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, October 02, 2007

That of God in everyone

One of the more common one line definitions of what Friends believe is that “there is that of God in everyone.” Often there is no additional explanation as if this is totally self-evident and no elaboration is needed. Or if there is an elaboration it is along the lines of explaining how this is the foundation of the Quaker testimonies. Now, this summation is not exactly false but it hardly paints the entire picture. In fact, I have been known to say things myself. This approach is appealing for at least two reasons. The first is that it is simple and allows one to gloss over a host of things each of which would require an entire conversation. So it serves as a starting point from which to go on to whatever was the question you were really trying to answer. There is nothing wrong with that if you can, at some later time, get back to all of the parts you were so quick to pass over the first time.

The second reason this kind of formulation is appealing is because it is safe. Often it is used to describe Friends to visitors to our meetings. This statement is likely to not offend either the inquirer or any other Friend in our meeting who might overhear the conversation. Again, there may be times that this is appropriate, but there is a danger in its blandness and safety. It does not challenge the hearer but it also does not challenge the speaker. We are safe as long as we discuss this in terms of gross spiritual anatomy. “There is that of God within everyone, along with two lungs, a heart, a stomach, a large and a small intestine and a liver.” Where things get dicey is when we go from describing the spiritual organs and go on to describe their functions. Not only do we avoid speaking of this to newcomers, we avoid speaking of this to ourselves and to people who have been around for a while. Our meetings are poorer for this. We do a disservice to our visitors as well. People come to us because they have a spiritual hunger. If we only give them milk when they are craving strong meat, we are not meeting their needs and we should not be surprised if they pass right on through our meetings and do not stay and become involved.

So here is one of the things that Barclay says about that of God within (or the Christ within.):

But in regard Christ is in all men as in a seed, yea, and that he never is, nor can be separate from that holy pure Seed and Light which is in all men; therefore may it be said in a larger sense that he is in all, even as we observed before. The Scripture saith (Amos 2:13), God is pressed down as a cart under sheaves; and (Heb. 6:6) Christ is crucified in the ungodly; ... In this respect then, as he is in the seed, which is in all men, we have said "Christ is in all men," and have preached and directed all men to Christ in them; who lies crucified in them by their sins and iniquities, that they may "look upon him whom they have pierced," and repent: whereby he, that now lies, as it were slain and buried in them, may come to be raised, and have dominion in their hearts, over all.

This Light within is not something that we can take pride in or claim as our own as if it granted us some special merit. First of all, it is not a special merit because this same Light or Seed is in all. Can you claim special merit because you have a pineal gland? Why then for the Light within? More importantly, in our natural state, this Seed is pressed down, the Light is ignored. The Christ within lies crucified within us. What merit is there in that. This is neither comfortable nor safe. So we ignore this, which of course, only presses the Seed down further. But if we acknowledge that Christ is within us crucified, if “we look upon him whom we have pierced,” then we may come to repent our current state, only then is Christ resurrected within us, the Seed may start to grow, and Christ can come to have dominion in our hearts.

This is uncomfortable for us for many reasons. It requires us to admit our brokenness and unfaithfulness from the beginning. It requires humility. It runs counter to our culture of encouraging self-esteem. But if we deny the beginning, we cannot reach the end point, which is a life lived with Christ, or God, at our center, in our heart. The journey from crucifixion to resurrection is difficult but it is the journey to which we are called.

So our introductory sentence to Quakerism does not need a lot of work to be both more honest and more useful to the inquirer.

There is that of God in everyone, but it lies dormant in us like a seed that has been trampled underfoot. As Quakers we try to become nurturers of the seed and not tramplers of it. If nurtured, the seed will grow and give us new life. As we seek to follow the promptings of God, we will be called to live our lives in new ways. It is the attempt to live a life in obedience to God that gives rise to the Quaker testimonies.

It is still short and understandable, and much scarier to say out loud.