On lazy summer afternoons, I've been taking my youngest son to the swimming pool for lessons. I'd while away the hour with my knitting as he learned his strokes.
Other mothers would strike up conversations. We'd chat about children and menus and all those things that moms talk about at their children's lessons. I participated lazily, one eye on my son and the other on my knitting.
One day, one of the other mothers hesitantly asked if I thought she could learn to knit.
"Absolutely," I replied.
Her grandmother had tried to teach her, but she was left-handed and it hadn't worked out.
"I'm left-handed," I said.
She really wanted to learn to knit, she said, because she was trying to quit smoking and she needed something to do with her hands.
I told her I'd be happy to teach her to knit. I loved the idea of helping a human soul free herself from the false god nicotine. A simple act of service, and all I needed to to was to share something I loved.
After I'd taught her to cast on and form her stitches, we sat in my living room and knit companionably. She started talking about her belief in a Higher Power and asked me if I went to church.
"Yes," I said, having learned that it is simpler to call Meeting "church" when talking to non-Quakers, "we're part of the Santa Cruz Quaker Meeting."
"There are still Quakers?" she asked, "What do you believe?"
"Well," I said, sifting through my mind for a concise-yet-essential description, "we believe that each person has a direct relationship with God. We sit in Meeting together and wait for God to speak to us, in our hearts."
"But that's what I believe!" she said, "Are Quakers Christians? Do you follow the Bible?"
"We started as Puritans," I explained, "The early Quakers believed very much in the Bible, but they also believed that Christ had come to teach his people himself. That inner teaching, that direct connection with God was very important to them. Over time, Quakers have become more universalist, but our roots are very much Christian."
I did not get into the different varieties of Quakers. If I'm given the opportunity to proselytize my Quaker faith, I'm going to speak that bit of Light that's been given to me, and not worry overmuch about representing Quakerdom as a whole.
Later, as I was thinking about this exchange, I thought, "We're not the early Quakers. It's a bit fusty, really, to cling so much to words from the 17th century." The tune to a song from my childhood called The Now Sound of Christmas went through my head. "What we need is The Now Sound of Quaker."
"We are the Quakers," I thought, "what can we say?"
My authentic experience doesn't read like a travelogue through 17th-century England. I don't have the epiphanies they had, the leadings they had, or the struggles they had. I sometimes question my small leadings, wondering whether they're really Quakerly enough to be called leadings. I am led to help women kick the habit, protect children from abuse, promote breastfeeding, promote home birth, and give away canvas grocery sacks. Can any of those things really count as 21st century Quaker witness?
If not, what can? What constitutes the now sound of Quaker?