Love, judgment, and the “inner critic”, pt. 2b: Syncretism, dilution, and the drawbacks of cultural appropriation

06/09/2018 § 2 Comments

In previous posts in this series, I did some preliminary work by way of detours into the nature of heresy and the patch work out of which we make our spiritual stories. This patchwork, I think, is inevitable for the individual who comes into any spiritual tradition, Quaker or otherwise. What is not inevitable is that the tradition in which one arrives (let us call it the host tradition), in providing spiritual hospitality to the seeker from elsewhere (let us call it the source), must ipso facto incorporate the teachings, practices, or world view of the source.  If a primary value is universal acceptance, then of course the host community will hereafter also acknowledge the values of the sources from which its new adherents comes. I merely point out that this a choice (to the extent or in the ways that a cultural change is a choice).

For example, I was raised an Episcopalian, and went to Catholic schools, where I was influenced by a few of the many streams of Catholic spirituality.  I was led to Quakerism — “convinced of the Truth,” as we used to say.  Now, there are parts of me that continue to feel nourished by my Anglo-Catholic roots.  My periodic use of the daily office, my awareness of the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, my readings in monastic spiriruality and the Christian humanism of Erasmus — these are indelible parts of my practice and my inner life.  Should, therefore, my meeting or Yearly Meeting in accepting me also accept the Nicene Creed, the practice of the hours, or the use of outward sacraments?  It would never have occurred to me to ask.  They are part of my personal history, but they are not compatible with the Quaker charism.  I have to make my own peace with them.

Others have grappled more eloquently than I with the “hyphenated Quaker experience” — As one example,  I recommend Liz Oppenheim’s reflections,”Living with a hyphenated identity,”  from some years ago  (along with the links and discussions that appertain thereto).

On the other hand, suppose the host tradition — let’s say, just to pick something at random,  Quakerism — takes the path of (essentially) universal acceptance.   At that point, Quakerism becomes a syncretic religion, assembled from various elements chosen from the Spiritual Marketplace, and added to Quakerism by new people accepted into membership — when the individual assemblages of ideas and practices that I bring are explicitly accepted during my membership process, the meeting is thereby declaring that what I bring is now also part of the Quaker testimony, so that when we try to explain what Quakerism is, we must somehow reflect in our account these new elements.   Thus, Quakerism is redefined, at least locally, and often without recognizing that the redefinition has taken place.

At first blush, such a process might be celebrated as a process of enrichment:  Quakerism version 1 turns into Quakerism v2, now new and better because it has bells or outward sacraments or what-have-you.  But note that this  kind of change is not just a matter of simple addition, because elements drawn from various other traditions are themselves embedded deeply in some culture, and so they are clothed round with meanings and nuances that are implicitly adopted along with the idea or practice that has been explicitly imported.  These additional nuances and meanings have their own implications that may not be recognized at first, or ever. On the other hand, the adopted practice or idea as carried out in our imaginary Quakerism v2, separated from its original context, may be in fact an echo or shadow of the practice as experienced in its culture (or practice, or religion) of origin.

One of the best statements of this problem can be found in the writings of the “Diamond Approach,”  the body of spiritual teaching that Christine Wolff draws insights from in the Pendle Hill Pamphlet that I am reflecting on.  The Diamond Approach is a syncretistic body of teachings and practices, drawing from multiple traditions of East and West (enneagrams and Freud, for example).   Yet the teachers of the Diamond Approach explain that each tradition has its own “logos,” which I might paraphrase as “worldview or narrative” about human nature and related matters, and warn that in assembling things from disparate traditions, you may be getting more (or less) than you imagine:

when we engage any particular practice, we engage the entire logos of that teaching. Because so many teachings are readily available these days, many of us borrow practices from different traditions and do them on our own outside the context of that tradition. But practices contain and express the logos of their teaching, so when they are done outside of that context, they lack the holding, support, and guidance of the larger field of the teaching.

To avoid this kind of attenuation or dilution, one would naturally need to delve deeply enough in the source tradition to understand the practice from the inside out, so to speak.  Since one’s life is finite, there would appear to be the danger of a tradeoff between depth and breadth.

This is thus a special and interesting manifestation of the tension between individual and corporate life that has been present among Friends (and other religions, of course!) forever.   In this case, the individual seeker arrives at Quakerism equipped with miscellaneous tools, habits of mind, and assumptions.  These tend to form the frame within which we interpret Quakerism — in a sense, we are seeing what we need to see, or what we are inclined to see.  We are not likely to know right away what it feels like to those who have been at home there before us.

It can take a while to get around to asking what might be there when we are not looking — what tradition we have actually joined ourselves to.  Ideally, the meeting has resources to help address this question — most importantly, living voices (as well as books and tracts and curricula and committees and whatnot) who can help the newcomer with the narratives and practices that have formed  the community they have discovered in their spiritual search, and given it the qualities that make it feel like an answer to their longing, a home in which to dwell, learn, and grow.

In generations past, some Friends were alert to this process by which individuals bring from other traditions innovations that sit uneasily with Quakerism as it was before they had arrived.  During the great upheavals surrounding the ascendency of evangelicalism among Friends in the 19th century, conservatives like Sarah Grubb and Thomas Shillitoe warned that innovators like Joseph John Gurney were spreading a “linsey-woolsey garment” over the Society of Friends.  As Grubb writes (in 1841 pg 430 in her Selected Letters):

 Oh ! how tried my poor mind is, under a sense of a want amongst us of true discern ment ; and even in my very secluded allotment here, I think my inward eye sees a covering in our Society that is prohibited in the truth; a mixture as surely disapproved in the sight of the Great Head of the Church, as ever the forbidden linsey-woolsey garment was of old

(the reference is to Leviticus 19:19).   The usage has an even longer heritage, however.  Josiah Cole in his memorial to Richard Farnworth (Works, part 2, pg. 126) writes that in his last hours, Farnworth (who died in 1668)

spake very preciously unto Friends…testifying of the greatness of the love and power of God, of which he was made partaker, and which he then felt; and of the preciousness of the Truth, whichhe had with us born witness of; and exhorted them to faithfulness and steadfastness therein, and to singleness, that nothing might be suffered to creep in of another nature to intermix therewith, saying, No linty-woolsy garment must be worn, etc. with much more to that effect.

