If you are stuck at home, or your kids are,

03/29/2020 § 1 Comment

this might suggest some things to do that are NOT on the screen. I have posted this quotation before, but I think it bears repeating:


A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amid the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favor of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.

George Eliot: Daniel Deronda

Isaac Penington explains why he’s writing

03/04/2020 § 1 Comment

We are all exhorted to be prepared to explain the hope that is in us, but anyone concerned in ministry should further be able to say something about why they do what they do, in word, prayer, action, or otherwise.  Here is one place Isaac answers: 

Now there is somewhat revealed of God, of his own nature, power, and Spirit, wherein we have met withhim. To this we invite, of this we speak, concerning this we testify, as being that which the Father will honor, and wherein he hath and will appear. It is a poor, weak, low thing to consider of, or behold with the eye and understanding of man; but there is the riches, the glory, the life, the righteousness, the peace, the joy, the everlasting power of the kingdom in it; and to them that receive it in the demonstration of God’s Spirit, and in the love of it, it is the wisdom of God and his power to the redemption and salvation of their souls.

Indeed of all the wise builders (out of the true sense and power) it is rejected at this day, as it always was of old; but to us who are called of God, taught by him, who have received an understanding from him, &c., we know the value of that which comes from him, being instructed by him not to judge according to the appearance, but to judge the righteous judgment; and in the righteous judgment, in the balance of the sanctuary, we find this little despised light to be elect and precious, even the foundation-stone, the corner-stone, and the top-stone of the building of God. And this we testify to men in true love, and from certain knowledge and experience which we have received from him that is true, and hold in him that is true.

Now, this precious pearl (of which we testify) lies hid deep within; and thither must men come to know it, to purchase it, to possess it; and thither it is the desire of our hearts to bring men. Nor do we open the thing of God before men to this end, that they might get a knowledge thereof into their brains, and feed on it there; but through tender love we bring these things a little into the very view of men (as the Lord enables us); not that they might stick there, but that having a taste of the excellency and beauty of truth, they might be inflamed (with desires after it) to travel thither, where it is to be had.


Therefore dwell not in the notion, delight not in the outward knowledge of the thing itself (though the knowledge be ever so sweet, pleasing, satisfactory, and demonstrative to the mind); but come to the everlasting spring. Feel the measure of life in thy particular, and that will lead thee to the spring of life, from whence the measure comes as a gift from the Father to thee, to bring thee to the Father.
And singly for this end have I been drawn to write what follows, in service to the Lord, in faithfulness to him, in dear love to the souls of men, especially of those who have formerly been travellers, and have felt somewhat of the Lord, and yet retain desires and breathings in their hearts after him.


Oh that the Lord would touch their spirits, discover to them the way everlasting, and lead them therein to that which their souls darkly desire and seek after; to which there is no other way than that which hath been from the beginning, only there have been various discoveries and manifestations of the one way!

But what greater discovery can there be than of the thing or seed itself, which the Lord hath been pleased to make manifest in this day of his glorious mercy, love, and power, whereof he hath raised up many witnesses, whom he hath enabled (by his Spirit and power) to give a living, clear, certain testimony to? Happy is the ear that hears! for that also must be of God, as the message and messengers are known to be.

From “A further testimony to the truth, revived out of the ruins of the apostasy.: Works iv.3-4

Time, tempo, temptation

03/01/2020 § Leave a comment

As I move towards the question of chronos, kairos, and “Quaker re-enchantment,” a reflection on a passage from Scripture:

Backstory:  Chapter 9 of John’s gospel is devoted to an extended story about a healing. A man blind from birth asks Jesus to heal him. Jesus does so: He first applies to the man’s eyes a poultice of clay, which he makes of spittle and soil), and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  He sees for the first time in his life.  Amidst his rejoicing, he has to contend with people’s skepticism — is this really the guy who we’ve always seen around begging for alms?  His parents are surprised, but quite clear:  Yes, this is our son, born blind- but now he can see.  The authorities want to know how it happened, and pester the poor guy and his parents for more details. “Don’t ask us, ask our son, he’s of age!”  “I dunno who this Jesus is.  You say he’s a sinner, but all I know is, I was blind all my life, but now I can see. Facts are facts.”  Jesus in explaining himself to the patient says “I came into the world as a test, that the unseeing might see, and the seeing ones become blind.”    The authorities say, “You’re not saying we’re blind, are you?”  Jesus says, “If you were blind, you’d have no sin;  but now you say ‘We can see’;  your sin remains.”

Meditatio.  The story continues* — Jesus speaks more generally: “I tell you truly, someone who doestn’t enter through the door into the sheepfold but clambers in some other way — that person’s a thief and a robber.  The one that comes through the gate  is the shepherd of those sheep — the doorkeeper opens for him;  the sheep hear  his voice, he calls them each by name, and he can lead them out to pasture.”

I think this relates directly to the prior passage.  The claim that you see (know) truly, and therefore have authority to lead or guide (‘Feed my sheep!’, he said to Peter), can only be established by one who has taken the path everyone has taken, going through the proper gate of experience to join the Lord’s flock.  Experience is what brings authority.  If you blindly (without insight, uncritically) occupy some position of responsibility, owing to tradition or your station in life, you can’t be blamed for your ignorance, your unequestioned assumptions.

But once you make a claim to see, to know what you’re doing, you are obligated to examine the grounds for your claim, the truth of your condition.  Are you standing amongst the sheep having followed their path, and being so much of their community that you know them each by name?  When you are this self-aware, then you are bound to claim only what you actually possess, and no more.  As James Nayler wrote (in Milk for Babes):  “Wherefore 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.”  If you go beyond this, Jesus says, then your sin persists.  This therefore means setting aside one’s advantages or the power that comes from social standing or privilege, so as to follow the path of obedience and transformation.

Jesus did this himself, growing up as the dependent son of parents who disciplined and guided him; he had to “grow in grace and stature” through his youth, as we all do.  Then he needed to acknowledge and respond to a calling (a yearning or need) to witness and to serve.  So he experienced the baptism of John, the baptism and challenge of metanoia.  In that time of openness and humility, hewas vulnerable to the wind of the Spirit, which, filling him, drove him into the desert.  There he watched and searched in fasting and prayer for 40 days, at the end of which period of intense focus and clarity, he was tempted, even as we all are.

