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What is Clearness? 

The word clearness has a special meaning for Quakers. It's the special sense we feel that God's Spirit can guide us, that we feel a given decision is the right one to take.

One of the original uses of the term "clearness" had to do with being ready for marriage. Where in other churches the couple to goes to "have a talk with the pastor," Friends appoint a clearness committee to meet with them and see if there are any questions or concerns that should be considered prior to marriage.

A marriage clearness committee is a small group appointed by the meeting, usually by the Counsel and Care Committee. They will meet with the couple at least once and perhaps several times, until both the couple and the committee feel clear to recommend that the couple be married under the care of the meeting. The committee will ask some questions, just to be sure that the basic areas are covered. But one of the clearness committee's main tasks is to listen.

  • Are there attitudes which may cause problems later?

  • Are there issues which no one seems to want to talk about?

  • Are there alternatives which might be considered?

  • Are there other people who need to be asked about this?

  • Are there fears which need to be addressed?

Part of the clearness committee's job is to listen for unspoken questions and bring them to the surface.

Marriage isn't the only place where Friends seek clearness. Clearness is an integral part of our meeting for business as well. Quakers don't make decisions by majority rule. Instead, we feel that God knows the right decision, and that each person present has the responsibility of helping to discern what God's will is on the question at hand.

So "clearness" also means asking, "What does God want here?" At a business meeting, the clerk will often ask, "Are all Friends clear about our making this decision?" Sometimes, one or two people will raise questions which haven't been considered yet, or they will express a hesitation about going forward. In our Quaker tradition, it's important to respect those Friends, so much so that the meeting will usually be reluctant to approve a decision when several Friends do not feel clear about going ahead.

Clearness for Quakers has to do not only with readiness for marriage and business decisions, but with many other things as well. Major changes, stands on public issues, personal witness or social action, family problems, travel in the ministry, new teachings, almost anything can be the subject of searching for clearness.

Behind the whole idea of clearness are a number of important basic assumptions:

  • God has something to say here to all of us

  • any major decision needs to be tested

  • the community of Friends is an important resource in making decisions; if a decision affects the whole community, we all need to feel clear before going ahead

  • listening and prayer are essential

Clearness doesn't always mean that things will be easy or comfortable. Sometimes we're given clearness to do hard or painful or scary things. But underneath the discovery of clearness on difficult questions is always the promise of Christ: "I will be with you always..."


updated July 2013

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