Love, judgment, and the “inner critic” pt. 1

04/27/2018 § 2 Comments

Christine Wolff’s recent Pendle Hill Pamphlet, The Inner Guide versus the Inner Critic (PHP #448), got me thinking.  I should say right now that this post and any following it are NOT in any way a critique of the pamphlet, which I expect will be helpful to many.  But as I read it, I kept remembering James Nayler’s epistle “concerning love and judgment, ”  and something clicked when I read Wolff’s line,l “Love and judgment cannot coexist.” (pg 31 in the pamphlet).  I heard James say, “Who is it now cries, away with judgment, and who hath turned it into wormwood? ”  Hm.

Given that both of these pieces are expressions of Quakerism, the contrast (whether superficial or not) is food for thought; call it creative tension, maybe.  So this series of posts is me working out (essaying) to explore that tension.  I will get to Nayler eventually, but if you want to read that letter right now, and don’t have it handy, you can get it here (you’ll have to scroll down past a couple of other letters).

Setting:  the message of the pamphlet.

In case you haven’t read it yet, here are some key points made in Christine Wolff’s pamphlet.

a.  The subtitle is “The journey from judgment to love.”  The essay invites the reader to engage freshly with their spiritual growth.  The path is represented as  one of of liberation, towards True Self, a condition in which we are more able to discern the guidance of the Light, and freer to follow it, in love and unity with ouselves and others.

b.  Freedom from what?  Well, the pamphlet focuses on “the inner critic,” conceived of as a set of habits or reflexes that result from our history and are woven deeply into our personality. In Wolff’s words (pg. 3),

Our personalities are like boxes surrounding us, blocking access to that loving presence [Divine Love and Light]…The inner critic is a personality structure that frantically tries to keep that box solid and in place, thinking it is needed to keep us safe.  The critic is one of the most constraining and constricive parts of our personality that keeps us from actualizing our divine presence here on earth.

c.  The inner critic has power because it is saturated with emotion, and “seems like an authority figure that has special access to the truth” (pg. 30).  It

acts like it already knows enough from our pasts to run our lives.  For the judge, the focus is on knowling what do to, how to do it, what might go wrong, and how to keep things from going wrong — how to predict and control the events in our lives.  Sensing the Divine guide requires the opposite of this focus.

d.  The work of spiritual growth centers on gradually weakening and removing the constraints of personality, allowing fuller participation in divine love.  Wolff again (pg. 3):

The boxes [our personalities] are permeable, however, and the spiritual journey consists of increasingly seeing more openings in the boxes until they become very porous, thinning away, allowing in more light and allowing us to become more and more at one with that loving presence.

e. This work is accomplished through growing awareness of the nature of our “boxes” and the dynamics of the spiritual life.  In part, this includes coming to understand the sources of our defenses.  For example, we need not to be afraid of negative or aversive feelings that arise — not letting the “inner critic” be triggered by the occurrance of anger, fear, etc.

Our inner child is a child, and it needs to be loved and accepted just the way it is, with all its feelings: fear, grief, jealousy…as well as joy exuberance, rambunctiousness and ecstasy…Only by fully loving and accepting all our feelings can we learn to fully feel them.  When fully felt, they will dissipate on their own (16-17)

This courage or steadfastness in the face of our negative feelings is only the beginning of the work, however:

fully feeling and working through blocked emotions allows us to experience certain spiritual qualities.  [for example] Feeling sadness allows the experience of compassion…(17-18)

This emotion-work opens the way for a growing skill in distinguishing the Guide from the Critic, though the Critic will (speaking metaphorically) put up resistance, since its whole purpose is defense and control. Over time, however, there can come a tipping point ( 31-2)

As the Critic loses its power and falls away, the personality loses its grip, in the box within which we live has more openings and may even fall away… There is more of a relaxed allowing of whatever comes up. Being becomes our identity and True Self. Wherever we are, there is God, for we are portals through which the Light of God can shine… Doing emerges, not from the sense of duty, plans, and schedules of the critic, but as an upwelling of Divine  Will pressing to be made manifest in this world.

There is much more in the pamphlet, including some glimpses of Wolff’s personal experiences illustrating her account.  I did want to quote this much, so as to present a reasonably fair sample of the pamphlet’s message before beginning my own reflections.  A few additional quotes will be apposite in later posts.