I am not surprised that he was vulnerable then, when he must have been God-soaked and consecrated.  I believe this makes sense, because the clarity and commitment, achieved during a time apart, is always tested when one prepares to return, full of resolution and good intentions, from “retreat.”  The desert, the cloister, sometimes the vacation, are like the “closet” of prayer.  They are designed to give full scope to a particular portion of life, and make space for big questions of meaning and purpose.  But they offer their gifts by the exclusion of daily demands and trade-offs.  What seems clear and feasible in the “laboratory” setting is battered and obscured by the demands and surprises of our everyday multiplex activities.  Blending the rhythm of retreat with the rhythm of return is a challenge that confronts us also,when we return from meeting for worship, or a time of prayer — or even from sleep, as we awaken to our world in its fullness.

This transition tests the reality or the depth of the change or healing that we experienced in the time we had stepped aside for refreshment or perspective. It doesn’t mean — though it’s tempting to feel it so sometimes — that these changes are not real, not the truth.  Rather, it means that even an authentic transformation is at first tender and untried. Think of the fate of the seeds that the Sower cast — how some sprang up with joy, but withered in the drought that came before their little roots had struck deep enough.  Indeed, it is in the growing, the responding to the changing conditions of life, that we build the structures and resources to support durable change,change that lasts, and in its turn prepares for (even enables) future endurance and growth.

I hear experience in Jesus’ story (in Matthew) about what can happen when a demon is cast out.  The poor thing, evicted from its host, wanders in dry places and longs for someplace to call home.  It things, I’ll go back to the old place, and see how things are.  Wow!  Everything’s swept and tidy — and our demon moves right back in, and invites some friends, too, who are even more devilish.  So the poor soul, healed from its distraction for a while, is worse off than ever — never having filled the space with new life, the vaccuum is filled by whatever spirit passes in.

All this applies to me, without a doubt.  Have I not many, many times, experienced it?  A time of concentration or focus is experienced and enjoyed.  Whether it is a time of study, or of retreat, or worship, or work — I feel new tendrils of growth emerging, and a sense of renewed health — but at transition, it is tested and I lose the gift of that peace, as I am interrupted, or turn to the next task, or jump into any other rhythm of relationship or work. The old rhythms and habits re-assert themselves. Even if I regulate my outward response, yet I am inwardly disturbed, perhaps even lacerated — and then can be discouraged.

But all time is not the same. The inward tempos, the weather of our moods and attitudes, can fluctuate at an astonishing rate. As great teachers such as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing know well, distractions can come from moment to moment — and so also can contemplative focus, which (he writes) is not necessarily time consuming — and as Bill Taber used to say, it can take just a nanosecond to drop into the Stream of Life that is always flowing just within reach.  That stream, the abundant life of God’s spirit, is ardent and swift — and yet is inexhaustible and timeless.  The time of our lives, our daily affairs, our activities as organisms (and social ones at that), moves at other rathers and beats, and seems hardly to relate at all to the serene and inward time of the Spirit.

Yet at the heart of the turbulent world is God’s stillness, the peace that is not the worlds, and yet is there as our gift from the Lord. The transition is itself a journey (short by the clock, but so long in other ways!).  It can be walked in the Light, felt like a modulation as in music, from one key to another — but it’s not a path I ever walk with ease, or unmindfully.  How shall I feel and live the shift in tempos, what shall I bring with me, so that the timed and the timeless worlds need no longer to alternate, or cancel each other out when my attention shifts, or foreground and background shift?  How do you do it?

 

*Note that the evangelists did not compose in chapters;  the divisions were added later. The break between the end of chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 10 tends to ‘feel’ to the English reader as though there should be some transition of thought. Sometimes there is.  In this case, I think not.

 

Notes on “the womb of eternity”

02/24/2020 § 2 Comments

I was reading in Fox’s epistles, and came across a striking phrase: “the womb of eternity.” I want to collect some notes I’ve made on this phrase, in preparation for my next post on “Re-enchantment and cosmos.”

Here is the passage, from Epistle CCXXXIII (Works, vol VII: . pg. 255, dated 1664). This is the second of two general epistles “…to be read in all the congregations of the righteous, who are gathered out of the house of Adam in the fall, into the house of Christ that never fell, to be read amongst them.” Fox writes

And so you followers of the lamb, be faithful and valiant for the truth upon the earth, and heed not your native soil, but mind the birth that is born and brought forth from the womb of eternity, that separates you from your mother’s womb, by which you believe in God, and fear not man, what he can do unto you…and therefore dwell in the power of God, which was before the fall of man was…and in this power you will have stability, content, comfort, joy, and peace.

Here, clearly, Fox is evoking the birth from above, the birth into Christ, which if you dwell in it, enables you to be established in the power of God.

I was intrigued by this turn of phrase, which sounded like one of the medieval mystics. How often did George use it? As far as I can tell, twice more. In the Doctrinals, the phrase occurs in a tract from 1684, entitled “The state of the birth temporal and spiritual, and the duty and state of a child, youth, young men, aged men, and fathers in the Truth. Also, showing that children are the heritage of the Lord, and that he hath a glory in them. ” (Works VI, pg. 201)

Fox quotes passages in the Psalms and Jeremiah which refer to God’s creation, forming us wonderfully in the womb; the language suggests that the potentiality of creation is held in God’s intent, as in a womb, that is productive eventually of all creation, both material and spiritual. As he says, after quoting Jer 1,

Here all may see, and consider, and know themselves to be the great work of God; that when God that forms and fashions you in the womb, and brings to birth, and hath brought you forth, that you may choose the good and forsake the evil that you ay remember and consider, that you are the work of the Lord, and remember your Creator, and who hath fashioned you and formed you in the womb, and hath brought you forth to fear, and serve, and worship, and honour him that hath made thee and brought thee forth.

Fox then goes on to elaborate on the Creator’s sovereign work as the source of all things:

…And the Lord saith in Isa.lxvi. ‘Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth, saith the Lord? Shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb, saith my God?’ So here you may see, it is the Lord that fashions in the womb, and brings it forth, both the natural birth and the spiritual birth, and opens the womb, and shuts the womb, both the womb of the morning, and of eternity, and of the natural….

In correspondence on the phrase (more below), Michael Birkel went on quest, and found one more Fox location, in the Journal (in Works vol 1, pg. 344, from 1657) — once again in an epistle to Friends:

… Learn Paul’s lesson, in all states to be content; and have his faith, “that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, which we have in Christ Jesus.” Therefore be rich in life, and in grace, which will endure, ye who are heirs of life, and born of the womb of eternity, that noble birth that cannot stoop to that which is born in sin, and conceived in iniquity; who are better bred and born, whose religion is from God, above all the religions that are from below…

I have found one other Quaker use, this time by Margaret Fell (quoted in P. Mack. Visionary Women. pg. 226.). Mack tells us that this is excerpted from Fell’s ministry at the time of her wedding to George Fox:

Jerusalem is come down from heaven… the bride, the Lamb’s wife, whose light is as of jasper stone.. whose firstborn of the womb of eternity is coming out of the wilderness to be comforted and nourished, to be nourished and clothed with the eternal free spirits of the living God.

