Tuesday, 22 May 2007

What does many paths to the divine really mean?

Just in from work and catching up with the World Wide Quaker Community when The Friend(A British Quaker weekly newsletter) feed flashed that a new post had arrived. It was a comment from a Friend who was a member of Mensa describing why and the issues this throws up of being a Quaker. Many Friends found the elitism of the organisation a challenge.

A view that I share because I feel the organisation is based on a false premise. of what being intelligent is. I prefer to use the ideas first developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. His theory of multiple intelligences suggests that traditional notions of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.These are

Groups like Mensa, and Education in general, see intelligence as word and number/reasoning smart. Hence, they tend to value these individual attributes or skills. I worked in Further Education and used these ideas linked to NLP methods. Part of this was helping the students assess their own learning style. Many of them were amazed to discover that they were not 'thick' but learned best by doing or by self-reflection.

Now what does this mean for Quakers? How do our practices meet the needs of these diverse ways of engaging with the world? Do we in practice value and attract a high percentage of individuals who have

Linguistic intelligence ("word smart" +
Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
and so favour spoken ministry based on deep reflection and repel many who have

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")+
Musical intelligence ("music smart")+
Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
who would prefer dancing in the woods under the full moon?

Is this a bad thing or what the many paths to the divine really mean? In Friends we may have 57 variety of opinion but from afar are we more similar in the path we tread then we think?


Liz Opp said...

John, this post reminds me of a workshop I participated in, during which we looked at the types of spirituality that we might embody in our individual faith, and considering the balance of those four types within ourselves.

The workshop was based heavily on a book by Corinne Ware, who describes four spiritual types:

(1)"Head," intellectual and fed by theological study and thought-provoking sermons;

(2)"Heart," emotional and nurtured through witnessing, music, and spontaneous spiritual expression;

(3)"Mystic," contemplative and supported by meditative practices and quiet retreats;

(4)"Kingdom," visionary and strengthened by social action programs that promote idealistic causes.

I enjoy having different models, paradigms, and concepts to work with, because they allow me to get out of my own spiritual tunnel vision and help me deconstruct the "my way or the highway" judgements I have of others.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

A tenative Quaker said...

Thanks Liz, that looks really interesting. Any like you like to know how to get outside of my comfort zone

Zach A said...

Hi John,
Wonderful way of expressing something I've less articulately felt over the years - as well as heard from others, e.g. a young Friend who is a dancer and feels Quakerism has a strain of anti-body sentiment in its ethos.

Something I've been thinking that touches on this issue is how "spiritual(ity)" should be defined. To me what makes most sense is seeing spirituality or spiritual living as the pursuit of fulfilling our potential as human beings holistically, including every separable aspect of our humanity -- fulfilling our potential as ethical beings, as social beings, as emotional beings, as intellectual beings, as aesthetic beings, as beings with physical bodies, and so on.

Looked at in this way, Quakerism in the main does indeed have an imbalanced view of spirituality - emphasizing the ethical and social but IMHO often suffering from anti-aesthetic and anti-intellectual tendencies.

Warm regards,
Zach / The Seed Lifting Up

Bill Samuel said...

My reaction to the Gardner division is that it seems to leave out the spiritual element. It seems incomplete. And of course, any such division is arbitrary.

The Ware division I find more interesting. I agree that hunkering down in one type is usually unhealthy. Personally, I don't fit neatly into one. I strongly identify with 2, 3 and 4, and 1 is certainly not absent.

Unprogrammed Quakers seem to tend to concentrate on 3 and 4. But they seem to have a lot of "head" type people, even though their style doesn't seem to really accommodate that, which is interesting. And white Quakers generally seem very suspicious of heart spirituality, dating from somewhere around the turn of the 17th/18th centuries, I think.

I have a sense that very early Quakers were much more balanced among these four than most groups of Quakers since. I think there are outposts of restoring that balance, which represent hope for Quakerism.