This text is from Chapter 11 of Faith & Practice, the book that provides guidance for Friends in New England Yearly Meeting.
… so far as [our gracious Creator’s] love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable—that to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.
John Woolman (date unknown)
The advices and queries elsewhere in this book help us to discern what God is asking of us in specific areas of our lives. These general advices and queries challenge us to turn to the Inward Teacher and to nurture faithfulness as a foundation for every thought and action. We seek the particular ways we might be led to serve the one common interest of which Woolman speaks, both as individuals and as meetings, “turning all we possess into the channel of universal love.”
Advices convey the wisdom gained from the inward experiences of Friends trying to live faithfully in the Light. They may reassure us, counsel us, or challenge us. Queries are tools directing us toward the Source of guidance as we reflect on our current condition, as individuals or as meetings. They elicit responses, but not answers. The value of the queries lies in our thoughtful consideration of them, recognizing both the response that rises out of our current condition and the one that expresses our aspirations. Bringing these two responses together is a continuing challenge as we strive to live faithfully. While we may formulate queries related to particular situations, these general advices and queries can be used again and again as a spiritual tool as we grow and change.
It is a common practice for meeting communities to use the advices and queries for inspiration and as a guide for reflection on their spiritual health. Some meetings read an advice and/or a query in meeting for worship or meeting for business. Other meetings have special gatherings to consider a query or a set of queries, where Friends can speak their thoughts and personal experiences during a period of worshipful listening.
Individual Friends use the advices and queries as part of their personal devotional practice and as tools for self-examination, finding both inspiration and challenge in them.
Pray with advices and queries; hold them in your hearts. Consider each of them at some time. Feel which speak to you, challenge you, show you the way. When a query could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” go further and ask “why,” “how,” or “when.”
- Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Seek to live in affection as true Friends in your meetings, in your families, in all your dealing with others, and in your relationship with outward society.
- Seek to lead others to Truth through love. Let us teach by being ourselves teachable. We are all humble learners in the school of Christ.
- Do not fear periods of doubt and questions; they may lead to openings.
- Make space in your daily life for communion with God and for spiritual nurture through prayer, reading, meditation, and other disciplines which open you to the Spirit.
- No one human being or group has the full measure of the Light. Seek to understand the experience of those whose theology and practices differ from your own. Take opportunities to enter into prayer and work with the wider community of faith. Find ways to articulate your own faith so that it may be shared with others.
- Ground your spiritual life in your own experience of the Divine. Speak and act from that experience.
- Trust that the Inner Light can lead us beyond our individual perceptions and desires into action grounded in God’s truth.
- Stand still, wait for divine guidance, then act.
- Attend to the Spirit at work in the ordinary activities and experiences of your daily life. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Be open to and alert for how the Spirit may be speaking to you in fresh ways, leading you in new directions.
- Examine your leadings through a process of discernment to determine whether or not they are grounded in the Spirit. Test your discernment with your faith community.
- Be alert to how “way opens.” It may be revealed through a door closing.
- Be grateful for the gifts you have. Neither be too proud of them nor value them too little. Do not waste time coveting the gifts of others.
- Offer up your time, talents, energy, and resources for God’s guidance in their use. You may find yourself called to work for which you feel you have no gift. With prayer and discernment you will understand how to respond to the call.
- Let your life speak.
- Remember that love is a gift of the Divine, not simply a human emotion. As imperfect human beings we are not always able to feel loving toward one another, but by opening ourselves to the Light Within, we can receive and give love beyond our human capacity.
- Attend to what love requires of you.
The following are advices of New England Yearly Meeting Young Adult Friends, inspired by their experience at the 2005 World Gathering of Young Friends in England and Kenya. (See NEYM 2006 Sessions, Minute 51, p. 21–22.)
Talk about your spiritual journey explicitly. Find words for that which is hard or strange.
Evangelize. Spread the good news.
Never be absolutely sure that you are right.
Abandon your forms when they do not fulfill God’s will.
Find in your faith things to live humbly by and to die for.
Do your work. Call others to do theirs.
With your sins and the sins of your parents: admit them, repent them, heal the wounds.
Read the Bible.
Have joyful worship. Do not always be somber.
Face your fears and your powerlessness. Have faith.
Know who you are spiritually, and trust God to know where you are going.
Deny the distractions. Follow only God.
Love boldly. Share deeply.
Forgive and forgive and forgive.
Queries for Individuals and Meeting Communities
Ask yourself: Am I down in the flaming center of God? Have I come into the deeps, where the soul meets with God and knows His Love and power? Have I discovered God as a living Immediacy, a sweet Presence, and a stirring, life-renovating Power within me? Do I walk by His guidance, …knowing every day and every act to be a sacrament? (Thomas Kelly 1966)
- How does Truth prosper among you?
- "You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”
- Do you allow the Inward Teacher to work in you? Are you teachable?
- Is every aspect of your life open to the transforming power of God? What stands in the way?
- Are you open to the many ways Spirit may speak to you?
