11/22/2020 § 3 Comments
The movement to action. In your watching, your waiting in the light of Christ, you have felt some movement to action, at the point where awareness, the demands of justice, or grief are visited by compassion. If this has not happened yet, it will. No matter whether the grief or the anger or the love you feel is for the state of the planet, or for humankind, emotion turns to motivation. John Woolman’s description of his experience of accepting one kind of service — the gospel ministry — is helpful here:
I was afflicted in mind some weeks, without any light or comfort, even to that degree that I could not take satisfaction in anything. I remembered God, and was troubled, and in the depth of my distress he had pity upon me, and sent the Comforter. I then felt forgiveness for my offence; my mind became calm and quiet, and I was truly thankful to my gracious Redeemer for his mercies. About six weeks after this, feeling the spring of Divine love opened, and a concern to speak, I said a few words in a meeting, in which I found peace….From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it springs a lively operative desire for the good of others.
He had been stirred, and felt moved to action, but hesitated. Sometimes our hesitation is out of fear, sometimes we want to avoid taking on a new inconvenience or hard labor; and other sources of resistance there may be, as well. (The next post in this series will deal with this.)
I once was giving a talk on traditional Quaker spirituality to a group of pastors-in-training in Kaimosi, Kenya, and used John Woolman’s practice as a touchstone, since they were reading his Journal at the time. At one point, a student said, “All this waiting and waiting. It seems as though they don’t ever do anything.” This got a laugh from us all. But the reply has two parts.
The first is that humans are constantly generating ideas and impulses about things to do. Our species might well be named Homo inquietus (the restless earthling). Kipling in the (Second) Jungle Book includes this little reflection:
These are the Four that are never content,
That have never been filled since the Dews began —
Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite,
The hands of the Ape and the Eyes of Man
People will act. especially when their interest, their emotions, their identity, their needs are involved. In our acting, as well as our waiting, we learn how to act, and when; when to speak, and when to be still — itself an act of obedience, and also sometimes mercy to our weakness.
The second answer to the Kenyan question is, that we are engaged with a living God, whose work is (re)creative, whose Word is actively at work in the world “reconciling the world to himself.” It is the Quaker experience that waiting is indeed waiting on — being still as preparation for service. Yet there is another dimension which modern Friends do not take seriously enough.
Prompt obedience a spiritual discipline, a spiritual law. Friends from the beginning recognized that the outward fruits of inward life are cultivated by our accepting the Light we’re given, and acting on it in the smallest matters.
When a command comes, however trivial, your soul’s health is promoted by prompt obedience. Every command from the Light is given as bread for your nourishment and inward growth. As Bill Taber said in The Prophetic Stream, “the just shall live by faithfulness.” The inward disposition is good, but only the beginning of new growth; “faith without works is dead” says the epistle of James, and “There is no time but this present time,” as George Fox wrote to his parents. Another James, James Nayler, wrote (in What the posession of the living faith is):
in this journey I have seen the slothful servant overtaken with a fault which he had once cast behind him, and never intended to join to again, of which the diligent servant is kept free, and I have seen the wages of each servant according to his diligence in that which he hath of God betrusted in him, and not by his own strivings in the thoughts of himself, his worth or wisdom. And in diligent hearkening and obeying of the Spirit have I found the right faithfulness towards God
Ways and means. The urgency of the climate crisis, and its intricate relationship with issues of justice, economic well-being, cultural integrity, earth-care, and more, mean that there is a wide field, a daunting range of opportunities offered to the awakened conscience, whose awakening has removed the first intertia that tempts to a false rest.
We are thus presented with continual challenges of imagination, because each field of endeavor has its own appropriate tools, yet the Lamb’s war demands of its advocates the weapons of the Spirit of Christ:
as they war not against men’s persons, so their weapons are not carnal, nor hurtful to any of the creation; for the Lamb comes not to destroy men’s lives, nor the work of God, and therefore at his appearance in his subjects, he puts spiritual weapons into their hearts and hands: their armor is the light, their sword the Spirit of the Father and the Son; their shield is faith and patience; their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God. Their breastplate is righteousness and holiness to God; their minds are girt with godliness, and they are covered with salvation, and they are taught with truth.
This is not idealism, it is directly aimed at the kinds of change that will be needed if we are to address climate change and its interconnections: changes of mind, and, yes, heart, as well as behavior. Of course, it is great if we can get people to modify their behaviors right away, without any change of mind — but the changes needed are so dramatic and pervasive that if they are not to be ensured by coercion, they must be supported willingly.
As a society, we face not just the loss of the ease and comfort of the subsidized Petroleum Empire, and the uncertainties of transition to new forms of energy and transport. Finally, we must confront and replace the assumption of exponential growth of economies, and the forces and strains that lead to and follow from the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The alternative to increasing immiseration of the majority of the world is a very different system for the generation and distribution of well-being, that is less focused on wealth and more focused on well-being.
All this is radical, and will demand a revolution in understanding about what “the good life” looks like. If it is to be implemented with justice, and maintained by mutual consent (though dissenters and critics will always be present, and necessarily so). It will be a nearer approximation to the ethos of “love thy neighbor as thyself”than most societies have yet approached. Though there will be many ways of articulating the frame-shift, here is a Christian phrasology:
The light says, Love your neighbor as yourself: This the first birth cannot do,.. the creature must give up that to death that he may come to the meek Spirit, for the power of that life and obedience that has righteousness in it; and the creature drawing his mind and affections, and faith from the first, who has words without power, and giving these to the second, the first falls, withers, and dies in that vessel, and as the mind is diligent in the second, he rises in the faith, and Christ raises the power of obedience in that vessel. (Nayler in Milk for Babes)
So the Lamb’s warrior, working in the world with others of good will, must engage with the tools of science, or persuasion, or politics, or education always under the constraints of the love of Christ, and the “weapons” appropriate to it.
