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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What purifies the soul?

For it is not the hearing of the truth that purifies the soul, but the obedience of the truth which makes the vessel fit for the Master's use, who in His using, and its obedience, makes it a vessel of honor, and glorifies His Son therein, in your bodies to do the Father's will in the world, whereby the Father is glorified in the Son, in whom He shines forth, as the Father begets Him again in you, and you in Him (who was with the Father before the world was,) of His own nature and good will, which as you receive again by faith and obedience, you will be changed into the same image and nature, and to delight only therein, being born of the same Spirit; as he that is born of the flesh delights in the things of the flesh.
James Nayler

I have been reading James Nayler lately and this paragraph has stuck with me. It is the concluding paragraph of his 1657 pamphlet How Sin is Strengthened, and How it is Overcome. I have been reading it in Volume IV of the Works of James Nayler from Quaker Heritage Press. It is also available on-line here or here.

This sums up the essence of early Quaker spirituality quite well and has something to say to us today as well. The first statement brought me up short. Hearing the truth does not purify the soul, it is obedience to the truth that purifies the soul. Reading, writing or speaking the truth also does not purify the soul unless it is done in obedience to the promptings of the Spirit. This can certainly provide a dose of humility for people like me who have some facility with the written and spoken word.

It is God's use of us combined with our uniting with that use that prepares us to be even more fit for God's continued use. This glorifies Christ embodied in ourselves and allows us to do God's will in the world. By this Christ is born in us and by faith and obedience we will be changed into the nature and image of Christ and will delight only in the things of the Spirit.

Claiming that one can be transformed into the nature of Christ is a pretty extreme claim. It is the logical end of the Quaker doctrine that perfection is possible in this life. There is sound scriptural basis for claiming that we can be as Christ but Friends were careful with how they said this because they did not want to be accused of blasphemy. It was, after all, enacting Christ's entry into Jerusalem that got Nayler convicted of blasphemy. During his trial, Nayler claimed that the honor he received was appropriate inasmuch as it was directed to the spirit of Christ in him, but not if it was directed to the fleshly person. Parliament was not inclined to accept this fine distinction and convicted him.

This idea of being transformed into the nature of Christ underlies the Holiness movement which found a home among Friends and is also expressed in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as Deification. Do we take seriously this idea that we can become embodiments of Christ's spirit? Do we see our daily acts of obedience to the Spirit as the method of this transformation? Do we see obedience in small things as a step towards obedience in ever larger things, until we can be obedient in all things? Are we willing to give up our personal areas of rebellion? Are we willing to listen to the promptings of the Spirit in all things that we do? Are we willing to depend on God for everything? Are we willing to sit with the discomfort these questions might create?


Will T



Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

A welcome essay, Will!

November 15, 2010 9:46 AM  
Blogger forrest said...

[Erich Schiffmann, in _Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness_ ]

"...Practicing yoga during the day is a matter of keeping your eyes on the road and one ear turned toward the Infinite. It's about listening inwardly as often as you can for your deepest impulses about what to say, think, do, or be. When you are in the store buying apples, for example, instead of choosing the ones you usually buy, pause inwardly for a moment and silent ask, "Should I buy red, green, or yellow apples today?" Buy the ones you are prompted to buy. Dare to do what your deepest impulses encourage you to do. Do this as many moments of the day as you can. Do it whenever you have a decision to make.

"The practice is this: Ask, listen, and do. Ask for guidance, listen inwardly for your deepest impulses, and dare to do what these prompt you to do. Dare to gather information from more than your five physical senses only and go beyond your own best reasoning. Practice leaning into your intuitive ability. Practice assessing your greater capacity to be aware. Get better and better at hearing inner guidance. And practice on easy things, like what to buy, or what to eat, or what to wear, so that when you are faced with a decision about something more important, you will be in the habit of seeking silent counsel from the universal wisdom available to you in the depths of your own consciousness.

"The gist of the new way, therefore, is to dedicate yourself to doing this on a consistent basis - listening for God's Will for you. It is the meaning of "Thy Will be done." It is the conscious choice to suspend your best judgment of a situation and ask the bigger knowing instead. It makes perfect sense to do this, especially when you realize how little you actually know, how limited and partial your vision really is, and how in need you are of a perspective greater than your own. You will then find yourself surprisingly willing to inquire and listen to the bigger picture.

"When you realize the limitations of your understanding, at first you may become depressed or despondent, but gradually you will experience your mind becoming more pliable, receptive, and eager to know more, which will enable you to embrace a larger truth. And as your understanding enlarges, as you trust, go with the flow, and do and be as you are prompted from within, you'll realize that life is not random nor governed by chance. Things will start happening more smoothly. You'll become "lucky." You'll understand that you need not be suspicious or fearful that this faculty will lead you into trouble that culminates in regret or future suffering. And so you trust even deeper. You let go further.

"And then you'll get it! God's Will and your own are one and the same. There are not two wills. The ocean and the wave are not essentially different. It is safe to trust in God, and it is also safe to trust in yourself. In fact - and this is the point - to do one is to do the other. It works both ways because who you are is the specific identification of God. The Will of God and the desires of your own heart are one and the same. And by listening to your deepest impulses to action, you will be hearing God's Will for you. You will no longer fear the Will of God, nor distrust the urgings of your own spontaneous being, and it will become increasingly easy to deepen your trust and dedicate yourself to listening...."

I find this guy a lot more "Quaker" (aside from occasional newagisms in his style) than most of the Quakers I encounter...

November 15, 2010 1:53 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Thanks, Will. This is excellent.

November 16, 2010 2:42 PM  

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