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Meeting for Reading: Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly

Meeting for Reading is a quarterly column from the Friends General Conference Book Musings newsletter. It reviews new and forthcoming books intended to nurture spiritual deepening among Friends. The books selected are particularly useful to Meeting book discussion groups.

Meeting for Reading: Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly

Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly: Modern Quakers as Everyday Prophets. By Margery Post Abbott. Inner Light Books, 2018.

“What we need—and what the world needs from us—are those moments of clarity in which we Friends reclaim the passion, the love, the commitment, the strength, the sense of community and the awareness of the Presence in which our Quaker ancestors lived.”

By Ellen Michaud

To read Marge Abbott’s new book Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly is to seamlessly step into that deep well of Presence that is always within, always waiting to be sensed, always waiting to hold us in the deepest awareness of an unimaginable love.

It is also to hear the stories of Friends from around the globe— young and old, past and present, liberal and conservative, evangelical and those still searching for definition—as they speak with a clarity and depth that gently drops us into the life of the Spirit, then calls us to face the everyday challenges of conflict, oppression, hate, and, yes, inexplicably, the judgment of the person sitting next to us on the meetinghouse bench.

As Marge tells it, the impetus for her book arose out of a growing awareness that those of us raised, as she was, on secular anti-war and other protest movements have learned that these movements are not enough to effect social change by themselves in today’s climate of hate.

Today, with snarls of venom tossed into the air we breathe by television, radio, film, newspaper, cell phone, and the shopper standing next to us in front of the oranges at Costco, what we need—and what the world needs from us—are those moments of clarity in which we Friends reclaim the passion, the love, the commitment, the strength, the sense of community and the awareness of the Presence in which our Quaker ancestors lived.

It is only then, Marge seems to suggest, that we can truly create meaningful change.

In Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly Marge gives us the tools to reclaim who we are. In part, she simply brings us together in front of all the tools we already have at our disposal, but which have perhaps grown rusty from having been stored in the meetinghouse toolshed too long, or been left lying in the untilled garden that was once intended to feed the hungry.

But she also gathers new tools used by 60 or so Friends whose stories she has pulled from around the globe so that they might reignite our passion and commitment, and encourage us to new ways of thinking about the challenges we face as we try to live into our testimonies and, perhaps, a new way of being. 
She includes Eileen Flanagan from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, who organized the Earth Quaker Action Team that, quite literally, stopped mountaintop removal in Appalachia for coal by targeting its funding source in Philadelphia. As Marge relays Eileen’s words:

We are really experimenting with how to bring our spirituality into action while being welcoming and accessible to non-Quakers, including many young people who have found a spiritual home with us, not because we talk about God but because they have experienced a powerful connection to the Divine in action.

Marge also holds up Martin Kelly, the senior editor of Friends Journal, who uses blogging on his site the Quaker Ranter as a tool to hold Friends feet to the fire when we go astray. He points out, for example, that Friends “…unconsciously exclude many people from our community while boasting of being open and inclusive.” As Marge quotes from his work:

The Liberal branch of Friends spends a lot of time congratulating itself on being open, tolerant and self-examining and yet as far as I can tell we’re the least ethnically-diverse branch of American Quakers…We need to re-examine and challenge the unwritten norms of Quaker culture that don’t arise from faith. 

Others scattered across nearly every page of her book—Brian Drayton of New England Yearly Meeting, Moses Bigirimana of Kibimba Yearly Meeting, Paul Buckley of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, C. Weiss Daniels of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting, Lloyd Lee Wilson of North Carolina Yearly Meeting [Conservative], Esther Mombo of Highland Yearly Meeting—also offer new tools with which to frame and complete our work.

Marge calls these people “everyday prophets”—a term that will no doubt cause discomfort among those Friends who can remember a time, particularly in the mid-20th century, when many people who publicly labeled themselves as prophets, were far from it.

But listen to how Marge defines everyday prophets—as “…a people who seek to pay attention to the nudges and visions of the Spirit on a daily (or even minute-by-minute) basis, to live in accord with the guidance they receive, and to help others know this Inward Teacher and Holy Guide.”’

On page after page, through nearly 500 pages covering 38 topics, each with queries for discussion, and with 58 pages of appendices offering resources that include essays from Friends like Bill Taber and Brian Drayton, Marge encourages us to remember that this is who we are at our core.

We are a people who have opened ourselves to that which is Holy, listened deeply, known that we are exquisitely loved, believed we are led, and served those without voices for over 300 years despite torture, imprisonment, burning, whipping, social isolation, and separation no matter what the odds.

Marge calls us to be who we are. And in this day and age—as ego and evil walk hand in hand across the globe—how can we be anything less and serve as we are led —with, as Marge so rightly reminds us—boldness and humility?

It is only when we have reclaimed the passion, the love, the commitment, the strength, and the awareness of the Presence in which our Quaker ancestors lived, then, and only then can we truly make a difference in today’s world.

Buy Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly on QuakerBooks.org


Ellen Michaud is an award-winning author and editor who has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, and Prevention Magazine, where she was the editor-at-large for six years. Her book Blessed: Living a Grateful Life (Readers Digest) was named the #1 Spiritual/Inspirational Book of the Year by USA Book News. Ellen is also a past writer-in-residence at Earlham School of Religion.


Read Chapter 36 of Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly here. Excerpt is shared with permission of the publisher, Inner Light Books. Copyright 2018 Margery Post Abbott.

WATCH: Author Margery Post Abbott delivers "Everyday Prophets," the 2016 Backhouse Lecture

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