Explorers Rather Than Map Readers

I was recently at my Area Meeting’s fellowship day. While we were there, some visitors arrived.

A Friend showed them around and he said they’d asked what Quakers believe. He didn’t say how he answered, but I suspect they would have got slightly different answers from each Friend present. Would we have avoided the confused and vague explanations so often given, and what does ‘That of God in everyone’ actually mean anyway?

George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona community, said that in our spiritual lives we need to be ‘explorers rather than map readers’. How relevant those words are for Quakers today. For some, having everything mapped out is a great support, but surely that’s not us. Today’s Quakers are spiritual explorers rather than map readers. We have no set creeds, no written dogma. When I turn up for Meeting on a Sunday, I have no idea whether there will be any ministry. Will it be a totally silent Meeting? Will there be ministry that speaks to my condition? Will I feel that presence, that mystery, that of God? Will I feel moved to speak myself, and what about? Will I find new insights to take home?

Being a spiritual explorer is not always easy. No one tells you what to believe. We find our own spiritual path, our own way to God – to the spirit, to an inner love, whatever words we choose.

Sometimes Friends can be incredibly frustrating. We are good at navel gazing and I wonder if I’m in the right place. But I remember a very elderly Quaker saying ‘I still don’t know all the answers, and have doubts, but what a privilege it is’. That for me was a kind of eureka moment – hitherto I had always wanted to cross the spiritual ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s.

If I was asked to describe my faith today, my description would not be the same as ten years ago. In ten years’ time no doubt my answer will not be exactly the same as now. We don’t always get it right, but explorers we are, and we keep looking, learning, and listening. Maybe the journey is as important as the destination.

The idea of being a spiritual explorer helps me see through the many differences among modern Friends. We travel the Quaker Way together. As for answering that question ‘What do Quakers believe?’, I now respond by saying that we are all spiritual explorers coming from different places. What unites us is our way of worship, our shared testimonies, and above all our journey of spiritual exploration. A true shared support and Friendship is what binds us. I tell them they’ll experience people with a wide range of views, but no one will tell them what to believe or what not to believe. I tell them that they will be respected and accepted, and then I’ll tell them about my own journey and hope they might share their journey too.

So, together let’s try to live our lives adventurously; let us walk in Friendship with our fellow travellers, and let us celebrate in unity that ever-unfolding mystery.

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