“If it happens that it cannot be that one thing be reconciled with another, that is a certain sign for you that it is not from God.” Meister Ekhart.
New England Yearly Meeting 2016 has made two strong declarations, on race and on climate, which I think in their scope and force amount to testimonies. What each of them will look like, in my life (or yours), or in the life of meetings, remains to be seen. Sitting among Friends, though, I had a powerful sense that this dual emergence gives promise of real renewal of Quaker faithfulness — if we can understand the unity of the spiritual work that will be necessary to make each of these testimonies part of our reality.
My own first tendency, when I think of this challenge, is to reach for thematic connections,or synergies, between climate change and racial justice. These are not far to seek, and they are important, but if I stay at that level I will avoid the spiritual work and promise that are being offered to me and to us all in these times
This is because the way we come to bear a testimony — in a way that is consistent with our spiritual commitments — is by personal change: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and practical. Coming to bear a testimony in a way that attunes all these 4 levels is a way to enlarge our capacity, increase our integrity as individuals, and as a people. A testimony is both about a way of acting, and a way of being. Authentic action arises from an inward condition that is not in contradiction with the act (word or deed). Right action, indeed, can come before the inward change has matured enough to be stable, but a real unity between inward and outward conveys truth, and carries truth’s force.
It appears to me, too, that we can’t dictate in what order heart, soul, strength, and mind will be transformed in a testimony-bearer. There is much wisdom in the Quaker view that convincement (whatever triggers it) opens the way to the more thorough, intricate process of conversion and the renewal of mind, in which the power of God and the individual soul collaborate.
To get more practical: In seeking to understand and grow in my climate witness, I have encountered (more than once) grief, fear, and anger. I have grappled with despair sometimes — and that reasonable temptation is always present. I also have found paths forward, to creative action and increased understanding and attentiveness. I have felt convicted of ignorance of the facts of the case, of history and its meanings for myself and society, so that I have been possessed, at times, by an intense need to just know more— know more than I know how to make use of.
I have been frustrated that people — and Friends — were not responding in a way proportionate to the crisis. I have been frustrated by my lack of energy, ingenuity, or capacity to see a path forward for us, and articulate it effectively— because in the end, my faithfulness needs yours, too.
I have wanted “revolution without tarrying for any,” and raged that the powerful, the comfortable, the distracted, just do not (will not) see.
I have struggled over and over to feel how to bring all this to the root and ground of love, Who is also Truth, Judgment, and Wisdom, so that conviction and healing come together.
No matter which testimony you are seized by, or you find laid upon you most urgently, all are part of our proclamation, and living into any one presents the same challenges to the individual. At this level, we can communicate with each other about how Truth prospers for each of us in our journey, and working at this level can build unity and unified power in us as gathered people — can help us feel ourselves gathered — far more than an intellectual description of how “your” concern is reinforced by “mine” — rightly held, they are all part of the one concern, the one motion of love.
I am convinced that we are called to hold each other’s experiments with truth in love, and this means actively to find ways — from time to time — to stop and share our experience in the birthing of our new selves, the work, pain, and joy of the transformation that our witness is requiring of us (often to our surprise). We need to do this not only in grateful retrospect, when we’ve achieved something, or figured it out, but also in process — when the pain or burden is heavy and not yet resolved: and yet also in thankfulness because we feel that we have been brought into our dilemma by a motion of love, that leads us in paths we do not know.
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one to profit with…” (I Cor 12)