Now, as I said, this phrase has the ring of a medieval mystic, and I wondered about Jakob Boehme, the mystical shoemaker who — to some degree or other — influenced early Friends or their fellow dissenters (this might be worth a future post, but no time now to get into the literature on it). Consequently, I dropped a note to Michael Birkel, co-author of a book about Boehme (Genius of the transcendent), who has also done some interesting research on early Quaker scholars’ reading of the Kabbalah. My note to Michael in part read:

As I tried to hunt the phrase down, I find it in a passage from Cyril of Jerusalem (313-389)– and Jakob Boehme. Oho, thinks I, maybe that’s where Fox got it. But then (and this is when I realized I should check with you) I found Google references to kabbalistic uses of the phrase. So then I wondered if either Cyril or Boehme had gotten it from Jewish mystics of some stripe or other, and Jakob passed it on to George, who was I’ll bet quick to notice a resonant phrase.

Michael confirmed that the phrase does occur in Boehme, — and found also a Life of Behmen (a common English spelling of Boehme in the 1600s) published in 1653 by one Durand Hotham (nonQuaker),, which quotes the Boehme passage as follows:

I saw and knew the Being of all Beings, the Byss and the Abyss, and the eternal Generation of the Holy Trinity, the Descent and Original of the World and of all Creatures through the Divine Wisdom : I
knew and saw in myself all the three Worlds, namely The Divine, angelical and paradisical; and The dark World, the Original of the Nature to the Fire; and then, thirdly, the external and visible World, being a Procreation or external Birth from both the internal and Spiritual Worlds. And I saw and knew the whole working Essence, in the Evil and the Good, and the Original and Existence of each of them, and likewise how the fruitful-bearing Womb of Eternity brought forth.

So the phrase could have come into circulation in England from Boehme, whether by way of Hotham or some other channel. Michael also confirmed that the phrase is known from the Kabbalah (and I found it in a discussion of the Zohar by Gershom Scholem), and since this book has been of interest to some Christian mystics since at least the Renaissance, the language could have found its way by several channels to Friends and their contemporaries.

Indeed, I have found the phrase in a sermon entitled “How God, the angelic host, and man work together” (Sermon 78 on the Song of Songs) by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), thus:

But who, even among the blessed spirits, would ever have been able to find the Church hidden in the deep womb of eternity, unless God, to whom eternity belongs, had chosen to reveal it?

One last interesting appearance of the phrase in revolutionary England, before George’s use of it: the astonishing Abiezer Coppe, one of the chief Ranters, uses it in his prophetic tract “A second fiery flying roll.” In this piece (1649), which is not easy to interpret, Coppe is elaborating on the theme that God has chosen base things to make clear that all can lead to holiness, that the things labelled “respectable” and “noble” and “holy” by the sedate and the powerful, should be seen for the decoys and delusions that they are, leading people astray from a fuller apprehension of the majesty, beauty, and accessibility of God’s grace and power. At one point, he writes in his furious style (I do not correct the spelling, just for fun)

Give over, give over, or if nothing els will do it, I’l at a time, when thou least of all thinkest of it, make thine own child the fruit of thy loines, in whom thy soul delighted, lie with a whore – before thine eyes: That the plaguy holinesse and righteouesnesse of thine might be confounded by that base thing. And thou be plagued back again into thy mothers womb, the womb of eternity: That thou maist become a little child, and let the mother Eternity, Almightinesse, who is universall love, and whose service is perfect freedome, dresse thee, and undresse the, swaddle, unswadle, bind, loose, lay thee down, take thee up, &c.

This blog post does not pretend to be an exhaustive treatment of the phrase, whose nuances in all authors revolve around the eternal potentiality in God the Creator, from whose incubating womb all things of God’s will are conceived and developed to fruition. Much could be developed, I suspect, to connect this image with the image of Sophia, the (feminine) Wisdom through whom all things are made — and there is much “womb” imagery in the Scriptures and ever since. A Quaker might want also to explore the complex treatment of conception and birth of Christ in the soul, as developed by Job Scott.

But I will only say that my interest in this phrase is related to my reflections on the nature of Quaker proclamation about creation, the gospel, and our spiritual work in a time of climate change. About which more soon.

Disenchantment

02/09/2020 § 15 Comments

I have a tide clock on the wall in my study. When its single hand is pointing straight up, the tide is high in Georgetown, Maine, where I grew up. When the hand’s pointing down, the tide’s out. Most days I cast it a glance, and though landlocked here in the Monadnock hills of New Hampshire, I can recall long hours in my youth on the rivers and salt marshes along the Maine coast.
Now, when the tide’s coming in, and you’re not right on the shore (being upriver, say), there’s little noise — no waves curling into the beach, or dashing against the rocks. Instead, there is a slow filling up, a silent increase, and an insinuation of water in and through the vegetation and the mudbanks. Tethered boats swing on their moorings, and point out to sea; but someone fishing, dreaming in the sun along the bank, may find their feet wet suddenly — as it seems — but the level will have been rising for a long time before, if you had thought to look for the evidence.

The “secular age” has been a rising tide in Western culture for the past few centuries, and it has quietly seeped into all sectors of life;  few places or people are untouched by it — including most people who think of themselves as religious or spiritual.  This is not to say that such people (I am one) are necessarily aware of this influence, of the ways in which their world view is founded on quite materialist assumptions, which make them more closely allied than one might think to the “irreligious” or “unspiritual” people and institutions that dominate our society. (The picture is made more complex by the evidence that pseudo-sciences of many kinds are still flourishing among us;  and most of them have taken on a “scientistic” veneer to keep up with the times.)   One element in this centuries-long development, which has direct consquences for our responses to the climate crisis (and other crises of our time), has been called “disenchantment.”

The term as I mean it first appears in a lecture by the sociologist Max Weber on “Science as a vocation” (“Gewissenschaft als Beruf”), delivered at Munich University in 1922. He spoke of how we moderns live under the assumption that, however ignorant we might be about how our technologies work, we believe that we could in fact learn how it all works, if we only wanted to; “in principal all things can be brought under control by calculation…No longer are there for us, as for primitives, powers that we must use magical means to command, or petition spirits to direct.” He goes on to say that, as we have moved into a world in which we need only consult our own wills, using our science and technology to effect our desires, we have lost traditional ways of understanding the meaning of life.  He is sympathetic to those who reach to spirituality in some form to re-establish meaning, and he recognizes that those who don’t need to find ways of making meaning and ethics from scratch, so to speak.  This he sees as a serious but exciting dimension of the new cultural milieau his young audience now will inhabit into the future.

