Lacking catechism or creed, Quakers have always relied upon Friends’ spiritual autobiographies to provide dynamic examples of our faith, from George Fox to John Woolman and beyond. “If you think about it,” says Don McCormick, “some of the most influential books in the history of Quakerism were spiritual autobiographies.”
Don recently taught a course on writing spiritual autobiography at his meeting, and made some important discoveries about himself in the process. “I began to realize that the spirituality in my life also has to do with the quality of my relationships,” he explains. “There was more spirituality infused in my life than I had realized… And I am just loving revisiting that and thinking about it and doing it.”
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A while back I taught a course on spiritual autobiography — writing a Quaker spiritual autobiography for my meeting and right now I’m kind of digging more deeply into that and I just find it fascinating. I wanted to write one myself and so I used the course as a way to do that, and there’s something about looking at your whole life and looking at the trends and movement and where you’ve been led that really brings you face to face with the meaning of your life.
Writing a Spiritual Autobiography
My name is Don McCormick and I live in a little town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains called Grass Valley, and I attend Grass Valley Friends Meeting.
The Significance of Spiritual Autobiographies in Quakerism
The whole thing about Quaker spiritual autobiography goes way back to the 1660s because unlike the Catholics who have a catechism or unlike, say, other Protestant sects that have creeds, we don’t have those, and so how do you learn to be a Quaker? Well, one of the main ways back then and still now is by reading spiritual autobiographies; seeing how other Quakers dealt with real problems in ways that are Quaker, and they were a bit more essential back then but we wrote just a tremendous number of them. There are lots and lots of Quaker spiritual autobiographies at the time, and if you think about it some of the most influential books in the history of Quakerism (George Fox’s journal and John Woolman’s journal) were spiritual autobiographies. So there’s a unique kind of connection between spiritual autobiography and Quakerism.
As I was doing the writing and hearing what other people were saying I began to realize that there were parts of my life that I hadn’t even recognized were part of my spiritual life. You know you have to ask the question about spiritual aspects of our life when you’re doing a spiritual autobiography and I began to realize that, you know, there are things happening that seem more mundane– originally I just focused on things like spiritual practices like meditation, meeting for worship, and organizations that I was in, but then I also began to realize that the spirituality in my life also has to do with the quality of my relationships. Kindness and love — yeah, there’s kind of an everyday quality about that that I had been missing, so it helped me to realize that there was more spirituality infused in my life then I had realized having to do with relating with my family, the kind of open heartedness that happened as I was in relationship with my son. And I am just loving revisiting that and thinking about it and doing it.
- 1) What would you include in your spiritual autobiography?
- 2) What’s an aspect of your spiritual life that “may seem more mundane” or everyday?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.