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.

My Photo
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, August 25, 2010

Your rest stop is over

At NEYM sessions I had a lunchtime discussion with one of the members of my support committee about my spiritual condition and the growing edge of my ministry. As I was answering one of his questions, the phrase that came to me was, “Your rest stop is over.” The phrase comes from taking long-distance bus trips, something that is much less common now than it was in the late 60's and early 70's when I first began traveling on my own about the country. The Greyhound bus line owned the Post House restaurant chain and used these restaurants for rest stops for it's long distance bus routes. The bus would pull into the parking lot and the driver would say that there would be a half-hour rest stop. At the end of that time, there would be an announcement made over the PA system in the restaurant in the form, “All passengers on the bus bound for Washington DC, please return to your bus, your rest stop is over.”

For the past year I have been in a place of rest and fallowness. I have not been led to much public ministry and I have written very little for this blog. I have had some false starts where I thought that new life was emerging and I was ready to resume my writing and other forms of ministry. These turned out to be premature. Now it appears that my rest stop is over and that it is time to get back on the bus,  resume my writing and to be open to what new opportunities may arise for me.

This summer, in the time leading up to sessions, I read Deitrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I found this to be very helpful to me personally. As I was reading it, it struck me that this was perhaps as good a description of the spiritual approach of Early Friends as I have encountered in readable, contemporary English. The book, of course, is not about Early Friends at all. It is about how we are called to be faithful and
obedient to the voice of Christ every day, in everything that we do. It is about turning from a life dominated by the Old Man to a life where we are reborn in the image of Christ. The similarity comes from a common focus on faithfulness and obedience in our actions, even if this obedience comes at great cost. This sense of being recalled to greater faithfulness was, I think, the final step that brought me out of fallowness into new growth.

Finally, I would like to expand a little more on the image of the Kingdom of God. Like all good spiritual symbols, it has levels of meaning that can take a long time to unwrap. I have been turning the idea over since a commenter on my last post said “Won't ever consider 'walking into the promised land', without everybody else.” There are levels on which this statement is true, but it is not the aspect of the Kingdom that I was thinking of in these last two posts. The aspect of the Kingdom of God that I am exploring might be rendered, the community of those who have made God the center of their life. This presupposes, not just the existence of God, but of having found God in some degree. It requires knowing the voice of the Shepherd and following it and no other. It implies embarking on a process of removing from our lives everything that we would put in the place of God. We do not have to wait for anyone else to do that. In fact to do so puts that other person (or all of humanity) ahead of God. Doing this is hard work. There is interior work to find and then work to heal the broken places in us that keep us from placing God first. There is outward work to make our lives conform to what we are being called to be. There is a constant interplay between the two. Prayer leads to action. We are also changed by our actions. Little acts of faithfulness can sometimes illuminate our inner state more than long hours of prayer. Little acts of faithfulness prepare us for larger acts later. We are all called to this journey. No one can make this journey for us but at the same time, it is not a journey we can make alone. We need our friends, we need our communities and we need God. I hope that some of you may join me on this journey.

Blessings to all,
Will T

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wandering in the Wilderness

“The only thing that we did wrong
was staying in the wilderness too long.”

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Alice Wine

At NEYM this year we spent a lot of time in extended worship waiting to hear God's call. The minute of exercise rising out of one of those sessions was titled “Meeting for wandering in the desert.” This got me thinking about this image of wandering in the wilderness because it seems to be one often used by Friends. In fact, it seems to me that for New England Yearly Meeting, and perhaps unprogrammed Friends in general, wandering in the wilderness falls pretty close to the center of our comfort zone. Actually entering the Promised Land scares the bejeebus out of us. I know that there have been times in my life when the image of wandering in the wilderness spoke to my condition. I was reassured by it that, no matter how far short I had fallen, God would not abandon me. My unfaithfulness was no greater than the Israelites, and God still sent them manna every day. Most Quakers know that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt and before entering the land that had been promised them. Far fewer, I suspect, know why this happened.

The story is told in chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Numbers. God told Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan to find out what the land is like, is it good or bad, and the people who live there, are they few or many, are they strong or weak? So Moses selected 12 men, one from each tribe, to go into Canaan and report back. They stayed in Canaan 40 days. It was the time of the new grapes and they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and it was so large that they had to carry it on a pole between two men.

When they returned, they showed the people the fruit and said that is was a land flowing with milk and honey. They also said that the people are strong, the towns are fortified and there are even giants living in the land. The people were afraid and did not want to go into the land because they were afraid of who lived there. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb said, we should go up directly. God is with us and it is a good land. Everyone else was afraid and they threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb.

God was angry at this disobedience and threatened to destroy Israel and make Moses the father of a new and mightier nation. Moses interceded with God, reminding God that if he destroyed the Israelites, the Egyptians would say that God could not bring the Israelites into the land that he had promised and so killed them all in the wilderness. God relented and did not destroy the Israelites. But God did say that no one who was over the age of 12 at that time would enter into the promised land, except for Joshua and Caleb, because those two alone had been faithful. The Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, one year for each day that the spies had spent in Canaan. They wandered until all of those who had refused to enter had died.

For me now, the message of this story is that, while we may be led through the desert for a time, when we receive the call to enter the promised land, we need to answer the call. Me may be called in at first as spies, to have a glimpse of the land and to see the fruit that is available but not to live there yet. But once we have seen it or heard the report of the spies sent in on our behalf, we need to be ready to enter it ourselves, not as visitors but as residents.

What are we afraid of that keeps us from entering the promised land. We are not promised a physical geography but we have been promised the Kingdom of God. This is not a place we go after our physical death, we are called to live in the Kingdom of God, right now, in whatever physical place we are. We have been told what we need to do to enter the Kingdom. The sacrifice we are called to make is a broken and contrite heart. We are told to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” We are told to take up our cross and follow Jesus. God promised to write the law on our hearts so we don't need to teach each other because we will all know God. We need to know what God has written on our hearts and follow it. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to us as a Comforter and Guide. But we don't follow. We are reluctant to give over our lives to God and to give up the idea that we can achieve security with our efforts and our possessions. We try to create the Kingdom of God instead of living in the Kingdom that is already among us. We are afraid because the powers and principalities of this world are strong. There might be giants there. So we continue to wander in the wilderness, forgetting that the fate of those who wander in the wilderness is to die and never enter into the promised land.


Will T

Labels: , , , ,