Easter 2016

There is nothing new about Easter for me to write, except my own testimony on this day of my life, so here that is:

The Episcopal liturgy taught me a lot through childhood.  Christmas, Easter, Pentecost — these three were anchors for the year.

Christmas speaks of compassion and all the  mystery of living. Incarnation was the work of most of Jesus’ life, I have come to see (and I keep understanding it a little more, in most every day of my own living) — divinity and flesh all a blend:  birth, circumcision and the reception into a tradition;  the mystery of generations (Anna and Simeon), self-discovery within the cradle of institutions; quests and questions, baptized by prophetic John, driven out (by the Spirit, what was that like?) into the fruitful desert, and then back again.  Reconstructing community, finding a voice when John is silenced by the authorities;  conflict, service, teaching, debate, rejection, Gethsemane, and the cross.  God saturates the whole, who knows how, sometimes clear, sometimes hidden, playing peekaboo. Every day is the adverb.

Easter is challenge; always is the adverb, the through-note within the dappled light-dark world.  Freedom, or rather liberation — a burst of gold and white, on the midnight at the end of purple Lent,  after Passion-week, dark Friday and breathless Saturday.  It connected so many threads: the blood of the paschal lamb (belonging and mercy!), the passage where?  Into  everyday wandering in the wilderness of this world;  and in that dailyness the ever, the pearl of great price.  Behold the Lamb of God!  said John, seeing John, John the seer, seeing the Lamb whose victory comes in sacrifice, who “takes its kingdom with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.

And ever we are accompanied; the teacher is near, a shepherd lord for sheepish apprentices, while we learn our own lessons of incarnation: the holy body, the holy self, the holy fellowship;  boundaries, regrets, choices and forgiveness, celebration and loss, the truths of work and rest, speech and silence;  the mysteries of the mystical body.

I think we don’t hear so much, in our debased cultural scuffles, of a “war on Easter,” because Easter can seem to mean that the troublesome teacher has been kicked upstairs, become a Superintendent, Rhadamanthus at the gates of passage out of Now (and real) into Then (let’s not think of it, but that’s where the Ideal can be lived, after it won’t interfere with earth-work). Resurrection is made an end-point, after incarnation, after the day’s work is done for good or ill…safe.

But the death Jesus raised people from was mostly soul-death, the sleep of fear or busyness or ease:  “Let the dead bury the dead! You have only to rise up and follow.” And so I do, sometimes, or long to (Help thou my unbelief!), and the open tomb is the open door for anyone to walk through, growing into the first resurrection, as one of those “saints” (clay vessels) in whom He is come again:  ” If I cannot witness Christ nearer than Jerusalem, I shall have no benefit by him.”    Someone who says that (as Nayler did, and I do in my measure) can dare to do so because they know already the taste of resurrection and eternal holy life, now, now, Christ at large in the world. “Yea, he is truly risen.”

And now! is the adverb for Easter’s binary twin star, Pentecost, the feast of red fire and of koinonia, of apostleship and service to the least, of the race to be the last, of pilgrimage funded by the one thing needful.

So Fox:

Dwell in the power of life and wisdom, and dread of the Lord of life, and of heaven and earth…Let all nations hear the sound in word or by writing.  Spare no place, spare no tongue nor pen;  but be obedient…Go through the work and be valiant for the truth upon the earth.. You have the power, do not abuse it.  You have the strength, presence, and wisdom of the Lord Eye it, that with it you may all be ordered to the glory of the Lord God…Keep in the dominion, keep in the power over deceit… The spirit bids, come!

 

Library: Bill Taber on Quaker ministry and the razor’s edge

One “strand” of posts on this blog (Tags! I’ll use tags!)  will be “Library.”  I’ll post a document on my “Library” page (see the menu, upper right?], and introduce it with a blog-post. These are pieces I find valuable, not widely available nowadays and (I believe) not bound by copyright or other restrictions.


 

Just returning from a weekend on travel in the ministry at the Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I am freshly aware of the importance of this first entry for this strand.

