By Madeline Schaefer
I have never quite identified with the idea of a "leading" in Quakerism--perhaps because it is a term that the Society has chosen to define as such, and in a specifically spiritual way. But I have always experienced "leadings" as a direct result of being alive, being human. Spirituality is woven into every bit of our lives, of course; but I was always deeply concerned growing-up that these Quaker leadings were something that only the most pure in our religion could understand. I have since come to understand that leadings, even the deep ones, are not truths to be magically uncovered, but teased out through the process of questioning and of living.
Our lives are filled with leadings--every moment is pushing us towards an existence that is satisfying, joyful, true. It is often not difficult to understand our passions, desires and callings on a day to day basis. But which passions to follow, what voices to hear, what paths to take? Sometimes the role of a leading is simply to provide a base from which to understand the falsity of a current decisions. But leadings, even if they are not followed, or followed foolishly, are always present in our lives. It is our responsibility to have faith and follow, follow, follow.
Often life can feel like a swing from periods of total confidence and assurance, to periods of change and chaos. Having faith that our leadings will sort themselves out if we only listen to the answers provided, is crucial for entering into those periods of stability. But many leadings may once again fill our lives; and our experience of faithfulness in the past, and reflecting on what we learned to be true, will help guide us through those periods of turmoil again and again.
Which brings me to my own "leadings," particularly those of my recent past. In many respects I had to learn how to "take hold" of my leadings after graduating college; no one was going to force me into any particular institution or situation; I was in charge now. Of course my life had been full of decisions up until that point--where to go to college was a major one of those--but for the most part I never had to ask myself where God was taking me.
After graduating college I realized that I had a role to play in this "leading" business--I had to understand that God is not just a force outside of us, but provides the power within us to make bold decisions and move forward in our lives.
When I decided to go to New Zealand after college, it was not because I felt "led" in any kind of long-term, this is who I am and this is what I'm going, kind of way; but rather I felt everything line up accordingly. If I hadn't received a scholarship, or engaged in a friendly correspondence--if I hadn't had faith--I would have never made it over there. I made a decision, started working towards it, and followed the good energy.
Does that approach sound frightfully "un-spiritual"? I would argue that it is deeply so. For spirituality is not something to be attained, but something to be used in this messy stomp through life. We stomp as gracefully as we can, while enjoying the mud along the way.
Madeline Schaefer lives in Philadelphia. She is the founder and host of the Quaker podcast series, Friend Speaks My Mind.