Such Friends were on their guard, in their times, against any distraction or deviation from the fundamental Quaker task, which was to shape our lives — individually and corporately — in conformity with the experience that Christ is alive and at work for our guidance, comfort, and liberation;  that we are called bring the whole of our lives under the ordering of this Spirit.  As they lived in this calling, they were led to separate themselves from traditional Christian practices that they saw as human inventions that could be serviceable, but also could be distracting or misleading, and were further from the pure springs of life/living. The Quaker process then is one of radical reconstruction, in the light of this commitment.

God alone is sovereign Lord of conscience (to quote a phrase beloved of Presbyterians and Hicksites as well) .  Each of us, pilgrims, brings with us things of value, inevitably.  If the spiritual community, Quakerism version X, to which we come is alive, however, it will be both a refuge and a workshop of reconstruction — challenging, overturning, and transforming what we bring, under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ, by which we have been led, and is not changeable, though in every time and locale we may hear with different emphases, questions, and struggles.

In thinking of this work of reconstruction, which must be partly unconscious, and partly intentional,  I recur to the image of “homeostasis in the body of Christ.”  In the present case, the analogy is thus:  Throughout our lives, our bodies are constantly drawing matter in from our environment, incorporating it into new tissue, and recycling old material.  Few of the atoms that constituted us at birth, few of the cells, remain long in our bodies — yet (under good circumstances) we maintain physical integrity, and some continuity of personality and memory.  across the years.  This takes work!   Some of it goes on in ways we are not aware of; some of it must engage our emotions, will, and thought — and much of it can’t happen except in the context of a community, whose integrity is held in its individuals and its memory, and serves to meet the challenges now and to come.



An exhortation from Richard Farnworth

06/04/2018 § 1 Comment

In reading for this blog, I was led to Josiah Coale’s works, among which I found a tract which he wrote in memory of Richard Farnworth, one of the very first Friends (convinced by Fox in 1651 — though 3 years later than Elizabeth Hooten).
As became the custom, the dying Friend’s final words were recorded, and there is this fine and humbling passage:

Friends, God hath been mightily with me, and hath stood by me at this time, and his Power and presence hath accompanied me all along, though some think that I am under a Cloud for something; but God hath appeared for the owning of our Testimony, and hath broken in upon me as a flood, and I am filled with his Love, more than I am able to express, and God is really appeared for us.

If God himself had come down and spoken as a man, he could not have spoke more clearer to us than he hath done, by the many Testimonies from Heaven in his People concerning this thing. Therefore I beseech you Friends, here of this City of London, (whether I live or dye) be you faithful to your Testimony which God hath committed to you, and as it ariseth in your hearts, be faithful to the Lord therein.

What shall we ask of each other?

05/25/2018 § Leave a comment


Galloping horses vie with each other. A zealous community encourages individual zeal.
— from  The ladder of divine ascent, by John Climacus


“Zealous preacher, pious people;  pious preacher, lukewarm people;  lukewarm preacher, lifeless people.”


Long ago, Friends wrote “It is a living ministry begets a living people,” but our advices also remind us, “The meeting shapes the ministry as much as the other way around.”  — A language for the inward landscape


How shall we use our time together, humble learners in the school of Christ, so that we can live abundantly and testify joyfully and with power?


Isaiah rebuked the people of his time:

“this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: 
Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: 
 Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. (Isa. 30:9-11).”

Isaiah was sent to a people in whom spiritual and ethical teaching had grown unfaithful.  The conventional prophets were  committed to giving the people what they asked for — complacency and comfort, rather than speaking the truth for their troubled times, and pointing the path to life in harmony with God, and ultimately with each other.   But what would have happened if the people, yearning for spiritual health, had confronted these teachers prophetically, saying,

“Help us better know and live in the life of the Holy One, tell us the truth in which we can be free.  David once had sung (Ps. 20), ‘Some trust in horses, and some in chariots, but we will call upon the Lord our God,’ seeking to learn from God the path of life.  We want this to be true of us! Be faithful in your work, so that we can be faithful in ours.  Be faithful in your life, so we can be faithful in ours!”  What will happen if we can learn to listen prophetically in this way to the motions of divine life in each other?”

Paul writes, “The eye can’t say to the hand ‘I don’t need you,’ nor can the head say to the foot, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” ( 1Cor.12)  Feel into this:  We need each other, as a body needs all its parts.  And Christ, the head, needs our feet and hands and eyes — and these need the head, and the life that circulates and nourishes all parts in one enlivening stream. It is from this mutual need and experience of the common life that a witnessing body is fed and grows in strength, not by declaration or by assertion of unity — these articulate hope, or announce our condition, but cannot create or substitute for the shared living, the actual spiritual organism.


Oh! be faithful! Look not back, nor be too forward, further than ye have attained; for ye have no time, but this present time: therefore prize your time for your souls’ sake.

George Fox, letter to his parents,1652

Love, judgment, and the “inner critic”, pt. 2a: Syncretism, dilution, and the drawbacks of cultural appropriation

05/13/2018 § Leave a comment

The prior post, on heresy, and this one, are connected by my need to explain to myself how things like “heresy” —  the development of alternative views of religious truth or experience — and syncretism function:  how they serve us in our search.  That is, I have been trying to think about  them experientially,  as being primarily instrumental means for the search, rather than primarily the results or even the goal of the search.

Now on to syncretism: some first thoughts.

I tend to think that people live in stories — about themselves, about others, about how things work, about why things happen.  We may think that what guides us is beliefs or principles,  but these are like the path-marks along a hiking trail — if you focus on those, you forget that it’s the trail that you’re on.  You’re not making that hike because of the markers, no matter how useful they are.  Even the goal is only part of the story — I can say “I climbed Monadnock last weekend,” but that leaves out a lot of detail.

