The Quaker Clearness Committee: Background information when reading What Comes After

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What Comes After

by JoAnne Tompkins

What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins X
What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2021, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2022, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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About this Book

The Quaker Clearness Committee

This article relates to What Comes After

Print Review

Throughout What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins, Isaac Balch meditates on how his Quaker religion might help him come to terms with the murder of his son, Daniel. Paramount in Quakerism is the belief that a person's relationship with God is an independent matter. In keeping with this, much of the community's spiritual work is carried out in a manner that focuses on the individual practitioner. For example, Quakers gather in a meeting house to worship through communal silence and occasional voluntary speaking, rather than holding a service with a presiding officiant. Another practice that emphasizes the importance of the individual is that of the clearness committee, a group that helps a person with processing around a life choice or event.

Although clearness committees traditionally have covered a narrow scope of topics, mainly marriages and Quaker memberships, their roles have been expanding. A committee can now be gathered to explore a number of potential life changes. When Isaac cannot fathom how to process his son's murder, he requests that a Friend (another name for a Quaker) convene a clearness committee on his behalf. A Friend named George convenes the committee, and explains to its members: "A clearness committee is premised on the belief that each of us holds an inner teacher, a voice of truth that guides us."

George goes on to explain that the process does not involve dispensing advice or rescuing the person in need of clarity. Rather, participants serve as sounding boards to help the individual find his own answers. Open-ended questions are encouraged to avoid leading the person. The ultimate goal is to "open him up to his own wisdom." Isaac seeks clarity on the extent to which he might have unknowingly been somewhat culpable in who his son became. He seeks introspection, as well as catharsis for the rage he feels over Daniel's death.

Clearness committees foster deep contemplation by coming together to wholly support a person seeking the intrinsic knowledge necessary for their circumstances. This requires humility on the part of both the participant and the committee. Such a committee can empower an individual with the space to seek change, even in the face of life's many hardships.

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Jane McCormack

This "beyond the book article" relates to What Comes After. It originally ran in May 2021 and has been updated for the April 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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