X is for… eXperience

Okay, so I’m totally cheating here – experience begins with an E not an X and also I wrote an E for Experience post last year. However: my blog, my rules, so I can change them whenever I want, like Humpty Dumpty in the age of the internet.

Quakers talk a lot about experience – speaking from your own experience and knowing things experientially (or experimentally, as I think Fox actually said). Why is that? To understand this, I think we need to remember that alternatives. If you don’t know something from your own experience, how do you know it? Well, you might have heard someone talk about it, or have read about it somewhere, or you might just have a feeling that it is so. (We won’t worry here about which of these constitutes true knowledge and when – epistemology another day.) One of the problems faced by people at the time when Quakerism began was that they were reading the Bible in English for the first time and realising that it didn’t say what they’d been told it said, or that it hadn’t been accurately represented. This gave them an understandable reluctance to take spiritual matters on someone else’s authority.

Quakers, then, say that you can each and all have a direct connection with the Divine, with no need for someone else to help you or a special ritual. Waiting and listening is enough to hear that Still, Small Voice. You can then check what it says with the experiences of others – in your meeting, your wider community, and the experiences recorded in the Bible, for starters – but you begin with that personal and direct experience, wherever you find that, and build from there.

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