It has been nearly 30 years since the beginning of my convincement as a Quaker, yet the experience of that first meeting for worship remains as immediate and vivid as though it had occurred just last week. Living in the Chicago area and distressfully lacking a church home, I watched with bemused skepticism one Sunday morning as my husband departed our home to scout out a Quaker meeting. My amusement only increased when upon his return he spoke of the spiritual depth he had encountered at Downers Grove Friends Meeting.
The following week, to humor the poor, misguided man I traced his path to the meetinghouse confident of acquiring the theological evidence for exposing his religious gullibility. After all, I knew Quakers to be an obscure cult.
Arriving early, I was greeted in the vestibule and encouraged to enter the worship room where I found a single worshiper sitting with closed eyes and holding a Bible on her lap. As I found a seat, she opened her eyes and smiled a silent welcome. Unfamiliar with protocol, I followed her example, closed my eyes began to pray. Soon others entered and quietly seated themselves. Astoundingly, after what seemed but a few minutes, I felt the Presence. I know there were spoken messages that day, but I did not hear them. At that meeting, I fully encountered Christ. The union I felt is best described in John 17:23, “Christ in me, and I in him.” At that moment in time, I spent an hour in unity with God and walked away from that meeting a changed woman.
At the center of Downers Grove Friends Meeting, replacing creed and doctrine, was the hope that all would encounter the Presence of Christ and would respond to his leading. It was understood that we were all on a spiritual journey, each at different places along the path. Unity, as Christ described in his prayer, strengthened us to move forward as one.
Since that time, I have experienced the fullness of Christ many times. I have found the experience of unity to be not only a personal event, but a corporate one as well. As Friends gather in worship, unity, as Jesus describes in John 17, expands our vision of God, our vision of each other and our vision of the world. At the center of our faith is unification with God himself. With this kind of experience one cannot help but be transformed.
This Christianity is meant to be lived, experienced and embodied with the One who walks with us, and one would expect, then, that Friends would readily walk together. Regrettably, I have also discovered over the years that occasionally Friends’ diverge with hurtful animosities. I wonder what would happen if we truly waited until unity transformed the body of Christ; what would happen if we considered that divergent paths need not be rival paths, but rather simply various routes to the same destination. What would it look like if we erected no theological barriers, no competing agendas and simply rejoiced in that of God in each of us? Jesus tells us through his prayer that it can be done.
As you read this issue of Quaker Life, you will find narratives of personal and corporate unity. Each author expresses their personal development as they too, find themselves to be one in Christ. It is the hope of this editor that the articles will begin thoughtful discussion and questions.
I am looking forward to your thoughts and conversation as we continue the dialogue begun in this issue on our website www.fum.org and on our Facebook page.