Charles Tayler, in A Secular Age, pays serious attention to how this  process of “disenchantment” changes our relationship to the world. He summarizes his analysis thus (page 61)

I have been drawing a portrait of the world we have lost, in which spiritual forces impinged on porous agents, in which the social was grounded in the sacred and secular time in higher times; a society moreover in which the pay of structure and anti-structure was held in equilibrium; and this human drama unfolded within a cosmos. All this has been dismantled and replaced by something quite different in the transformation we often roughly call disenchantment.

There are three key developments that he traces over the centuries from the middle ages through to modern times, which relate both to our spirituality and our relationship with the earth, and challenge us to examine the assumptions that underlie the way we understand our experience.  As I unpack these ideas, it will become clear that in many ways they are tightly linked (and perhaps a little reflection will show how they are part of Quakerism as we live it now, as well).

The first is the change in our view of time..In the past, we occupied two kinds of time.  One has been termed chronos, or ordinary linear time  — one thing after another.  With this, Taylor contrasts kairos, or “sacred time,” and this was not linear.  It related to cycles — the seasons, for example, and their associated festivals and values.  In kairos, one hour need not necessarily be like another — just a quantity of duration, the marking of a certain number of atomic vibrations.  It recognized that the units of time — days, hours, minutes — are also often units of meaning, embedded in stories, and episodes in development.  Thus kairos is the time-space in which social, psychological, and spiritual events take place — life-stages, miracles, the formation of bonds, the re-enactment of key events in the story of your people.  To paraphrase a point Taylor makes:  There are important ways in which Easter in the year 2020 is closer to the first Easter than it is to July 4th, 2020.  Our view of time is related to our understanding of priorities, of urgencies, the difference between progress and improvement — and all these relate to our ideas about who matters, whose experience matters, and who we are responsible to and for.

The second development is the emergence of the “buffered self.”  Taylor uses this term in contrast with “the permeable self.”  While the buffered self has firm boundaries.  It is in a sense an atomic unit, free agent, and locus of control (I am the master of my ship), whose relationships to other human atoms and external factors take place as carefully managed transactions across the barrier separating self from other.   The permeable self also has boundaries, and free will, but is felt as an interdependent, interactive element connected with many others — human and nonhuman, material and spiritual, natural and supernatural or mysterious.  The permeable self lives in kairos, because its community includes others participating in sacred time.  It is also a deeply ecological way of looking at the self and understanding our participation in the dance of time and the elements. Assumptions about the self shape self-image, where and when we seek for help, how we value the events that come to us, how we view the consequences of our actions.

The third change is from cosmos to universe.  By  ‘cosmos’ is meant an ordered and meaningful world, in which humans, and everything else, have their proper places, functions, limits, glories and detriments. Once again, it is a way of seeing the space (of time and extent) in which we pass our lives as having meaning.  Weber in discussing the challenges of disenchantment, stresses that in the modern, technical world that he and his audience of technical students inhabit, it is the problem of meaning that is most poignant and urgent.  He is sympathetic to young people who have, in the chaos of Modernity, turned towards spirituality of various kinds, because the challenge to the human spirit of the modern view of homogeneous, meaningless space and time is so heavy, and can be so corrosive to our sense of well-being. Weber calls the audience to the great challenge of making meanings for ourselves —  in terms that clearly reflect his assumption of the buffered self, the atomic self.

And it is worth stopping here to remember that “meaning” and “well-being” are not really separate feelings. They both relate to a sense of coherence, of participating in a world of which we can make sense; and when we feel wellbeing, we understand what the song “Simple Gifts” calls “a place just right,”  where desire, purpose, need, or fear are not at the moment the motive forces we feel pushing us hither or yon.

Now, scientists and others have certainly been able to derive a sense of wonder and nourishment from the contemplation of the heavens  — or rather, the universe as we understand it, in an ever-expanding time-space continuum of down-flowing energy and cycling matter. Ecologists and those who think like them have found beauty and power, and a sense of unity with all life, from the unfolding understanding of the web of life.  Darwin’s famous passage still speaks eloquently to this:

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us… There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

(There is something in this that recalls Dürer’s Great Piece of Turf, a visual reminder that meditation on the  dynamic diversity, even in so small a space, can bring a feeling of well-being and even of transcendence.) Moreover, “this view of life” can be generative of fresh perspectives on ethics — think Henry David Thoreau, or Naess’s “deep ecology,” or Aldo Leopold’s “Land ethic,”  which influenced Rachel Carson’s thought.  Other philosophers have added additional layers of implication, as for example John Dewey’s linkage of his philosophy of nature with hia social thought.

John Woolman, too, understood (like contemplatives before and since) that a true dwelling in reverence would bring a recognition of our “unity with creation” (to use George Fox’s phrase).  As Woolman writes in his journal,

While I silently ponder on that change wrought in me, I find no language equal to it nor any means to convey to another a clear idea of it.  I looked upon the works of God in this visible creation and an awefulness covered me; my heart was tender and often contrite, and a universal love to my fellow creatures increased in me.  This will be understood by such who have trodden in the same path.

But these valuable, moving philosophies do not have much to say about the ‘progress of the soul,’ about how the pilgrim self can grow into freedom, compassion, and truth.  They argue powerfully that a right understanding of nature is necessary for such growth, they may even tell us about how they have been changed by their encounters with a newly understood experience of humans as part of the natural world.  But they don’t offer process, method, or guidance for the spiritual traveller — they rely, indeed, very much on the power of reason and correct understanding to somehow bring it about:  To know and feel the right thing is to do it.

Yet we all know that this equation is too simple, from our own experience.  How many “right things” do we know, that we do not act on — things we profess, but not possess?   There is much work to do, to translate  one kind of knowing, whether intellectual and emotional, into the integrated self.  Once again I return to what is for me a pedagogical touchstone:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind...and thy neighbor as thyself.”

One way of putting the essence of my argument in this series of posts on climate change as a spirituality is: The gospel as traditionally held by Friends is a coherent spiritual path, whose account of divine-human relationship, and its meanings (rooted in reverence*) for social behavior, intrinsically also accounts for, and helps us engage with, the relation of humans to the world and its many forces and inhabitants.  This coherence derives particularly from the Quaker understanding of the nature and work of Christ, across all ages and cultures; and this understanding has dictated the shape of traditional Quaker practice (recognizing that such practices are “inspired”, and therefore imperfect, in the same way that the Scriptures are.)

Thus, a gathered meeting for worship is an ecological act, with all the world — the cosmos — present with us in worship; and our work on behalf of justice, or earth care, or any other service, can (when rightly understood) acts of prayer and worship.   And thus Friends have a very rich Gospel to preach, if we will but reach to see the whole.