- Do you recognize divinely inspired insight? Can you distinguish between divine leadings and your own needs or desires?
- To whom or to what are you accountable?
- How does your faith relate to the Christian heritage of the Religious Society of Friends?
- What do Jesus’ life and ministry mean to you?
- Do you look for opportunities to deepen your understanding of the history and testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends? Do you inform yourself about the diversity of Friends’ theology and practice? The space within Quakerism is graciously large. Where are its boundaries?
- What calls us into a Religious Society? Do we grow together in faithfulness?
- Do you listen for the Spirit even when the words are foreign to you? Is your own understanding of God enriched by other people’s experiences of the Divine?
- Do you use your time, energy, resources, gifts, and material possessions in the service of God’s love?
- Are you ready to respond to any concern God may lay upon you, large or small?
- Do you maintain an appropriate balance among work, service, worship, family, and recreation? Are you ready to rest if God asks it of you?
- What does love require of you?
By truth I mean truth with a capital ‘T,’ as it often appears in early Quaker writings. …
The genius of the Queries is that they will engage us wherever we are, spiritually and physically. … Of necessity Queries are stuck in the moment in time at which they were written down, and sometimes their wording seems archaic or the issues they address are not phrased as we would phrase them today. I would suggest that this is not a shortcoming, and that our efforts to wrap our understanding around the Queries and make them real to us in this moment and place are part of the process of revelation.
… The Advices are the voice of earlier generations of my faith community, passing on their wisdom to those embracing the faith in the present day. They inspire me because I know in my heart the effort these Friends made to live up to them in their day; they challenge me because they are an unambiguous declaration that our inward spiritual condition will inevitably shape and direct our outward lives. If I cannot live in harmony with any part of the Advices, I must undertake a serious self-examination to see whether I am straying from these underlying principles, or am lacking the courage to put my faith into action. (Lloyd Lee Wilson 2005)
Individual Experiences with Advices and Queries
“You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”
This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves.” (Margaret Fox in George Fox 1694)
I was impacted by these spiritually directed questions this past week when I purchased a new/used bike for my commute. As I was trying to customize the bike to fit my needs I continued to battle the desire to really trick it out, add some of the really nice (i.e., expensive) parts to it to make it extra sweet. One query kept running through my head though, prompting me to wait and consider the choices I was about to make.
Do I recognize when I have enough?
See I’ve reflected on that query a few times in my morning prayer time and it came back to me at the most inopportune time! But I took it seriously and considered it. Because of it I changed my mind about some of the things I was going to do because they were beyond what I really needed. And that’s it, spiritual formation consists in stopping, reflecting and considering where our lives in Christ fit into the choices we make on a daily basis. This process takes a lifetime and I need all the help I can get. (C. Wess Daniels 2006)
[Query pre-1832] “Are they preserved in love and unity with one another, harmoniously laboring for the advancement of Truth, and the spreading thereof?”
O! The thorough convincement of what the truth is; the allegiance to it; the oneness of heart and mind; the brotherly confidence, which must have been to a large extent the happy experience of Friends in those days, to warrant them in issuing so near, so intimate a Query as this! Alas! There is no such freedom, no such courage now…
[Query 1832] “Are Ministers and Elders preserved in love, and in unity one with another, endeavouring in harmony to promote the advancement and spreading of the truth?”
By the revision of 1860 all that remains to be answered as a query are the first few words, “are they preserved in love?”… [He objects to the reason given for this change, part of which states] “it has sometimes been felt difficult to tenderly sensitive minds to assent to a clear affirmative reply to this Query and the attempt to qualify the answer to meet such cases has tended rather to endanger that harmony, which it is the object of the Query to promote.”
Here again by a plausible frame of words, is a case of difficulty evaded and not met; the precious cause of Truth and of harmony therein, is affectedly promoted, but in reality dishonoured and let down. It is made to appear by the above extract that no particular disunity had existed among Ministers and Elders, except such as what is ascribable for its origin to the “tenderly sensitive” condition or constitution of some minds. Oh! How deeply specious, how far from the simplicity of candour, is such language as this! (Daniel Pickard 1864)
Corporate Responses to Queries in Meetings for Business
Friends have differing responses to and interpretations for many of the terms of the queries, such as worship, Holy Spirit, communion. Some described waiting with expectation or excitement, others more with openness, seeking to be “awake,” sometimes with restlessness or fear. Some wait filling the silence with prior insights, familiar passages or memories. We are at different stages of learning to be silent. One looks forward to “clarity of word and thought,” and is uplifted by that of others. One misses more verbal communication, and another fears that the Divine might be spoken and not recognized. (Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 1998–2006)
Query 2. How can we openly engage with the diverse Quaker theology within our Yearly Meeting?