Yet despise not the day of things. Our path must begin with the smallest openings, the simplest leadings, the weakest of visitations. This is true in the Lamb’s War as in the spiritual life: There is an infancy in the work, that may seem unpromising and even ridiculous in the face of the great challenges before us. But recall that this is the life in which the Messiah rides on a donkey, and washes the feet of his students. Power looks different, and maturity also. Isaac Penington writes
the great deceiver of souls lifts up men’s minds in the imagination to look for some great appearance of power, and so they slight and overlook the day of small things, and neglect receiving the beginning of that, which in the issue would be the thing they look for. Waiting in that which is low and little in the heart, the power enters, the seed grows, the kingdom is felt and daily more and more revealed in the power. And this is the true door and way to the thing: take heed of climbing over it.
We must be wary of the temptation to postpone action until something “really worth our effort” comes along. If we wait deeply enough, we will find that our anxiety about impact will be lifted from us, because we can see that the fundamental message is the love of God as we can embody it, and this is at work in many lives and many places. “To those who have, more shall be given.”
A warning. To act in love, in urgency, and faithfulness, using the weapons of the Lamb, is very likely to require us to change deeply. To meet this challenge, so that our witness reaches the Witness in others’ consciences, we need to be about the work of getting clear. How faithful am I? How truthful is my life? How grateful and unwearied in well-doing? How long-suffering and humble am I? What do I need to do, to get down low enough to receive the presence, and welcome the life, of the Lamb, and prophesy of the ocean of life and light that flows over the ocean of darkness in all our ways and works?
To summarize, the second task for you — and me! — , in responding to climate change as part of the Lamb’s War against the systems of oppression, death-worship, and alienation from God, from each other and from the earth, is: Out of waiting and watching, act promptly on what the Spirit truly gives you to do. It may be big, or by your measure, it may be tiny. The key thing is that you are entered into, moving with, the prophetic stream; as you follow it along, your strength with grow, in part by the addition of others’, and in part through your own growth in grace and wisdom. Start now! Seek diligently, and act diligently, turning the whole of your life into the “channel of universal love”::
… let your food be in the life of what you know, and in the power of obedience rejoice, and not in what you know, but cannot live, for the life is the bread for your souls, which crucifies the flesh, and confounds that which runs before the cross.
So let your labor and diligence be in that which presses into the heavenly Being, and seeks a conformity to Christ in obedience of what you believe, and hearken in love to that, not in that mind which would save your own lives, nor feed you where you are; but in love to that which separates you from self-life, and changes you into His life whom you wait for from above; so in receiving His commands in that which loves to be like Him in life, your faith works by love:
That faith works obedience, quickness and willingness, it works out the old, and works into the new (Nayler, Milk for Babes)
11/01/2020 § 2 Comments
The foundation of participation in the Lamb’s War is watchfulness. In his tract on the Lamb’s War, James Nayler begins the section on “The manner of his war” with these words:
…that he may be just who is to judge all men and spirits, he gives his light unto their hearts even of man and woman, whereby he lets all see (who will mind it) what he is displeased with, what is with him and what is against him, what he owns and what he disowns, that so all may know what is for destruction, to come out of it, lest they be destroyed with it; that so he may save and receive…all who are willing to be set free, all that are in darkness and are willing to come to light…And as many as turn at his reproof he doth receive and give them power in spirit and life to be as he is in their measure, (but all in watching), and wars against that which hath had them and now hath the rest of the creation in bondage, that he may restore all things to their former liberty.
“All in watching.” The first Friends knew a “waiting worship” that was not mere receptivity, but an experience of presence and of visitation, and in that presence, of encounter with a living power with its own integrity and character.
Maybe because we are so geared to action, and so long for the world’s healing and our own, we often fall into a description of our waiting as a “waiting to hear a message” (for ourselves or others). It is good, though, to get down to first things, and start by standing in the Spirit with no agenda, no expectation, open hands. In that experience, we can feel timelessness, and understand something of the mystery in the words “eternal life,” and the nature of God’s love for us as creatures, like God’s love for animals and plants, the changeable hills, the beautiful scarred moon, and the dust-filled vaccuum between the stars. Another way to say this is that for those who seek a prophetic witness to the world, or see the need for one, our watchfulness itself must be prophetic.
William P. Taber, jr. said that the work of the prophet consists in 3 elements: 1. To know the Law (that is, the will of God); 2. To point out the way to faithfuless; and 3. To make spirit available. Much of this series of blog posts has focused on the first point, that is, what is entailed in listening for the voice of the Shepherd of Israel wherever it is to be found — in Scripture, of course, but also in nature (or Creation), and in the tradition — not primarily in formulations about the tradition, but the voices and lives of those who have found a practice of the Presence, and allowed it to reshape their thinking, feeling, and willing. You could say that to understand the scope and challenge of the Lamb’s War, you need to know the Lamb.
This results in an education about our alienation — the places where we are far from the love that “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Moreover, our growing understanding of our alienation, and our growing reorientation to the Light, gives insight into how our alienation and that of other humans (and their institutions and practices) are akin — and the costs that they have to human flourishing, and that of all creation.
Thus (to borrow Nayler’s phrase), we learn “What we are to war against” — not against “the creatures,” nor “flesh and blood,” but against that very isolating, atomized, fearful, often cruel and wasteful alienation. In short, we come to know the “sinfulness of sin.”
It also means that we can come to ever greater and more tender knowledge of the preciousness of the world in which we are placed, where our lives, including its spiritual aspects, are rooted and nourished. Accordingly, there can come a sharper and more comprehending recognition of why and how our own reconciliation with the “love at the heart of things” must necessarily transform our relations to the rest of creation.
It is in the tender places that concern can arise, the growing sense that I am required to attend to something (word or act) — required, because if I do not undertake it, I will move from reconcilation back towards alienation. Like a bolt of lightening, the connection builds both from the ground and the clouds, that is, both from an opening urgency or attentiveness in our selves, and from a changed awareness or attentiveness to something “out there” — in society, in study, in nature — that calls for healing or relief. The electric connection is made, and we are “required” because our soul’s peace is shattered until we respond to the leading.