As I said above, I expect the pamphlet will be very helpful to many readers.  It is practical, inviting, often eloquent, and wise.  It offers an introduction to a narrative of spiritual growth which resonates well with our “spiritual but not religious” mood.  In subsequent posts, however, I want to explore at least the following themes that arose for me as I have read and re-read Christine Wolff’s piece:

A. On syncretism,  dilution, and the drawbacks of cultural appropriation

B.  On whether we have learned as much as we think we have since the 1600s (or before)

C. On spiritual crises of our age, or what we are hungering for.

D.  On traditional and nontraditional Quaker narratives

E. On love and judgment.

I admit this is ambitious, but deep calls unto deep, we are told, and I want to try to accept the invitation that Christine’s pamphlet (unintentionally) extended to me. I think I might learn something.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

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Seeing in John 1: Part 4

04/16/2018 § Leave a comment

We are now at the final set of “seeing” verbs in the first chapter of John, those which are related to the verb horao, ὁράω .  To form various other tenses or moods for this verb, the stems op–  and eid/id–  are used.  

The shadings of meaning that I have been exploring in these various verbs for seeing are very subtle, and as I explained at the outset (here), some scholars basically conclude that no stable contrast can be made.  In John 1, I think some case can be made for meaningful distinctions.  With the addition of this verb and its connotations, we are in even murkier territory.  Very often, it seems to me, the sense is roughly “lay eyes on”;  sometimes it seems to mean “perceive,”  and even sometimes “visit someone,” or “be in their presence or company”  (as we say “I went to see my uncle the other day.”)

Now the texts.

A.  Verse 18. “No one has ever seen (laid eyes on) God, but unique God, being near the father, he brought report.”

[Note a couple of curiosities in this verse. First, “near the father.”   The phrase here is literally “into or towards the bosom of,” or “at the father’s side.”   The sense is more like “approaching” than “located in,”  though the implications of this are unclear, at least to me.  OK, well, so who is getting close to God, whom no one has laid eyes on?  Well, the subject is monogenes theos.   The King James has this as “only-begotten son.”    Monogenes, an adjective, occurs just above (verse 14), standing alone, where it has to mean “uniquely born (one).”  There’s no noun, so you have to supply the detail.  Just above (v. 12), the Word  gives to those who receive him the power to become children (tekna) of God, so in the context we can reasonably take it that the Word, with God and God from the beginning, is a “child” with unique status.
But v. 18 says “uniquely-born God.”   The Wise agree that this is the wording of the best manuscripts.  Others supply the word “son” (huios), which is what Jerome’s Latin, and essentially all other translations use.  John said what he said, however, and given all the previous verses, the sense is more or less accessible — and I conclude that John was trying to convey his sense of the mystery of the pre-existing, cosmic, creating word yet accessible for a while in a personality with whom many walked, talked, ate, argued… (I like the way that Erasmus paraphrases this sense of in-dwelling presence:  “the Word (worth a separate blog post) is present in the world, the way the spirit of the craftsperson is present in their works, or as a pilot is present in that which he guides.”)]

Anyway, our verb of “seeing” here speaks of “seeing God,” and since we know that no one can physically see God and live (think of Moses’ experience) the meaning of “see” here means something like “know” or “get a clear understanding of” — except the Word, speaking (as we shall see) in the accents of language, act, personality, and inward guidance and power.

B.  It is natural, perhaps, now to move to vv. 33 and 34, in which John is recounting how he came to recognize Jesus as the one he was to announce:  ‘The one that sent me to baptize in water said to me, “The one on whom you shall see the spirit descending and remaining, this is the one baptizing in the holy spirit.”  The verb stem here is id– , and clearly connotes “perceive”.

Interestingly, as I have probably noted before, this stem, which in Indo-European is reconstructed as *weid-, in most of the cognate languages means both “see” (Latin video) and “know” (as in the old English verb “wit,”) or “come to know.”  Think of our expression, “Oh, I now I see!” (as in A above).  In verse 33, John uses a different form of the verb when he says  “I didn’t recognize (ᾔδειν, stem id-) him, but the one who sent me said…”

C. Three times, (verses 29, 36, and 47), we get the imperative ide, usualy translated “behold!” We might more naturally translate it “Look!” as in (v. 29, 36) “Look over there!  the lamb of God.”  More elaborately, John is directing his disciples’ attention — continuing to play his role as way-finder or fore-runner. In fact, John utters the word, but the purpose (and result) of the speech act is to get the disciples to look and register Jesus.

D.  Now we get a smorgasboard of seeing verbs in the final episode of the chapter.

In v. 47, it’s Jesus speaking to Nathaniel:  “Well, looky here, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” Before this encounter,  there’s been a whole chain of seeing (and finding, the result of the searching eye).  John sees Jesus, says “See, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples he’s speaking to go to Jesus, who, seeing them (theaomai, see prior posts) , asks what they want.  They want to know where he’s staying, and he says, “Come and you’ll see” (op-).  They then come and see where he is staying.   One of them, Andrew, finds his brother Simon, tells him he’s found the Christ (Messiah), and takes him to Jesus.  Jesus, seeing him (emblepo), names him, and then nicknames him.  Next day, Jesus finds Philip, who falls in with him, then runs to find Nathaniel — to tell him he’s found the one foretold. Nathaniel is not impressed, but Philip says, “Come and see (id-).”  When Jesus encounters Nathaniel, he teases the skeptic, and Nathaniel is surprised that Jesus recognizes him.  Jesus and Nathaniel negotiate about Jesus’ fore-sight (id-) of him under the fig tree. The chapter closes with Jesus predicting that they (you pl.) will see (op-) greater things than this.