Many Friends and attenders seem to feel that a disinterest in theology is a requirement for being a Quaker. Others are very disturbed by this disinterest. The Consultation and Renewal Working Group believes that this Query raised the number one issue in Canadian Yearly Meeting—whether our diversity is causing us to become an “anything goes” religion and will eventually result in us losing a coherent identity. Most Friends believe that we should be open to diverse theology and different points of view; however we tend not to engage with our diversity. We keep our points of view to ourselves because we often get burned by unpleasant or hurtful responses from others when we share. This seems to affect Christians more than others; e.g., “I believe in Jesus, but I wouldn’t think of mentioning it in a Quaker meeting.” Christians feel silenced because it too often happens that others say (even in response to ministry in Meeting for Worship) that they are offended by Christian language. When asked about non-Christian/Christocentric tension most Friends agreed that it has created difficulties in their group and that the Christians are the ones leaving. This was often connected with the baggage that Friends and attenders have brought with them from other churches. Very few of us were born into Quaker families. We study our history because of difficulty with defining ourselves in the present.
On the whole appreciation was expressed for diversity of thought and practice. In fact, there was a strong sense that diversity is our main strength and attraction, along with the practice of being “tolerant” and “non-judgmental.” Our lack of creed and dogma, and the opportunity for each person to shape their own spiritual path is very important to Canadian Friends. Along with this is appreciation for the testimonies which were sometimes seen as the alternative to a creed. Some thought that we tend to use our testimonies as a creed. Alongside all the praise for diversity was a small but persistent voice that said yes but, we can’t be all things to all people and we do have commonly held values which we should openly adhere to.
[New query written by C’nR] Can we learn to worship together using the different languages of our diverse beliefs and traditions? (Consultation and Renewal Working Group 2006)
Query #7: Do we endeavor to live in the life and power that takes away the occasion of all war, seeking to do our part in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups, and nations? Do we faithfully maintain our testimony against nuclear and all other military preparations, the bearing of arms, and all participation in war?
Rich Square Monthly Meeting: Our sense is that as a meeting we strive to be clear under the headings of this query. We recognize that being in harmony with all human beings requires being in harmony with the Divine. But we are constantly aware of areas in our lives in which we see the challenges in the query. There are always new parts of our lives that are opening for examination, such as disharmony with our place in Creation which can be occasion for discord and war. (North Carolina Yearly Meeting [Conservative] 2007)
The clerk invites Friends to reflect on the question “What are our hopes and expectations for the new clerk and meeting for business this year?”
Friends expressed a deep understanding of and appreciation for the spiritual foundations of Quaker decision-making and the way we conduct our meetings for business within the context of worship. Many see meeting for business as an essential component of the Quaker experience and express hope that more of our community will be drawn into this aspect of Mt. Toby life.
It is important to find ways to let the meeting community as a whole understand what goes on in meeting for business beyond just reading the minutes. Attention to business is an underpinning of Quaker practice. In participating in meeting for business we understand how decisions are made. We see the respect that people have for each other and how we are guided by the spirit.
The regular change of leadership allows different clerks to exercise various gifts over time in the life of the meeting. The Quaker belief in continuing revelation is as true in meeting for business as it is in worship. The form is old and beautiful but there are still opportunities for innovation and new perspectives. Ideally our committees also function with a sense of ministry so that issues they bring forward to the clerk and to meeting for business are well seasoned and ready for discernment.
Friends appreciate the dedication of so many of our members who attend meeting for business year after year, decade after decade, and have carried with such commitment this body of care, concern, and action. It is important for those of us who have come more recently to embrace that commitment with more passion. It is important for us to come not out of obligation but because we see the value of it in the life of our meeting. Our hope is that meeting for business will instill a spirit in us that we can carry out in our daily life and in all our dealings with others. (Mount Toby Monthly Meeting 2008)
History of the Advices and Queries
Advices first appeared in the form of epistles sent among Friends to encourage and strengthen one another in their faith. The earliest surviving collection of Advices was issued from Balby in England in 1656.
Queries originally related to specific items of information requested of local meetings from central bodies of Friends. In New England Yearly Meeting queries began in 1706 as “Inquiries” and were just that—inquiries into how faithfully Friends were adhering to “truth testimony.” By the 1740s, the Queries had expanded to include reports on the spiritual state of the meeting, the number of new convincements, and Friends’ faithfulness on matters such as refusing to bear arms and plainness of speech and apparel. Right community behavior was clearly set out in Yearly Meeting minutes, which were later collected as a Book of Discipline. The advices carried the weight of “correct” responses to the inquiries, and this correctness was often gauged by behavior. There were consequences for “incorrect” responses, including disownment of those continuing in unacceptable behavior.
New England meetings used the London queries until 1760, when the Yearly Meeting adopted its own queries. The Yearly Meeting directed that the answers sent through the quarterly meetings to Yearly Meeting should be “full and explicit, comprising the substance of every part of each query, in order that this meeting, being rightly informed of the state of the church in general, the needful advice and assistance may be duly administered.”
In current New England practice, the queries are used as tools for personal and corporate spiritual self-reflection. We turn to our advices as a guide to the well-ordered, Spirit-centered life, cherishing the insights of generations of Friends who have come before us. We trust the Spirit to show us how the unchanging principles of truth they contain are to be understood and lived by us in our present situations.