The origin of a concern, a sense of requirement, has many paths, and it often is felt first in such forms as curiosity, or an “ought” (I really ought to find out more, I really ought to do something), or an invitation from a friend. If we take these little nudges up to the watchtower, we may well find an answering witness within — the secret power of life is preparing you at a level before words — for relationship, for the growth of concern. I am reminded of an anecdote, in which an older Friend asks a younger if he’d ever thought he might have a calling to the ministry. The younger man says “I’ve never had that concern.” The older Friend repled, “Well, has thee ever had a concern to have a concern?” Search for the stirrings of life within!
Curiosity and “interest” are not to be despised as the beginning of a leading. John Woolman’s famous visit to the Delaware people was nearly two years in the making, starting with an early sense of interest, and then a lot of homework — gathering news, talking with travelers who knew the landscape, and knew the Delaware (and in this effort making it known he was interested, so that people thought of sending information or opportunities his way); speaking with Delaware people who happened to be in Philadelphia; and eventually beginning speak of a possible shape for the concern — a journey west. Then began the clearness process — inward clearness, clearness with his wife, and then also with his meeting — and thereafter the planning and implementation. All this is condensed into his famous lines reviewing how he came to be in a tent, in a rainstorm, in the woods of central Pennsylvania: “Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose…”
Perhaps it is important to say that the Quaker idea of “concern” is a profound one that repays some reflection. After all, we are making a claim that God is acting in the world by stirring you up to some service. Such a stirring is thus worth more than gold, yeah than much fine gold. If it is a true leading — borne out by its persistence, by its increasing clarity, by the concurrence of others who taste it and find a sweet and holy savor in it, as the Witness is stirred in them in response —then it deserves the care and solicitude, nourishment, and respect that we accord any newborne from the first appearance to its fruitful maturity. Nothing more weighty and more encouraging can come to a Friend or a Friends meeting.
And one challenge is to dive appropriately into all the particulars of ways and means, while remembering that all of the busyness and logistics and learning had “love as the first motion” — and like John W. we should make time to feel where that spring lies and flows in us.
If we are to live with integrity the Gospel life we are called to, our waiting must also probe this central question: Can I feel how this leading, at its base, is one more outflowing of God’s love? Can I see, at least dimly, how that love sharpens and corrects my view of the people and things I am called towards? If we wait to feel that, before we speak (in meeting or outside it) or act, the resulting integration with our love for the Light will be rewarded in unexpected ways.
Keep up the daily watch!
I close with a favorite passage from First Publishers of Truth:
In or about the year 1655 came a servant of the Lord, but a stranger outwardly, called Thomas Parrish...to a meeting of the people called Independents…And after some time he had waited on the Lord in spirit, he had an opportunity to speak, all being silent. He said by way of exhortation, “Keep to the Lord’s watch!” These words, being spake in the power of God, had its operation upon all or most of the meeting, so that they felt some great dread or fear upon their spirits…some thought to have spake… but could not because of the unusual awe that was on their spirits. After a little time he spake again, saying, “What I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!” [in] such a voice that most of the hearers had never heard before, that carried such great authority that they were all necessitated to be subject to the power, though it was a great cross to their wills to sit in silence, though it was but a little time. Then he spake again these words: “Where are your minds now? Wandering abroad? Or in the spirit watching to the Lord?” Then he went on turning their minds to the spirit of Christ by which some of them knew he spake…one in the meeting later said, he blessed God that he had heard the voice of his spirit that day.”
[ER1]Is this a typo, or should it be ellipsis points?
[ER2]I don’t see this source in the references.
10/30/2020 § Leave a comment
I begin to seek out a subject for an Erasmus birthday post around the first ot September. Two topics came forward in a few days, and I had a hard time choosing between them (indeed, I may exercise my freedom as Lord of This Blog and write them both) — but then I realized something that made my decision for me. Though Oct. 27th is pretty surely Erasmus’s birthday, the year is in some dispute. In part because of his own confusing statements, we can’t be quite sure whether he was born in 1466, or 1469. I realized that, if one takes 1469 as Year Zero, then I am the same age that Erasmus was when he died in 1536 — 67 years old.
I have had an interest in the writings of Erasmus’s last years, in Freiburg and Basel. His great project for a peaceable Europe, united by the common language, Latin, and a Christendom reformed to reflect better the core values of the Gospel and enriched by “good letters” and education, had been overtaken by the tumults of the Protestant Reformation. The reformers were dividing among themselves, and progressive elements in Catholicism were marginalized as the church mobilized for combat. While his work continued relentlessly, he struggled with discouragement, detractors, and declining health. Yet many of his final works speak of his deepest convictions (like his late meditations on psalms, or the treatise on preaching, Ecclesiastes).
Erasmus was very aware of mortality in an era when the life expectancy was something like 25 years (he wrote a poem on old age when he was about 40). So, with mortality on my mind, I read his De praeparatione ad mortem (On preparation for death).
The editor for the version in the Amsterdam Opera Omnia sets the stage:
London, spring 1533. Henry VIII has just taken Anne Boleyn as his second wife. In the month of September, she will bring Elizabeth into the world, the future queen of England. On the 19th of June in the same year, in a letter sent from Greenwich, Anne’s father, Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, secretary to the king, and around 56 years old, urges Erasmus — who at this point is 63 years old —to write for him, as soon as may be, a little book on preparartion for death.*
Erasmus, despite his many other tasks, worked rapidly on this commission. Whereas such promptness in the past might’ve reflected a need to please a generous patron (Thomas had commissioned two other works in the past, and paid well), it seems that Boleyn’s letter “came as a spur” when Erasmus had been reflecting on the topic for some time already.
