Why are Quakers called Quakers? Do they literally Quake? We asked 15 modern Friends.
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- Do you quake?
- What do you know about the story of how Friends ended up with the name “Quakers”? How do you think it relates to who we are today?
Gregg Koskela: Do Quakers literally quake? Maybe occasionally, but not as a regular practice. There’s–I think it’s an apocryphal story, I’ve never seen that it’s actually been proven, but the reason that Quakers came to be known as that is in court, where they were being persecuted in England for their faith, when they would be overwhelmed by the spirit of God, they would quake in their proclaiming of the truth—their proclaiming of their innocence. But no, we don’t have regular shaking around here. Not that I’d be opposed to it, necessarily.
Do Quakers Quake?
Amy Ward Brimmer: This word “Quaker” began as an insult, as far as I understand it, because Friends were just shaking, just so filled with divine light and fervor for the spirit as they spoke publicly that, you know, they were jokingly called, “oh, those Quakers!” And I love that we took this up and said, “Yeah, I’m a Quaker. That’s right. That’s right, I’m filled with the Spirit.”
So Do Quakers Actually Quake?
A.J. Mendoza: So is the question do I sit around and quake all the time? No. [laughter] Can’t say that I do.
Jim Cavener: [laughter] I don’t quake. I think most contemporary Friends are beyond quaking in the name of the lord or whatever it was that the British jurists used as the derogatory term for early Friends—for early seekers after truth.
Valerie Brown: Quake? Do Quakers quake? Well, I’m not quite sure about quake. “Be” maybe. Yeah, to be together. There is an abundance of silence here, and a presence of what many people would call a sense of being holy. So if “quaking” is holy, then I guess we quake.
Gregg Koskela: I sort of like the idea, the original idea of quaking: that you’re so overwhelmed by the reality of the presence of God that it physically affects you. I’ve experienced that a few time in my life and would love for that to be more so, but it’s not something that I would say is a regular occurrence for us.
Tom Hoopes: I don’t usually quake in meeting. But I do know that I have had experiences of such profound transformation that my body feels like it is out of my control, and it feels good. It feels that I am surrendering myself to some power greater than my own. If you want to call that “quaking,” have at it.
Monica Walters-Field: You know, I used to say I don’t. Except I can think of about 3 experiences in my life where I actually in public said something, and I realized afterwards that I was on my feet without voluntarily being on my feet. I was on my feet, and my body in fact was representing the intensity of what I felt I had to offer, and, in fact, quaked.
Quaking During Vocal Ministry
Melody George: I do think that a message kind of burns within you, and that’s what the original Quakers meant when they talked about quaking. So I think that still happens: this sense that I really have a message burning or weighing on me that I need to share with someone else, with this group of people.
Chris Mohr: I have had the experience of quaking where I am sitting in a meeting for worship and I feel this urge to share something through words or maybe even a song, but I’m just not sure if I need to do it or not. But that sense of, “No, it’s really urgent—I must do it,” and I start a little bit of shaking and quaking.
Ashley Wilcox: The problem for me has always been that I wait too long to speak. And quaking has been a way that I know when I should speak and sometimes a way that I know when I’ve gone too long without speaking. Even if we don’t physically quake—and not all Quakers do, people feel led to speak in different ways—but even if we don’t quake in our bodies, we should always approach giving a message with fear and trembling. Because if we believe that God speaks to and through us, then that is a powerful thing and something that we should not take lightly.
Jim Herr: Oftentimes, I feel this physical feeling when I have received a message from my inner being, from God. It doesn’t happen very often. And usually, almost always, when I feel that, it means that it’s time to stand up. It’s time to tell people what you’ve just heard within you.
A.J. Mendoza: So, if anything, I feel like the quaking is a tug back and forth between spirit saying “move” and me saying, “Oh God, please let me just sit still.”
Amy Ward Brimmer: It’s a little bit like what’s been described as a panic attack, only not that bad. Some people say they feel like they are going to vomit if they don’t speak. It’s a pressure. It’s something. And then the next thing you know, you’re on your feet, and you’re saying something.
Monica Walters-Field: And so that’s how I would describe quaking. It’s an intense experience that one wouldn’t have predicted. I wouldn’t have predicted, and then you’re in this experience with such huge emotion and feeling. Sometimes I thought, “Ooh, did I really do that?” It’s a gift of the spirit, right?
Quaking With Spiritual Power
Su Penn: I do quake. I sometimes can look at my hand and see it shaking a little bit. And one of my friends said, “Oh that’s adrenaline,” and I’m sure that maybe adrenaline is like a physical thing happening in the body, but it doesn’t feel like fear. It doesn’t feel like it’s happening because of nerves. It’s like when you get your car going a little too fast on the highway and it shakes a little, it’s almost like that. Like there’s more power than I’m quite used to handling, and so there’s just this little bit of jitter until it’s discharged itself or gotten itself back under control.
Christopher Sammond: There are times when I quake, particularly when I’m called to sing. The quaking when I’m singing comes from the amount of spiritual power coming through me in the moment. It is often a lot to just stay open to and be a conduit for.
O: I’m actually doing it now. I’m quaking. And what I find, for me, is that it’s almost as if the energy of the soul in all of its power and its richness and its movement, that which has the power to create universes—finding ways to really tap, locate that energy and allowing it to come forth. It’s a power. It’s a power, and that power, in order to break through the ego structures and the racisms and the classism and the homophobia-isms and all those isms…. in order for spirit to come through that, there is this aliveness and power that pushes up and out, and the body quakes. That’s one way of accessing it. It’s actually very orgasmic. It’s kinda like an orgasm. It’s a spiritual orgasm, in some ways. In my experience anyway.
Jane Fernandes: When I became a convinced Quaker through the process I went through, it was wonderful, joyful, so great, and it was also scary. So in that sense I was a-quake. I was scared. I was scared of everything that I learned and all of the power and potential that this religion has to offer the world. It’s terrifying, and wonderful. So I think, yes, we do quake with the knowledge and responsibility that we have to walk the earth cheerfully and see that of God in every person. It’s a serious responsibility. We should be quaking about it, actually. You know what I mean?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.