By John Cowan 3/13/15

Why are Quakers important?

I have long been convinced that the human race is destined for even greater times and the presence or absence of the ecology we have now has only a little to do with it, for our journey and our destination are inward into living a life of understanding instead of confusion, sight instead of blindness, compassion instead of anger, and the foundation of it all, to use secular terms, consciousness instead of blind instinct. I was pulled almost reluctantly to this stance in the late fifties by the findings and writings of Theilhard d’ Chardin, a Jesuit priest, a noted paleontologist and an accidental philosopher. Nothing has altered my conviction in the last sixty some years, certainly not the minor problems of our present age.

Look at the improving statistics on war, violence, poverty, famine, health over the centuries for evidence that our evolution is towards the better and not towards the worse. Despite the evidence we are continually convicted of that which is wrong by the communication tools pushing problems into our faces that we would not have ever known about even a century ago. Even those distasteful symptoms of our failures are at the same time evidence of our continuing trend to the good. We are now trying to fix problems that my father never knew existed.

The Internet is giving us the opportunity for worldwide friendship. I caught my college age son sitting on his bed while corresponding with a woman in Australia in one computer window and in another window playing chess with a guy in Canada. The news industry shows me the pretty young blond woman in flack jacket and helmet interviewing the sixth grade teacher holding her rifle waiting for ISIS to leave their camp seven miles down the road and overrun her fourteen person post. She is the first defense of the girls she teaches. Even travelers pollinate the truth. My wife’s surgeon scheduled her operation for the week after he returned from Haiti where he would be performing surgeries for free. And where he would be telling some people there was nothing he could do for them because the solutions to their problem, while existing, existed on shelves back in the States, not in Haiti, and telling me the same thing which caused me some sadness and some realization. Seeping into our consciousness are the formerly hidden troubles of the world. We now bear them on our backs, as we should. As we should. As we should.

The key to all of this is human consciousness and efforts to expand it are penetrating such unlikely places as prisons, health clubs, church basements and middle schools under the mantle of meditation, or yoga, or centering prayer, or Zen, or Transcendental Meditation. A middle school that started a meditation class arguing for its inclusion in the curriculum that this odd endeavor would relax overly tense students was astonished to discover via a psych test that student participants showed an increase in compassion and love of others. The administration had the fortitude to add these churchy objectives to the curriculum guide.

There are many pathways into the depths of the human to whatever it is that awaits us there. We name it differently but all such searches must inevitably end nearly at the same spot.

There is only one religious society from the Christian tradition that has practiced and taught this pathway to the depths of our being not as a sideline of its main function but as the central purpose of its existence. And that is we Quakers. Therefore we are important! Not as the only vehicle for human transformation but as a vehicle for human evolution with a long tradition, and much knowledge, and many skillful people, and much success that is anchored in one of the great movements of time, the following of Jesus. I visualize our difference in rituals from most Christians as the difference between a rain on the thirsty person’s roof and opening the water valve to the pipes in the basement.

So we are important! And the Query is: Are we living up to our responsibility? Are we even willing to admit we have responsibilities to go with this blessing?