 

 

*”Our witness is rooted in reverence,” a motto of the Prophetic Climate Action Working Group of New England Yearly Meeting.

 

 

 

 

Re-enchantment and kosmos: Preface

01/20/2020 § Leave a comment

I have fallen behind my proposed schedule for this series of posts on climate change as a spiritual opportunity — but am now re-entering the workshop. As I mentioned in a prior post, I am thinking of this project as having 3 parts. This second part will move towards more Quaker material, with my principal source being George Fox’s epistles.  In this post, I want to restate my main argument, and set the stage for what comes next.

Much of the excellent theology about earthcare or ecology that I have read or heard in recent years has been in the nature of a call to extend Christian teaching, to develop a theology of nature or of ecology.  My own position is that the Gospel already is about earthcare, about humans as part of the complete, the whole household of the world. (It is not only about that, of course.)  Mostly, Christians have not heard that bit.  We are living the judgment that comes from living out of harmony with God’s law, and ignorance is no excuse. Heaven knows we have had plenty of guideposts towards faithfulness.  The climate crisis which drove me to this line of thinking is only the latest and (perhaps) greatest manifestation of our transgressive ways.

Research on people’s attitudes about climate change has shown over and over that knowledge is not a motivator for most people.  Nor is fear or shame.  For any of these factors to open the way to transformative action, a change of heart, a spiritual change, is necessary.  So in this age of anxiety, despite the lateness of the hour, and urgency of our challenges, we need to have the courage to turn inward — and Quakerism has sometimes been a good way to face the truth of our own condition and that of our times, bring them to judgment and clarification, and then under the preparing and guiding hand of Christ to serve, to act, to witness, as the way is opened to us.

Friends have said from the beginning (and so have others, including my Erasmus), that we can only read the Scriptures if we read them in the Spirit which gave them forth. Now we know that Spirit, which is that of Christ, is the Logos at the heart of all creation, and it is known also sometimes as Sophia, God’s wisdom and delight.   Before the Scriptures were, God, through God’s Word of Wisdom, wrote the book of Nature, in which was wrought also the human heart. This, too, we must come to read in the Spirit that gave it forth.

Since we are so obviously integrated with the rest of creation, why is it so hard?  In Deuteronomy (ch. 30), Moses, speaking as to each invidivual, says,

this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Yet, though many individuals have from time to time  broken through the encircling veils, the glamor of culture and the immediacies of daily life to sense and yearn for a renewed unity with the creation and the Power sustaining  it (“through Nature up to Nature’s God”), mostly we are alienated, act and feel our selves in tension with, other from, the nonhuman world.

Here is where our participation in the work of Christ, in whom God was/is reconciling the world to himself (Godself) is foundational.  After all, as Paul says, “Who has known the mind of God? But we have the mind of Christ.”  In that mind, the Word and Wisdom, we are seen whole, Creation is seen whole, and we are whole in and through it.

 

A letter from William Dewsbury to the imprisoned Seed

12/22/2019 § Leave a comment

Dear Friends,
I suffer with the imprisoned seed in you, to which I was sent to preach the everlasting gospel, to the opening of your blind eyes, that you might see your lost estates; how your immortal souls lie in the pit wherein there is no water, and to bring it forth that it might stand in the liberty of my Father’s love in the free covenant of life in the Lord Jesus, which covenant is to the seed which is pure and holy, and enlightens your understandings, and lets you see every bypath and broad way, and cries behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn from the pure light which is in your consciences.

And to the light in your consciences I speak, which shall eternally witness me; you have not been faithful, many of you, in walking with the Lord, since you heard the gospel of your salvation.  I charge you in the presence of the Lord God Almighty and by his power, every one of you examine your consciences, which will witness with me, for I am with you, though absent in body, and see you with the invisible and eternal eye which nothing can be hid from in the measure which the Lord hath opened.

I suffer amongst you for the immortal and eternal Seed that suffers in you.  I charge you, slight not the examination of your hearts every one of you in particular. I see you who you are in whom the Seed suffers, in some under one deceit, and some in another; and to the all seeing eye, that light in your consciences, I direct you, which is the eye with which I see you; and every one of you dwell in the pure light which is in your consciences, and you will see yourselves and witness these lines.

And from the mouth of the living God, before whom all is naked and bare, I charge you by the Lord, hasten every one of you to meet the Lord in speedily reforming your ways:

— Thou that art slothful, harken to the light in thy conscience, and it will waken thee;
—  & thou that art flown up into the air to speak of that thou livest not in, harken to the light in thy conscience, and it will stop thy mouth and cause thee to lie low before the Lord;
— and thou that art exalted above thy brother, harken to the light in thy conscience, and it will pluck thee down and cause thee to serve him in love;
— and thou that art delighting in the earth more than in the Lord thy God, harken to the light in thy conscience, and it will bring thy earthly mind to judgment and rend thee from the earth.
— And thou that art a self-lover, and if thou have thyself and regard not thy brother, harken to the light in thy conscience, and it will bring thee to self-denial and to love thy brother, & to watch over him & suffer with him in all his sufferings.

I charge you in the presence of the eternal and ever-living God, that every one be faithful according to the measure of light the Lord hath given to profit withal* in the exercises of your conscience towards God and men. Let the light guide you all in your ways, and it will purge away all the filth of the flesh; so will the old man be put off with his deeds, and the imprisoned seed will be set at liberty in you; and I shall not come to you any more with a rod, as I am constrained at this time through your foolishness, who have departed from the pure wisdom to look abroad in the counsel of your own hearts; for the rod is prepared for the back of a fool, but the wise man’s eye is in his head, which eye is the light in your consciences, being guided by it, it will lead you to Christ, who is your head, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge.

Now all of you that walk in him, I have union with every one of you, denying yourselves freely, and be faithful in your measures, that you may grow up together in the Lord Jesus: a peculiar people, a holy priesthood, to offer up your souls and bodies a living sacrifice unto the Lord our God, to guide you by his power to his own praise and glory, who alone is worthy to be feared and obeyed of all his saints forever and ever. With bowels** of love I salute you all in the Lord, into his power I commit you, and the Lord God Almighty enlighten your understandings and bless you and guide you in wisdom to watch over one another in love, that the God of love may be exalted in all of you.

William Dewsbury  1653

_____________

Notes.
Published in James Nayler’s Works vol. 1, pg 262.  I have edited slightly for easier reading.  I have broken up paragraphs; also some sentences, replacing ; with . A couple of words have been deleted as being possibly mistakes in the writing of the letter. If you have any questions about the editing, contact me, or consult the original text in Nayler’s Works.

* Withal here = with: “to profit with.”