More than this, I think that our fundamental individual narrative is one of journey across a landscape, of time, of space, and more — there are as many kinds of human journey as there are kinds of maps and geographies. (I elaborated this story about cognition and perception  for myself for many years, before I thought to look for others who’d worked it out more fully — and of course they are legion. Bruce Chatwin’s Song Lines was my first encounter with such fellow-travelers;  my current favorite is the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold: check him out — his book Lines, or other things like this .)

A story in any one telling is selective, depending on its purpose, its audience, the pragmatic conditions within which you are telling the story — so my Monadnock story may be as brief as the mention of the occurrance, or could be drawn out into a twenty minute tale told over a dinner with friends, or turned into a novel or extended memoir.  More details are recalled by the story teller than are used at any one time, and many are not even consciously available if not brought to mind by a question or a new purpose — the stir of the breeze at one transition from hot exposed rock to forest edge, the whiff of mayflower caught en passant, a bit of trash dropped by a previous traveler, a momentary confusion when the next trail marker was needed but not yet seen… In another time of telling, on another occasion, those details may be needed — and summoned.

As we move across a landscape, if a detail is not available, we fill it in, we supply the lack somehow, by reasoning, or history, or an additional resource (Google map or paper map), or sheer imagination (creating an ad hoc bit of story to weave into the one currently being lived).  If the landscape is not physical but mental, these inventions or discoveries-in-the-gap, if they are serviceable, can become incorporated into that story, whenever we tell it.  We are, to shift metaphors, weaving the fabric to be more satisfying — stronger, more useful, or more beautiful.

Furthermore, as we make our way through “the wilderness of this world,” we find helps and tools, companions and refreshments, that in their time and place are definite aids and comfort.  Finding them is real discovery, and they encourage us and keep us feeling hopeful on our way.  Moreover, we don’t start empty-handed — we have ideas, skills, habits, symbols, rituals — that help support our identity, our sense of who we are, and where we are from, even if we are eagerly traveling away from (even escaping from) what and where we have been.

It is very easy to say “Syncretism is part of just about every religious and cultural stream.”  I wanted to stop and think about the experience a bit.  Modern Friends, whether they think of Quakerism as “do-it-yourself” religion or not, do in fact inhabit hybrid worlds.  Furthermore, Quakers in the past, as well as Christians from the beginning, have done so, even when they were most purely centered in the experience of the power and terror of the Light.   It’s important to accept that this is natural, because that’s how humans-in-culture are. (I can’t help recommending, at this point, Anna Mott Gummere’s The Quaker: A study in costume (1901) — you can get it electronically here — which is a charming and valuable study of how “plain dress” evolved over the years, under the influence of the non-Quaker world. It is one of many studies that emerged from the post-Manchester Quaker Renaissance.)

All this having been said, however, I am going to argue, in the next post (2b to this one) that it is also part of our work to interrogate and push back against this nature tendency, if we are to be true to the guidance of the Light.

As a reminder, these reflections were stimulated by Christine Wolff’s use of the Diamond Approach in her reflections on The inner critic versus the inner guide, the Pendle Hill Pamphlet that is the origin of this series of posts (except for the whip-poor-will.)






05/10/2018 § 1 Comment

Last night, when sleep had left me once again
For  some one more deserving or more needy,
An owl sweetly sang  “I know, but still there’s life.”
And listening, in the dark room that we shared,
I knew that there’s an old tear in my fabric
That only a whip-poor-will’s voice can mend.

A note or two on “heresy”

05/06/2018 § 8 Comments

I have been thinking about heresy recently–not any particular heresy or heretic, but the place of heretical ideas in the process of spiritual growth.  I ofen wonder, can we ever say “This is true, and that is false”? What can we say about “the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type”  (to borrow the title of Alfred Wallace’s 1858 paper on evolution by natural selection)?

The word for”heresy” comes from the Greek word hairesis, which means choice, selection, and from this, faction. In the New Testament, where it appears a few times, it is usually best translated as sect, sometimes but not always associated with schism or division within a community. For example  the Pharisees and the Sadducees are described with this word,  and the Nazarenes as well. It is not until the period of the apostolic fathers that the word begins to take on the more definite sense of schismatic, with the connotation that the heretic  has chosen to step off the approved path to salvation, and often with some intent to conflict. Later, Christians elaborated the idea that someone who is perhaps flirting with spiritual death ought to experience physical death as a consequence– presumably as a kind of pest control.

Over the centuries a few voices have opposed severe or capital punishment for heresy, and indeed have counseled another response to diversity.  This may well be the result of insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth. Erasmus pointed out (most famously in the “letter to Carondelet”) that most of the early fathers could be accused of heresy on one or more points. He was not surprised, but argued that the Church’s account of its hope and commitments did not spring fully elaborated from the Apostles, but rather grew and developed as questions and interpretations arose which seemed to require discernment, clarification, or decision. Differences of interpretation are best addressed either by calm debate seasoned with charity, or by patient witness to one’s own understanding of the truth– following the advice of Rabbi Gamaliel about how to handle the new movement, as reported in Acts 5: 38-39,

If this plan or scheme is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them.

And Paul in 1 Cor, 11 counsels the Corinthians to see factions as functional, in that they clarify who is reliable and to be trusted as disciples.

Isaac Pennington may be seen as allied in spirit with this general view of things:  under Christ’s domain it is Christ’s spirit that will work to eliminate what is harmful:

Christ overcomes the Devil’s Kingdom by his spirit; by that spirit he preaches the truth, and soweth the seed of the kingdom, and by his spirit upholds and maintains it.  This is his way of overcoming all the mists of darkness and false doctrines.  (Works 1:310),

For it is to the Master that all alike are to give an account of their path to faithfulness;  in community life, we can strive to guide, counsel, encourage each other, but only recognizing that the work in the end is Christ’s.  A community is constituted by its common understanding of how to enact faithfulness, and what its covenant will be, but must keep in the love and spirit of Christ in deciding this.  It seems to me that this is grounded in a true faith that Christ is at work and to be relied upon by those who seek to know and heed his voice.  Is his arm shortened that he cannot save?

Later in the same tract, Penington in a famous passage speaks indirectly to the tension between bearing a common witness, and turning differences into accusation:

How sweet and pleasent is  it to the truly spiritual eye, to see several sorts of believes, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson.

