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.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Condition of Man in the Fall – via Brooklyn.

As we continue through Barclay, we are now come to Proposition 4, The condition of Man in the Fall. Just as I was starting to think about writing about this, Rich, The Brooklyn Quaker, posted an article on exactly this topic and he did a far better job of explaining this proposition that I could have. So rather than writing more, I will provide the link here and go right on to talking about what I see to be the relevance of this dour seeming proposition to 21st century Friends.

For all of the time that this has taken, I feel that we have just now completed the introductory material. In my view, propositions 4 (The Condition of Man in the Fall) through 9 (Concerning Perseverance, and the Possibility of Falling from Grace) describe the core of Quakerism. The first 3 propositions set the stage by providing the framework of how Quakers relate to God and to Scriptures. Propositions 10 through 15 describe the implications of Quakerism as it is lived in the World. Propositions 4 through 9 describe the work of God on our heart. While the language is theological, it is also a guide to the spiritual life. They provides the framework undergirding Quaker spiritual formation.

Rich, in his post, gives a good explanation of the Old Adam or the fallen man. He describes a dualism between our fallen state and our state in Christ. I agree with what he has to say but I also have a different slant on this and why it is important to start with the rather dour proposition that we are corrupt and there is nothing we can do about it. The reason for starting here is that this is the starting place for spiritual growth. Our spiritual growth does not begin when we are happy and content and our lives are going well. Our spiritual growth begins when we are broken, weighed down and have given up. John Naylor described the spirit that he found like this:

It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings: for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.

This is similar to the first step in twelve step programs. In AA it is:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Likewise, this proposition stresses that we are broken and that we cannot change our situation by our own efforts. We cannot begin to change until we admit that there is something broken in our life that needs to be changed. We cannot find God until we realize that we have lost God. It does us no good to say, “Oh yes, I'm sure God is around here somewhere. I just have to look under this pile of books.” We have to be like the woman in Luke 15:8, when having lost a silver coin, sweeps and cleans the house to find what has been lost, and celebrates when it is found.

Early Friends were painfully aware of where they had come from. To them the Light was a fearsome thing because it showed them their faults and only then did it bring them up and out of the darkness. The primary sin of Old Adam was to try to put himself in the place of God by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In more modern terms, our ego likes to think that it is running the show. It is quite willing to take full credit for all of the good things that happen to us. And it is also our ego that blames ourself for all of the bad things that happen to us. Friends were keenly aware of the crafty nature of this fallen self. This is one of the reasons that they were so careful about anything that would lead to pride. This was why they rejected ostentatious clothes or flowery language. The fertile ground of spirituality is humility.

Modern Friends would do well to pay heed to the sins of pride, especially of spiritual pride. Liberal Friends, in particular, often sound as if the Light was something that they can lay claim to. They speak of “that of God in everyone” as if it were a possession. They also often sound as if they think that they can change themselves and the world by their own efforts. Proposition 4 is a reminder that this is not possible and it explains why. One of the refreshing things I have found while traveling among Friends in Africa and Cuba was the amount of prayer. Often it was prayer for simple things like a safe journey wherever we were going that day. Or it was a simple prayer of thanks that we had arrived someplace safely, or that someone had been able to join us. Then there were the prayers for assistance in the accomplishment of tasks large and small. And there were the prayers of thanks on the successful completion of tasks in recognition that it was God who was in charge through everything. It is a recognition that we are dependent upon God for everything. As I saw someone comment, “If God is your co-pilot, you are sitting in the wrong seat.”

Blessings to all.



Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Will: First off, love the co-pilot line, that's classic!

Important things to remember here. I've been wondering whether the modern rejection of sin and fallen-ness and the pride and puffed-up-ness that's so intrinsic to our culture isn't the greatest snare of our times. We've lost the idea that life is a cross and we fill our religious halls full of cotton-candy catch-phrases meant to celebrate us. I find it hard to understand Quakerism without this understanding. It is extremely counter-cultural to think this way but it seems an intrinsic part of our message to the world. Thanks for raising it here.

August 01, 2007 4:50 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

"Fallen?" I observe that to be true enough. But as one of those Liberal folks you want to set straight, I see this as only one way--and not the best way--to describe the facts.

I don't think Jesus saw us as naturally corrupt; I think his power over people's sins and afflictions came from seeing instead how people are rooted in God.

