Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - T for Tradition

In a Quaker meeting that I was a member of for many years we used to joke that something only had to be done twice to turn into a tradition. There was a serious side to this as it tended to discourage experiment, a tradition being something that was difficult to change.

This dead hand of tradition can be seen in the way some letters in The Friend speak about Yearly Meeting Gathering as if it had always been our practice, and indeed that we would be going against tradition if we did not meet in tents. As a Religious Society of Friends that believes in continuing revelation I feel that it is dangerous to our future if we allow the assertion that 'we have always done things like this' to hold us back from trying to do things differently and looking for Quaker renewal.

This is not to say that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting any study of the past as irrelevant to our Quaker future. On the contrary I feel that an understanding of the great variety of our Quaker history and of how we got to our present position can only be helpful to us now. Listening to voices from the past may give us helpful insights but should not tempt us to try to recreate those former times.

When Ann Wilson pointed Samuel Bownas out as 'a traditional Quaker' she was challenging his unthinking acceptance of the traditions in which he had been brought up. He had the form of a Quaker without any of the power within that would make him a true one. He was changed by his experience in the same way as we can be changed now.

Some traditions may serve us well, especially if we understand how they have arisen, but they are only useful if we follow them with the power as well as the form. Words from the past can help us but not if only repeated unthinkingly. They must be, as Bownas puts it, 'old matter opened in new life'. Let us not be afraid of changing traditions or of making new ones so long as whatever we do and say is led by the spirit of truth.

No comments: