, or new things that must be learned, or rifts that must be mended. A deep fruit of this kind of work is an increase in inward spaciousness and freedom, a peace that is the peace of the ripening or opening seed, and a gift of thankfulness. It is quiet, but it is also the workshop of turbulent, organic creativity, as in the stillness and tenderness all the materials of ourselves, our works, and our world can be in fluid contact.
All of these books emphasize the collective nature of the way God works with people on the Quaker path. Each of the authors is rooted in Christian faith and practice, yet each invites everybody in, even those who think of faith in different terms and use names for what is divine other than God and Christ, including the Inward Light, Spirit, and Creative Energy. Although each book is short enough to be read in one or just a few sittings, they are rich enough to merit slow reading of short sections over a period of time. They helped me to listen more deeply.
Companions for the Quaker Spiritual Journey © 2022 Marcelle Martin
Links to Book Reviews/ways to order the books mentioned above:
All of these books can be ordered from the publisher, Inner Light Books. Below are links to read reviews of these books published in Friends Journal.
Below are books written by Marcelle Martin:
Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.
A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.
Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.) The Friends Journal book review is linked below.
For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.
Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder
Friend Marcelle, I am moved by the Spirit offering me what I need – today via your blog post. Honoring the holding in the Light the work of a Friend with whom one feels tension is Spirit-directed. Love conquers all. (the highlight you lifted from Grundy’s book.
Ruth, I’m happy to know that the Spirit offered you what you needed today! I’m glad this blog post was a help. Blessings! Marcelle
I have just discovered your blog and am looking forward to reading through it.
I see that you live in Chester, PA, where my ancestors settled in early colonial PA.
You might want to know about our organization, The Quaker Universalist & Unitarian Church, Inc. We have a settlement in the TN/KY border region.
Dear Gregory, Thank you for introducing yourself and your organization. Blessings!