Many of us are feeling fatigued and burdened by the condition of the society we live in. On top of many long-standing concerns for justice, peace, and the human impact on the ecosphere, recent events have forced Americans to acknowledge deep truths about our nation which are so distressing as to make one echo George Fox: “They struck at my life.”
I have been meditating for the last couple of weeks on this line from Isaiah 33.6: The fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. (NRSV)
My first response was to hear in this a challenging statement of allegiance — as in Ps. 20: Some take pride in horses, and some in chariots, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. This sounds to me like a call to combat, maintaining the integrity of the Commonwealth of God where it has gained some being in the world, and a reminder that our weapons are spiritual weapons. It is inspiriting, and I have sometimes taken much encouragement from the Psalm 20 verse.
Yet as a strategy of resistance, it does not today seem hopeful to me, except as a first declaration. Resistance, if it is founded on self-assertion and rejection, is a recipe for exhaustion when the forces of Unlife are so active in so many shapes, within us, among us, around us in the culture. You see some moral outrage, and respond — and even as it is beaten back, two more spring up. As when Hercules fought the Hydra, which kept sprouting heads as each was removed; or struggled with Antaeus, who drew fresh strength from every contact with the earth; or as when I weed my garden, and pulling up a bunch of grass,see, alas, a stolon running off into the distance, to sprout again another day… The labor seems relentless and multiplying. With repetition and fatigue can come an impatience, a brittleness, in which one wishes for some quick end to the struggle — and when it doesn’t come, hopelessness sets in, or anger. The force of will can be depleted, no matter what one’s capacity for righteous indignation may be.
But there is another way to understand the Treasure of Zion, which is our treasure. The “fear of the Lord” can of course mean fear as before something dangerous or threatening — but very often it can be understood as “awe,” a being transported out of one’s normal frame of reference. This awe, indeed, is our treasure: In that experience we are tendered, made vulnerable and available to growth; and we see our selves in perspective. It is a condition in which the Light can work upon us, showing us what we are, and where we stand — that is, what we are relying on, at bottom. This experience can be chastening, humbling, even shocking. It is natural and easy to rely on someone or something else to be our moral compass or our source of meaning. We may discover that we have founded our hopes on what amounts to an idol, something that makes a plausible show, but has not the power we have attributed to it — investing it with our selves, and losing to it some part of our individuality and our strength, and in the process looking away from truth.
But the disillusionment that comes through the working of the Light on one who has been caught in a moment of awe/awareness comes with a measure of liberation, and thence some power to live into that freedom — just what has been given, no more (not yet!). If, in the place of awe, we see the little motion of life for what it is, taste the little savor of blessing that comes with the judgment, we can make way for it to be integrated in us, incarnated in mind, heart, and habitus; and so we are grown up a little more in the life of Christ.
In a way, the Quaker “method” comes down to this: To see (feel, sense, know) when we stand at the threshold of awe, unsurprised by its humbleness, its seeming weakness (as it accommodates like a good teacher to our capacity), and to accept that gift with thanksgiving, knowing it to be the place where we can stay in safety, in integrity, and in a hope that is no fixed destination, but a relationship, a process, a living process. From here, resistance to Unlife comes with love and forgiveness for its agents, even as we see ever more clearly that our safety resides in the keeping to the measure of life we have found, which bears no evil in itself, takes its kingdom with entreaty, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.
The citadel of our establishment, and the treasure within it, which is no cold gem, but a nourishing Seed, are found here in the little sweet flowing of that life: The fear of the Lord, the treasure of Zion — it is our treasure.
* the substance of a message in meeting