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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On Worship – Battleground in the Lamb's War

This is where Barclay's description of worship differs most from the way Friends today tend to describe the experience of worship.

Our work then and worship is, when we meet together, for everyone to watch and wait upon God in themselves .... And as everyone is thus stated they come to find the good arise over the evil and the pure over the impure, in which God reveals himself and draweth near to every individual, ... and therefore the Lord oftentimes, ... doth .. cause his Power to break forth in a more strong and powerful manner; ... then the good Seed ... will be found to work as physic in the soul, ... and through the contrary workings of the power of darkness there will be found an inward striving in the soul,.... And from this inward travail, while the darkness seeks to obscure the Light, and the Light break through the darkness ... there will be such a painful travail found in the soul that will even work upon the outward man; so that oftentimes ...the body will be greatly shaken, and many groans and sighs and tears ... will lay hold upon it; ... sometimes the power of God will break forth into a whole meeting, and there will be such an inward travail, while each is seeking to overcome the evil in themselves, that by the strong contrary workings of these opposite powers, like the going of two contrary tides, every individual will be strongly exercised as in a day of battle; and thereby trembling and a motion of body will be upon most, if not upon all, which, as the power of Truth prevails, will from pangs and groans end with a sweet sound of thanksgiving and praise, and from this the name of "Quakers," ... was first reproachfully cast upon us.
[Propostion 11, Section 8]

Have we ever experienced our meetings as a battleground in the struggle of good and evil? Do we even think of our spiritual lives in those terms? Even if our interior life is free of what we call evil, what about our lives in the world. All of us Friends, at least those in North America and Europe are inextricably enmeshed in an economic system that consumes a disproportionate share of the worlds resources. Gas prices are rising because oil production can no longer keep pace with worldwide demand. Food prices are rising because we are using food crops as replacements for oil. The Day of the Lord is upon us. Are we ever stricken with trembling, groans or tears? Are we seeking comfort and peace when we should be seeing what we have wrought over the face of the earth?

The seeds of war and economic injustice and ecological destruction are deeply planted on our hearts, our lives and our societies. Do we see meeting for worship as a place where the seed of God can be nourished so that it can grow to dominion over these seeds of darkness. Do we come to meeting for worship seeking the gentle rain and the warm sun when what we need might be the deep plowing and the laying of the axe to the roots of the overgrowing scrub brush? Most important, do we come to meeting undertaking to do this work together, trusting in the power of the Lord to do what we cannot do for ourselves?

Blessings to all,

Will T


Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I tend to see worship, not as the battleground, but as the "Green Zone" --the place where I get refitted for the battleground outside the meeting.

I'm not saying that the only battles a modern Friend need be concerned with are external ones to do with the injustices we see around us. But it's in day to day life that the resolutions I form in meeting are challenged. In meeting, I begin the job of cutting through my delusions, my false pride, and (above all) my self-protective shell of anger and cynicism.

Once I've done that work, I'm ready to go back to carry the battle into daily life.

May 08, 2008 5:23 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Hi Cat,
To the best of my understanding, the early Friends did not make a distinction between their inward and outward struggles. They were different fronts on the Lamb's War. They were rooting out what they saw as the seeds of the devil in them and in the society around them. Inward struggle without an outward change is fruitless. But action that is not a result of an inward reality is empty. Hence the idea of living a life that gives witness to the work of the Lord within.

May 08, 2008 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I think a lot of what you are talking about here, Will, relates to the fact that the meaning of "Light" has shifted in modern liberal Quaker circles.

In Biblical usage, and among traditional Friends, the "Light" is that emanation from God that illumines the moral dimension of the Universe, making it possible for us to see what is right and what is wrong, what God approves and what He does not. That was the Light in which Fox taught the early Friends to wait, as well as to walk. And waiting in that Light was what Friends did in worship. That was why so much of what Friends experienced in their worship was the struggle of God with the forces of evil for possession of their own lives and souls.

Nowadays, most liberal Friends think of the "Light" as something more like central heating: the Light is the feeling of a Presence in the room. The moral dimension seems to have been bled out of it.

May 11, 2008 7:15 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Thanks for this post, Will. Modern Liberal Friends do tend to shy away from polarizing worldviews, and good/evil is pretty much the archetype of the polarizing worldview. Furthermore, notions of evil often brush against old wounds many Friends bear from previous spiritual communities.

However, when I begin to try more fully yielding my heart to the work of the Inner Light, I often find that there is a part of me actively resisting the Spirit's inward movements — as Barclay says, "the darkness seeks to obscure the Light." Do I have to label this force "evil?" Perhaps no, but I have to acknowledge that it seems to thrive in opposition to that which I am clear in calling "good." And I've also learned that if I go through a long stretch of worship without feeling this resisting force, I'm probably avoiding the hard work of following the Spirit.

May 11, 2008 9:27 AM  

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