SUBUD AND THE QUAKERS… Stefan Freeman finds some similarities

George Fox, founder of the Quakers

Quakers hold several aims in common with Subud members.

• They emphasise direct experience of God rather than ritual and ceremony.

• They believe that priests and rituals are an unnecessary obstruction between the individual and God.

• They believe that our connection with the Divine is expressed through everyday actions and human relationships, as much as during a meeting for worship.

I heard that Bapak once said that the spontaneous cries and vibrations which gave early Quakers and Shakers their name was the same force as the latihan.

Elders and Helpers Face Similar Issues

Quakers have “elders”, the rough equivalent of our helpers. Apparently their egalitarian community has faced similar issues, such as elders who some perceive as domineering.

Having so much in common with Subud, including a non-evangelising policy, I wondered how Quakers dealt with enquirers. In Time Out – a London What’s On magazine – I spotted a small ad offering a free introduction to the Quakers every monday. The meeting was called Quaker Quest. I rolled up without needing to contact anyone first.

I was greeted by a smiling woman who was looking out for new people. Feeling slightly shy, I was grateful to be welcomed and asked if I knew what to expect from this introductory meeting. I did, as I’d looked online. She then invited me to have some tea – they had fruit teas too, which suited me, and some simple finger food – and then introduced me to some other enquirers.

No charge was made (just a donations bowl) which added to the sense of hospitality. There were about 21 people present. A third of them were Quakers who wore QQ badges to make it easier to identify them. I discovered that some “non-Quakers” there had already been to quite a number of these introductory meetings. This intrigued me. There is no official applicant period and no requirement to do this before attending Quaker meetings. What brought people back again?

Seeking Guidance from Within

After tea and informal chatting we were invited to sit in one circle while three speakers each gave a short talk (5 – 6 mins) about their “faith”. The first speaker was a woman in her early twenties.

The second, an agnostic scientist, who said he didn’t think in terms of “faith” but appreciated the silence and the inclusiveness of Quaker services, which accepted people of all beliefs. Quakerism – the third speaker explained – is contemporary because our world is continually changing, and the response arises from going within and seeking guidance from a place of stillness. So it is always appropriate to today.

This was followed by a question and answer time in which any Quaker present could respond. I was impressed that the various Quakers, including the speakers, gave different perspectives and yet seemed comfortable with this and with each other.

Finally we broke into small groups where we each shared something personal about where we were at in our spiritual quest. Unexpectedly, I enjoyed the whole process. Each week the short talks have a different theme and I can easily imagine – if I lived in London – coming back for more meetings and feeling a growing affinity with these open-minded people.

Validating New People without Judgement

I am not a Quaker, and hope that Subud members who attend Quaker meetings will comment on anything that’s incomplete or inaccurate in these brief impressions.

It seems to me we can learn from the Quakers, particularly from the forward looking websites and their open meetings called Quaker Quest. From Christian roots they’ve broadened into a multifaith organization.

They’ve successfully transformed their community from a seemingly “fuddy- duddy” and ageing group to a younger, contemporary one. This is partly due to Quaker peace programmes. But also because of the skillful way they welcome and validate new people, giving them an opportunity to express their own feelings and views without being “corrected” or judged. The result is a whole new generation of keen, active members.