Saturday, March 10, 2007

Quaker Book Review

Listening Spirituality, Volume 1: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends
Written by Patricia Loring

This book literally sat on my shelf for two years, gathering dust. I picked it up several times, meaning to read it, but didn’t get too far, putting it down each time. About six months ago, I picked it up once again, and “got it”. I started reading and couldn’t stop.

This volume is a rich source of ideas Friends can use to come closer to God. Loring discusses methods various Friends utilize to center, to quiet the mind so they can hear the voice of God in Meeting for Worship and in “times of retirement”. She advocates setting aside these “times of retirement”, a time each day for spiritual reflection and offers many ideas for friends to try during (and outside) that time. She borrows ideas from a variety of traditions and frequently points out that not all Friends will be comfortable with the particular idea, but that she’s offering it to us. Each chapter has extensive reference lists for more detailed reading as well as “exercises” to enable the reader to explore some of the ideas if they choose.

One of the most important parts of the book for me is the chapter called “Personal Practices Which Embody and Support Listening Faithfulness to God in the Outer Life”. In other words, how do we bring these spiritual practices into our hectic lives filled with bills, mortgages, medical expenses, piano recitals, soccer games, etc? And how do we bring these practices into our Quaker Meeting life, where there is so much important work to do, leading some to feel overwhelmed, burned out. Life seems so busy; it’s hard to get a breath. How do we apply Quaker values to this outer life? Loring speaks of this as “outer practice”.

“Because this outer practice is undefined, it often is not recognized as spiritual practice. In Quaker spirituality, it has been seen as the true fruit of the inner life with God. We reach toward God and are returned to this world changed, to embody or incarnate the Divine Spirit for others in our own faltering, fallible, flawed ways.”

She speaks specifically to our work in the Quaker Meeting and elsewhere:

“So often we can be seduced into an activity simply because there does not seem to be anyone else to do it or no one else is stepping forward. Before we leap into the breach, we need to question whether the task is really necessary or whether it is satisfying some need in ourselves: avoidance of quiet, perfectionism, desire to be thought well of, need to take charge and create solutions, etc. If the task is, in fact necessary and we move too soon to take it up, we may actually hinder someone else’s laggard appreciation of the fact that the task is actually his work to do or her learning experience. We may short-circuit some elaborate unfolding of events headed for another outcome----and add to our own burdens and possible resentments into the bargain”

I encounter this myself in the form of a “should” or wanting to be a “good Quaker”, leading sometimes, I’ll admit, to some resentment. Loring writes:

“Our resentment may also be a sign that undertaking this task is not ours to do. It may be a sign that this undertaking is keeping us from something that is, in fact, ours to do.”

So what to do, what tasks to take on? One final quote from the book:

“In Quaker spirituality, the central issue is always, ‘Where is the Spirit leading you?’ If God sets before us every day the choice of Life and Death and says, ‘Choose Life!’ (Deut. 30:19-20), where is the Life?”
I’ve read this book in little tasty morsels over the last few months, sometimes at the start of Meeting to help me become “present” so I can hear God. Sometimes I read it when I’m feeling spiritual pain or confusion. I suggest that Friends give this book a try. It has been used for spiritual exploration groups and could accompany any spiritual journey. We can learn a great deal from other spiritual traditions, while remaining faithful to Quaker values.

Loring has written a second volume entitled: “Listening Spirituality ,Volume 2: Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends”. I can guarantee that this volume will NOT be gathering dust on my shelves!

Reviewed by poodledoc

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