** This word, encountered fairly often in 17th century Quaker writings,  denotes something deeply felt, and carrying with it a sense of compassion — a visceral, “gut” feeling.  In the Gospels, Jesus is several times described as being deeply moved at the plight of someone, and the word there is splanchnizo, derived from the word for “gut.”   In this case, you might say “heartfelt love.”

Metanoia Part 3 (the last): in a time of Climate Change

11/22/2019 § 10 Comments

Metanoia is a complex process. It’s not only that it take time to adjust our lives and habits to harmonize with the Truth we have acknowledged — the conversion that follows convincement.
There is also a pre-history to such a grand change. Think of the people that came down to the Jordan River, to hear John’s preaching — and perhaps to accept the rite of cleansing in flowing (living) water as an outward demonstration of a change begun. Those that came and accepted his call came out of a sense of search or need, a longing for rededication that perhaps they could not put into words, at least at first — the Holy Spirit whispering and prompting them to awaken to a renewed consciousness.

Of these, some sought for a yet more radical understanding of themselves, their times, and the requirements of the Holy One of Israel for them. John himself declared that one greater than he would come, with power to effect a deeper transformation than they yet had felt — a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. A few listened and received that expectation. Staying in company with John in the fellowship of intense focus along the riverbank, they would speak of discoveries made, and questions yet unanswered. To a few of these, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” We know of two whose experiment began with the question, Where do you live? to which Jesus replied “Come and see.” Their eyes were opened further, and metanoia revealed new dimensions in Jesus.

The first motions of the Spirit, whether they feel like judgment on our ways, or dissatisfaction with our lives as we are conducting them, or alienation from our society, or a simple longing for a feeling of integration or for the “open life” (see Douglas Steere’s pamphlet on that them in the Library) — these fresh visitations are precious, and vulnerable.  We may welcome them with joy, yet find them choked by busyness, parched by trouble or scorn, trampled by opposition (our own or others’).  How much care, longing, persistence, grace are required to bear in mind through all our trials the sweetness and promise of the new life just taking roots and unfolding within.

I believe that many people are feeling inward promptings to enlarge their spirits to accept the reality of climate change, and the gravity of it, and their openness to these promptings has been long in preparation.  Yet for many the new growth is still vulnerable.

How are we to comprehend our responsibility?  In Psalm 19, David prays “Who can understand his erros?  Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me.  Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent of the great transgression.”  With climate change, we discover that without knowing it or willing it, we have had a share in the wrong-doing, the misuse of  creation, whose results we are now experiencing.

When I first realized this, I found it frightening, and discouraging. A natural response is avoidance, or denial, or compartmentalization.  But the wound, the sense of transgression and a debt owing, gnaws persistently within, even when one pretends it is not there.

Moreover, as we allow ourselves to understand the problem, a way of expiation or redress seems almost out of our power, the scale is so large, and we have so many co-offenders. How can I know what is my share in the solution?  How can my activities, at my scale, make any discernible improvement, if so many of my brothers and sisters, co-constructors of the problem, do not share in the work, and the “principalities and powers” actively resist change, or drive all the harder in the direction of destruction?

As we move deeper into the new understanding that metanoia opens to us, where climate change is concerned, we realize that ‘hope’ itself must be re-examined.  I end here with an excerpt from a letter I wrote to New England Friends some years ago,

… I have found myself losing other illusions that, I realize, have been sources of hope, which cannot any longer be relied upon. Some of my hope has been placed in enforcing social structures, such as government or other political agencies. It is increasingly likely that the major social structures will not respond in time to prevent protracted climate disruption.  Some of my hope has been wedded to the idea of progress and reform. God’s will is peace and justice, abundance, agape,and creation — but I no longer see how this translates to “progress” as Americans and optimists have usually meant it. Finally, I have placed stock in knowing, being able to comprehend not only my personal dilemmas, but also the trends in which I am embedded. And I must admit that the hope that I have in knowing really reflects my deep desire to have control over my life, for my well-being and that of those I love.

We have not confronted the spiritual challenges of climate change until we recognize that some of our grounds for hopefulness are false, and that we need again to ask where the Holy Spirit and the Gospel story (including its later, Quaker chapters in some of which we are appearing right now), can be found in the midst of it all.  At such a time, indeed, we are challenged to bring our grief and our need before the Living God. Many Friends have experienced surprising grace when driven to such an extremity, seeing that many of their props and resources were unreliable  —”When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do…”  We cannot tell God what to do, but we can know some things about how God moves among us.

When false hopes are removed, true hope can be discovered. It may be that our calling as a people is to be intentional about descending into the depths as we encounter them, and then waiting there for the power to call out in thanksgiving and in a hope that lives without any illusion of control. If Friends as a people could testify first and foremost to the Spirit from which we learn love, and the grace of a thankful heart, then indeed we can speak both power and love to our frightened, angry, disoriented time. The speaking will come with power as it comes from a life empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us, and as we open to true concerns, our work will bring consolation, as love carries us past fear, even in calamitous times.

True concern.  In the past few years, we have sought hard to bring the resources of our yearly meeting to bear upon our sense of insufficient faithfulness. The frustration and confusion that have often resulted suggest that we are not looking in the right places for the way forward, and that we may not have gotten clear, each of us in our own hearts, about what the roots of our urge for action may be, some worry that we have not yet been drawn into the complex, empowering, and risky condition of concern  — of seeing how a particular person, issue, place, or need is for us an essential and unavoidable next stage of our spiritual life.   We may see that something is cause for alarm or regret or outrage, but it may remain an outward threat only, until by the action of the Spirit some link of service and necessity is forged.   Until that gap is closed, my activism will not reach to my core, nor be fed from the divine life.  I may be under preparation, but I am not yet sent!

A concern is, in a real sense, a spiritual challenge, and so it is particular, or makes particular demands, on each of us, even if we feel the concern to be widely shared.  In fact, for each of us, the shared concern is really unique, because it confronts each of us with the limits, uncertainties, and temptations that are ours alone; and however supported by our F(f)riends, the inward response to the challenge must take the form of inward change in each individual.

This change, this metanoia, the return to our senses, can (if we continue to dwell in the new mind) become so thorough that it erupts naturally into acts of service, of proclamation, of solidarity, of imagination, of endurance, and of witness to the Cross of Joy.

To Friends, not to reason and judge too much about gifts, but to listen to the Witness, and not to fear.

11/15/2019 § 12 Comments

Dear Friends,
We are weakened, and the Seed suffers, because we are so reluctant to welcome and encourage spiritual gifts that are emerging among us. Life is rising fresh, in young and old, and we say we want to encourage it, but we talk and judge it down. So we are lukewarm, and our growth is stunted. If gifts are not welcomed, they cannot be nurtured. If they are not nurtured, they will not be exercised. If there is no exercise, there can be little learning by individual or by meetings. So we are always starting over, and we gain no wisdom.

