The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 9 — The Quaker Meeting as Therapeutic Milieu


Recovering, Reframing, and Reclaiming
the Early Quaker Experience

Part 9

The Quaker Meeting as Therapeutic Milieu

As we noted earlier, some Quaker communities today lack understanding of and support for the salvation process that we have described. Consequently, Friends today who embark upon the way of metanoia may find themselves in a position similar to that of the young George Fox, who went through the process alone. Such Friends may take courage from Fox’s report that it was precisely when he realized that no one could help him, that he could only look to the leadings of the God-who-is-love in his heart, that he broke through.123

But earlier Friends generally did not undergo the process alone: they were supported by their Quaker communities, which found their reason for being in calling their members to salvation and in assisting them through the conversion process so that the Kingdom of God might be realized within and among them. In other words, the essential commitment of Quaker communities was to “answering that of God in every one,” beginning with the communities’ own members. In psychological terms, the community acted as therapeutic milieu, helping Friends to understand and accept their situation, set a goal for a healthier way of being in the world, work effectively toward that goal, and ultimately help others through the same process. We can do ourselves a great service by recapturing that commitment today. By developing and expressing a contemporary, tradition-rooted understanding of the inner, experiential meanings of Quaker images such as “Inner Light” and “that of God,” and by returning to understanding themselves as communities of salvation here and now, our Quaker organizations, especially local meetings, can play an important role in the process of change.

As our communities embrace the role of therapeutic, or ministering, milieu, every aspect of our corporate life will be brought into the service of salvation, the orientation to and expression of universal love.124 The meeting community will help to begin the conversion process by creating cognitive dissonance and encouraging openness to it. Through its various means, it will gently help its members awaken to the self-centered nature of their schemas and to the damage that they do, no doubt inadvertently, as a result of that bias. It will hold before its members the goal of salvation, of metanoia leading to a life motivated primarily by love, as an achievable ideal. Having activated the dissonance-inducing recognition of what we are and what we can be, the Quaker community will then encourage conversion by providing the environment — silent worship — for understanding and resolving that dissonance through successful accommodation, and by providing as well encouragement, support, and guidance through vocal ministry, spiritual friendships, discussion groups, and other means.

Silent worship will function as a crucible of change, a time Friends devote to examining and stopping self-centered schematic bias and to discerning and submitting to love’s leading. Vocal ministry will seek to further the conversion process by arousing cognitive dissonance, offering guidance and support, and deepening the silence in which the process of salvation unfolds. Meetings for business, whether of the entire community or of subgroups such as committees, will be oriented toward the awakening and expression of the Christ-nature rather than the proffering of personal opinion and the checking off of agenda items. Education programs and discussions will be directed toward those same goals as well. Whatever the activity, Friends’ primary objective will always be to discern and respond to the love, to that of God, within ourselves and each other.

In thus committing ourselves, individually and corporately, to an understanding of the historic Quaker experience of salvation in a manner that can speak to Friends across the theological spectrum, we can indeed recover our roots, re-establish ourselves in the very heart and soul of our Quaker tradition, and move forward with a firm sense of identity, direction, and fidelity to our heritage.

[Previous: Responding to the Call] [Essay home page, including PDF download link]

NOTES for Part 9
[123] See, for example, Fox’s famous statement that “When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.” From Fox, Journal, in Vol. 1 of Works, p. 74.
[124] John Woolman: “Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, so that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.” From “A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich”, in The Journal of John Woolman, with an Introduction by John Greenleaf Whittier (Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1871), p. 293. Available on line at Google Book Search.

4 thoughts on “The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 9 — The Quaker Meeting as Therapeutic Milieu

  1. Pingback: The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 9 — The Quaker Meeting as Therapeutic Milieu | Ecumenics and Quakers

  2. Thank you, George, for this whole lucid series.

    Your conclusions speak to my concern about many modern folks who self-identify as Quakers. Since the Vietnam War and especially since the First Gulf War, many beautiful, socially concerned “secular humanists” and “spiritual but not religious” folks have flooded into Quaker meetings. Committed to progressive political issues, they are drawn to the testimonies and think that’s all there is to the Quaker way. They don’t understand that the Quaker rejection of doctrine does not mean “believe what you will.” As you write, they lack understanding of and support for the way of metanoia.

    For the 20 years since we moved away from our home meeting, I have been part of such a meeting…and yearly meeting. Sweet people, but something of a spiritual desert. I long for the reawakening you affirm.

    Blessings, Mike

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