The following are two processes from Quaker faith and practice that I really think everybody should know about. Quakers are big on committees so a lot of their ways are practiced in small groups and the work done together is considered a form of worship. Although I do find it difficult at times to work at a Quaker pace, (let’s call it, um…thorough with bursts of leisurely), I do love the deep intentionality.
Borrow these from the Quakers. Use them in your family or workplace or any group where things can sometimes become fraught.
The Clearness Committee
A Clearness Committee is a small group, generally of 3-5 people, that comes together to support an individual or couple to make a decision. Quakers will call a Clearness Committee for a person wanting to become a member of a Quaker community, a couple wanting to get married or perhaps considering divorce. Really, any life transition where measured and thoughtful actions are needed can benefit from the Quaker Clearness process. The role of the committee is to support the seeker to come to clarity by asking questions, while specifically and carefully avoiding giving advice.
Our Clearness Committee was by far my favourite part of preparing for our wedding.
The Committee gathers with the seeker and together they sit in silence for a few minutes. Then the Committee will ask gentle, open-ended questions in order to deeply understand the seeker’s situation. The seeker can choose to answer a question or simply reflect on it. If the seeker shares, the Committee will reflect back to ensure deep understanding of what was said.
The Committee should ask questions that will bring clarity. Suggested questions are those that will:
- Ground the seeker
Does the seeker feel this is a leading from spirit or some other impulse? Does the seeker feel expanded and hopeful or contracted and fearful right now? How does the seeker normally ground themselves? What has helped them through difficult situations in the past?
- Clarify the nature of the leading
What is the seeker being called to release, embrace or do at this juncture? How have they come to feel this is their calling? How does this fit into their personal or spiritual life? How does this impact those around them?
- Reinforce ways in which the seeker already feels clear
What does feel solid and stable to them at this time? Is there an underlying current that is the real issue? Is there a pattern they’re already familiar with appearing again?
- Potential benefits of the crisis or opportunity
Is there opportunity for personal or spiritual growth here? Are there benefits to themselves, their loved ones or community involved?
How will the seeker support themselves financially, emotionally, mentally, physically during this undertaking?
- Rightness of seeking support
Is it appropriate to seek professional help or engage in other programs to better prepare for the undertaking or change?
- Next steps
Is there any clear next step with which the seeker might need further support?
It’s important to remember that the Clearness Committee is not filling the role of counsellor or minister or guide. In fact, it’s often good if the Committee is comprised of someone who knows you well, someone who knows you somewhat, and someone who doesn’t really know you at all but perhaps has experience in the area of concern.
A Clearness Committee will usually meet for 2-3 hours at a time. They may meet only once, or perhaps a few more times, depending on the complexity of the issue or the desire of the seeker to be supported through their decision. Confidentiality must be assured.
If you’ve never sat in a circle with compassionate heart-centered souls whose only desire is to ask you good questions, well, in my opinion, you’re missing one of life’s richest moments. I heartily recommend the process and want to assure you that you don’t need to be a Quaker or have one present to experience the benefits.
The Committee of Care
While a Clearness Committee meets to engage a particular topic and come to clarity around specific situation, a Committee of Care is a group that gathers to support and encourage a seeker during a difficult time. The role of a Care Committee is spiritual nurture, encouragement, companionship, anchoring during difficult times, sharing of spiritual gifts and care for a seeker in need.
In other words, they are witness and helpmate during a seeker’s long dark night of the soul.
As with the Clearness Committee, the aim here is not to dispense advice, but rather to accept the seeker where they’re at. In this more conversational atmosphere, there may be more reminding happening – directing the seeker again and again back toward their own Inner Teacher.
An ability to be present in silent, loving non-judgement is really all that’s required to be a great Care Committee member. An openness to allowing creative and loving forces for Truth and Love to work their magic, perhaps through prayer, sharing of stories, poetry or song, can also be very helpful and comforting for the seeker.
It’s a good idea to agree on the number of meetings at the outset and then to check in more informally after that. There may be a feeling on the part of Committee members that they “don’t know what to do”. The thing is, there’s nothing to do other than radiate loving presence and be with the seeker. That’s all. No saving them or solving the situation. No “chin up!”, “everything happens for a reason”, or “it wasn’t meant to be”…No advice, especially! Just caring presence.
For this reason, being on a Care Committee can be uncomfortable for some. But it’s good practice for getting comfortable with silence. And it’s a generous gift to a soul in pain who doesn’t want to be alone but also doesn’t want to talk much.