Our meetings’ descriptions of our spiritual condition each year speak clearly of our longing for nourishment, for learning, for power to live in the way the Spirit of Christ (however named) calls and leads us. Yet when gifts start to move in someone, and Friends take notice, our caution is so great as to wound and discourage the little, tender openings. Those who are timid and need cultivation in the work are often not even noticed, and we teach each other timidity and fear, when Paul urged us to desire earnestly the best gifts, for the community of the Spirit to thrive.

How many teachers we need! How many counselors and comforters, experienced in prayer and the care of souls! How many writers, how many inspired gifted stewards of our means and business! How many messengers from the witnessing Spirit, speaking to that in others! How many witnesses in love, for naming the power of evil, in our own beloved society, and beyond, and for the healing of its wounds! How many peacemakers and mourners, watchers in prayer, and gifted rejoicers! All these to be well-grown in the truth, which takes time and practice, and incubation by loving insight.

We are full of fear, Friends, fear of each other, and of the power of God. We are afraid to say that that one has a gift that I do not — because we do not trust that “each hath a gift and is serviceable.” We do not feel how each part of the mystical Body is needed in its difference, and has holy value if exercised as the Light and Wisdom guides it to. Jesus asked, If salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? In the same way: The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, but if the hand never reaches to work, to point or caress, (while the eye looks out and does its part), then it does not serve, but only stays a dead weight.

When a gift arises in someone who wants to be faithful, they feel fear — that they are mistaken, that they have nothing to offer, that they will do wrong. It is for us to seek to the Witness in ourselves, and feel what answers, and we must seek in honesty. Is there life coming there? We know that the Spirit pours out gifts for our needs, in each community: What else should we do but be on the lookout for them, and welcome them in their first appearance?

The Witness yearns for abundant life, and can give power to live it. How is this power seen? It is seen when love is felt, when hindrances made up of fear or habit or wounds are weakened or taken away. With the ability to see one’s chains, comes guidance towards freedom, and with each step that way comes a taste of joy and courage.

The Witness leads peace-wards, it is the root of every spiritual gift and occasion to enact it. If Love is witnessed in our Friend, or in ourselves. then there is life in the gift, and the gift is for us all, so the life coming through it will be for all. Make sure, make sure, that the first word said to a gift-birth is “Love!” Then guidance, practice, form, and balance can be developed,and methods and techniques have their place. The experienced travelers who have walked that path and know that kind of service and its costs should come forward to share the stories of their journey in the work, offering gifts of joy, as well as warning. Growth and learning come in the forming and doing of service — this we know experimentally!

If we listen to the love in the voice of the Witness, fear is taken off, and reasoning and judgment can become tools seasoned with wisdom. Remember, remember, that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the servant of all. We say to the world (often with self-congratulation) that “we are all ministers,” but we are fearful of making that truly happen, of dedicating the time, patience, and effort to help each other know what our service is, and how to build it up, how to cultivate our talents like good craftspeople, through apprenticeship to mastery, each of us working to assemble and sharpen our tools and our fitness for the work, making our true service our delight and daily concern.

Friends, there is no time but this present, and our meetings and our world, in their weakness and turmoil, require generosity of spirit, not penny-pinching. So much the more, if we wish to be a prophetic people, and a school of prophets, must we cling to love, let it season our judgement, and draw us to make real the dear fellowship of the common life of the Spirit, which the first Friends knew as Christ come again in the bodies of his friends, Immanuel who appeared, and appears, as a little, helpless thing unadorned and unlooked-for, but promising much.

In Christian love your friend,

Brian Drayton

Metanoia Part 2: A Quaker take.

11/08/2019 § 5 Comments

Erasmus’s view of metanoia as I sketched it in my last blog post bears a strong resemblance to the Quaker experience of “convincement.” In many recent accounts of Quaker spirituality, “convincement” is seen as “the Quaker way of saying ‘conversion.'” But Quakerism has seen a distinction between convincement and conversion — the first can be a specific event, and Fox or others may say of a particular public meeting that it resulted in ‘many convincements.” The second word, ‘conversion,’ is not a single event on the Quaker view, but a process (often life-long) of transformation. This realization that Christian maturity may take years or a lifetime, is not only a Quaker idea, of course. Yet the Quaker distinction of terms emphasizes features of spiritual growth that it is unwise to neglect.
Some flavors of Protestantism place a great emphasis on the conversion experience. This is epitomized for me by a conversation with a friend whose wisdom I valued, in which I said that I could never remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a Christian. She replied that if I couldn’t remenber a moment when I took a definite decision to be Christian, then I wasn’t really one. But it seemed to me then (and still does) that I make and have made this choice many times — some more “visible” or dramatic, some at a very tiny scale.
What, then, is the Quaker “doctrine” of the progress of the soul? Early Friends were aware that one of the signal evidences of God’s working in one’s life is the longing for God — maybe for a long time not even recognized as such. William Dewsbury writes:

 the mighty day of the Lord is coming, and in his power is appearing amongst you, in raising desires in some of you, towards his name, which desires cannot be satisfied with any outward observations and traditions of your fathers, but above them does your minds rise, in true hunger and thirst towards the living God, for refreshment from his presence

Sometimes such longing comes in the wake of a sense of one’s sinfulness, or disorientation, or drought:  as Fox wrote of his early restlessness,

my troubles continued, and I was often under great temptations; and I fasted much, and walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and went and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on; and frequently in the night walked mournfully about by myself, for I was a man of sorrows in the times of the first workings of the Lord in me.

On the other hand, the recognition that one is longing for God, or for a life more in harmony with God, may then itself trigger the recognition of one’s inadequacy or alienation from the Divine.  The insight may extend to a clarity about one’s capacity for sin (unfaithfulness, alienation from the Light, hardness of heart, or whatever “sinonym” you like).  George Fox reports in his Journal  (note that this  is after his great opening about Christ speaking to his condition):

I was afraid of all company, for I saw them perfectly where they were, through the love of God, which let me see myself….When I myself was in the deep, shut up under all, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great that I thought many times I should have despaired, I was so tempted…The natures of dogs, swine, vipers, of Sodom and Egypt, Pharaoh, Cain, Ishmael, Esau, etc.; the natures of these I saw within, though people had been looking without. I cried to the Lord, saying, “Why should  I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?” and the Lord answered, “That it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions!.. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death

All this is after his great vision, which so altered his point of view that as it unfolded “all things were new, and all creation gave unto me another smell than before.”  The experience was not a one-and-done, but a tutelage under the guidance of the Divine Companion.  The change was that you  knew where to look to orient yourself, you had found a framework within which to judge and be judged, you could feel how radical its demands would come to be.  Moreover, it was not a matter of mind only (“notion”), because it came with an inexhaustible life, a method or way to work and walk in, and the tang of reconciling Wisdom.