And here I am reminded of how Christ is called the logos in John’s gospel, for which the translation “word” is inadequate except as a shorthand. For the logos is alive and active as creator and enlightener, and in all ages from the beginning has been perceptible in the creatures and entities of the cosmos, in the lives of the holy, and in the words of prophets and  the wise.  Logos is process as well as substance.

Moreover, this word of creation is still being spoken in a world of change and time in which everyone coming into the world must experience and follow the light in a way unique to each, as each one  is unique, though they can find by grace where the  deep unity is and can be felt. Learners in the school of the logos, we will see  in part, and fulfill the guidance in part, and then still  Christ’s spirit is saying,”I love thee, but what thou hast found, that is not all of my gift. Follow me yet further,  listen now to what comes next.”

So Erasmus translated logos  into Latin not as verbum, an utterance or lexeme, but as sermo:  a conversation, discourse, an unfolding intelligent exchange at many levels, between and within all souls in and with the light and the life through which God is at work reconciling the world to Godself.  With that vision in mind,  much that has been called “heresy” seems thus a necessary byproduct of an engaged, exploratory life in the Spirit — interim reports along the way.

Yet the logos, the light,  the sermo,  emanates from one source and guides to unity; so it cannot itself be divided, however much abundance and diversity it contains and rejoices in, which joy we, too, can taste.  Consequently,  our own learning for today cannot ignore, and must take account of, what is been shown before.  Not only do we see and know only in our measure,  but we must also recall that we are in a conversation that did not begin with us. How can we tell when our discerning, our hairesis, our choice or heresy, is wayward, self-willed, or a distraction  —  or possibly is opening a fresh path towards wholeness in the One?  We should be willing to accept the possibility of either alternative, and its consequences.

Rufus Jones brings a helpful caution,  in setting up his standard, as a way to think about right being versus right thinking — putting our claims, and ideas, and fashions to the test:

If by any chance Christ Himself had been taken by His later followers as the model and pattern of the new way, and a serious attempt had been made to set up His life and teaching as the standard and norm for the Church, Christianity would have been something vastly different from what it became. Then “heresy” would have been, as it is not now, deviation from His way, His teaching, His spirit, His kingdom. Love and Life — not doctrine — would have been the sacred words, the spiritual realities for a Christian. Dedication to the work of bringing the Kingdom of God, heroism, daring, adventure, self-giving, joy, radiance, abandon, readiness to go “the extra mile,” would have characterized Christians. (The Church’s debt to heretics, pg. 16)

And even so, what story do we tell to make sense of our witness?  Logos is not only process but also content.


(“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counselfor they will say both No and Yes.“)

Love, judgment, and the “inner critic” pt. 1

04/27/2018 § 2 Comments

Christine Wolff’s recent Pendle Hill Pamphlet, The Inner Guide versus the Inner Critic (PHP #448), got me thinking.  I should say right now that this post and any following it are NOT in any way a critique of the pamphlet, which I expect will be helpful to many.  But as I read it, I kept remembering James Nayler’s epistle “concerning love and judgment, ”  and something clicked when I read Wolff’s line,l “Love and judgment cannot coexist.” (pg 31 in the pamphlet).  I heard James say, “Who is it now cries, away with judgment, and who hath turned it into wormwood? ”  Hm.

Given that both of these pieces are expressions of Quakerism, the contrast (whether superficial or not) is food for thought; call it creative tension, maybe.  So this series of posts is me working out (essaying) to explore that tension.  I will get to Nayler eventually, but if you want to read that letter right now, and don’t have it handy, you can get it here (you’ll have to scroll down past a couple of other letters).

Setting:  the message of the pamphlet.

In case you haven’t read it yet, here are some key points made in Christine Wolff’s pamphlet.

a.  The subtitle is “The journey from judgment to love.”  The essay invites the reader to engage freshly with their spiritual growth.  The path is represented as  one of of liberation, towards True Self, a condition in which we are more able to discern the guidance of the Light, and freer to follow it, in love and unity with ouselves and others.

b.  Freedom from what?  Well, the pamphlet focuses on “the inner critic,” conceived of as a set of habits or reflexes that result from our history and are woven deeply into our personality. In Wolff’s words (pg. 3),

Our personalities are like boxes surrounding us, blocking access to that loving presence [Divine Love and Light]…The inner critic is a personality structure that frantically tries to keep that box solid and in place, thinking it is needed to keep us safe.  The critic is one of the most constraining and constricive parts of our personality that keeps us from actualizing our divine presence here on earth.

c.  The inner critic has power because it is saturated with emotion, and “seems like an authority figure that has special access to the truth” (pg. 30).  It

acts like it already knows enough from our pasts to run our lives.  For the judge, the focus is on knowling what do to, how to do it, what might go wrong, and how to keep things from going wrong — how to predict and control the events in our lives.  Sensing the Divine guide requires the opposite of this focus.

d.  The work of spiritual growth centers on gradually weakening and removing the constraints of personality, allowing fuller participation in divine love.  Wolff again (pg. 3):

The boxes [our personalities] are permeable, however, and the spiritual journey consists of increasingly seeing more openings in the boxes until they become very porous, thinning away, allowing in more light and allowing us to become more and more at one with that loving presence.

e. This work is accomplished through growing awareness of the nature of our “boxes” and the dynamics of the spiritual life.  In part, this includes coming to understand the sources of our defenses.  For example, we need not to be afraid of negative or aversive feelings that arise — not letting the “inner critic” be triggered by the occurrance of anger, fear, etc.

Our inner child is a child, and it needs to be loved and accepted just the way it is, with all its feelings: fear, grief, jealousy…as well as joy exuberance, rambunctiousness and ecstasy…Only by fully loving and accepting all our feelings can we learn to fully feel them.  When fully felt, they will dissipate on their own (16-17)

This courage or steadfastness in the face of our negative feelings is only the beginning of the work, however:

fully feeling and working through blocked emotions allows us to experience certain spiritual qualities.  [for example] Feeling sadness allows the experience of compassion…(17-18)

This emotion-work opens the way for a growing skill in distinguishing the Guide from the Critic, though the Critic will (speaking metaphorically) put up resistance, since its whole purpose is defense and control. Over time, however, there can come a tipping point ( 31-2)

As the Critic loses its power and falls away, the personality loses its grip, in the box within which we live has more openings and may even fall away… There is more of a relaxed allowing of whatever comes up. Being becomes our identity and True Self. Wherever we are, there is God, for we are portals through which the Light of God can shine… Doing emerges, not from the sense of duty, plans, and schedules of the critic, but as an upwelling of Divine  Will pressing to be made manifest in this world.

