Recently, our Meeting had a discussion on the Quaker testimonies, based on Eric Moon’s article “Categorically Not the Testimonies” in the June/July 2013 of Friends Journal. We examined the meaning of testimony and explored several connotations, including vocal ministry, the witness of the Spirit in Quaker lives, the inward leadings of the Divine that lead to outward expression.
Over the years, Quakers have developed an acronym (SPICES) to stand for the testimonies that have been important to Quakers. Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship all play an important role in our description and identity as Quakers. As we listen to the leadings of the Spirit, or Inner Light, we are led differently to each of these testimonies. One Friend asked everyone at the discussion to tell which testimony they felt was most important to them, and the result was diverse. That is one reason that our community of believers is so spiritually rich -- we all have something unique to offer the Meeting.
Moon’s article spoke about his concern that the testimonies have been “overused as an explanation of Quakerism,” and may limit our awareness of the possibilities of God’s working in our lives. At our discussion, we shared other words important to us as individuals that could be included in the list. Compassion, joy, generosity, awe, respect, listening, and honesty were mentioned. Can you think of anything else?
I think it would be a beneficial exercise for anyone to examine how testimonies are manifested and practiced in our lives. Sharing our self examination can be a testimony to others. Moon described a question posed at a workshop he attended -- “the testimonies are important because they are __________________”. His favorite response was “unfinished”. That is the essence of Quakerism to me. This is how we remain living witnesses, responding to the issues of our times. That is why Quakers remain important to the world. Last year, when several of us were lobbying with the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the legislators asked us how many Quakers were in West Virginia. One of our delegation responded, “Our numbers are small but our witness is powerful.“
Generally we felt that the testimonies are an important part of who we are, and they can provide a discussion point when we try to explain to others what is means to be a Quaker, but Moon feels that it should not become a creed or the focal point in our discipleship. That is what early Quakers escaped when differentiating themselves from the established religions of the day. More important is the working and recognition of the Inner Light, or that of God in everyone.
I would really like to hear from readers of this blog on how a particular testimony resonates with them, or how it plays out in their lives.
Peace and Joy to you all.