One of the most famous Quaker phrases is “seek and way will open.” If you’re like me, the first thing that grabs your attention is the missing “a”. We don’t see for “a way”. In dropping that little letter, Friends move from an active seeking for a way, to a more open seeking, in which “way” becomes something mysterious. “Way” is not a result, not something sought for. Rather it is the accomplishment of faithfulness; the surprising unfolding of an opportunity one had not contemplated when the seeking began. Like so much about the Society of Friends, it is a phrase laden with hope couched in the simplest language.
In practice, it can be a difficult journey: fraught with doubt, despair, heartbreak. Friends are not given a locus, a way, to search for. We are to hang our threadbare existence on a vague assurance that the clouds will part off to our left or right, and lead us in some new direction. Meanwhile our lives hammer away at us, relentless, with no suggestion that there is any “way” which will offer a salve to wounds barely healed, before being torn open once more. Our book of discipline is called Faith and Practice. What a chasm can exist between those two words.
From my life I can offer two examples of experience, both incomplete. The first is my relationship to money. Personally and professionally my attention has gathered around the concepts of wealth, value and financial responsibility. The company I founded, White Pines Productions, is developing a new model for how performing artists may earn money. In my experience, I have been seeking for way to open around me and money for my whole adult life.
The other is our work with people with disabilities. When White Pines landed at what is now called The White Pines Place, I never had in mind that creative work with people with disabilities would be a core program for us. But through relationships made in our community, that is what it has become. I was seeking a way to open for White Pines, and this unexpected opportunity grew up around me. That is what way opening feels like, when it opens: something grows up around you, some surprising seed you didn’t plant, or you forgot you planted, until you look around and realize you have wandered into a new garden.
Or this: that old house you pass everyday, until you decide to knock.
It’s the kiss from the friend who’s been standing next to you the whole time.
Way opening is opportunistic, and it requires a vigilant awareness. This is the discipline of it, because when your nose is being ground against some awful recurring stone (like money) the temptation to numb out and disassociate is great. But somehow we remember that there is the vastness of possibility, and it is infinite. And so therefore, the answer exists if only we stay awake.
As a Christian, I am thinking of the disciples of Jesus this week. How awful and brutal this week was for them as they watched helpless as their leader was tortured and humiliated. Leaving aside for a moment the question of “what really happened” and simply relating to the resurrection as a story, then it is a story of way opening. It is the refusal to let the earthbound limitation of existence hold you back. It is the realization that a man can become a movement; that ideas can become missions, and that missions can be extraordinarily powerful. The resurrection is not a way. It is full of mystery. It is way . . . opening.
My Quaker faith invites me over and over to experience my life as an unfolding poem. I choose to look for meaning in that poem, and that choice requires a little effort. It’s the effort of being present. It gets easier if you practice it.