It is the text of an address that Bill Taber gave at Pendle Hill in the mid-90s, and it is full of wisdom about Quaker worship, the role and source of silent and spoken ministry, and the experience of the calling or vocation of ministry, as Friends have understood it.  It has many excellencies, but I want to lift up just a few — and then urge you to read it in full.  It is not long, and it is savory!

  1. It conveys the seamless unity of outward and inward exercise in Quaker worship, and thus the radical nature of both —  it is easy to forget, I fear, how radical Quakerism’s claims are, in this connection.   Bill sets the tone in terms that are very characteristic of him:
    Spoken Quaker ministry could be described as responding to the “inward motion.” Quaker ministry could also be described as walking the razor’s edge. Or we could say that such ministry arises out of and contributes  to the primary “Quaker technology of shifting levels of consciousness.”
  2. He describes how every individual act of ministry must arise from a fresh and immediate calling: “Something is needed, and I am at this moment the appropriate instrument to carry it out.”   This experience is something that every person sitting in worship is in some danger of experiencing (along with the work that is needed to know if the impulse is a true one)!
  3. However, in addition:there is a deeper and more persistent sense of calling to the ministry which has occurred to some Friends throughout Quaker history–and it is still occurring today. We have only to read the journals of earlier as well as more recent Friends to learn of their struggles as they came to recognize and to accept their “vocation” as a minister in a way which paralleled the sense of call experienced by prophets in the Old and New Testaments.
  4. This phenomenon can pose problems in present-day Quaker practice, both for the individuals and for our meetings:
    Modern unprogrammed Friends who experience this traditional calling and longing to be about the work of God often experience great frustration because there seems to be little or no place for ministry as a vocation in the modern Society of Friends…we modern Friends value expertise and genius in virtually every field except the spiritual…Every generation of Friends, including this one, has had its quota of people who in other cultures might be called budding shamans or seers or medicine men or medicine women. In earlier Quaker eras these budding Quaker shamans were watched over and nurtured and in subtle ways encouraged so that many of them were able to respond to the ever beaconing Call to become a sanctified instrument of the Divine Will.
  5. Bill sets ministry where it belongs, as one part of the fabric of worship, and our unfolding experience of the divine, both as comfort, and as challenger and transformer of lives:
    …as we learn to dwell for periods in the Living Stream, the Radiant Center, or what some devout Christians would call being present to the Holy Spirit–at least two significant things happen to us. First, we are given increasing and progressive self-awareness. It is almost as if we can stand back and observe ourselves, discovering more and more about our motives and reaction patterns– and, wondrously, we are given the power gradually to change toward that full wholeness of the image of God which is our heritage. This process can at times seem amazingly easy, or at least organically and harmoniously and synchronistically right, but it can also be a struggle, because when we are truly in the Radiant, Living Center, the Stream, we are also on the razor’s edge. In other words, one of the outcomes of our faithful participation in waiting worship is that our self knowledge, and therefore, our behavior and our aspect or stance toward all circumstances will be more and more in accordance with the narrow but glorious Way taught by Jesus. A second outcome, related to the first, is that we become more able to discern in general, and specifically, that we are more attentive to the inward motions from God.

As we learn better and better to live from what Bill calls the Radiant Center, that place of rest and of dynamism, we become — as individuals and as a community — more and more able to give and receive ministry that is truly a service “to the refreshing of the Children of Light.” We can come to value and to nurture this service in its place, and to encourage its abundant, diverse flourishing.

I hope I’ve given you enough of a taste that you’ll read Bill’s whole piece — and pass it on, and discuss it with your friends.

