Testimonies

Sometimes I wonder whether, under the influence of the need to reach out to a secular society, we have made testimony simply into an expression of ethics. We have numbered and acronymised (forgive the invention!) our testimonies, and progressive people of goodwill will, more or less, be in agreement with them. That is fine as far as it goes. But the ways we express our relationship with the divine in everyday life surely cannot be limited to convenient words or headings in an index. Testimony is not a strategy, nor is it a political manifesto. Rather, it is a vital response to a call from the depths of our being to examine our lives and to heed the cry of the world itself.

Harvey Gillman, Words (available from The Friend magazine)

I’ve always been a little worried about testimonies. They seem all too much like lists of requirements: one must be able to put one tick at least in each of the boxes to be considered a Quaker. I can much too easily imagine a membership applicant’s visitors asking, “How has your life shown forth Integrity and Truth this week? And how about Stewardship, Peter Bloggs?”

Surely, our testimonies are merely descriptions of the ways in which the Spirit has led us, like Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruits in Galatians 5.22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We cannot resolve to live these things, or we will fall at the first hurdle. Only by opening ourselves to the Spirit in worship and prayer will they grow of themselves in us; and then others may, probably at our funeral, recall how they observed them – “a testimony to the grace of God in the life of…”

Quaker renewal will, it seems to me, only happen as we set aside our worries about forms and words, the ins and outs and the details of who is and who isn’t which kind of Quaker, and sit down together in silence, waiting on the Spirit’s presence:

Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.

Isaac Penington, 1661

4 thoughts on “Testimonies

  1. simonjkyte

    hmmmm interesting – reminds me of the issue faced by English Puritan Precisianists – the likes of Greenham and Perkins etc. When Luther had broken from Rome, Protestantism had been clear, Election was
    sola fides – ‘only Faith’. So, what is this obsessive care with daily life?

    Reply
  2. Liza Trent Savory

    I particularly dislike the way some US Friends are parroting “SPICES” as an acronym for some testimonies. I find it trite and reductive, and dangerously close to credal.

    Reply
  3. Barbara Childs

    I like this post. Our testimony is how we live our lives. If we are living our lives from that centre where we are spirit led then our lives will be led in a certain way. When I realised this, the Quaker way became clear to me. We don’t have to worry how we are going to put the testimonies into practice in our life – we listen to that spirit within and follow that path (checking our discernment with others).

    Reply

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