Biographers of Erasmus are not so interested by this late work, which strikes them as pretty conventional. After all, what can be said about preparing for death that has not been said already a thousand times? Plato spoke of philosophy as the life-long practice of death, by which morbid formulation he meant that one should live as if death might come at any moment (as indeed it may), so that now is the most urgent opportunity for integrity. Later philosophers, such as Seneca elaborated on death as focuser of the mind, as a spur to the principled life, as a reason not to waste one’s time (something Seneca deplores rather often and perhaps ‘protesting too much’), and as an opportunity to free the soul from the burdens of the body. (see here for an interesting essay about Seneca’s reflections on the subject, and here for an essay from the always interesing blog Brainpickings). The practice of memento mori has played such roles ever since.
The ever-acute Roland Bainton sees more deeply, when he points out that the little essay allows Erasmus to focus on the essentials of Christian life (“Meditation on death is a way to meditate on true life”), and “brings us back to the mood of the Enchiridion,” Erasmus’s foundational handbook of Christian living — that is, as a way of living, rather than a set of doctrines. But there is one detail even Bainton does not note which I want to lift up here, moving then to Quaker teaching, and some final reflections of my own in this corrosive and disturbed era.
Four kinds of death, and the philosopy of Christ
Erasmus acknowledges the terrors of death, and its inevitability — Jesus, Mary, the prophets and the saints — that people of such perfection should have suferred death may be some consolation to us who are still struggling on that path. He then makes what I think of as a pedagogical move: Is there a way to meditate on death that provides not fatalistic acceptance, nor a mere awaiting until we receive the final judgment of our merits and demerits at the end of our earthly race?
He suggests that there are four kinds of death: natural, spiritual, eternal, and transformational. “Natural death is the separation of soul from body. Spiritual death is the separation of God from the soul — for as the soul is the life of the body, so is God the life of the soul.” This results, when it conincides with natural death, with “Gehenna death,” a permanent state of alienation from God, “because after the death of the body, there is no place of penitence.”
There remains, then, the death by which we are transformed from the image of “old Adam” into the image of the “new Adam,” who is Christ. This is in effect the separation of spirit from flesh (remember that “flesh” in much preaching, including Quaker preaching, is shorthand for human culture, the misuse of bodies and “the creatures,” the allegience to values contrary to those of the gospel). This separation is not an easy struggle, nor is there any hope of victory, unless the Spirit of Christ comes to the aid of the weakness of our body. But his grace slays in us our old way of being (freely translating veterem hominem), so that we are no longer animated by our own spirit, but by God’s, and do not live as ourselves, but Christ lives in us. This death, then, is earnestly to be sought and meditated upon througout our life. in the transformatory deaths into fuller life, “bearing Christ’s death in our bodies, yet Christ’s life is made visible in our bodies” — Christ present in the bodies of his saints, as James Nayler wrote.
Our God is the God of the living, Jesus declared. In this death of the self, we paradoxically transcend the mors spiritualis, the separation of the soul from God, the well of abundant, inexhaustible life. It is this death that Jesus most often raised people from, I think: thus, he tells a disciple who is tempted to refuse his invitation to follow, on pretext of burying his father, “Let the dead bury the dead.” This disciple, on the threshold of the life that is entered and enlarged by the transformatory death, has his great opportunity to follow his Guide into freedom. We do not hear how his tension is resolved.
Quakers and the deaths
A scan of recent books of Faith and Practice finds remarkably little teaching about death. There are a few quotations from Penn’s Fruits of Solitude, and a fair amount of advice about end-of-life planning, and the holding of memorial meetings. One does not often come exhorations such as that in Samuel Bownas’s first appearance in the ministry, when he quoted Jesus: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Sometimes we read about John Woolman’s dream:
In a time of sickness, a little more than two years and a half ago, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name… I then heard a soft melodious voice, more pure and harmonious than any I had heard with my ears before; I believed it was the voice of an angel who spake to the other angels; the words were, “John Woolman is dead.” I soon remembered that I was once John Woolman, and being assured that I was alive in the body, I greatly wondered what that heavenly voice could mean. I believed beyond doubting that it was the voice of an holy angel, but as yet it was a mystery to me…as I lay still for a time I at length felt a Divine power prepare my mouth that I could speak, and I then said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Then the mystery was opened and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that the language “John Woolman is dead,” meant no more than the death of my own will.
But though this transformatory death is something that still is understood among us, it is not related very often, at least that I have observed, to the questions of mortality. Indeed, many Friends will tell you that Quakers have little interest what happens after our last breath. As far as the tradition goes, this can be shown to be a misreading (I wrote of this once, here.) We are mostly left, as a matter of practice and preaching, with a largely materialistic view of mors naturalis, the death of our bodies.
Yet I think, as I travel towards my “three score years and ten,” that Erasmus, and John Woolman and our other Friends, do us a service by seeing that the daily deaths to self and sin, the daily dying into life, is of one fabric with the ultimate fate of “our selves, our souls and bodies.” By following our Guide and Physician, the Wisdom and creative Word of God, we learn to receive our life daily as a gift, a creation and re-creation — and to consume it as manna, our daily bread. We are not to try to hoard it unconsumed and useless, nor go about in fear that we will be stinted tomorrow, for it is poured out from the unstinting generosity of God. If we receive it in gratitude, it will enable us to so welcome Christ in us, that we can come to the state Adam was in before he fell, as Fox loved to say, yet stronger and more securely founded — even as we we may see, feel, speak with a prophet’s grief at the evils of our timese, and exert ourselves for the healing of the world. In the moments when we taste that life, we can feel how it is to share in Christ’s resurrection, whatever that is. Our mystery is his mystery.
- “Londre, printemps 1533. Henry VII vient de prendre comme deuxième épouse Anne Boleyn, qui au mois de septembre mettre au monde sa fille Elisabeth, la future reine d’Angleterre. Par une lettre datée de Greenwich le 19 juin de la meme année le père d’Anne, Thomas, comte (Earl) de Wiltshire et d’Ormonde, secrétaire du roi, agè d’environ 56 ans, prie instamment Erasme, qui avait alors 63 ans, de lui écrire le plus tot possible un libellus aliquis de praeparatione ad mortem. ” ASD Ordinis Quinti Tomus Primus pp. 325ff)
NOTE: All translations in this post are my fault.