Letter: For Multnomah Friends, on praying towards unity

NOTE: This letter was sent last year, following a visit Darcy Drayton and I took to West Hills & Multnomah meetings. A word of context:  In those lively meetings, Friends are coming under a shared concern to respond to climate change, but there are a lot of different kinds of leadings.  Some expressed a longing for more coherence within their community.  It was with that condition — of creativity, movement, and diversity — that I was sitting when I was led to write this. Since then, the letter’s been circulated around, and some have asked for copies. In case it’s useful to others, here it is:

Lyndeborough, NH
4/18/15

To Friends in and around Multnomah meeting,

Dear Friends,
Since we were with you a few days ago, I have found that, when I sit in the quiet, I am not free until I share one thing more with you. This is to encourage you in love to pray towards unity as you follow your concerns. Indeed, this prayer towards unity may itself be a concern to follow, when no other path or leading is discernible. What do I mean?
1. Imaginative participation. Prayer takes many forms, and some of those forms are available even to someone who does not think they know how to pray. A wordless, steady regard, in a time when one is quiet in reverence, is a powerful way of working, or rather of allowing oneself to be worked upon. When we are truly centered, even for a short space of time, we are tender, that is, vulnerable and teachable. If then we bring into that place a longing or need that is on us, it can be a time of discovery and movement, and imaginative participation in the concern we are holding, and the community we love.
2. Heightened awareness. One of the results of this kind of contemplation is heightened awareness. In that receptive place, where we are most able to hear (or see or feel) the truth, one is often given fresh understanding. One may perceive more details about the community life — or one’s own participation in it — seeing connections, or even questions, that were not apparent before. As ever in such times of quiet openness, as we feel safe or grounded, we may be given to see barriers that need to come down, if growth is to occur, or new things that must be learned, or rifts that must be mended. A deep fruit of this kind of work is an increase in inward spaciousness and freedom, a peace that is the peace of the ripening or opening seed; and a gift of thankfulness. It is quiet, but it is also the workshop of turbulent, organic creativity, as in the stillness and tenderness all the materials of ourselves, our works, and our world can be in fluid contact. Remember how Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you — not as the world gives, give I unto you.”
3. Praying towards unity. The Spirit by which we are guided, and which underlies all our separate concerns, longs for, persuades towards, our unity. A frequent attention to the community, and a waiting to feel where the unity stands (beneath all our diversity), is a gift to oneself and one’s meeting. Gifts are not elicited by demand or strength, but are things received from love. The kind of prayer I am advocating is one in which our selves, and all the parts and actions of our spiritual body, are held lovingly and known at bottom to be deeply connected. As we make this kind of attention, or attentiveness, a steady thread of our practice, we can find our way, experimentally, into an understanding — and an ability — to see, and then to live, in unity, in some measure. We may well lose sight of the unity, but once we have had the taste of it we know that it can be found and felt again.
This unity may be expressed in many ways, and may well grow into a strong, shared vision for community life. The beauty of this is that such a growing understanding, rooted in prayer as well as hard work and good thinking, may be a fresh way to understand and share Gospel living — remembering that the good news is the power of God to work liberation. This can be a way to live into a demonstration of that.
“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.”

* * *

When Darcy and I came away from our time with you, we were refreshed and encouraged by you, and by the sense that we had been faithfully led among you. The encouragement, curiously, was a longing to be more ready for any next opportunity for service. This is often the way, that acting from a right place, being faithful in one’s measure, is nourishing and healing, makes one humble in growth, gives capacity for further work under the Spirit’s guidance — and gives a sense of hope and excitement.
Many of you, however, spoke of the familiar problems of action that is dispersing, and may be mixed so much with fear or urgency that each one’s work, however good, feels like a private matter, and not vitally connected with others’ activities. Even thinking through the logical ways that “your concern is related to mine” does not satisfy the need for substantive connection.
The prayer that I am writing of is a path towards safety, of practicing so that our action and concern are not scattering, but in some measure gathered in the Spirit — and once we live up to our measure, more will be given. This way is founded on longing and desire, a sense of need, a love of justice and truth, a watchfulness and faithful response to what is shown us. So many great souls have shown us how it can be a place of rest as well as renewal, and as we are unified in ourselves, we find ways to come together as one community, whose actions in the world are various, but come with power out of the work of discovery, and unification, in the Spirit.
In Christian love your friend,
Brian Drayton

Friends, whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then you are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. GF Ep. 10.

