Finding the God of Our Understanding

I was listening to a Sinéad O’Connor CD in the car on the way to dad’s this week. It was one of those times where I’d picked exactly the right thing and felt totally immersed in the music. The album I was listening to was ‘Faith and Courage’, a wonderfully deep and emotional collection of songs exploring relationships, family and religious faith. It ends with a hauntingly beautiful and very different Kyrié Eléison.

I love Sinéad O’Connor’s music. She is such an amazing songwriter and poet and is never afraid of complete honesty and exposure. The paths she has travelled, including with her faith, really resonate from her songs. In The Lamb’s Book of Life she describes her journey from Ireland to America and her wish that people ‘just believed enough in God to pray’ and she talks about learning from the ‘Rasta man’ how to live in peace and as one.

I, too, draw on many different spiritual and theological influences, listening for what feels ‘true’ and where God guides me. I read a lot, and meet with others in an ‘Exploring Spirituality’ group that challenges me and widens my perspectives. I have been on many retreats and quiet days. Over a decade ago now, I studied theology for a couple of years at a wonderful ecumenical college in Manchester. Oh, the joy of discovering the diversity of Christian interpretation and practice – liberation theology, pluralism, the amazing female voices of Asian feminist theology.

The difficulty in all of this is discerning (a very Quakerly word!) what is ‘of God’ and what is not. I said that I listen for what feels ‘true’. Truth is perhaps an underrated thing, and is one of the Quaker testimonies – alongside peace, equality, simplicity and stewardship of our environment. These are things we try to live by, to incorporate into our day-to-day lives.

Many people when they first discover Quakerism say they feel like they’ve always been a Quaker, or that they’ve ‘come home’. There is something about the way Quakerism embraces people’s differing and personal experiences of God and spirituality that draws us in, then holds us in this wonderful community.

When I first found the Quakers, having previously practiced my faith within the Baptist and Church of England traditions that I still dip into sometimes, I found it quite a culture shock. I went from being an extremely ‘liberal’ Christian to an ‘orthodox’ (so-to-speak) Quaker. I discovered that some people at Meeting didn’t feel comfortable, even, with the use of the word ‘God’. This was new to me! It has taken me time to have the confidence to be open to the Truth that God is giving me, and to express it in my own life and language, limited as it is. Writing this blog is both scary and exposing and can only ever be simply my viewpoint, not something I want to impose on someone else or to in anyway devalue the experience of others.

But what I’d like to share is a wonderful phrase used by a person who recently applied to become a Member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers): that for him the Quakers is a place where he is able to find ‘the God of his understanding’. Is that not something to treasure indeed? image: Charcoal butterfly

Creative Spiritual Exercise: Charcoal ‘butterfly’ that I drew at a Quaker Quiet Day


Being utterly lost in the music and power of the amazing The Madeline Rust at the local Oxjam ‘Rock Night’. I couldn’t decide between this being a ‘mad’ or a ‘marvel’ moment – it was wonderful, but I got into a bit of a trancelike state and must have looked nuts, so I’m allowing it to be both at once!

© Anne de Gruchy

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