Thursday, November 2, 2006

Quakers, queries, and torture

Friends have a curious, countercultural practice called the query. In a world where we are quick to blame others for anything that goes awry and even for our own mistakes, queries serve as a vehicle of self-examination and self-criticism. And that's what makes them countercultural.

When meditating on queries, usually presented in the form of groups of questions on a particular theme or topic, we ask ourselves how
we can change, not how we can change others. We seek out those shadowy recesses in our own heart where the Light has yet to penetrate, and we ask ourselves how we can truly be God's instruments for healing and for good in the world.

Stephen Grellet, the 18th century Quaker pastor (or perhaps it was William Penn...the attribution faded off into legend long ago) might have been responding to a query when he said:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
From the QUIT-L (discussion list for the Quaker Initiative to End Torture) I received a message written by a Friend about queries that some members of her meeting (not sure where it's located) composed concerning war and torture:
1) How does my country’s embrace of the “War on Terror,” the war on Iraq, torture and indefinite imprisonment, and the threat of attack on Iran affect my spiritual and emotional life?

2) What support do I need to help heal these spiritual wounds?

3) (for those who felt ready) Knowing that right action can be a
spiritual practice, what might the action I take on these issues look like?

The Friend went on to describe the process:
We split into groups to consider our queries, and came back to report on what had happened. The groups were relieved to have a forum to discuss their feelings. My group talked a lot about what I think of as the 5 d’s: disbelief, disconnect, disgust, disillusionment, and depression. Many felt that their sense of their country had changed from one that upheld values of morality and freedom to one that advocated fear and dissembling. We talked about the need not to sit in our individual places of despair, but to reach out and talk to others about these issues, to draw strength from one another. Some remembered other struggles and declarations of war that continued for years, and one person acknowledged that some struggles—for example, those of slavery and suffrage—went far longer than the lifespans of those who started them. Some spoke of the inspiration of those people who fought so hard for the freedoms we have now. We talked about how many are silent because we do not think others will listen or agree.

The group wanted more. More discussions, more opportunities to explore what to do next. And I was heartened that I was not alone in my pain. And I want to encourage you not to be silent. I know there is a lot to work on, and we have to marshal our resources, each one of us, to live and do the most important things for us. But if torture, or our war in the Middle East, is making you uneasy, consider speaking out, or taking one more step than you have. If you have a faith community, perhaps engage them in your concern. Talk to your friends, singly or in groups. Let your elected officials know what you do and don’t want done in your name...
I can't add much to the Friend's witness, except to say that whatever "right action" someone might take will proceed not from anger, outrage, or revulsion (all normal, natural feelings, but which need reflection before being acted upon) but out of a prayerful heart.

If you're interested in joining QUIT-L,visit
the contact page.

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