There is much more in the pamphlet, including some glimpses of Wolff’s personal experiences illustrating her account.  I did want to quote this much, so as to present a reasonably fair sample of the pamphlet’s message before beginning my own reflections.  A few additional quotes will be apposite in later posts.

As I said above, I expect the pamphlet will be very helpful to many readers.  It is practical, inviting, often eloquent, and wise.  It offers an introduction to a narrative of spiritual growth which resonates well with our “spiritual but not religious” mood.  In subsequent posts, however, I want to explore at least the following themes that arose for me as I have read and re-read Christine Wolff’s piece:

A. On syncretism,  dilution, and the drawbacks of cultural appropriation

B.  On whether we have learned as much as we think we have since the 1600s (or before)

C. On spiritual crises of our age, or what we are hungering for.

D.  On traditional and nontraditional Quaker narratives

E. On love and judgment.

I admit this is ambitious, but deep calls unto deep, we are told, and I want to try to accept the invitation that Christine’s pamphlet (unintentionally) extended to me. I think I might learn something.

Let me know what you think!



Seeing in John 1: Part 4

04/16/2018 § Leave a comment

We are now at the final set of “seeing” verbs in the first chapter of John, those which are related to the verb horao, ὁράω .  To form various other tenses or moods for this verb, the stems op–  and eid/id–  are used.  

The shadings of meaning that I have been exploring in these various verbs for seeing are very subtle, and as I explained at the outset (here), some scholars basically conclude that no stable contrast can be made.  In John 1, I think some case can be made for meaningful distinctions.  With the addition of this verb and its connotations, we are in even murkier territory.  Very often, it seems to me, the sense is roughly “lay eyes on”;  sometimes it seems to mean “perceive,”  and even sometimes “visit someone,” or “be in their presence or company”  (as we say “I went to see my uncle the other day.”)

Now the texts.

A.  Verse 18. “No one has ever seen (laid eyes on) God, but unique God, being near the father, he brought report.”

[Note a couple of curiosities in this verse. First, “near the father.”   The phrase here is literally “into or towards the bosom of,” or “at the father’s side.”   The sense is more like “approaching” than “located in,”  though the implications of this are unclear, at least to me.  OK, well, so who is getting close to God, whom no one has laid eyes on?  Well, the subject is monogenes theos.   The King James has this as “only-begotten son.”    Monogenes, an adjective, occurs just above (verse 14), standing alone, where it has to mean “uniquely born (one).”  There’s no noun, so you have to supply the detail.  Just above (v. 12), the Word  gives to those who receive him the power to become children (tekna) of God, so in the context we can reasonably take it that the Word, with God and God from the beginning, is a “child” with unique status.
But v. 18 says “uniquely-born God.”   The Wise agree that this is the wording of the best manuscripts.  Others supply the word “son” (huios), which is what Jerome’s Latin, and essentially all other translations use.  John said what he said, however, and given all the previous verses, the sense is more or less accessible — and I conclude that John was trying to convey his sense of the mystery of the pre-existing, cosmic, creating word yet accessible for a while in a personality with whom many walked, talked, ate, argued… (I like the way that Erasmus paraphrases this sense of in-dwelling presence:  “the Word (worth a separate blog post) is present in the world, the way the spirit of the craftsperson is present in their works, or as a pilot is present in that which he guides.”)]

Anyway, our verb of “seeing” here speaks of “seeing God,” and since we know that no one can physically see God and live (think of Moses’ experience) the meaning of “see” here means something like “know” or “get a clear understanding of” — except the Word, speaking (as we shall see) in the accents of language, act, personality, and inward guidance and power.

B.  It is natural, perhaps, now to move to vv. 33 and 34, in which John is recounting how he came to recognize Jesus as the one he was to announce:  ‘The one that sent me to baptize in water said to me, “The one on whom you shall see the spirit descending and remaining, this is the one baptizing in the holy spirit.”  The verb stem here is id– , and clearly connotes “perceive”.

Interestingly, as I have probably noted before, this stem, which in Indo-European is reconstructed as *weid-, in most of the cognate languages means both “see” (Latin video) and “know” (as in the old English verb “wit,”) or “come to know.”  Think of our expression, “Oh, I now I see!” (as in A above).  In verse 33, John uses a different form of the verb when he says  “I didn’t recognize (ᾔδειν, stem id-) him, but the one who sent me said…”

C. Three times, (verses 29, 36, and 47), we get the imperative ide, usualy translated “behold!” We might more naturally translate it “Look!” as in (v. 29, 36) “Look over there!  the lamb of God.”  More elaborately, John is directing his disciples’ attention — continuing to play his role as way-finder or fore-runner. In fact, John utters the word, but the purpose (and result) of the speech act is to get the disciples to look and register Jesus.

D.  Now we get a smorgasboard of seeing verbs in the final episode of the chapter.

In v. 47, it’s Jesus speaking to Nathaniel:  “Well, looky here, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” Before this encounter,  there’s been a whole chain of seeing (and finding, the result of the searching eye).  John sees Jesus, says “See, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples he’s speaking to go to Jesus, who, seeing them (theaomai, see prior posts) , asks what they want.  They want to know where he’s staying, and he says, “Come and you’ll see” (op-).  They then come and see where he is staying.   One of them, Andrew, finds his brother Simon, tells him he’s found the Christ (Messiah), and takes him to Jesus.  Jesus, seeing him (emblepo), names him, and then nicknames him.  Next day, Jesus finds Philip, who falls in with him, then runs to find Nathaniel — to tell him he’s found the one foretold. Nathaniel is not impressed, but Philip says, “Come and see (id-).”  When Jesus encounters Nathaniel, he teases the skeptic, and Nathaniel is surprised that Jesus recognizes him.  Jesus and Nathaniel negotiate about Jesus’ fore-sight (id-) of him under the fig tree. The chapter closes with Jesus predicting that they (you pl.) will see (op-) greater things than this.

