12 September 2008
Is it really Quakerly to Go Slow?
Is it really Quakerly to go slow? Is deliberate slowness in our actions a submission, an acknowledgement that we seek to follow God in our decision-making so sincerely that we will postpone action of which we are unsure? To wait expectantly until our path is made clear before we go ahead?
Maybe sometimes it is, and maybe sometimes it isn't. Sometimes I think we go slowly because we have enshrined going slow as matter of human doctrine, not as divine direction. We have created a "Quaker style" that we are comfortable with, in the same way that the Orthodox Churches are known for "smells and bells," or the Epsicopalians for processions. But does our slowness come from God, or from our own preferences for an identifiable "tradition?" Jesus criticized the Pharisees repeatedly for substituting their human traditions for the commands of God. Does Scripture say to go slow?
God is written to have made the universe in six days.
The founding members of our Society never had anything to say about slowness being close to Godliness. In fact, they tended to act quickly, even on leadings whose means and ends were unclear. One early critic of the Friends wrote of a visit by George Fox, who knocked on the door one evening with a companion and was invited in. His host asked for the reason for the visit, and reported that Fox said he didn't know, that he came to deliver a message but didn't know what it was. After more conversation of equal confusion, George excused himself and left, leaving his amused host alone to write for posterity about the visit from the half-crazed Quaker.
I like this story, because it points out that Fox was willing to step out and act immediately upon leadings whose ends he was unable to see. George didn't know what he was supposed to say to that country gentleman, but he went anyway and knocked on the door. And ultimately, it seems that George was not intended to deliver a message at all, at least in the way he expected. One was not forthcoming, anyway.
George acted immediately on a half-baked leading, because he trusted in God to make it clear as he went along, if that was the plan. Slowness, and quiet feeling for the right way to go forward was not part of George's style. When God said "Jump," George Fox jumped.
Is that what we do?
Or do we sit quietly and wait, and let our fires go out, reassuring ourselves that going slow is always better than going rapidly? Is slowness a tradition, a "Quaker process" that we have invented all on our own? Is it possible that God sometimes wants us to jump, and right now? I'm not talking about jumping out far ahead of our corporate body here, and striking out on our own like some modern-day John Perrot. I'm talking about moving ahead on a leading where the initial impetus is clear, but where the ultimate direction and goal is obscure. A situation where being responsive to the leading requires simply moving forward on it in faith. Like George, who knew he was to deliver a message, but didn't have a clue as to what it was supposed to be.
Perhaps that message is only just now being delivered to its intended recipient.