What is God? We asked 20 Quakers, here’s what they said.
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Paula Palmer: I do have a sense that all living things are in some mysterious way connected; that life itself is such a miracle. I want to feel that connection, acknowledge that connection, be conscious of it, be appreciative of it, cherish it, share it, and not define it.
What Do Quakers Believe About God?
Patricia McBee: I have a lifelong experience of hearing something speak to me and guide me. I can’t reconcile my belief in an abstract sense of God and this sense of guidance, so I have this big, rich, dizzyingly awe-inspiring abstract God and this very close presence that I can turn to and will speak to me.
A God That Transcends Understanding
Kenyatta James: My concept of God is everything that we can know but not understand. That there’s a lot in this world that we might be able to know but we don’t really understand or that we can’t replicate . For me, that energy, that power is what God is.
Jim Rose: Christ, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” That is what Quakers are convinced of and I’m convinced of, is that our journey is a journey inward. Whether you call it God, the divine, the light, there is something to be found there and it’s something that is–I don’t want to call it irrational, but the rational mind cannot cope with these things that are inexpressable, ineffable. The definition of God is not something that the rational mind can grasp. What can grasp that is only the heart.
God As an Experience
Laura Boles: God is an experience to me, it is not a belief or a concept and so I am looking to experience God in my daily life and allow myself to be a vessel for others to experience God through me. And you know when you feel it. You know when you feel it. You know when your greatest gifts as a person, as an individual are shining to their highest capacity.
Kevin-Douglass Olive: As someone once told me if I can understand God, if I can conceptualize God in God’s fullest, then that is not a God that can transform my life and bring me out of any dark night, of any hurt, habit, or hang-up.
John Moorman: The almighty being, whether it’s he or she or what that was there at creation, was there before creation. I don’t pretend to understand it but it is there. I will be seeking it until the day I die. I won’t know the answer, but I know the presence is there.
Ruth Montague: I think life is very whimsical. I think my brain isn’t really wired to really understand everything that might be or is going on and I’m okay with that. It sounds funny, but I love the word “whimsy” I think it describes… I mean, isn’t it crazy that we get to have this experience? I mean, wow. Here we are. Hm.
The Limitations of Language
Amy Kietzman: I use the word, “God” because it’s the currency, because it’s the word we use in our culture. But for many years when I write the word “God,” I write G-!-D because first of all, “God” is not God’s name. We pretend that that is the name of something, but it really… we don’t know what it is. And it’s important not to know, or not to try to know too much because it’s more about that we’re experiencing something and we have to communicate about it, so we have to have words.
Elaine Emily: I think by definition if I could define God then it wouldn’t be God because it is so much beyond whatever concept we have, but it’s a language. It’s a way to talk about these deep, important pieces of our lives. We have to start somewhere, it’s all metaphor. There’s not words for what we really know and want to communicate.
Mark Wutka: If what I think is “of God” in my heart, if someone else feels that same thing and obeys that same thing but calls it something different, maybe even calls it the subconscious, that’s not really for me to judge.
God As Love
Laura Kinnel: When I use the word God I think the closest thing I mean to what people who don’t use the word God might often understand is “love.” I think of love as something that we all know exists. Everybody believes that love exists. We’ve seen love in action. We’ve felt what it feels like to love and be loved. We’ve seen what acting in accordance with what we think love requires of us looks like.
Carter Nash: So I think of “that of God in everyone” as that of love in everyone, and so I try to relate to everyone with love. Amongst Friends, amongst Quakers, I have found that is what they do with me. They relate to me with love.
That of God in Everyone
A.J. Mendoza: There is that of God in every person. There is a fundamental equality to our faith and practice that informs everything. It informs our peace testimony. It informs how we talk to each other, as not using honorific terms, that we’re talking to each other on an equal level.
Jane Fernandes: I believe that Quakers see that of God in every person. I think that’s fundamental, and when you see that of God in everyone–that’s every one–that changes everything.
Equal Access to God
Ingrid Lakey: As a Quaker I believe that we all have access to the divine, that spirit is available to us, there is God in everyone including me, and that we don’t need an intermediary to be in contact with the divine, the divine is always with us.
Valerie Brown: God is available. When I say “God” I mean the energy of love and compassion, the absolute acceptance of all people, not a father-figure sitting on a white cloud with a long beard. That may be some people’s idea of God and that’s ok, that’s not mine.
A.J. Mendoza: That informs that there’s an equality in the meetings. God could speak through the person who has been in Meeting since they were born and is now 85, the person who just happened to walk into the meeting, didn’t really know what they were doing that Sunday morning has equal access.
Laura Goren: That it is not only men or not only people with certain educations or certain positions that can access truth, but that everyone can do that provided we try.
Listening to God
Carter Nash: When we’re gathered in silence, we are opening ourselves–we do what we call “centering down” and that is opening ourselves up to allow the spirit of God to fully take over us and if that spirit leads us to speak, then we will deliver a message.
Kri Burkander: My Mom used to sing this song about –it’s some country song I guess–about “turn the radio on, turn the dial, get right with God.” And I’m totally paraphrasing, and I should actually get the name of the song because I don’t know what the song is, but it was this idea that God’s always on the radio, you just have to tune to the right station. I really value the time in worship to turn my radio station to God. This is the time I’ve carved out of my week to sit down and just hang out with God.
Kevin-Douglas Olive: And so whether it’s the early Quakers or Evangelical Quakers or Liberal Quakers, we have a sense of a power greater than ourselves that restores us, that guides us, that brings us together, and when we come together in that reality and we seek to be humble in that reality, we find ourselves connected in an intimate way.
Eric Baker: What is that thing that challenges us to see the value in everyone else, to be people of peace in really challenging times, to be people of integrity when there are so many other voices saying, “no, you don’t have to do that.” That thing that’s moving us in that direction towards peace, towards integrity, toward real community, toward treating people with equal standards, that everyone has the light of God in them, that’s the spirit of God moving us in that direction.
- What comes to mind when you hear the word “God”? (Is it useful in your spiritual vocabulary? Why or why not?)
- How has your concept of God affected your spiritual life and practice? What do you do to nurture your relationship with God?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.