Getting out of the way of the Light…

I’ve never been much of a one for age-specific activities, any more than I was even at school for gender specific ones (football and science for boys, hockey and typing for girls). But being retired does come with certain advantages, I suppose, provided that one has enough, one way or another, to keep a roof over one’s head and food on the table.

Simplicity, though, is perhaps one of the Quaker testimonies that seem more easily to open up to us as we grow older. I don’t quite know why that should be. Simplicity is paradoxically not always as simple as it should be either to explain or to put into practice. Quaker Faith & Practice 20.27 states:

The heart of Quaker ethics is summed up in the word ‘simplicity’. Simplicity is forgetfulness of self and remembrance of our humble status as waiting servants of God. Outwardly, simplicity is shunning superfluities of dress, speech, behaviour, and possessions, which tend to obscure our vision of reality. Inwardly, simplicity is spiritual detachment from the things of this world as part of the effort to fulfil the first commandment: to love God with all of the heart and mind and strength.

The testimony of outward simplicity began as a protest against the extravagance and snobbery which marked English society in the 1600s. In whatever forms this protest is maintained today, it must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.

Simplicity does not mean drabness or narrowness but is essentially positive, being the capacity for selectivity in one who holds attention on the goal. Thus simplicity is an appreciation of all that is helpful towards living as children of the Living God.

(From: Faith and practice, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), 1983)

To me, simplicity has come to mean more a way of getting out of the way of the Light than anything else. The heart’s freedom is the true place of simplicity; the way there varies as much as the people walking it, and in fact in this life we shall perhaps never achieve more than a degree of that freedom. To be content with that imperfection is a kind of simplicity in itself, for perfection is not I think a human attribute!

4 thoughts on “Getting out of the way of the Light…

  1. Pingback: Mike Farley on simplicity and aging (Links)

  2. Howard Brod

    I find it ironic that many monthly meetings and yearly meetings advise simplicity for Friends; yet, the operation of most monthly meetings and yearly meetings is anything but simple. Liberal Quakers perhaps have the most simple form of Quaker worship with no programming whatsoever and no expectation of doctrine or belief system. The opposite is true of all the structures liberal Quakers have surrounded ourselves with to “manage” the business of our meetings. We have too many permanent committees instead of relying on the Spirit to direct our meeting community through whole-meeting discernment. We have procedures for membership instead of simply accepting as ‘one in the Spirit’ whoever the Spirit brings to our meetinghouse door. We rely on official lay leadership (elders) to oversee the life of the meeting instead of allowing the whole meeting to discern the life of the meeting.

    I believe Quakers are called towards simplification of our meetings’ spiritual life in this twenty-first century; shedding as many outward forms as possible so the Spirit is free to fully flow everywhere in the life of our meetings. And until we do that, we can not expect anyone associated with us to embrace our advices on simplicity.

  3. robbenwwainer

    Simplicity to me means I didn’t do it, that I don’t run the show, that when I see interfaith groups defend the rights of our minorities I am filled with an inner peace that lets me know no matter how gender specific the bible is, that God loves and me and he loves my homosexuality,

  4. Mike Farley Post author

    Thank you, both! Your point is well made, Howard – that feeling seems to be spreading among meetings, at least in my part of the world.


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