The Ground of Love: Reflections from a Quaker on Interfaith Learning

Sitting at my kitchen table, looking out into the bird yard deep in snow, I find my mind flitting like the birds from branch to feeder and to the ground. What might I have to add from a Friends (Quakers) perspective on interfaith dialogue?

Quakers are widely known as one of the peace churches having grown out of England in the mid-seventeenth century. They arose in a period of great turmoil, and from the earliest of days, proclaimed as James Naylor did in his ministry about the Lamb’s (the Quaker touched by direct communion with God) war:

And as they war not against men’s persons, so their weapons are not carnal, nor hurtful to any of the creation; for the Lamb (the Quaker ) comes not to destroy men’s lives, nor the work of God, and therefore at his appearance in his subjects, he puts spiritual weapons into their hearts and hands: their armor is the light, their sword the Spirit of the Father and the Son; their shield is faith and patience; their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God. 

It is not just the clarity that Friends share that using weapons will not bring ultimate justice or avenge wrong doing without creating more harm, but the certain knowledge that springs from direct communion with God.

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

– Isaac Penington

The ground of love becomes the foundation of all relationships. Sitting in silent meeting for worship this past Sunday, Douglas Steere’s phrase mutual irradiation came to mind. He was a well know public Friend in the 20th century, actively engaged in encounters with other faith traditions around the world in his travels for Friends for a over two decades. His pamphlet Mutual Irradiation, A Quaker View of Ecumenism, published in 1971 affected me deeply at the time. Since then the phrase mutual irradiation has come back many times as a powerful expression of the power of presence and listening on to another. Steere labels Mutual Irradiation as a form of mutual sharing in which “one is willing to expose oneself with the great openness to the inward message of the other, as well as to share one’s own experience, and to trust that what ever is the truth in each experience will irradiate and deepen the experience of the other.” The joy of opening in connection to one another moves beyond holding each other at arms length, with determination that one already know the other or even one’s own faith tradition in a fixed way.

When Steere questioned Martin Buber about the secret of the “amazing interfaith gatherings” in Berlin in the 1930”s in which Quakers took part, Buber is quoted as saying “Rucksichtlosigkeit”, (ruthless frankness in pressing the argument to its furthest conclusion). In our dialogue then we are invited to go beyond to a deeper dimension of understanding not only of another tradition but one’s own, by the light shining out of another form of faith. No only though tenderness, but frank openness about our differences, which in itself has the potential to spark illumination of deeper truth.

-by Julie Forsythe

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