Climate: Jeremiah xxi.8 and the path of life in catastrophe

King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon is bearing down upon Judah. The hapless King Zedekiah sends to the prophet Jeremiah for advice. Jeremiah replies (xxi.8ff): “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans…he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prize.”
This is tough stuff: Catastrophe, the great overturning, is coming for sure upon Jerusalem, and as Jeremiah understands it,  it’s an unavoidable consequence of the unfaithfulness of the people.  The only path forward is to go with the tides of history, accept grief and dislocation, relearn faithfulness in a land of exile, and build towards a time — still incubating (in George Fox’s wonderful phrase, Ep. 233) “in the womb of eternity” — when later generations can once again enjoy their heritage.

This passage hit me hard,  having just read a blog post by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes for Slate.com:  “Our hemisphere’s temperature just reached a terrifying milestone.”  Holthaus reflects on the emerging climate data for February, notes that for the Northern Hemisphere, for that month, it looks as though the temperature exceeded the “normal” benchmark by 2°C.  Of course, this is just one month, and of course it’s only half the globe, but (he says) it’s

likely the first time since human civilization began thousands of years ago. That mark has long been held (somewhat arbitrarily) as the point above which climate change may begin to become “dangerous” to humanity. It’s now arrived—though very briefly—much more quickly than anticipated.

Looking at the whole globe, the anomaly above normal could turn out (when all the data  sets are verified and analyzed) to be 1.4°C.  At the Paris climate conference in December, nations adopted 1.5° as the most desirable ceiling of warming to strive for, since we’ve already reached 1 degree.  Holthaus writes

Keep in mind that it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1.0 degree Celsius, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4 degrees further in just the last five months.

For many years now, the policy world has used 2°C as the upper limit of acceptable warming, and the argument has been that this is [a] achievable, and [b] likely to have  manageable if unfortunate consequences (not that people are clear what “manage” might mean).   Meanwhile, the world itself has been saying something different:  with just a 1°C anomaly, we’re seeing (not a complete list) significant weather disruptions, intrusive sea-level rise, massive loss of ice on land and sea, evidence of effects on ocean circulation, dramatic changes in seasonal patterns with consequent ecosystem responses, and possibly the beginning of irreversible melting of at least some ice sheets.  All this has come far more quickly than most scientists predicted.  Holthaus again:

So what’s actually happening now is the liberation of nearly two decades’ worth of global warming energy that’s been stored in the oceans since the last major El Niño in 1998…..We could now be right in the heart of a decade or more surge in global warmingthat could kick off a series of tipping points with far-reaching implications on our species and the countless others we share the planet with.

This is a milestone moment for our species. Climate change deserves our greatest possible attention.

Put another way:  You may well not feel it right to make climate action your main focus, because there are other important needs to address, but every one of us has to find a way to take some active role in addressing this challenge, because it is the state of our world. Climate change is now, to use Trueblood’s phrase, a “second vocation.”

And this is therefore an educational and spiritual problem for all of us.  This will take: continuous learning by every one of us.  Moreover, it seems to me that the kind of learning that will be required  (following John Dewey’s)  is growth, a ” cumulative movement of action toward a later result”  (Democracy and Education, Ch. 4. “Education as growth”).  This growth is a multi-dimensional, constructive task which we undertake with the full knowledge that one effect of any thoughtful work is some transformation of one’s self in the transaction between ourselves and our environment (natural and human):    

Development… means the direction of power into special channels: the formation of habits involving executive skill, definiteness of interest, and specific objects of observation and thought…The adult uses his powers to transform his environment, thereby occasioning new stimuli which redirect his powers and keep them developing.

To respond to the climate challenge, each person needs to figure out what piece they can do, and what demands of time and re-organization this step will make. Some of this involves learning about, but some of it is learning how to, and some is social learning, as more and more we come to accept that everyone is trying to accommodate and experiment — and engage in discourse about our learnings and unlearnings.

What better evidence of our educational, ethical, and spiritual commitments can we give, than to accept that we — adults as well as children — have a lot to learn, and to throw ourselves into that learning whole-heartedly (to use another Deweyan term), in a task that will engage every dimension of us as learners — spiritual, intellectual, moral, esthetic,  physical, and social?  There’s no time like the present — indeed, there is “No time but this present.”

(Note:  Some of this adapted from a posting on bloghaunter.wordpress.com)