Direct and Immediate Access to God/Truth
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as
the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
– Advices & Queries #1, Quaker Faith & Practice
Primary to Quaker faith is a conviction that God continues to communicate with all that God has created. Quaker faith assumes that God is and that God chooses to be in dialogue with His creation. The experience of Friends, confirmed both in scripture and the experience of others throughout time, is that we are in relationship with a spirit and power greater than ourselves. Most Friends describe God’s nature as consistent with the revelation of Jesus Christ. Some Friends are more comfortable saying what God is not, rather than saying what God is.
However God is described or experienced, Friends are clear that we have direct and immediate access to that power. This means there is no need for an ordained priest; no need for a book; no incantations, rites or rituals to summon the Deity. As helpful and comforting as these may be, Friends have found that God is always present and chooses to communicate if we simply listen. Quakers use such terms as “that of God within” and “the inward Light” to describe the presence of this inherent capacity to be in contact with the Creator of the universe. Other common expressions are “the inward Christ,” “the inward Teacher” or “the Holy Spirit.”
If this reality is taken seriously, it has implications for religious practice. For Friends, worship is based on “waiting” on God, attending to God’s voice and direction in the silence of the body, soul and mind—making space for God to communicate through “the still, small voice.” The truth of what is communicated is discerned both through the experience of the individual worshiper and that of those in the worshiping community, as well as the written record of God’s dealings with humanity throughout history: the scriptures. The experience of “authorities” is not assumed to take precedence over one’s own experience of the divine; the scriptures are seen as declarations of the Source, not the Source itself. Outward forms are seen as secondary to a direct and inward experience.
An expression of these convictions may be seen in traditional Quaker meetinghouse architecture. The building is plain, unmarked by anything that would declare it “sacred,” as God may be met anywhere. Inside, there is no stained glass, nor are there icons, statues or pictures—nothing to distract one from looking inward. There is no pulpit from which the Word is preached by an ordained authority. Friends understand that Christ is the Word and is present to lead, instruct and direct each worshiper inwardly. Ministry arises out of the silence, as individuals are obedient to the promptings of the Spirit, rise and share. There is no altar where Holy Communion is offered. God is the Real Presence in the midst of the worshipers, communing directly in the silence.
Expressions of this testimony at Guilford College
Moments of silence before gatherings. Most meetings, committees and many classes at the College begin with a moment of silence. Along with providing a beneficial space to catch one’s breath, focus and prepare for the work ahead, these moments reflect the Quaker commitment of Guilford to the immediate presence of a spirit greater than ourselves that may gather us together in a common search for truth.
Decision-making by consensus (“sense of the meeting”). If each person has direct access to God’s truth, then it becomes imperative that each person be given the opportunity to express the truth they may be given; the one person out of many may be the one voicing what the group needs to hear. It is then the duty of the group to discern the validity of expressions in light of members’ experience, the group’s history and other sources of truth. Decision-making at Guilford is modeled after this process.
Informal worship and worship space. Consistent with Quaker tradition, College-sponsored worship is typically marked by the use of silent meditation, absence of written liturgy and inclusion of a variety of expressions of God’s movement in people’s lives. Worship spaces are likewise informal and reflective of Quaker simplicity and plainness. Friends avoid the use of outward symbols, focusing rather on an experience of the reality that symbols attempt to embody.
Openness to different ways of expressing revealed truth. While Quakerism is an expression of Christian faith, Guilford encourages and supports the practice and expression of a wide variety of faith traditions on campus. This is not the result of an unthinking relativism but is rather a commitment to experiencing the many ways in which God speaks to and through His creation.
Small seminar and “circle” classes. Student input and discussion is valued in the classroom at Guilford, not only because it is good pedagogy, but also because there is a profound belief that everyone in the classroom has access to truth that may benefit the group.