With this final episode, therefore, from verses 43-51, there is a crescendo of seeing, of knowing (coming to know), of finding.  In the final statement, Jesus suggests that in following him, Peter, Philip, Andrew, Nathaniel, etc., are going to gain insight, are going to come to see angels passing to and fro on their work —not as validation of Jesus’ special status; rather as messengers and catalysts for the divine work, which John has glimpsed, and Jesus already is taking up.  The Light will enable them to see, will come to be seen as,  the divine logos — rationale,  message, conversation. (In a later post, I’d like to return to some nuances of logos, and the debate Erasmus provoked about its translation.)  Fox found that after his revelation. all creation gave forth a new smell, John engages us with seeing the world, seeing into the world, in a wholly new way.

I was captivated by all this seeing in John 1, because I have been pondering for many years what the import is of John chapter 9, which is devoted to an analysis of one miracle: Jesus heals a blind man.  Its final sentence is, If you were blind, you would have no sin.  But now you say, “I see”; your sin abides.   I think the dense linkages of seeing, beholding, perceiving, finding in chapter 1 sets us up for much of what comes after.

For elders and others — Hibbert on “The costingness of ministry”

04/09/2018 § Leave a comment

I revisited this recently, and was struck at its value — especially in the way that Hibbert conveys how eldership and ministry are two sides of the same work.  Moreover, he clearly sees the whole meeting as participating in the spiritual task of mutual encouragement, instruction,  and liberation to a more open life.  I also like the way he speaks about joy in the work.

I’ll add this to my Library in the next few days, along with some other Hibbertiana.


For elders–and others: “the costingness of ministry”
Gerald K. Hibbert
(published in The Friend (London) Vol. 92, No.15 (12th of 4th Month, 1935)

An open discussion on subjects related to Eldership is proposed for Y.M. Elders at next Yearly Meeting. To promote this the five questions that follow have been prepared and circulated, and form the basis of this article.
1.–Elders are charged with the duty of ensuring “the right holding” of meetings for worship, and are encouraged “to cherish an interest in the spiritual welfare of all their fellow members.” How can this counsel be put into practice?
2.–There is great need for a living ministry. Do we, as Elders, concentrate upon the development of that spirit out of which such ministry will arise?
3.–Do we represent the vocal ministry as a call to a splendid and joyous vocation? Do we realise the essential “costingness” of ministry?
4.–Is the ministry shallow, casual, lacking grip and conviction? Has it become too humanitarian, or bordering too much upon politics? Is it sufficiently related to our experience of God–to his self-disclosure in Christ–to what He has done and is doing in the lives of men and women?
5.–There is an important place for vocal prayer in our meetings for worship. Do Elders sufficiently realise this and give wise encouragement to any who may have a gift in this way?

Elders have been considering the Questions prepared by the Executive Committee of Yearly Meeting Elders, and asked to give them careful consideration. It is hoped to have an open discussion at next Y.M. on subjects related to Eldership.

The questions are naturally and rightly concerned with our Meetings for Worship and the Ministry in those meetings: this is the main of Elders. They emphasise the need for a living ministry, deep, searching, springing from our experience of God in his self-disclosure in Christ. They raise the important point of the value of vocal prayer in our meetings, and urge Elders to realise this and to give wise encouragement to any who may have a gift in this way.

We may perhaps single out Question 3 for consideration in this article, because of its balance and comprehensiveness, and because it is a real challenge: “Do we represent the vocal as a call to a splendid and joyous? Do we realise the essential ‘costing’ of ministry ?” And while the “we” in question is primarily addressed to Elders, all of our Society can take it as applying to themselves, whether technically Elders or not. Not one of us can really evade this issue.

Let us take the second part, of the question first–the “costingness” of ministry. Time was when there was no need to emphasise this aspect of ministry in our Society. Readers of Neave Brayshaw’s book, The Quakers: Their Story and Message, will remember the instances he gives in that remarkable chapter, “The History of Quaker Ministry,” to show the positive fear of being led to take vocal part in the ministry that was characteristic of in many Friends in the early part of last century. He reminds us that an atmosphere of unnaturalness and even of weirdness had come to cling round the idea of ministry. “Those on whom the awful gift had descended came to be regarded as a separate of men and women, forever marked off others.”

Some of the extracts given from the journals of ministering Friends of that time sound strange today. Thus, Lydia Ann Barclay writes: “I feel now ill with conflict, and the dread of meeting days,” thus vividly depicting her distress at the prospect of ministry. William Allen, on being recorded as a minister in 1820, writes: “I am now placed in an awful situation. May the Great Preserver of men be near to support and sustain under every trial, and prevent me from doing anything which may injure His great and good cause. I am indeed very low and in much fear.”

Another Friend, Mary Burtt, who, after twenty five years’ struggle, at last yielded to the call by quoting a single text, wrote a few weeks afterwards in her diary: “My heart is saddened by the recollection that to-morrow will be meeting-day again.”

Others, like Thomas Pumphrey, Elizabeth Fry and John Yardley, felt that the call to the ministry might be a temptation of the devil, the first named telling us that he “struggled against the call, fearing it was a suggestion of Satan to bring dishonour on the precious truth,” and the last named writing: “I have often secretly said, ‘Get thee behind me, I will not be tempted with such a thing’…Such was my dislike to the work that I suffered myself to be lulled into a state of unbelief as to the rectitude of the concern.”

Now the idea underlying this fear was undoubtedly good, and we can understand and sympathise with it. “In all this,” says Neave Brayshaw, “we see the concern of the true minister that his life shall commend his words.” Or, in the phraseology of our question, these Friends realised the essential costingness of ministry. They distrusted the easy flow of speech, the shallow casual utterance that so lightly runs off the tongue, and they feared above all things “to outrun the Guide” or “to exceed the measure.”