10/16/2020 § Leave a comment
I have always loved this story, and have tracked it down so I could share it.
The following account was received from Isaac Pickerill, an eminent Friend of Reading in Berkshire; at the time of the occasion he lived in the borough:
I was informed, said he, of an ancient woman Friend living in Long Lane, who had let in some discouragement that, as she was but little known, Friends would not permit her body to be interred in their burial ground, which, when I heard of, I went with a Friend or two to pay her a visit.
On coming to the door, a little girl ran out and said, “Grandmother, here is some of your Friends asking for you.” On which she rose up and met us and said, “And is it some of my dear friends come to see me? The Lord preserve them and me to the end!” Having sat down and conversed with her about the subject of her uneasiness, we assured her that her request would be granted, and added that if she needed any assistance for her support she should have every accommodation i their power to procure, which tended to revive her, and she cheerfully said, “Now, friends, I will tell you how I was convinced. I was a young lass, at that time in Dorsetshire, when George Fox came into that country, and he having appointed a meeting, to which the people generally flocked, I went among the rest, and in going along the road, this query arose in my mind, “What is it that condemns me when I do evil, and justifies me when I do well? What is it?”
In this state I went to the meeting, which was large. George Fox rose with these words: “Who art thou who queriest in thy mind, What is it that condemneth me with I do evil, and justifieth me when I do well? What is it? I will tell thee. Lo! He that formed the mountains and created the winds, and declareth unto man what are his thoughts, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth; The Lord, the Lord of Hosts is his name. It is he by his Spirit that condemneth thee for evil, and justifieth when thou doest well. Keep under its dictates, and he will be thy preserver to the end.” To which she added, “It was truth, the very truth, and I have never departed from it.”
(British Friend, 1867, pg. 103)
10/06/2020 § Leave a comment
Here is the opportunity that climate change offers us: to end at last our luke-warmness, our accommodation, and our complicity with the Spirit of the Age. We can, if we choose to, finally grapple with the divine invitation to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and allowing ourselves to be conformed to (as I call it) the mind of Christ.
Why the Lamb’s War?
Every time I use the phrase, “the Lamb’s War,” I feel uneasy, because of my revulsion against the evil and folly that is war. Yet, as William James pointed out, “war” is a powerful metaphor precisely because it has come to evoke not only images of its evils and folly, but also the intense marshalling of intention, ingenuity, and resources, and highly romanticized but often true accounts of war’s power to evoke human characteristics such as courage, determination, and social cohesion.
The “Lamb’s War” image among Quakers emerged in a time of social unrest, religious turmoil, and civil war — shaped in part by climatic changes in the preceding century, small in comparison with what we are facing, but enough to reshape England’s way of life. Such times also favor the emergence of prophecy, in word and deed.
Whose prophet, whose messenger, will you be?
In the rest of this post, I will set the stage a little more, under the following headings:
1.The scope of the challenge
2. The relation between individual and cosmic wellfare and reconciliation: beyond tokenism
3. The nature of the Lamb
4. To the Society of Friends and like-minded others: The Epistle to Laodicea (ironically) speaks to our condition.
5. Climate change presents us with an opportunity.
1. The scope of the challenge
Since the first detailed warnings were widely published more than 30 years ago, the collective response of humanity is to hew fairly closely to the worst-case scenarios of carbon emissions, from deforestation, fossil fuel combustion, and other sources. Major oil companies knew — in the 1970s — what the consequences of continued and accelerating fossil fuel use would be. (The trustworthiness of the scenarios, despite many uncertainties, came from their being based on physics established roughly a century before. See the story here. ) Nevertheless, the oil companies chose to keep quiet and continue as usual. They and their allies have spent millions of dollars propagandizing against the science and its implications.
At present, we have entered upon a climate that humans have never experienced, ever. The consequences are just starting to be felt. Because the “climate system” is actually made up of thousands of interacting systems, from local to global, the transformation of a pro-human climate to a much-more anti-human climate takes a while to gain momentum (good time to think about exponential growth, one of many ideas that matter inere.) . Also, the changes build on each other. The one thing that’s been a constant, however, is that just about every milestone of climate impacts has come faster — much faster — than expected.
The power of denial (self- and other-) is strong in our species, in part because we live by stories, and are in the grip of imagination.
“Oh, what a lovely owl!” cried the Wart.
But when he went up to it and held out his hand, the owl grew half as tall again, stood up as stiff as a poker, closed its eyes so that there was only the smallest slit to peep through – as you are in the habit of doing when told to shut your eyes at hide-and-seek – and said in a doubtful voice
“There is no owl.”
Then it shut its eyes entirely and looked the other way.
“It is only a boy,” said Merlyn.
“There is no boy,” said the owl hopefully, without turning round.”
(from T. H White: The once and future king.)
While frogs will not, in fact, sit in a pan of gradually heating water until they are boiled to death (frogs regulate their temperature by moving away from unacceptable conditions), because of our power of denial (spinning alternative narratives) people do things that fit the fable very well. As a result, the future is going to be pretty bad, and it’s started to arrive (see here for a concise diagnosis on an important website).
2. The relation between individual and cosmic wellfare and reconciliation: beyond tokenism.
Friends from the beginning saw that the broken relationship between humans and God also meant a broken relation between humans and the material world. When a modern person reads a declaration that some social evil (poverty, oppression, hubris, war) arises from “the lusts,” it is hard to feel the logic, the intensity of the statement, because we don’t read “lust” as something like “unbridled exploitation or consumption,” which is part of what is meant. Any time when a human desire or impulse is so indulged or exercised as to violate the constraints of love — of God and one’s neighbor — “lust” is involved. This may be seen in an individual’s conduct — or in a mindset, a shared attitude, which is accepted without reflection. When such an unquestioned assumption is so widespread as to affect how wealth, resources, and power are used, then the individual becomes social, and creates norms that reinforce and justify the error — “normalize” it. Slavery was such a norm; so also the view of women as chattel or subordinates to men, or the exploitation of the many by the few that is takes such forms as state-capitalism (in the United state), Soviet-style command economies, and fascims and racisms of many kinds. (Of course, none of these is really in the past, as anyone can see.)
