Quakers talk about following our “leadings.” But what is a leading? What does it feel like to have one?
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Emma Churchman: So ideally the way it works is: you learn to listen to God. God communicates with you in some way. That can be words, that can be stirring in your heart, that can be dreams or song lyrics or conversations that you overhear. I personally preferred the giant billboards on the side of the road – that’s how I need my communication with God. Very clear right? So you learn how to be in communication with God and then God asks something of you, invites you into a possibility.
How to Listen for a Leading
Marcelle Martin: Quakers have talked about being tender, being sensitive to what’s going on inwardly. Inwardly in us and inwardly in other people, we can become aware that God is present in us and other people and everything and that all of life is sacred. It’s actually mostly because of our loss of that awareness that we’ve been living in a way that’s out of balance, so we need to regain that balance by returning to an awareness of the sacredness of everything and of the presence of God within each person and within ourselves. And as we learn to do that, we’ll see more and more clearly how we need to change: what’s not working, what’s not right, and how God is calling us to live in a different way.
How It Feels
Leslie Manning: Each of us has a different sensation but for me the sensation is to feel a warmth across my chest that spreads deep into my center. It is a loving embrace and a lifting out of my heart. The image that comes to me is that of the Paraclete, which is the old Greek word for Spirit, where the fire of the heart is lifted up as purifying, cleansing, and anointing. So that’s what it’s like for me. When I feel that, I know true. I am a friend of truth.
Brian Drayton: You have to take risks because you’re operating under a sense of guidance which is an inward apprehension of a sense of duty: to go or to stay, to speak or be silent. And you can always be mistaken because impulses come from a lot of sources, and although any good friend over the years becomes practiced in sorting out those things, you’re not always right. But sometimes you have to take the leap and trust that your friends will help pull you back in.
Pat Moyer: Well for myself, I had made a habit in my life of not disturbing the peace. But then there was this part of me that was always upset with the status quo, or thinking, “How could they not see this? How can this be happening?” and so the inner process is partly a personal habit one: “don’t mess it up” versus “this has to be messed up” and figuring out which one you’re going to listen to.
Emma Churchman: For me, there are no angels and bells and hallelujahs when that happens. It is friggin’ terrifying. It is terrifying what God asks me to do. To leave my home, to leave my community, to leave a job, to leave a relationship. There’s a lot of leaving that happens in this life by leading. We talk about it as if we are moving forward in the leading, but part of moving forward is closing doors and that is often what is most terrifying.
Grounding Our Leadings
Pat Moyer: Discernment really has to happen in a community, even if people think they don’t need it. Because once you get started doing something, it has to fit wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. It has to not be too far off the mark. I mean, there are prophets and they definitely have their place, but to really get something done in the here and now you need to have people who see what you can do and know whether you’re fit for this or fit for that and know how this might go. So it’s an inner process and it’s a reflective process with other people.
Brian Drayton: And the inward guide also let’s you know when you’ve gone too far a lot of the time. It takes—you know there’s a lot of different kinds of practice in Quaker spirituality and that may be one of the core pieces, is learning to separate wheat from chaff in terms of the substance of what you’re experiencing inwardly, and how to translate that into your outward life. And so Fox’s line about “living experimentally”— although he didn’t mean it quite the way we do now—nevertheless, is the right word.
Leslie Manning: When our hearts are pierced—and I’m sure you’ve experienced this too—we’re not being injured, we’re being given the opportunity. It goes all the way through us! It isn’t stopped in our heart, it goes through, and the light pours through it. We become vessels. We become lanterns. The image I love to use (of course, from the coast of Maine) is the lighthouse. We become beacons of hope. Radiant gatherers and givers of Light. And we speak the truth insofar as we are lead, and—this is the danger – not beyond it.