From the Huffington Post
4 Things We Can All Learn From One Of America’s Oldest Religious Communities
By Alena Hall
Sunlight pours into the plain, open room through its many windows. Men and women of all ages gather in rows of simple wooden benches all aligned to face the center of the room, facing one another. Together they sit in stillness and silence, actively waiting for inspiration to arrive.
For at least an hour each week, Quakers — or more formally known as the Religious Society of Friends — come together in this room for what is called a meeting for worship. While the structure varies from meetinghouse to meetinghouse and from perspective to perspective, this tradition (comparable to a church service) offers valuable insights into how one can live a mindful and fulfilling life — with or without the religious context.
Quakerism and this accompanying practice emerged in mid-17th century England during a time of religious turmoil. George Fox founded this protestant society out of dissatisfaction with the Church of England, and a group of Friends brought it to the Pennsylvania colony in the American Northeast in the early 1680s. They aim to embody the values of pacifism, community, simplicity and equality throughout their daily lives, placing a special emphasis on these gatherings.
Many meetings for worship are not led by a minister, filled with hymns or guided by scripture readings. Instead, Friends sit together and wait silently and patiently to connectwith the Divine spirit. Should they feel moved to share thoughts inspired by this spiritual connection, they simply stand and do so. If not, they continue to sit and search for guidance and direction peacefully. No two meetings for worship are the same. One day the room will remain silent throughout the entirety of the meeting, while another will be full voices sharing the messages they felt inspired to share.
Even for those who do not feel compelled to connect to a higher power, the tradition of meeting for worship embodies several core Quaker beliefs that help Friends lead a mindful, connected and fulfilling life.
They value silence and stillness.
The purpose of silence and stillness within a meeting for worship closely resembles that of meditation: It serves not only as time to relax and gather your thoughts, but also as a means of opening up to the guidance of one’s Inner Light and being aware of its power. The practice of sitting together in this manner is often referred to as ”expectant waiting.” Clearing the mind and setting aside other thoughts and activities, Friends open their minds to the potential presence of the Holy Spirit and the enlightening connection that can occur when it arrives.
While Friends focus heavily on their individual connections to the higher power, they also value the power of their “gathered community.” The meetings for worship bring everyone together to collectively search for the word of God, as opposed to having them meditate independently. Quakers rely on unity and trust within their communities — both inside and outside the meetinghouse — which helps them to create open-minded conversation and cooperation.
They appreciate community.
They stick to simplicity.“The meeting house is not a consecrated edifice, and if there is anything holy about it, it must be the lives of the people who meet there,” said president of Haverford College and fellow Quaker William Wistar Comfort.
The meetinghouse’s appearance isn’t the only thing in a Quaker’s life that appears plain and simple. Because their connection with God serves as the highest value in their lives, they believe he will provide all that they need and thus lead lives of material simplicity. In fact they view material wealth as a spiritual distraction that often leads to environmental destruction as well (stewardship to the planet is another core value of modern Quakerism).
Because they believe that all people are beloved by God and regard that connection as the most important aspect of life, Friends acknowledge a fundamental brotherhood and sisterhood among all people. The innate ability to embody that divine Inner Light encourages them to treat every person with the same amount of respect. This belief directly relates their active participation in social justice movements, from women’s rights to anti-slavery to prison reform.
They emphasize equality.
Some of the country’s top educational institutions were founded on Quaker principles: Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and Swarthmore College to name a few. And handfuls of America’s youth are being exposed to these values at even younger ages.