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Shared Teachings: Crisis of conscience


Following lengthy class discussions on the Quaker peace testimony, the words I read, penned hundreds of years ago, gave voice to a bewildering spiritual crisis.

This ancestral letter had been written by several members of a local Quaker Meeting. Their words described the soul-searching angst through which they had decided to break from their spiritual practice of pacifism by enlisting as soldiers in the Civil War.

Pacifism had been surmounted by a belief in fairness and equality. This letter described the inner turmoil as well as serving as a testimony to the men’s moral character and their critical place in history.

There are defining moments in life when one must struggle for congruency of words and actions. These internal moral clashes can be riddled with pain and be achingly misunderstood.

With its roots in the Latin word “conscientia,” meaning “knowledge within oneself,” the word conscience is defined as “inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motive, impelling one toward right action.”

Moral challenges can either evolve over time, or they can arrive in a flash, requiring split-second, definitive action. One cannot truly know what one will do until faced with such a pivotal dilemma. Within these crystallized moments of decision-making, a person’s character can be defined and history can be altered.

Gandhi stated,“There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”

Our internal struggles can erupt through social or political confrontation or grow slowly within personal relationships. We move through life with a belief in who we are, what we hold dear, and how we would defend it if threatened. Our ego can wrap itself around these stances only to be humbled by an incongruent response in a moment of crisis.

Like our Quaker predecessors, who struggled for their personal truth rather than recede into the safety of their religion, we all face moral challenges. There is always risk and honor involved.

The critical collision of beliefs and action can be quite telling. We carry the “knowledge of oneself” within us. Our “inner sense of right and wrong” beckons to be heard and will not mislead. When faced with a moral crisis, yield to the inner voice, your conscience, no matter what, then act. Your actions will define you, your truth, and affect others, as you face your crisis of conscience.

Patricia Walsh-Collins is a 40-year resident of Bucks County, with a 25-year career as a professional educator. She is creator and owner of Art of Spirit and Art of Spirit’s Earth School.