Also, according to reports in the news, we are a seriously divided country. By economics, religion, race, ethnicity, education, language, politics, you name it. And noisy. Everyone’s always yakking at each other and often in not so cordial ways. Frankly, it’s a wonder we ever accomplish anything. Within this maelstrom of divergence and disagreement, Quakers advocate for a serious call to action following contemplative calm.
I was introduced to Quaker ideas at fourteen. Before then, religion had been to me like a shopping mall of choices. My friends’ religious affiliations ran the gamut like aisles in some grand bazaar. At one time or another I attended services with most of my friends and discovered all their religions had one common denominator: someone ordained to tell us what was what on earth and in heaven. And let’s not forget the other direction.
In 2016 a National Geographic report cited “religiously unaffiliated, called ‘nones,’ as the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, so called nones make up almost a quarter of the population at twenty-two percent. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.”
Now, all religions have as part of their core belief systems to help the needy, feed the poor, behave in a righteous manner, among other tenets revolving around leading a good and honorable life. And yet we fall short. As do some Quakers sometimes, being human, after all. But I think what drew me to Quakerism from the very start was the idea, which was wholly new to me, that God is not somewhere out there needing an interpreter down here through which to speak to all of us. For Quakers, God is in each of us as revealed through what’s known as the inner light.
Many writers and artists are either atheists or agnostics. Me, I’m neither a writer guided by a particular religious tenet nor a “none” belief system. I leave that to others. Whatever comes to me from within, that’s what I follow. It is in those quiet moments where the inner light is allowed to move from inside to an outward manifestation that speaks to me. Most creative people will tell you that they experience moments of heightened awareness, of loss of sense of self, when some energy awakens within and moves through them. This is generally recognized as some sort of inexplicable creative spirit. A genie of the mind and soul, distinct in its quality and character from dissociative, manic, or any other psychotic state. It has organizational and rational decision making capabilities. It’s like hovering outside and over you while at the same time operating in a most cogent way from within.Being an artist from my earliest memories, it seems completely natural that I would succumb easily to the notion that Quakers listen to a voice of God coming from within during still contemplation. I still feel drawn to that. There’s not enough stillness in our world and it’s only getting worse. And frankly, there’s not enough contemplation in our world either.
Quakers may be a small group, yes, but mighty in their quiet works. Whether you call it the voice of God or the inner light or simply your own guiding tenets, sitting still for an hour a week can have benefits for body and mind. Stillness can bring a greater sense of peace and contentment. In those quiet moments you can return to yourself those things that daily life in this maelstrom of angry and insistent voices has stripped from you.
If you’ve ever walked into a church or temple or any other religious building when no one else is there, you know the feeling that you just want to sit down and let it all go. We carry so much inside. And we all have the feeling, at times, that no one wants to listen to our inner pain or grief or turmoil or questions. Writing is a process of stirring that inner pot to boiling and then letting it simmer. It is when the inner light shines on it that creativity takes place. It does not happen all the time. It does not happen for everyone. But it does not happen for anyone ever unless you can allow that inner light to glow. And no matter whether you go to church or temple or mosque or simply connect with the inner light on a walk in the woods, that light is always waiting for you to feel its presence.
LB Gschwandtner is the author of four adult novels, one middle-grade novel, and one collection of quirky short stories. She has attended numerous fiction writing workshops―the Iowa Writers Workshop and others―and studied with Wally Lamb, Lary Bloom, and Suzanne Levine in Praiano, Italy and Fred Leebron and Bob Bausch in the US. She has won writing awards in Writers Digest and Lorian Hemingway fiction competitions and been published in literary digests and magazines. She lives on a tidal creek in Virginia with her husband of forty-five years, with whom she cofounded the multimedia company Selling Power Inc. LB has been the editor of Selling Power magazine for more than thirty years. She and her husband have three adult daughters and two grandchildren. Her upcoming novel, THE OTHER NEW GIRL, follows two new girls at at a Quaker prep school. It is available on Sept. 26, 2017.