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.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Orthoakoe

There seems to be a common distinction made by Friends between orthodoxy, right belief, and orthopraxis, right action. It is postulated that liberal Quakers are more interested in orthopraxis and the Orthodox and Evangelical Friends are more interested in orthodoxy. One such example is from C. Wess Daniels' article in Quaker Life on Convergent Friends.  I think that this distinction misses the core of what Quakerism is about. The core is not orthodoxy or orthopraxis, it is orthoakoe. What is orthoakoe? It is a word that I just made up which means right listening. According to the lexicon in Strong's Concordance, akoe means “hearing (the act, the sense, or the thing heard).” Since I don't know Greek, if any readers who have a knowledge of Greek have suggestions for a better word, I would be glad to hear them.

The key to the spiritual life is to listen to the voice of God, the Divine, the Spirit, the Guide, whatever you call that still small voice that nudges you towards God. An important part of the spiritual journey is learning to recognize that voice and be able to distinguish its voice from all of the other, often much louder, voices within us. As Robert Barclay puts it, “It is the privilege of the Christian to know their Shepherd's voice.” This voice does not much care what we call it. It also does not care particularly about what mental constructs we create to make sense of it. What it wants is for us to pay attention to it. Sometimes it shows us our shortcomings and it expects that we will sit with that until we see the way forward to overcome these. Sometimes it shows us the nature of the other voices we hear so that we can learn which voice to follow. Listening transcends belief.

Once we have heard the voice, the voice expects us to follow its promptings. We have a general idea of what changes will happen to us if we obey these nudges. We expect that they will bear the fruit of patience, forbearance, peace, equanimity, integrity, love and compassion. But there is no set of rules or actions to take. We have to rely on the promptings of this voice in determining what particular action we should take in the particular case that is before us. Listening transcends practice.

It is difficult to listen when you are talking. This is why centering practice is so important. If we are going to hear the voice within, we have to quiet the din within. I don't know where I got the idea from but I remember as a small child lying in bed as went to sleep trying not to think. I got to the point when I was only thinking the thought that I was trying to not think any thoughts. Then I tried to make that thought go slower and slower. I remember wondering what would happen if I stopped thinking even that thought, but the prospect scared me. Only later did I discover that I had taught myself to meditate with the help of one of the most cumbersome mantras I have ever heard of. Lately I have had moments when meditation when that inner chattering voice has gone silent. It does make it easier to hear God.  Listening requires practice.

As we learn to hear the voice of God in ourselves, we are called to another form of listening as well: Listening to the voice of God in others. At one level, this is the ability to hear when people are saying things that apply to us. Sometimes this is when they are speaking directly to us and sometimes it is taking to heart what they say about themselves or their experience. There is another level to this, and that is listening words into being spoken. Sometimes we need to listen deeply to provide that space for the words to come into. This is part of what we do in unprogrammed meetings for worship. The intensity of our listening may draw forth words of ministry from someone in our midst. This does not deny the role of God in prompting vocal ministry, but a lack of receptivity in the body can sometimes block a minister from giving a message and intense listening can draw forth a message that might not otherwise have come. A harder form of listening is to listen deeply to those that we disagree with, people we find objectionable, and even those we might consider our enemy. But we must listen to these people as well to hear if perhaps God is sending us a message through them. The hardest part is to listen to these people so intently that we draw out the words of God from them.

All of this is orthoakoe.

Blessings,

Will T

13 Comments:

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

I think many Conservative Friends might say that the essence of Quakerism is faithfulness. Which is a slightly different stress from “right listening”, is it not? Unlike “right listening”, a stress on faithfulness reminds us of the problem of infidelity and of the temptations and confusions that can lead to infidelity.

It might be worth recalling, in this regard, that phrases such as “right listening” do not derive from the biblical Christian tradition but are pseudo-Buddhistries, imitating the names of the various components of the Noble Eightfold Path (Right Action, Right Awareness, etc.). That does not make turns of phrase like “right listening” wrong, necessarily, but it might remind us that they are grounded in a somewhat different framework of concerns.

December 03, 2010 10:26 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I think of the song, "Trust and obey. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey." This is faithfulness.

Will is right in stressing the listening. When we listen, we will find ourselves led to do things and to believe things. But the listening needs to take precedence or our actions and beliefs will become empty or even barriers to faithfulness.

