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Naturalst Friends

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  • Naturalst Friends

    I thought some of you might also be interested in this page I just set up on Facebook about the intersection of Quaker practice and values with pantheist and naturalist worldviews. Here's a description:

    This is a page for folks who get a deep sense of awe, connection, and meaning from the natural universe. We find this sense of self-determined purpose and fulfillment within a naturalistic and nontheistic context through a conscious connection with the interdependent forces of life. Although we are not necessarily Quakers nor religious, we find that the practices and values of unprogrammed Quakerism are very helpful and fulfilling in feeling "connected". For example, we can get sustenance for our naturalistic worldview through the Quaker practice of careful listening from the silence, both individually and in a group – listening to our intellectual and moral conscience, to our intuitions, and to whatever our fellow humans and other living beings have to say. We are inspired by the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Compassion, Equality, and Stewardship and find them to be practical expressions of an ethical life grounded in philosophical naturalism and nurtured through careful listening. These testimonies are solid foundations to build practical action. We welcome both Quakers and non-Quakers. We welcome those who are affiliated with a community of like-minded folks, or are currently independent and solitary. We welcome those who consider themselves religious, or spiritual, or neither. We welcome those with various labels (or none) such as spiritual but not religious, naturalists, deep ecologists, eco-humanists, atheists, agnostics, nontheists, pantheists, eco-atheists, naturalistic pagans, neo-animists, etc. You are welcome!

  • #2
    Nature-Inclusive Quaker Attentive Listening

    Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and Expanded (Nature-Inclusive) Worship (aka Attentive Listening)

    ** God is an interesting topic in liberal Quakerism. Quakerism has Christian roots and there are branches of Quakerism that are still conservative Christian, but Liberal Quakerism has evolved into a universalist spirituality which can include non-theists, Buddhists, pagans, and pantheists. So, like some pantheists, liberal Quakers may use the term "God" but allow individual interpretation to differ. Some Friends (Quakers) may hold traditional supernaturalist theistic beliefs while others view the "Inner Light" within a naturalistic and nontheistic context as a metaphor for the interdependent forces of life.

    Most Nontheist Friends see Quakerism, and hence all Quaker gatherings, theistic or not, as exercises in careful listening – listening to our intellectual and moral conscience, to our intuitions, and to whatever our fellow humans have to say. By attentive listening we can mitigate our cognitive biases and learn important new things about ourselves, others, and the world. Traditional Quakers see this as a process of listening to God, and Nontheist Friends see it as just being an attentive human in the world.

    Another way of putting it is that what Nontheist Friends are doing is essentially the same thing as other Friends are doing, just without a supernatural explanation behind it.

    I thought folks might find this unpublished article (and now deleted thanks to AOL) by the Committee on Unity with Nature of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to be of interest.
    Expanded Quaker Worship

    The Quaker practice of silent worship is an intensely human experience. The intent of Quaker worship is to allow a quiet time for the mystical experience to occur, while gathered together so that we may aid each other in learning to become quiet. We endeavor to set aside our everyday preoccupation with our own lives, and to listen for a Voice that speaks to us, or to another in the Meeting. We strive to translate the Voice into rational, intelligible words, so that those listening will not misunderstand when we rise to speak the Voice's message to them. We discipline ourselves to avoid the excesses of singing, dancing, shaking, and speaking in tongues that some who heard the Voice have used to express it.
    We have, for sound reasons, eliminated distracting altars and windows, incense and banners, from our practice of worship. In so purifying our environment, we have also excluded God's** animals and plants. As far as possible, we try to control the air and light that flow through our place of worship. We deny by these practices the possibility that non-human Creation is able to worship with us.

    One might suppose from the form of Quaker worship that God's** message is directed only to those human beings gathered in silence, and is conveyed only in human words. Yet, have we any certain knowledge that this supposition is true?

    In any human gathering, there are always unseen, nonhuman guests: spiders in the rafters, flies on the windowsill, crickets in the hearth and various tiny creatures riding in and on our bodies. If a non-human creature should happen to catch our eye, we make every effort to ignore it as a distraction. But if God's** gaze happens to fall upon our Meeting, His eye sees them as well as us.

    We propose to alter the context of our Meeting for worship so as to allow our ignored and necessarily non-verbal companions an opportunity to participate.

    We will do this by moving apart to allow physical space between the human worshippers so that other beings can join the circle. In a typical Meeting for worship, people often sit with the distance of a chair between them and the next person. We will simply expand this distance as far as we can while still feeling that we are a gathering and not isolated individuals.

    We will gather out-of-doors, where the creeping and flying creatures, the passing breeze, the falling leaf, the sound of bees' wings, the sun shining through floating pollen and dandelion seeds, are not excluded.
    When you come into the place appointed for worship, find a seat at least far enough from the next human that your hands cannot quite touch theirs. Bring a chair if you will be more comfortable in that familiar position. Settle into waiting silence as you usually would. If you feel called to offer verbal ministry, do not feel any more inhibited than usual (although you may have to speak much louder).

    The special discipline you are asked to practice is to listen with more than your ears. Listen for the Voice that speaks not only in words. If any of God's** creatures joins or passes though our gathering, remember that this creature has only its whole being with which to speak: allow it to speak to you. Give it the same silence before and after its ministry as you would any human speaker. Remind yourself that its ministry is complete as given to us; it needs no repetition or translation into human speech.
    Being so accustomed to words, we should not be surprised to find ourselves internally creating a pattern of words that mirrors the unspoken ministry of bird or insect, blades of grass or trails of ants. Our human pride and skill is to be able to fix into repeatable words that which is perceived but evanescent. Let yourself write such inner stories about what you perceive, then let the story flow on and return to the unspoken.

    What we might hope to accomplish is this: However inspired our verbal ministry, it can encompass only a small part of the communication flowing between God** and Creation. By listening to whatever we can hear of this speech beyond speech, we ourselves can begin to participate in the conversation.

    At Spring, 1999, College Park Quarterly Meeting and 1999 Yearly Meeting we worshipped using the "expanded" seating arrangement. At Quarterly we were under fruit trees at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, and were joined in the circle by a variety of insects. At Yearly, we met on a hillside at Mt. Madonna at 7 am; a pair of robins were nesting in a loquat tree just outside the circle, and conducted their connubial business as if we weren't there.
    - Eric Sabelman