Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reflections on Bible Half Hour

This year the Bible Half Hour at New England Yearly Meeting was not the usual long discourse on some aspect or another of the Bible. Instead Tracye Peterson led us in Meetings for Reading. She would identify the passages, usually 2 or 3 verses at the most. Different people would read the passages from different translations, including Spanish versions from our Cuban Friends. Then we would sink down with these passages and see what would rise up. I think that it worked reasonably well although some people did not like it as well as the lecture/sermon format they were used to.

All of the passages were taken from the first chapter of the Book of James. What follows are some of the passages read and some of the thoughts and images that they brought forth in me.

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind;” James 1:5-6

When I first heard this I thought that the doubter would be buffeted and blown about by the vicissitudes of this world. As I sat with it I realized that the wind was the breath of the Holy Spirit. The person without faith would be blown about by the Spirit. Just because one lacks faith does not mean that God ceases to exist. Your lack of faith does not cause the breath of the Spirit to cease to blow. God does not cease loving you just because you don't believe in God. But faith is like a keel. With a keel, your boat can sail across the sea. The keel allows a boat to take the wind and use it to travel in steady direction. The wind no longer buffets you about, with faith, the wind powers your journey.

“You must understand this, my beloved; let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid youselves of all sordidness and rank grown of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implaned word that has the power to save your souls.” James 1:19-21

This one pierced me to my heart. I have only recently been learning how to separate my anger and self-righteousness from the voice of God. I know that speaking from my anger has hurt people. I will try to hold this one in my heart if I am tempted to anger over what I perceive to be the shortcomings of Friends. My anger does not produce God's righteousness.

This does not say to not get angry, although one should not fly of the handle or get angry quickly. Instead it is counsel to be careful when angry. To be aware that God does not speak in our anger. God does not build the Kingdom with our anger. We are human; we get angry. But God's righteousness is built with our love, our patience, our forbearance, compassion. God's way is the Way of the Cross, of forsaking power and seeking meekness and humility.

This is how James Naylor described it:
There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betreyed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgieness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; and takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings: for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this ressurection and eternal holy life.

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing. James 1:22-25

We were created in the image of God, but we forget. The face of God is to be found in our faces. We must be doers of the word because in the doing we remember who we are.

If any think that they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but decieve their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pre and undefiled before God, the Father, is this; to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:26-27

Be slow to anger because our anger does not create God's righteousness, be doers of the word and not merely hearers, and bridle your tongues. We should all repeat this as we enter into Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business.

We are to keep ourselves unstained by the world but not uninvolved. We are not defiled by what we take in but by what comes out of our hearts. We are stained by the world when we take in the attitudes of the world: hardness of heart, selfishness, pride, greed and so on. It is sometimes dirty work to care for the powerless in their distress. By caring for the poor and powerless we take up the work of the Cross. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us. Jan Hoffman at last years FUM Triennial talked about how Christ is Light and in Him there is no darkness, so even His blood is Light, and this is the Light that cleanses us.


Anonymous Craig Barnett said...

Thanks Will for your blog, which continues to give me much food for reflection.
I just wanted to respond to the text about anger. Part of my journey to becoming a Friend has involved seeing the necessity of renouncing some of the rather aggressive ways I have expressed my anger at injustice and violence in the past.
At the same time it seems to me important not to cease getting angry about human suffering and environmental destruction. I think the challenge for me is disciplining that anger so that it can serve its proper function, which is to provide the sustaining energy for thoughtful, committed action, instead of lashing out with it and spreading more confusion, guilt and aggression.

August 26, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Another phrase that I think of when I consider times I have spoken passionately--but out of anger--is the admonition:

Be cool in thy own mind.

Thanks for sharing your reflections from NEYM and its Bible study. I'll need to return to this post when I have more energy to dedicate to my own reflection on what you offer here.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

August 26, 2006 10:25 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I am not sure but compassion is a better energy source for healing the world because compassion encompasses both the pain of the victim of injustice but also the pain of the perpetrator of injustice. Compassion leads us to see why the situation is the way it is.

Liz Opp,
Feel free to stop by anytime you want and take as long as you need to reflect. I am just dropping pebbles into the pool. I do not see where the ripples go.


August 28, 2006 9:21 PM  

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