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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Specks and Beams

On Friday night a week ago, I woke up and rubbed my eyes. It felt like something had gotten under my eyelid. It bothered me but I decided that it wasn't bothersome enough to get up in the middle of the night. (I was tired.) So I slept poorly and decided to call my doctor in the morning. He has Saturday office hours but it was the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and they were closed. It was still bothering me but not enough to keep me from doing what I had planned for the day. By the afternoon, my plans were done and my eye was starting to really bother me, so I called the on-call doctor and he sent me to the emergency room. I ended up waiting several hours. When they finally saw me they found and removed a tiny fleck of paint that was less than a 1/16th of an inch across. I went home and looked at the ceiling in my bedroom and there was a crack in the paint directly above my pillow.

This got me thinking. Here I was, I could not stand to leave a mote in my eye that was smaller than a mustard seed. In less than a day I couldn't stand it any more and had it taken out. Yet how many beams do I carry around in my eye that I don't even notice? Do I notice how my position of relative privilege prevents me from seeing the injustice and suffering around me? Do I notice the relationship between the military power of the United States and the wealth I enjoy? Do I notice that I use far more than my share of the world's resources? Do I notice the amount of carbon I put into the atmosphere? Do I notice that my my comfort is going to make the entire world less comfortable in my childrens lifetime? I could start a lumber yard with the beams in my eye.

Then I started looking at the beams that keep me from looking inward. The beam of pride that would let me think that I am somehow better and more deserving. The beam of the fear of death that keeps me from seeing my life in perspective. The beam of insecurity that keeps me from opening up to people. The beam of greed that causes me to see my needs but not the needs of others. All these beams and more I am familiar with and it doesn't bother me to carry them around in my eye. Yet I couldn't stand the speck for a day.

Blessings to all

Will T

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism

As promised here is my reflections on the book Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism by Carole Dale Spencer. I had heard about this book before but I had been put off by the dry academic tone. The tone is understandable as I understand that the book started life as a dissertation.

Her definition of holiness as “a spiritual quality in which human life is ordered and lived out as to be consciously centered in God.” In Quakerism, holiness was often used interchangeably with perfection. Perfection was understood as the vocation of the sanctified Christian. Justification and sanctification were the same process for early Friends because you could not be justified without being made just or holy.

Spencer identifies eight elements of Holiness Quakerism. These elements characterize historical Quakerism in the first generation. These elements are:

Scripture – Quakers had a thoroughly Scriptural world view and accepted the scriptures as authoritative.
Eschatology - Quakers anticipated the imminent second coming of Christ. When it did not happen, they recognized that Christ had come spiritually, within each person.
Conversion – Quakers were born again. The old self died and a new self was born.
Charisma – Quakers were filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.
Evangelism – Quakers were evangelistic and prophetic.
Mysticism – Knowledge of God came through direct experience.
Suffering – Quakers were persecuted and martyred, joyfully taking up the cross of Christ.
Perfection – Quakers experienced union with God, becoming the fully restored image of God and victory over sin.

She traces these elements through Quaker history by examining the lives of Quakers in various periods. She has some interesting observations as to what happened to some of these elements. Suffering, for instance became taking on Quaker testimonies and distinctives. When external persecution ended, the cross that Friends struggled with taking on was plain dress and plain speech and the rejection of worldly communities. Evangelism under the Quietists became traveling in the ministry, mostly among Friends. Among modern Friends, the goal of spiritual perfection has been replaced by social action.

She credited Friends with the rediscovery of silence among Protestants (it had a long history in the monastic and contemplative traditions.) It was radical in its time. Over time it became a form and end in itself and spiritual renewal among Friends in the 19th century came, not through silence but the overabundance of words, song and praise. Traditionalists, such as Joel Bean, reclaimed silent worship using it as a mark of the “faithful remnant.” Among liberal Friends, it allows people to come together in apparent unity, even if they hold radically different beliefs and experience silence in different ways. I don't disagree with this analysis but I don't think it is completely accurate. For a long time my experience was that silent worship was the only form of worship in which I experienced the presence of God. I have lately felt the presence of God in other forms but I still have the experience of the presence of God most frequently and easily in open worship. I also think that there is a rediscovery of apophatic spirituality among Friends and that open worship is an expression of that path. (Apophatic spirituality is sometimes called the via negativa. It involves finding God by removing all things that are not God.)

Carole Spencer suggests using holiness as a way of organizing Quaker history. She has a chart of what the tree of Quaker history looks like and it ends up with the Evangelical branch in the center. She highlights all of the groups and trends that had a strong holiness element. This path extends from the first generation of friends through Quietism and then the Orthodox and Guerneyites on on down through the Evangelical Holiness revival. The Wilburites are included as a group for which holiness was important. The interesting thing about this chart is that none of the contemporary Quaker organizations, including Evangelical Friends International are identified as having holiness as a distinctive or important part of their identity.

I very much appreciated the book. It has given me much to think about. It provides an approach that may allow us to look at our history without reliving the schisms of the past. It also reinforces the view that I had when I first started exploring Barclay, that the most important part was the sections on Christ, Justification and Perfection. I thought that they outlined a spirituality that was missing from liberal Quakerism. I also think that this reframing of Quaker history might have a lot to say to convergent Friends.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Underground Railroad

Happy New Year Friends, this is my first post of 2009. It will soon be snowing here. It feels like I have spent a fair amount of time the past several weeks shoveling snow. I enjoy winter. I find it a time of inwardness and reflection. Snowstorms provide welcome interruptions in our lives and unscheduled times of retreat and breaks in the busy-ness of our lives. They are like random moments of Sabbath rest sprinkled through our lives. Of course afterward there are the driveways and walks to shovel. Even then, it often seems that the whole neighborhood is out shoveling at the same time. We sometimes joke with our neighbors how we see them more in the winter when we are digging out than we do any other time of the year.

In a meeting for worship this fall I spoke about the faith of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe and was healed and the faith of the people who lined the road leading to the temple so that they would be healed by Peter's shadow falling on them. Such faith is important and all of us need healing at one time or another but we are called to more. We got the name Society of Friends from what Jesus said on the night of the Last Supper. I no longer call you servants, I call you friends because now you know everything. Barclay says that the privilege of the Christian is to know their master's voice. We need to know the voice of God as well as we know the voice of a friend who we recognize on the phone even before they say their name. We need to know our teacher and friend's voice so well that we can recognize it even when it is speaking in a crowd.

Later a visiting Friend spoke about how Moses had followed the voice of God and led a whole people to freedom. Harriet Tubman had done things on a smaller scale. Instead of leading a whole people, she went to the South and led individuals to freedom. She went and looked individuals in the eye and saw if they were ready for freedom and the difficulties of the journey. If they were, she would lead them or tell them the way.

I was struck by this as a metaphor for the Gospel Ministry and for the nurturing role of the elder. The job is to look people in the eye and see if they are ready for the rigors of the path to Gospel Freedom. Are they willing to go into the forest and risk pursuit and capture; to trust in strangers; to go a place they have never seen to be cared for by people they have never met.

Isn't this also the spiritual path? And isn't the role of the minister and elder like that of the conductor on the Underground Railroad? To find people and build them up until they are ready to leave their home in captivity and undertake the dangerous journey to freedom. To help strengthen them on their journey. To provide safety and healing when needed and to move them along when it is time. At the end of our journey, may we all be able to say, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, free at last.”

Blessings to all,

Will T