We can respect their position without wishing fully to adopt it. Of the two extremes, reserve and verbosity, this is the less harmful.
The Friends of a century ago had not coined the expressive phrase descriptive of voluble speakers as being “too light on the trigger,” but they evidently knew the dangers attaching to volubility. As far back as 1717, Thomas Story had described the Yearly Meeting as “a crowding time, there not being, for the most part, one minute’s time between the end of one testimony and the beginning of another, an indecency I have ever disliked.”

Now, to balance this, and to prevent the sense of the costingness involved in all true ministry from paralysing us and reducing us to the bondage of fear, let us turn to the first half of our question. “Do we represent the vocal ministry as a call to a splendid and joyous vocation?” “Splendid” and “joyous” are glorious adjectives, not perhaps reflecting the Quaker caution of a hundred years ago, but just the right words in this setting. What indeed is more splendid and joyous than the gospel of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, and what vocation can be more splendid and joyous than that of sharing with others our experience thereof in our own hearts? We do not hesitate to appeal to the young to dedicate themselves to high and heroic tasks: what work can be higher or more heroic than to live and to preach Christ to a world that is “rattling into barbarism” for want of him?

It is this positive and triumphant note that we need to sound to-day–if indeed our own experience warrants our sounding it, and if our faith in God is strong enough. Are we inspired enough to lay on all our members, ourselves included, the great claims of the Christian ministry, by example far more than by precept, but not excluding the latter? This of course does not mean asking our members to specialise in theology or go to college or give up business: it is simply emphasising our fundamental position of the “Priesthood of all believers,” and urging upon all of us our individual and collective responsibility for the life of our Meetings. “In the Light,” said Fox, “everyone should have something to offer.”

Whether in silence or in speech, we lay our gift on the altar, and the fire kindles. We worship as individuals, but not selfishly, for we worship also as a group: we “feel the power of God in one another” as we “meet together and know one another in that which is eternal which was before the world was.”

In such an atmosphere ministry cannot be shallow or casual or lacking conviction and grip. Even if it becomes “humanitarian or bordering on politics” (see Question 4), it will still be “in the life,” based upon the Unseen, and uniting rather than dividing: a humanitarianism or a politic with its roots in God cannot lead us astray. In praying and working for such an atmosphere in our Meetings, Elders will be “concentrating on the development of that spirit out or which a living ministry will arise” (see Question 2). The ministry largely reflects the spiritual life of the group, and for this spiritual life we all–Elders and non-Elders equally and alike–are responsible, “that all may be as one family, building up one another and helping one another.”

John Bunyan and the author’s heart

04/04/2018 § 3 Comments

John Bunyan (1628-1688), a tinker, was a key leader in the radical Baptist movement in revolutionary England. Despite many ways in which his views were in sympathy with those of Friends,and despite the role that Friends had in freeing Bunyan as they fought for religious toleration,  he was a trenchant critic of Friends (see here for a brief account).  Their theological differences were deep and fundamental — compare the overall tone of his autobiography (Grace abounding to the chief of sinners) with that of Fox’s Journal to get a feeling.  (See here for an edition and analysis of Bunyan’s debate with Edward Burrough, for lots more detail — I am still working through this slowly!).

On the other hand,  there is a lot to like about Bunyan, and Friends have been among those who’ve loved the Pilgrim’s Progress.  I started re-reading this (by audiobook) today, and was charmed all over again by his “apology” at the beginning of the work.   It is lively, colloquial, often witty, rough-and-ready verse, and there are passages that I think almost any author, as well as any teacher or preacher, can read with a sense of kinship.  Here it is.  Read it aloud with a smile, and it all flows rather well!

The Author’s Apology for his Book

{1} When at the first I took my pen in hand
Thus for to write, I did not understand
That I at all should make a little book
In such a mode; nay, I had undertook
To make another; which, when almost done,
Before I was aware, I this begun.

And thus it was: I, writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory
About their journey, and the way to glory,
In more than twenty things which I set down.
This done, I twenty more had in my crown;
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.

Nay, then, thought I, if that you breed so fast,
I’ll put you by yourselves, lest you at last
Should prove ad infinitum, and eat out
The book that I already am about.

Well, so I did; but yet I did not think
To shew to all the world my pen and ink
In such a mode; I only thought to make
I knew not what; nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my neighbour: no, not I;
I did it my own self to gratify.

{2} Neither did I but vacant seasons spend
In this my scribble; nor did I intend
But to divert myself in doing this
From worser thoughts which make me do amiss.

Thus, I set pen to paper with delight,
And quickly had my thoughts in black and white.
For, having now my method by the end,
Still as I pulled, it came; and so I penned
It down: until it came at last to be,
For length and breadth, the bigness which you see.

Well, when I had thus put mine ends together,
I shewed them others, that I might see whether
They would condemn them, or them justify:
And some said, Let them live; some, Let them die;
Some said, JOHN, print it; others said, Not so;
Some said, It might do good; others said, No.

Now was I in a strait, and did not see
Which was the best thing to be done by me:
At last I thought, Since you are thus divided,
I print it will, and so the case decided.

{3} For, thought I, some, I see, would have it done,
Though others in that channel do not run:
To prove, then, who advised for the best,
Thus I thought fit to put it to the test.

I further thought, if now I did deny
Those that would have it, thus to gratify.
I did not know but hinder them I might
Of that which would to them be great delight.

For those which were not for its coming forth,
I said to them, Offend you I am loth,
Yet, since your brethren pleased with it be,
Forbear to judge till you do further see.

If that thou wilt not read, let it alone;
Some love the meat, some love to pick the bone.
Yea, that I might them better palliate,
I did too with them thus expostulate:–

{4} May I not write in such a style as this?
In such a method, too, and yet not miss
My end–thy good? Why may it not be done?
Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.
Yea, dark or bright, if they their silver drops
Cause to descend, the earth, by yielding crops,
Gives praise to both, and carpeth not at either,
But treasures up the fruit they yield together;
Yea, so commixes both, that in her fruit
None can distinguish this from that: they suit
Her well when hungry; but, if she be full,
She spews out both, and makes their blessings null.