A later rabbi was asked, How can we love our neighbor?--Even a wicked neighbor? The rabbi (Smelke) put it in terms of how we feel about our own body. If our own hand accidentally struck us, even injured us, would we want to punish it? Seeing wickedness, he said, we should think of how God feels, seeing that one of His holy sparks is in danger of going out!

The flaw in Barclay--and much as I appreciate him, I am a Quaker, not a Barclayist--is that he starts from the Puritan error of imagining that a human being could exist, in any other way, except as a manifestation of God.

Granted, we are not "God in His right mind!" We are born into a corrupted world, into old wounds and new outrages, beginning from a position of ignorance and confusion, and it is only by God's help, inside and out, that we start to disentangle ourselves, usually causing much harm to ourselves and bystanders on the way. I don't know this because some other person has said it--although many people have helped me realize it. But I can't doubt that it's God who sent those people, and gave them the words, and led me to see it as well as I do, so far.

August 02, 2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

But Barclay does not believe that we start out fundamentally corrupt or that we are not a manifestation of God. We don't fall until we join ourselves to sin, or separation from God. We are not born fallen but each of us in our lives re-enact the fall. (Well Barclay may not have said that last sentence, I may have just made it up.) This is not a value judgment. This is just a description of the way the world is. I think that your last paragraph describes the situation just fine, but you are getting ahead of the story. I am still at the "I'm fallen and can't get up stage." I will get to what happens next after I get back from NEYM.

Will T.

August 02, 2007 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've often said that the fall, or Original Sin (the Augustinian-Catholic term) or total depravity (the Calvinist brand) is the only Christian doctrine for which there is irrefutable empirical evidence.

Reading the daily newspaper in Kenya has affirmed this for me. Kenya is not markedly different than other countries, most notably our own, in the capacity for depravity, but its daily newspapers report on it with rather more detail than I prefer. A lot of "man's inhumanity to man," if I may use that now-outdated phrase, probably escapes our papers in North American, or perhaps poverty exacerbates the problem elsewhere.

In the end, though, the point is not only that some Other Person or Persons is fundamentally distorted in their humanity, and not that "we all" are, but that "I am." The generations of classical Quakers shared this theory though they didn't like the term "original sin," because it's unbiblical.

Anyway, thanks, Will, for the commentary.

Patrick J. Nugent
Friends Theological College
Kaimosi, Kenya

August 05, 2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger forrest said...

I still think it makes a difference to see our connection to God as the primary reality.

Our fallen condition is how that reality plays out in a world where our vision has been localized & confined. Quoting a Richie Havens song:

"It's the first day
of creation
which he only perceives
as limitation."

If we were ever hung on a cross, then it would be we ourselves who'd have to feel the pain in our arms, the exhaustion, the strain of stretching despite ourselves for one more breath we'd know could bring only more misery (as thousands of Jews once felt, both before and after Jesus.) That is the bottom-line implication of being embodied, having to face the risk of this or worse in an unknown future...

We view the beauty of this world through a vulnerable window, a window that isolates us and brings fear hovering overhead. So far as we manifest ourselves through such fear--or our various ways of merely denying & fending off fear--we lack faith and consequently fall short.

Meanwhile God keeps leading us, from inside and from outside. Outward threats and inner delusions continue to manifest in our lives, but so do revelations and insights.

At least in my present condition, I'll find myself planning and fretting over fears & hopes--and then God turns out to have things worked out, despite all that, in a way that won't be whatever I'd had in mind. What actually happens turns out both familiar and unexpected--certainly more interesting than if I'd gone on trying to control events myself.

But God has been leading me this direction throughout a long history in which I flailed and failed and was unnecessarily scared to death much of the time. In other words, "Christ" was manifesting in the midst of "Old Adam" but I had no idea of it at the time. I'm continuing, of course, to be embodied, with what feels like a sufficient share of creaks, groans, threats of bodily mortality. But I think I know by now that I should trust the workings of God, inside and out. And that makes me a better person, without worrying overmuch whether _I_ can claim or blame anything of my own...

Being "fallen", I think, has little to do with "evil" inclinations--but much to do with taking our finite selves too seriously. The traditional formulation focuses too much on the finite self we've mistaken for ourselves. But if it helps anyone, I guess I shouldn't object.

August 05, 2007 4:56 PM  

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