It is part of the lust-dominated system we live in to somehow regard environmental crimes as not serious, because to recognize them for their immorality would imply that some the lust would somehow need to be restrained. Into this category fall such things as the unrestrained use of fossil fuels once their implications were understood; the relatively unrestrained poisoning and exploitation of fresh water, soil, and air; the wholesale destruction of natural systems like forests and grasslands, in the service of short-term profits or the indulgence of unsustainable lifestyles.
You can’t live centered in the conscious, intentional attitude of respect and justice that is at the heart of the “love” of the Gospel and the “greatst commandments (love of God and love of neighbor), and truthfully reconcile yourself to elements of a society — or of oneself — that are enchained by “lusts” in the broad sense that it had when Friends arose. Your behavior — my behavior — is part of the broader society, and participation without dissent (when insight comes) is to reinforce the norm.
To truly see one’s complicity is to feel pain, and be open to motions to change. So, just as I do in my own life, society finds ways to disperse responsibility, and split hairs so as to insulate some kinds of evil against criticism. So it’s no coincidence that “lusts” has come to mostly connote sexual violations,; though the earlier force of the word lingers in phrases used with little force, such as “lust for power,”
And of course, the system evolves to protect privilege, so that those who benefit (or long to benefit) from The Way Things Are can continue to do so relentlessly. So, even though the system is constituted of persons, it has such power and complexity that individual impulses to protest or live according to (even slightly) different values are likely to be crushed under the weight of the Norm. Thus, as Friends (and acute moral reasoners in every age and culture) have felt and said, the reconciliation of individual conscience and spiritual health is bound up with “social” and “systemic” ills — in effect we are helping maintain the prison in which we are held, we wear chains that we are taught to see as adornments, when they are truly signs of unfreedom: ‘mind-forged manacles.’
3. The nature of the Lamb
The Shepherd of Israel’s revelation through Jesus gave us a human incarnation of the message of the prophets, in ‘demonstration and in power.’ Disconcertingly, this ‘first-born of many siblings’ fit few expectations, preaching as the Son of Man and announced by john as the “lamb of God.” His miracles showed us that God is still present and sovreign in the very elements of earth — “even the winds and the sea obey him” — yet he exercised no earthly power beyond that of word and example. His healing and his teaching always carried also the message of inward wholeness, of reconciliation with God and neighbor (“Your sins are forgiven….take up your bed and walk.”), and his Gethsemane struggle and crucifixion in loyalty to his calling and to God, laid open a way to see how God’s power is perfected in our weakness, and God’s wisdom contradicts the vaunted wisdom of the Powers and Principalities with which we are to contend.
The tesimony to God as lord of the elements and the fruitful, teeming earth is expanded or deepened by the testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved, to whose narrative the name John is attached, in the opening hymn to Logos, the creating and healing message of light and life. Through this, we see that the Christ is engaged in a work of reconciliation that is the same impulse as the work of Wisdom (Sophia) that has gone on since the beginning of things.
So the “Lamb’s war” is conducted at every level of the personality, including our social life, and the life of our all our works and workings, and embraces us as ecological beings as well as artistic, and thinking, and passionate organisms, and nothing in the end can be excluded from the challenge, the wounding and the healing, of the Light. We are invited to live in the spirit whose “hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself,” and in that spirit to see the world whole.
This is relevant to the climate crisis, which is so comprehensive and systemic in its scope, causes, and consequences, that we cannot any longer take some comfort in small personal gestures.
Research on climate change communication has shown that people are more willing to hear the truth of the crisis — the science and its implications — when they are also given information about some specific path forward, a way to act — “What can you do?” This helps people begin to wrestle with fear and despair.
But at this point, recycling and home insulation are useful but nowhere near an adequate response (see here for a blogger’s reflections on how individual and global responses are both required and connected). “Market solutions,” to the extent that they could possibly have helped, are too slow and too voluntary to help now, on their own. (and recent reporting keeps providing evidence that the captains of industry are not to be relied upon in this regard, despite their greenwashing rhetoric, see here for a recent example.)
As Naomi Klein wrote, “This changes everything.” Half measures won’t do, as we struggle to live in this time when judgment is coming down on us, and the grapes of wrath are being gathered and pressed into a bitter vintage. How can we meet the challenges we face, accepting the powers against which we struggle — we who are part of the problem — while finding wells of hope and power to draw from? How do we speak both hard truths to power (even in ourselves), seeing and naming the “sinfulness of sin,” and at the same time the love of God and neighbor?
4. To the Society of Friends and like-minded others: The Epistle to Laodicea (ironically) speaks to our condition.
In the third chapter of the book of Revelation, there are letters to several churches (meetings), and for years I have been haunted by the letter to Laodicea:
Thus says the Amen, the faithful Witness and true, the foundation of the creation of God: I know your behavior, that you are neither cold nor hot — If only you were cold or hot! But since it is the case that you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Because you say “I am rich and have prospered, and I need for nothing,” and you don’t see that you are wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.
I think this diagnosis cuts me to the heart, and I stand convicted — but so I believe do most of us. It is so easy to be “good enough”! Yet we are called to be saints, we are called to be holy, in unity with the Lord of love.
What could it mean, not to be lukewarm? You know the answer, really.
We would take seriously that we are to seek first the “Kingdom of Heaven” and its righteousness
By following the promptings of truth when they come;
By seeking to learn from others along the way — the afflicting teachers as well as the comforting; and seeing to embrace the whole gospel message (however we need to translate it into our individual spiritual language), from incarnation to resurrection.
