Quaker minister, author and one-time resident of Chestnut Hill, Brent Bill, pointed out on Jan. 5, at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meetinghouse that Americans are not even on the top 10 of the World Happiness Report, but rank 14 on the ladder.

by Barbara Sherf

As we look to the New Year, a Quaker author asks the question: Are you living an abundant life or a life full of abundance? A Quaker minister and one-time resident of Chestnut Hill explored those questions and more last Sunday afternoon, Jan. 5, at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meetinghouse. 

In his new book, “Beauty, Truth, Life and Live: Four Essentials for the Abundant Life,” J. Brent Bill, posits that an abundant life is about more than material abundance and is found in the four essential ideals. Now living on Ploughshares Farm in Indiana, Bill opens the book by noting that Americans are not even on the top 10 of the World Happiness Report, but rank 14 on the ladder. 

“We are so geared in American society toward acquiring more things. We are pummeled by commercials for things that claim will make us happy, but they generally do not,” said Bill, who notes that living an abundant life is where we get spiritual or soulful satisfaction vs. collecting more status symbols.  

Bill talks about the stereotype of Quakers wearing muted colors and not drawing attention to themselves. “At times as Quakers, this stereotype is promoted of not having a sense of humor and dressing plainly, but Quakers and others are rediscovering the beauty in simplicity. Look at the James Turrell Skyspace at the new meetinghouse. There is such beauty in the architecture of that space and the use of light and nature. It is a simple, honest and true beauty,” said Bill. 

According to their website, “Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting built a new meetinghouse in 2013 for Friends, the local community, the Philadelphia region and all who seek a place for worship and peaceful reflection in our busy world. This ‘green’ building is home to the growing Friends meeting, but it is not just for Quakers. It is also home to a Skyspace by contemporary light artist James Turrell. This mesmerizing installation has become a sanctuary for anyone who values quiet contemplation and stunning visual beauty.”

Asked if he saw beauty in Donald Trump, Bill took a breath and addressed the state of our political affairs. “I don’t see beauty in his actions. I find many of his positions are completely antithetical to these four ideals. Quakers are taught to look to the good of God in every person, so it means I have to personally refrain from getting snarky when reading his Tweets,” he said. “It was harming my soul to follow him on Twitter, so I stopped. When I write letters, I try to write my position and continue to pray the divine will touch his life and change it. All I can do is be a faithful witness.” 

Bill shared his view about truth and knowing when something is true. “There are three components.  Certainly a gut check is one of them, but there also needs to be a mental and heart check involved. We need to ask the question, ‘How does this fit into my life now?’

Bill spoke to the idea of stillness and silence and urges people to go within. “Whether you’re on a farm or on the 27th floor of the Comcast Building, we must try to find even those nanoseconds of silence. Turn off the car radio. Sit in the silent car on Septa without headphones. Be silent and go within,” said Bill, who used to commute from Evergreen Avenue to Friends General Conference in Philadelphia while still maintaining his farm life. 

Bill cites William Penn’s statement: Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity. “I think he was right.  For me, ‘Love your neighbors as yourself’ is a hard lesson to learn. Here in Indiana, basketball is the state religion. You go to the games and really see basketball rivalries and the disdain for the other team.  Learning to love without reservations is really difficult. I have to love you if you are a yellow-dog Democrat, a right-wing Republican, a Muslim, a Jew or anything … no exceptions.”  

Bill thinks the four ideals are helpful to anybody on the religious spectrum, adding richness to our lives.

The book is available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.ChestnutHillQuakers.org. The author’s website is www.brentbill.com. Barbara Sherf can be reached at www.CommunicationsPro.com.