Even though I grew up in the Quaker tradition, I don’t think I was a very good Quaker. But I was also not a bad Quaker. In retrospect I probably would say in most ways I simply was not a Quaker. I was a normal, middle class farm kid whose parents went to church like most of the families I knew. “Going to church” in my case, meant going to Quaker meeting, as we called it. If that is what you do every Sunday, it is easy to assume that is normal!
If I had gone to a Methodist church or a Catholic church, I would have claimed that as my identity: I would have been Methodist or Catholic. In all likelihood I would not have been any better at being Methodist or Catholic than I was at being Quaker. Going to church was what people did. But that did not make it important or, even, relevant in my life. After all, I was clear that basketball and girls were more important and, certainly, more relevant!
Things began to change for me late in high school. There was nothing dramatic---certainly no crisis. But that is the time in my life when I began seriously to think about what I would do in life. There were many people in my family and circle of friends who had different ideas for my life. And in some ways I probably listened too closely and tried too hard to live into their dreams for me. That usually does not work!
I dutifully went off to college and began to work on the dreams others had for me. But my heart was not in it. Paradoxically even if I succeeded in managing their dream in my life, I would be a failure. I would not be me! This did not come as a revelation. It crept into my consciousness and awareness. Little by little I started to realize I was aiming to live someone else’s life.
And that led me to a precipice. I did not know who I was. In fact, I had no clue! Of course, I had a bunch of answers and descriptors that I used to tell people who I was. But they were like clothes someone else had given me. Down deep, I did not know who I was and I did not know what I wanted to do. Being in college was not answering that at all. So I quit!
I quit college and began learning. Apparently, I don’t get big bolts of revelation or enlightenment. My discoveries and learnings seem to come at daylight rather than in the light of day. I began to notice there was an inner emptiness that lurked below all the activities, beyond all family and friends, and above any dream I might conjure for myself.
I started to suspect that we are not “man-made” as the popular myth would have it. We probably are not “woman-made” either, if we use inclusive language. Suspicions like this one launched my genuine spiritual search. I realized that a spiritual search is not the same thing as going to church. Of course, going to church might aid the spiritual search, but the two are not the same. My spiritual search was my quest for who I would be and what I might do. In other words the spiritual search was my quest for identity and purpose. I have been on this quest ever since.
To my surprise and sadness, I also realized how ignorant I was. Going to church did not mean I had learned a thing. Oh, I suppose I had learned a few things. I knew about Noah and the ark. I knew a few other things from the Bible, but they were random things that served no real purpose. They were of no help on this spiritual search. To my surprise, I realized I knew about God…but I did not know God!
But this part was crucial. Maybe I was not “man-made.” If not that, perhaps I was “God-made.” That made more sense. At that point something from some Sunday School class crept back into my mind. Those original creation stories in Genesis talked about humanity being created in the image of God. That’s it, I realized. I am a person created in the image of God.
Suddenly, I knew I had hit upon the identity question. I know who I am: I am a creature of God. I image the divinity…and so do you! I am a treasure in an earthen vessel. Maybe that is my real purpose in life: to be that treasure. My goal is to be worth something in that sense. Of course, that is not a specific assignment. But whatever specific assignment I take on---or is given to me---has to be “treasure-living” as the image of God.
I did not realize all this in a moment or, even, a short period of time. It began at the dawn of my spiritual search and has continued throughout the daytime of my life. I fully expect it to last until the dusk of my life and on into the night of my death. It has been a wonderful spiritual search…and I am still on the way.