By telling each other with joy and trepidation what we are learning from and in the Spirit, however we name it;
By seeking for the places where we know the “fear of the Lord” — the sense of awe that announces our deepest commitments and orientation;
By placing expectations upon each other:
• seeing each others’ gifts, and urging and expecting each other to use them as fully as we can;
• acknowledging our spiritual poverty,
• recognizing where the Seed is oppressed in us, and in others, and
• learning to pray in spirit and in action to accept God’s invitation to reconcilation:
By growing so clear and confident about the power of our shared spiritual encouters that we have no hesitation in inviting people to join us in the experience of living with a living God.
It would mean functioning, not as denominational organizations, but as vital spiritual communities on quest, whose entry key is the longing to travel together along a path tried, tested, and reeconstructed over the past nearly 400 years, and in which good standing consists in putting in the time, day by day, alone and together, in work that is at the same time mystical, prophetic, and practical (‘Yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it!’)
5. Therefore, climate change presents us with an opportunity
Climate change is going to change the meaning — the context and the consequences — of almost everything. Addressing it will involve a wholesale revolution in our relationship to the rest of creation (Cherice Bock spoke at our yearly meeting of an ‘ecological Reformation,’ which captures much of the scale of the thing). As I have been arguing in this long series, it also requires of us a re-evalution of our understanding of Christ and the gospel, seeing for the first time how indeed it is cosmic, and how our individual acts of faithfulness relate to God’s work, reconciling the world to Godself.
Now is our chance (Not the first! I hope not the last!) for us to turn ourselves and all we possess into the channel of Universal Love (as John Woolman said), and the Quaker understanding of the Gospel and of spiritual growth provides us a powerful, effective, and integrated method for growing into a true Camp of the Lord, and fellowship of the Children fo the Light, for explaining what the Lord is doing among us, and rejoicing to see the Light break forth in any. It is our chance for freedom, since the gospel, the good news, is the power of God to liberation.
And this is why I have come to feel that the Lamb’s War is a meaningful way to think of how I, an individual in a community, can respond to the challenges of our time (with their roots in history, and their seeds of the future). In the next 4 posts, I will explore 4 activities or facets of this process, and then close this long series with a concluding ‘chapter.’
09/07/2020 § 8 Comments
This long series of posts on “Climate change as a spiritual opportunity” has reached, a few months late, the end of its second part. As probably few of you will recall, my “table of contents” is roughly thus:
A: The architecture of creation. This does not draw on Quaker materials, but instead draws on materials that Friends drew from (knowingly or not), or maybe should have.
B. Re-enchantment and kosmos. The central foci here, drawing much from early Quaker materials, are wonder (or gratitude) and the experience of Gospel Order.
C. The Lamb’s War: Quaker praxis and proclamation for a time of climate crisis. This focuses on Quaker methodologies of spiritual formation, and the carrying of concerns.
The first part in a way was an exploration about Who it is we worship. The second part explored the stance of reverence that Quakerism can make possible — and the realization that in order to see, and then align our practices (social and personal) with the Order of the Gospel — in freedom constrained only by love — we must be in a condition in which we can be “ordered”:
• In the mind of Christ, the boundaries that we (and our culture) promulgate between ourselves (our vulnerable, mortal selves) and others — including the nonhuman world — are breached.
• In that mind, we can find the truth of “eternal life,’ inexhaustible and abundant, in the present (as Kelly called it, the Eternal Now), so that nothing is more precious than living, partaking in, that flow of Life and Light.
• in that Life and LIght, we are made collaborators with the wise God, in the creation and re-creation of our forms and practices. There are diversities of gifts but the one Spirit; many ways of enacting the gospel life, but one God at work through all. And the order by which the Gospel may be lived fully and freely, to the renewal of our wonder and well-being, is to be learned by steadfast attention to the wonders of nature, the records of scripture, the wisdom of our forbears in the Spirit — and the guidance of the Spirit that gives forth all, and in which we are to interpret all these books of revelation.
Yet there is more to be understood about the process by which we can cooperate with the Spirit in that prophetic and healing work, Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. The Quaker understanding of that, to my mind, is best expressed in the notion of Lamb’s War, and with that title I will turn to the final Part of this essay. As a preface to that final Part, I will end with a quotation from something I wrote 30 years ago. More can be said now, but it helps me, at least, to set the stage with these thoughts.
The life engaged in the Lamb’s War is tendered and opened to injustice and violence outwardly as well as inwardly. The human soul, your soul, can be seen as a nexus, a confluence or focus, of forces tending both to your good and ill. Some of the evils can be seen as external — sources of fear, oppression, or distraction. Others are apparently inward — anger, self-indulgence, and so on. Yet we are so constructed that we and our environment interpenetrate. Inward and outward forces activate or counteract each other. Because it is this kind of meeting place, the human soul is an appropriate battlefield upon which to begin the war against “outward” evils in the world. More than this — if the battle remains unfought in any soul, then in our unredeemed regions, seeds of sin and death lie as in an incubator, from which they can spread abroad anew. The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin, in which we use the weapons of Jesus, acting at first upon our little, inward stage, is as well a social and indeed revolutionary act.The soul has its life cycle, just as the body does. We must claim holiness as our proper goal, but we can adopt for ourselves no outward attribute of it before by grace we come to it in truth, nor can we attempt what we are not prepared for, by the Spirit’s working. Whatever we may have seen, thought, or accomplished, we must seek always to participate in the birth of the poor Child.
If we seek for the light, dwelling in meekness, we see ourselves as we are, in both our weakness and our beauty, as God’s growing children. The encounter with the Light of Christ is judgement, but also consolation: by accepting the former, we gain the latter. In both we are brought closer to our brothers and sisters, empathizing in their judgement, and reinforcing their consolation.
