“Because we experience that the Divine lies deeper than words, we have no formal creed… What binds us together as a spiritual community is not uniformity of belief, but rather our sense of a common journey on a shared path, seeking the guidance of the Light. Our diversity strengthens us as we walk this path of love, compassion, and justice.”
—From Faith & Practice: The Book of Discipline of the Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 2020 Edition
Soft sunshine and birdsong give way to silence entering the meetinghouse for the Louisville Society of Friends. The vintage home, comprised of a few rooms kept tidy and bright, is in a quiet neighborhood near Bowman Field. The folks gathered are quiet as the meeting time approaches. There is little talk, though warm welcomes are offered and received, punctuated by slight creaks of the wooden floor. The sparse room redirects attention to the people present, inviting meeting attendees to turn inward. A few rows of simple wooden benches and chairs line the perimeter, allowing people to see one another.
George Fox founded the Quaker tradition in the 17th century when there was resistance to the Church of England after the English Civil War. In his autobiography, he states that a magistrate dealing with Fox’s charge of blasphemy “was the first that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord.” Fox had a vision of a religious tradition free of ordained ministers, in his belief a purer form of Christianity predicated on direct experience with Christ. Since its beginnings, Quakerism has spread across the globe and diversified immensely.
The Louisville Society of Friends is the continuation of a community that began in the 1930s. “Faith & Practice,” the published volume of this Yearly Meeting’s guiding beliefs, begins with these words:
“The Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends holds as the basis of its faith the belief that divine truth and the gift of God’s presence are available to all people in all ages. The indwelling presence of God implies the equal worth of all members of the human family and the capacity in all to discern spiritual truth and to hold direct communion with the Divine Spirit.”
At this meeting, silence is expected. When a member shares, their offering is regarded as a direct channel from the Divine. This day, the meeting begins with some simple questions for reflection. Normally, no scripture or sacred text is given, but today is a unique gathering: The community has decided that, once a quarter, they will offer spiritual quotes and questions to encourage attendees to participate, speaking from the heart in Divine inspiration. It is believed that every person has the capacity for direct revelation and that, in listening to the deepest meaning beneath even the most fumbling or rudimentary words, God communicates through and to those gathered.
At today’s meeting, a handful of people speak for less than five minutes over the course of the hour. One member sings a beautiful hymn to briefly break the silence. The content of what is shared within a meeting is not discussed outside of it. There is intimacy, honesty, and humility in the words spoken; they reverberate in timbre with the sentiment of the Quaker song, “Simple Gifts”:
’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free
‘tis a gift to come down where we ought to be
and when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.
After the meeting, regular Friends and visitors talk and connect. They share information about an upcoming Bible study and informational session, along with copies of “Faith & Practice.” Reverent murmurs gently send folks back out into the morning of bird-hymns and sunshine.
“Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”
—George Fox (1624-1691)
To read more about the Louisville Friends Meeting, visit https://www.ovym.org/meetings/louisville/