“Testimonies are an outward expression of an inward spiritual discernment, constituting faith incarnated into action. They provide the moral and ethical fruits of one’s inward life of the Spirit.”
– Wilmer Cooper, 2000
Testimonies bear witness to the truth as Friends in community perceive it. They arise from our way of worship, which evokes within us an affirmation and celebration of the Light that illumines our way forward in this life. Through the testimonies, Friends strive for unity and integrity of inner and outer life, both in living with ourselves and others, and in living in the world. While the way we express our Quaker testimonies today is different from the way previous generations did, the fundamental principles behind them remain firm. For example, early Quakers, laboring under a strong concern for the equality of all in the eyes of God, refused to use honorifics or remove their hats to social superiors, and allowed women to speak at Meeting for Worship believing that God spoke through women as well as through men. Today, these specific expressions of equality are no longer valid, but the principle of equality remains central to Quaker belief. What has come to be seen as traditional Quaker testimonies do not exist in any rigid, written form; nor are they imposed in any way. We believe in continuing revelation, and each of us is called to live out the testimonies as they grow in our hearts in the fullness of time. The Spirit still speaks, and we still listen as our times challenge us to live them out in new circumstances.
Modern Friends usually identify the traditional Quaker testimonies as simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship of the Earth (often referred to lightheartedly by the acronym the SPICES).
For Friends, the purpose of a simple life is to remove the distractions that interfere with our ability to follow the guidance of our Inward Teacher. Excessive preoccupation with how we look, how much we are paid, our worldly status, or indeed anything that becomes an obsession for us, serves only to separate us from the Divine. Simplicity is a reminder that today, as surely as hundreds of years ago, we can choose to allow God to order our lives. Today, as then, it refers to a life lit from within by the Inward Light, ordered by the love that nourishes the core, and freed by the Spirit from bondage to possessions and the superficial. And, it calls upon us to live lightly on the Earth at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of the fragility of our planet.
Since its founding over 350 years ago, the Religious Society of Friends has testified to the worth of every individual by refusing to participate in war. We repudiate war because it violates the primacy of love, destroys lives that God has given, and tears the fabric of society. Quakers have traditionally refused to serve in the armed forces, although there have been some, particularly during the Second World War, who have felt called to fight. The peace testimony, however, goes beyond the mere refusal to wage war. As George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, asserted, we are to live “in that light and power that takes away the occasion for war.” As we work for peace in the world, Friends seek to search out the seeds of war in ourselves and in our way of life. Instead of joining in actions that may lead to destruction and death, we are urged to cooperate to save life and strengthen the bonds of unity among all people. We are called to work to create the conditions of peace, such as freedom, justice, cooperation, and the right sharing of the world’s resources.
The testimony of integrity and truth refers to the way we bear witness to the belief that each of us should live a life that is true to the Light Within, true to oneself, and true to others. To Friends, the concept of integrity includes personal wholeness and consistency, as well as honesty and fair dealings. It is not only about telling the truth – it is applying our understanding of the truth to each situation. Quakers are called foremost to listen for and acknowledge Divine Truth, then to speak and to act in accordance with that Truth throughout all activities, and in all relationships in our lives. Integrity implies a harmony within, a music created through attentive listening to expressions of God in ourselves and each other.
Friends are called to sustain caring relationships for everyone, both within the Quaker meeting and in our neighborhoods, cities, nations, and world. Community is the necessary foundation for justice and peace. As we live in a community to honor that of God in all, we are, as individuals, strengthened in the work to which we are called, We see and speak from that of God in ourselves to that of God in others when we discover and acknowledge our common ground and common good. We see Jesus’ commandment to love one another as a command to be in community. Within Friends’ spiritual community, the collective search for truth, undertaken in Meeting for Worship, is the foundation for the beloved community to which Friends aspire. Living our faith is not a private matter. It calls us outward to the needs of the community at large.
When taken fully to heart, the Quaker belief that there is that of God in everyone obliges us to treat each person with respect, in the understanding that God may speak to us through any voice. We believe that each person is of infinite worth and is to be treated as someone who can be drawn by love, to live a full and worthwhile life, which manifests respect and consideration for others. Equality is at the heart of our conviction that the truth can be revealed to every person. Friends are called to hallow the ordinary, to see the Divine at work everywhere, and to answer that work wherever we find it. Friends have been led not only to see discrimination and injustice, but also to translate that awareness into action, living our lives with honor, with respect, and with fairness. Friends and other seekers may indeed be on different paths; our journeys may lead to unaccustomed places. That diversity is a strength which teaches us the value of new visions, new perspectives, new ways to live in the Light.
The 18th century Quaker, John Woolman once wrote: “…all we possess is the gift of God, and in the distribution of it we act as his stewards; it becomes us therefore to act agreeable to that Divine wisdom which he graciously gives to his servants.” That principle of stewardship applies to all that we have and are. We seek to apply the same spirit to the use and contribution of our corporate resources. We are called to cherish the Earth, and to protect all its resources in a spirit of humble stewardship, committed to the right sharing of these resources among people everywhere. To be good stewards means that we are not to be possessed by our possessions, but rather that we learn to live more simply and with a willingness to share with others. In the contemporary world, which makes increasing demands on the Earth’s finite resources, Friends are challenged to exercise the care and concern that can assure that future generations may inherit an Earth on which they can live in hope and dignity.
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