Salvation lies in God’s hand, not in our will. We so want to know the end before the beginning, to keep control of outcomes, to make good bargains and careful investments of ourselves. God’s life will work transformation that is also fulfillment, through choices, opportunities, and sorrows that we cannot arrange or predict ahead of time. We risk nothing by offering all.
09/01/2020 § 6 Comments
1. If our allegience is to be to the heavenly commonwealth, we must expect that our assumptions will be challenged — this is, indeed, the “topsy-turvy kingdom,” when weakness is the place where strength is perfected; when the last shall be first, the proud put down from their seats; where the least of these our brothers and sisters are to be treated as we would treat Christ; where the foolish, the unlearned, and those of no account are chosen as ambassadors for the King of Kings. “My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts.”
Therefore, we must wake up from our self-assured slumber, and see the world as the terrifying, beautiful, improbable, abundant, dynamic organism that it is — and see it so freshly, so openly, so freely, that we see in it the divine wisdom, and the place of peace unto our souls.
2. Where dwells the Spirit of the Lord, the Lord of this turbulent, dizzying world, there is liberty. The comfort of rules is taken away, the structures and strictures that humans use for orientation and for control. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The Lord, the mystery God who calls, invites, reveals, is Creator and Renewer: “Behold, I make all things new.”
3. Yet there is lawfulness at the heart of this gospel freedom — because the love of Christ, the love Christ preaches and embodies, constrains us. This is the one law at the heart of all — all the abundance of creation, all the work of the Spirit for our perfecting and liberation. All our choices about behavior in community are to be grounded in this love, reflecting our place in the body of Christ, and the free flowing of Christ’s spirit.
if we are centered in love, then any acts driven by a disturbance of conscience, or new perception of truth, can be done in a way that reaches to the life of our Friends, and it must be done so.
Finding the way to do that can take a long time, often leaving us in perplexity, where we can only voice, or pray, our un-ease. But we are told that the tender, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, the ones who long for righteousness, who mourn, who wash their friends’ feet—these are the blessed, not the ones with all the answers. Love is rigorous because we must be prepared to live it, and new occasions require new preparation, and a fresh, childlike return to the Center of love.
What is in the Center? It’s not just an empty circle, a place of nothingness. There is a spirit there but not just any spirit. It is the Spirit of the God who sends the sun and rain on the just and the unjust, whose law is summarized in love of God with one’s whole being, and of one’s neighbor as oneself. The Center is also filled with fire, light, and the stream of divine life, which is like a stream of nourishing and cleansing water. .
4. Thus, the ordering of ourselves and our community to reflect and liberate the life of the Spirit, the life of God in all, is not a thing made by human hands or cunning: It is discovered. “I myself will teach my people,” proclaims the God to whom belong the forests, skies, and thousand hills, with all their beasts upon them. We must have the eyes of children, of Adam and Eve as they walked astonished and delighted in the Garden, spiritual eyes; and, accepting our blindness and our dependence, seek down the path of Light to the mind of Christ. So we will be able to speak with the tongue of the taught, comfort and blessing for the weary and burdened, so that they can take up their own paths and walk into their own freedom, as God directs: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”
5. Our schooling, fellow children, is in all the tongues of revelation (and we can start our learning from any of them, it’s all one fabric): the Scriptures, yes; the teachings and discoveries of our tradition, yes; the wonders and puzzles of creation, which so delights the Wisdom of the Word, yes; but these do not avail without the Spirit that gave them all forth, who guides us in our own path, each as according to our measure — and collaborates with us in finding and building up the structures and practices of our common life, for our perfecting as Children of the Light.
6. And so, to perceive, and dwell in, the order (the melody, the shape, the meter, the colors) of the Gospel, we must ourselves be ordered. We must allow ourselves to be shown and shaped, meek and teachable, followers and proclaimers, feeding on the truth of love as we can best see it, living it in all courage and vulnerability, fearing only the loss of our joy and our freedom as embodiments and ambassadors of that great love. Is our worship bringing us to a place in which impurities are named and burned away, certainties transformed, and everything dissolved and reassembled by the action of love? If so, then little by little we are renewed, a little more free, a little more able to speak to the Life of God in all. If not, we have not yet come to the true worship, the Center of dynamic and turbulent peace.
Bill Taber once wrote that when Moses accepted his call and “caught” prophecy, dull days were gone forever! If we are not finding, in one aspect of life after another, a hint or glimpse of the transcending strangeness, mercy, beauty, and abundance of that love, we are not yet past the threshold of the Gospel. Stepping onward and into that house of many dimensions, “enchantment” and “re-enchantment” seem beside the point. In moments where we occupy our measure of the life thus far received, we can see all as precious, unexpectedly precious:
“They will be mine, saith the Lord your God, in day when I make up my jewels.”
08/27/2020 § 3 Comments
Recommending a post on the blog Oceanoxia. You can skip Bloghaunter, and just follow this link!
08/16/2020 § 2 Comments
The first chirps of the waking birds mark the “point vierge”
of the dawn
under a sky as yet without real light,
a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence,
when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song,
but with an awakening question that is their dawn state,
their state at the “point vierge.”
Their condition asks if it is time for them to “be”?
He answers “Yes.” Then they one by one wake up, and become birds.
They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing.
Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.
Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that
when creation in its innocence asks permission
to “be” once again,
as it did on the first morning that ever was. All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself
at that blind sweet point.
Man’s wisdom does not succeed,
for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose.
We know the time and we dictate the terms.
We know what time it is. For the birds there is not a time that they tell,
but the virgin point between darkness and light,
Between nonbeing and being.
So they wake: first the catbirds and cardinals.
Later the song sparrows and the wrens.
Last of all the doves and the crows.
Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us
and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it:
we are off “one to his farm and another
to his merchandise.”
Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves
cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.
“Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.
from Katherine Deignan’s wonderful Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours (pp. 45-46). Ave Maria Press. (Excerpted from Confessions of a Guilty Bystander)
This spoke to my condition this morning.