You see the ways the fisherman doth take
To catch the fish; what engines doth he make?
Behold how he engageth all his wits;
Also his snares, lines, angles, hooks, and nets;
Yet fish there be, that neither hook, nor line,
Nor snare, nor net, nor engine can make thine:
They must be groped for, and be tickled too,
Or they will not be catch’d, whate’er you do.

How does the fowler seek to catch his game
By divers means! all which one cannot name:
His guns, his nets, his lime-twigs, light, and bell:
He creeps, he goes, he stands; yea, who can tell
Of all his postures? Yet there’s none of these
Will make him master of what fowls he please.
Yea, he must pipe and whistle to catch this,
Yet, if he does so, that bird he will miss.

If that a pearl may in a toad’s head dwell,
And may be found too in an oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain
What better is than gold; who will disdain,
That have an inkling of it, there to look,
That they may find it? Now, my little book,
(Though void of all these paintings that may make
It with this or the other man to take)
Is not without those things that do excel
What do in brave but empty notions dwell.

{5} ‘Well, yet I am not fully satisfied,
That this your book will stand, when soundly tried.’
Why, what’s the matter? ‘It is dark.’ What though?
‘But it is feigned.’ What of that? I trow?
Some men, by feigned words, as dark as mine,
Make truth to spangle and its rays to shine.

‘But they want solidness.’ Speak, man, thy mind.
‘They drown the weak; metaphors make us blind.’

Solidity, indeed, becomes the pen
Of him that writeth things divine to men;
But must I needs want solidness, because
By metaphors I speak? Were not God’s laws,
His gospel laws, in olden times held forth
By types, shadows, and metaphors? Yet loth
Will any sober man be to find fault
With them, lest he be found for to assault
The highest wisdom. No, he rather stoops,
And seeks to find out what by pins and loops,
By calves and sheep, by heifers and by rams,
By birds and herbs, and by the blood of lambs,
God speaketh to him; and happy is he
That finds the light and grace that in them be.

{6} Be not too forward, therefore, to conclude
That I want solidness–that I am rude;
All things solid in show not solid be;
All things in parables despise not we;
Lest things most hurtful lightly we receive,
And things that good are, of our souls bereave.

My dark and cloudy words, they do but hold
The truth, as cabinets enclose the gold.

The prophets used much by metaphors
To set forth truth; yea, who so considers Christ,
his apostles too, shall plainly see,
That truths to this day in such mantles be.

Am I afraid to say, that holy writ,
Which for its style and phrase puts down all wit,
Is everywhere so full of all these things–
Dark figures, allegories? Yet there springs
From that same book that lustre, and those rays
Of light, that turn our darkest nights to days.

{7} Come, let my carper to his life now look,
And find there darker lines than in my book
He findeth any; yea, and let him know,
That in his best things there are worse lines too.

May we but stand before impartial men,
To his poor one I dare adventure ten,
That they will take my meaning in these lines
Far better than his lies in silver shrines.
Come, truth, although in swaddling clouts, I find,
Informs the judgement, rectifies the mind;
Pleases the understanding, makes the will
Submit; the memory too it doth fill
With what doth our imaginations please;
Likewise it tends our troubles to appease.

Sound words, I know, Timothy is to use,
And old wives’ fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere did forbid
The use of parables; in which lay hid
That gold, those pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.

Let me add one word more. O man of God,
Art thou offended? Dost thou wish I had
Put forth my matter in another dress?
Or, that I had in things been more express?
Three things let me propound; then I submit
To those that are my betters, as is fit.

{8} 1. I find not that I am denied the use
Of this my method, so I no abuse
Put on the words, things, readers; or be rude
In handling figure or similitude,
In application; but, all that I may,
Seek the advance of truth this or that way
Denied, did I say? Nay, I have leave
(Example too, and that from them that have
God better pleased, by their words or ways,
Than any man that breatheth now-a-days)
Thus to express my mind, thus to declare
Things unto thee that excellentest are.

2. I find that men (as high as trees) will write
Dialogue-wise; yet no man doth them slight
For writing so: indeed, if they abuse
Truth, cursed be they, and the craft they use
To that intent; but yet let truth be free
To make her sallies upon thee and me,
Which way it pleases God; for who knows how,
Better than he that taught us first to plough,
To guide our mind and pens for his design?
And he makes base things usher in divine.

3. I find that holy writ in many places
Hath semblance with this method, where the cases
Do call for one thing, to set forth another;
Use it I may, then, and yet nothing smother
Truth’s golden beams: nay, by this method may
Make it cast forth its rays as light as day.
And now before I do put up my pen,
I’ll shew the profit of my book, and then
Commit both thee and it unto that Hand
That pulls the strong down, and makes weak ones stand.

This book it chalketh out before thine eyes
The man that seeks the everlasting prize;
It shews you whence he comes, whither he goes;
What he leaves undone, also what he does;
It also shows you how he runs and runs,
Till he unto the gate of glory comes.

{9} It shows, too, who set out for life amain,
As if the lasting crown they would obtain;
Here also you may see the reason why
They lose their labour, and like fools do die.

This book will make a traveller of thee,
If by its counsel thou wilt ruled be;
It will direct thee to the Holy Land,
If thou wilt its directions understand:
Yea, it will make the slothful active be;
The blind also delightful things to see.

Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest thou see a truth within a fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-Year’s day to the last of December?
Then read my fancies; they will stick like burs,
And may be, to the helpless, comforters.

This book is writ in such a dialect
As may the minds of listless men affect:
It seems a novelty, and yet contains
Nothing but sound and honest gospel strains.
Wouldst thou divert thyself from melancholy?
Wouldst thou be pleasant, yet be far from folly?
Wouldst thou read riddles, and their explanation?
Or else be drowned in thy contemplation?
Dost thou love picking meat? Or wouldst thou see
A man in the clouds, and hear him speak to thee?
Wouldst thou be in a dream, and yet not sleep?
Or wouldst thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Wouldest thou lose thyself and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Wouldst read thyself, and read thou knowest not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not,

By reading the same lines? Oh, then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head, and heart together.

                                                             JOHN BUNYAN.

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