FUM has described Quakerism as a listening spirituality. Going to its Web site, just below its name, you will find the phrase, "Listening to Christ: A simple faith that transforms lives." That captures the essence, but Marshall is right that it doesn't transform lives unless we are faithful to what we hear when we listen. And indeed that is a problem I experience, and I think is very common.

December 03, 2010 5:20 PM  
Blogger pj said...

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December 04, 2010 5:33 PM  
Blogger Pat Pope said...

Good point about listening "...deeply to those that we disagree with, people we find objectionable, and even those we might consider our enemy." To do that, we have to come to the realization that God just might have something to say to us through that person. Usually, we're so convinced that our enemy has no redeeming qualities that we make the mistake of totally casting aside anything that they have to say. However, God will use whatever means He chooses to get a message to us.

December 04, 2010 9:20 PM  
Blogger Micah Bales said...

I appreciate this essay very much, Will. Thanks for posting it!

Micah
www.lambswar.com

December 04, 2010 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Timothy said...

The voice does not care what we call it, or what kind of constructs we might spin in our speculations to make sense of it.

It is the voice in which we are grounded, not in one such notional framework or the other.

Barclay probably did not intend to be exclusive as the phrase you quote sounds, although he might have--given his notional construct.

But, it is not just the privilege of Christians, but of all people, to have access to this voice, to this light, the attendance to which transforms.

Thanks, again, for these words.

December 06, 2010 8:13 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Marshall,
I was not thinking of the 8-fold path. The Buddhist sounding phrases come merely from seeking a short translation of the Greek based words, orthodoxy and orthopraxis which have been thrown around in a Quaker context for at least as long as I have had experience in Quaker electronic communications. I suspect that the roots of that are more in the disputes of faith versus works.

Timothy,
Barclay identified the voice with Christ but that identification was not required. He was explicit that even those who had never heard the name Christ or who had never heard the Gospel would be saved by faithfulness to the voice, or the Light or the Seed as it was manifested to them.

pj,
I do not use Facebook myself but you may post this there as long as you properly attribute it to this blog.

Blessings to all. I am glad that so many have found this useful.

Will T

December 07, 2010 9:28 PM  
Blogger pj said...

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December 08, 2010 12:22 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

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December 08, 2010 12:32 AM  
Blogger Judy Tretheway said...

I have long struggled for the words to speak of the way listening pulls words through us from Spirit to another. You said it so well:
There is another level to this, and that is listening words into being spoken. Sometimes we need to listen deeply to provide that space for the words to come into. This is part of what we do in unprogrammed meetings for worship. The intensity of our listening may draw forth words of ministry from someone in our midst. This does not deny the role of God in prompting vocal ministry, but a lack of receptivity in the body can sometimes block a minister from giving a message and intense listening can draw forth a message that might not otherwise have come.
Thank you for a beatiful post

December 09, 2010 12:05 AM  
Blogger tnrothschild said...

Will,
You have brought a wonderful and important message. I also agree with those comments lifting up the importance of faithfulness; that is, heeding the Voice when I hear it, as in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” [NIV] I find this implicit in your message, but stating it expressly can bring a broader understanding to the implications of the word you have created. Each of us has different ways of listening and responding, growing out of our different gifts, different experiences. Each of us is attuned to hear that Voice in a different way, and that Voice speaks to us each in a different way, a way that only the proper hearer can truly hear--if that one has ears to hear it. I believe that this experiential approach to the Sacred, however named, is the heart of Quaker understanding. I am challenged to consider the Scriptures in the spirit in which they were first given forth. I am asked, “What canst thou say?” Not, “What did one in authority say?”

There is a wonderful expression that I have heard a number of times, “listening in tongues” It refers to the concept of listening not just to another’s words, but to “the spirit in which they are given forth,” whether the person speaks of “Christ” or “Seed” or “God” or “Spirit” or some other expression altogether in naming that Voice and how it has spoken to that person; and in that spirit translating those words to one’s own understanding. As Timothy said in an earlier post, “The voice does not care what we call it, or what kind of constructs we might spin in our speculations to make sense of it.” It is my belief and also my experience that to the degree that we as Quakers begin to listen to one another in that way, we can move past and around the barriers and divisions we have created among ourselves, and our life in the Spirit becomes the richer and stronger for it.

Tom R

December 15, 2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

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December 16, 2010 11:44 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 16, 2010 12:28 PM  

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