While waiting for a voice from Lithuania to respond to my blog questions, I took a detour this spring into genealogy and a new project: a novel set in a Quaker community in pioneer Iowa.
No, I am not a Quaker. However, a number of my early Scotch-Irish American ancestors were. Three of them were named Malachai, which makes genealogy research considerably more challenging. One of these men, so the family legend goes, was married to a Native American woman from North Carolina. I’m still working on that link.
Before I got too deep into the novel, I realized I needed to learn more about Quaker life. I am lucky that my 90-year-old cousin has handed down to me a fascinating collection of oral histories along with her life’s work on local genealogy. What is most interesting to me is finding out my Iowa Quaker relatives were station agents on the Underground Railroad. They were also accepting of and had close relationships with local Indian tribes.
Much has been written about the stalwart men who brought their families to places like Iowa to “settle.” Little, though, has been written from the point of view of the women who accompanied them. This realization became the nugget for my story, one I hope will weave together the voices of women – Native and Quaker – into a novel that spans generations. That's the goal, at least.
In order to lace facts into story form, in order to build my credibility, I need a solid understanding of the times. Quaker times. Which is okay, because I love research.
Recently I stumbled upon a book that is providing grounding for this pursuit. Chocked full of glimmers into the obscure religion of my ancestors, the book is surprising me with its timely tenants. In light of what is happening in America today, I find a number of these beliefs to be uplifting and relevant.
12 Insights into Quaker Belief and Wisdom
- Quakerism has no theology, no body of religious dogma, no sacred books, no written creed, or liturgy. Worship does not involve a minister, priest, or another religious leader. In Quaker Meetinghouses, there are no crucifixes or other religious images displayed.
- Friends (Quakers) do not accept the idea of original sin. They also don’t believe in a personal God who rewards and punishes.
- Quakers worship in collective silence because they believe that is when wisdom begins.
- Speaking the truth is deeply ingrained in Quaker belief. To emphasize its significance, they spell it with a capital “T”. Because of their belief in speaking the truth, Quakers have always refused to take the oath in a court of law as they see themselves already speaking the truth.
- President Nixon, who was a Quaker, is universally disliked by Quakers because he did not speak the truth.
- When harboring fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, Quakers were careful not to lie to authorities. If a Quaker took food to a runaway slave, they did it in total darkness so, when asked if they had seen any slaves, they could honestly reply, “No.” Quakers also routinely replied, “There are no slaves here,” because it was their belief that no human being could be a slave.
- The Quaker ideals formulated in the seventeenth century remain largely unchanged and include the valuing of racial and gender equality, promoting social justice, and nonviolence, which is sometimes supported by civil disobedience. As Quakers would say, "Let your life speak."
- Using the words “thee” and “thou” is not an affected or antiquated way of speaking for Quakers. Rather, it is a logical expression of their egalitarianism for all people, regardless of gender or status.
- Quakers regard simplicity as a virtue. They believe making life simpler does for the mind what exercising does for the body.
- Upon coming to the New World, Quakers saw that earlier settlers were exploiting the native population. Quakers, however, treated the Indians justly by paying a fair price for land they owned. Because of this, Quakers lived peacefully with the Indians in what was considered hostile Indian territory.
- Because of their staunch pacifist beliefs, Quakers were once persecuted, jailed, and even killed. Although most Quakers are still pacifists, many have served in the military. Those who serve believe they are following their own truth or conscience by fighting the forces of evil in the world. More than half of the draft-eligible Quaker men in the United States served in World War II.
- In 1947, The American Friends Service Committee became the first organization to win a Nobel Peace Prize for its ongoing efforts to bring peace to the world.
If you are interested in reading more about Quakerism, check out the book I'm reading:
A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense, written by Robert Lawrence Smith. You can find it on Amazon.
If you have a book you'd like to recommend on the subject, please let me know.
Thanks for reading Talking to the World.