Friends paid close attention to the unfolding process of metanoia, as experienced by a seeking soul.  Authors such as Penington described how the first workings of the Spirit were often ignored or slighted, not important enough to address the great matter of one’s sin and redemption:

… 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.

This is reminiscent of the way that Jesus’ radically “alternative” embodiment of the messiah role was misinterpreted (and ever since has been, as Christians seek to substitute material power and means for the work of Christ).

The change of understanding, the reframing or “metaschematizing” (another good New Testament word) is indeed a multiplex experience, in which self-knowledge, judgment, liberation, guidance, and power to embody the new life are entwined, acting and reacting with each other  — working like leavening to lift up the consenting soul.  William Shewen  says (In Meditations and Experiences, §II)

It is a blessed state to know the eye of the mind, not only opening, but, opened; thereby is ability and wisdom witnessed to read in the book of life, wherein all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid; and he or she that knows this light shining, this eye opened in them, walks and stumbles not…That which shut and stopped this eye, and darkened this light within, in the beginning, was sin and transgression, whereby mankind lost the sight and enjoyment of their Creator.  And this I testify that no people upon the face of the Earth, come to witness this eye of the mind opened again, but as they come to experience that Power in themselves which crucifies sin, and saves and redeems out of transgression, and are also obedient and subject to it.

Christ’s work of reconciliation, reached an intensified form in Jesus’ ministry, but each of us must join in that process, the atonement currently being worked out each in our own case;  as James Nayler said, “If I cannot witness Christ nearer than Jerusalem, I shall have no benefit by him.”

Thus, an early stage of metanoia is the sense of a power and Prophet at work within, on material that needs healing — often first felt in a state of exhaustion or discouragement with the life you have been leading.  Fox writes to Lady Claypool:

When thou art in the transgression of the life of God in thy own particular, the mind flies up in the air, the creature is led into the night, nature goes out of its course, an old garment goes on, and an uppermost clothing : and thy nature being led out of its course, it comes to be all on fire in the transgression, and that defaceth the glory of the first body. Therefore be still awhile from thy own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires, and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in thee. that it may raise thy mind up to God, and stay it upon God, and thou wilt find strength from him, and find him to be a God at hand, a present help in the time of trouble and of need.

Then, just as Penington did, Fox warns his friend to focus on the first appearing of this power — to stay in the humble condition, accompanied and helped by the humble God (an idea as astonishing in its way as Erasmus’s meditations on God’s folly)

thou being come to the principle of God, which hath been transgressed, it will keep thee humble; and the humble God will teach his way, which is peace, and such he doth exalt. Now as the principle of God in thee hath been transgressed, come to it, that it may keep thy mind down low to the Lord God; to deny thyself, and from thy own will, that is the earthly, thou must be kept.

Again, this is not a matter of an outside authority pointing, judging, advising, but rather a conjoint life, in which the life of God gradually perfuses mind, heart, soul, and body.

Contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints,” therefore, this is not an invulnerable or irreversable condition, a ratcheting into a new position (remember the parable of the Sower!). Rather, it is a continual (re)creation made possible by our dependence on the continued work of Christ in our healing. As Hugh Barbour wrote ( “A process theology of the Spirit”),

of course, once the first glow of joy fades, and backsliding sets in, it becomes a challenge to know if it really was God at work. Fox and Friends said that Holiness is rarely sudden joy or power, but usually a hard, lifetime process.

The mind can be transformed, and the promises (“We have the Mind of Christ…Now we see in part, but then, face to face…”) fulfilled — but not easily, not all at once, and not without cost (No cross, no crown).  Yet those who have come some distance along the path begun  in metanoia, and have gained enough experience to know the reliability of their Guide, sound a note of certainty and joy — indeed, joy, the taste of an inward peace founded as deep as the roots of the cosmos, give evidence that you’re headed in the right direction.

James Nayler puts it effectively (How sin is strengthened, and how it is overcome):

you that love holiness, it is near you; power over sin and satan is near you: salvation is at hand; go not forth to seek that abroad which you have lost in your own house; He is your salvation that condemns sin in your bosom: He that reproves the wicked is with you: He that is pure is your peace: He that never consented to sin, but stands a Witness against it: if you have such a Spirit in you, you have the Spirit of Christ the Savior. So take heed to Him, to believe in Him, and to mind His leading, and to follow Him; if you part not from Him, He will be your everlasting peace, and over-ruling power to subdue your sins; and by Him shall you tread down strength with ease and delight……

…as you become faithful thereto, you will feel the fruit of that Holy One springing in you, moving to be brought forth in you towards God and man, your faith will grow, and prayers with strong cries to the Father; as the Spirit sees your wants, your love will spring and move in you, and bring forth towards God and man upon all occasions; which if you willingly serve in its smallest motion, it will increase, but if you quench it in its movings, and refuse to bring it forth, it will wither and dry in you, not being exercised.

What a glory is it to see peace shine in the midst of war, love in the midst of hatred, meekness in the midst of strife, righteous judgment in the midst of wickedness, innocency in the midst of violence and oppression; as a lily among thorns, so is that of God among the men of the world; and therein does His nature and beauty appear in His temple, to which all must confess, and praise Him therein.

P.S. As I wrote in my first Metanoia post, I find this Quaker understanding very much to be in harmony with the teaching of Erasmus on the Christian path and process — which to me means that they are hearing the same gospel, and following the same teacher, the same Spirit, unique among all the spirits.  Of course their accents and emphases differ, but the deep resonances, and humble reporting of experience, are nourishing and encouraging, as they rouse and speak to the Witness in my own soul.  Rufus Jones included Erasmus as one of those who walk along the “luminous trail,” and prepare(d) the way for our own journeys, and I am glad to feel it so.

P.P.S.  And this is not just a matter of working oneself into an etherial, Empyrean frame of mind, divorced from the work and grit of daily life in the flesh.  The challenges, temptations, confusions, distractions, failures are all part of the substance and nature of our world, and ourselves.  Part of the new mind that comes with metanoia is the ability to see (not always easily!) how these, if carried “in the Cross,” the cross of joy, are inextricably part of the blessing of our incarnated, incarnating life:

I have become convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling powers nor things present, nor things to come, nor forces nor height nor depth nor any other creation will have the power to distance us from the love of God, which is in Christ. (Romans 8:38-39)

 

 

 

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