With this final episode, therefore, from verses 43-51, there is a crescendo of seeing, of knowing (coming to know), of finding.  In the final statement, Jesus suggests that in following him, Peter, Philip, Andrew, Nathaniel, etc., are going to gain insight, are going to come to see angels passing to and fro on their work —not as validation of Jesus’ special status; rather as messengers and catalysts for the divine work, which John has glimpsed, and Jesus already is taking up.  The Light will enable them to see, will come to be seen as,  the divine logos — rationale,  message, conversation. (In a later post, I’d like to return to some nuances of logos, and the debate Erasmus provoked about its translation.)  Fox found that after his revelation. all creation gave forth a new smell, John engages us with seeing the world, seeing into the world, in a wholly new way.

I was captivated by all this seeing in John 1, because I have been pondering for many years what the import is of John chapter 9, which is devoted to an analysis of one miracle: Jesus heals a blind man.  Its final sentence is, If you were blind, you would have no sin.  But now you say, “I see”; your sin abides.   I think the dense linkages of seeing, beholding, perceiving, finding in chapter 1 sets us up for much of what comes after.

For elders and others — Hibbert on “The costingness of ministry”

04/09/2018 § Leave a comment

I revisited this recently, and was struck at its value — especially in the way that Hibbert conveys how eldership and ministry are two sides of the same work.  Moreover, he clearly sees the whole meeting as participating in the spiritual task of mutual encouragement, instruction,  and liberation to a more open life.  I also like the way he speaks about joy in the work.

I’ll add this to my Library in the next few days, along with some other Hibbertiana.

 

For elders–and others: “the costingness of ministry”
Gerald K. Hibbert
(published in The Friend (London) Vol. 92, No.15 (12th of 4th Month, 1935)

An open discussion on subjects related to Eldership is proposed for Y.M. Elders at next Yearly Meeting. To promote this the five questions that follow have been prepared and circulated, and form the basis of this article.
1.–Elders are charged with the duty of ensuring “the right holding” of meetings for worship, and are encouraged “to cherish an interest in the spiritual welfare of all their fellow members.” How can this counsel be put into practice?
2.–There is great need for a living ministry. Do we, as Elders, concentrate upon the development of that spirit out of which such ministry will arise?
3.–Do we represent the vocal ministry as a call to a splendid and joyous vocation? Do we realise the essential “costingness” of ministry?
4.–Is the ministry shallow, casual, lacking grip and conviction? Has it become too humanitarian, or bordering too much upon politics? Is it sufficiently related to our experience of God–to his self-disclosure in Christ–to what He has done and is doing in the lives of men and women?
5.–There is an important place for vocal prayer in our meetings for worship. Do Elders sufficiently realise this and give wise encouragement to any who may have a gift in this way?

Elders have been considering the Questions prepared by the Executive Committee of Yearly Meeting Elders, and asked to give them careful consideration. It is hoped to have an open discussion at next Y.M. on subjects related to Eldership.

The questions are naturally and rightly concerned with our Meetings for Worship and the Ministry in those meetings: this is the main of Elders. They emphasise the need for a living ministry, deep, searching, springing from our experience of God in his self-disclosure in Christ. They raise the important point of the value of vocal prayer in our meetings, and urge Elders to realise this and to give wise encouragement to any who may have a gift in this way.

We may perhaps single out Question 3 for consideration in this article, because of its balance and comprehensiveness, and because it is a real challenge: “Do we represent the vocal as a call to a splendid and joyous? Do we realise the essential ‘costing’ of ministry ?” And while the “we” in question is primarily addressed to Elders, all of our Society can take it as applying to themselves, whether technically Elders or not. Not one of us can really evade this issue.

Let us take the second part, of the question first–the “costingness” of ministry. Time was when there was no need to emphasise this aspect of ministry in our Society. Readers of Neave Brayshaw’s book, The Quakers: Their Story and Message, will remember the instances he gives in that remarkable chapter, “The History of Quaker Ministry,” to show the positive fear of being led to take vocal part in the ministry that was characteristic of in many Friends in the early part of last century. He reminds us that an atmosphere of unnaturalness and even of weirdness had come to cling round the idea of ministry. “Those on whom the awful gift had descended came to be regarded as a separate of men and women, forever marked off others.”

Some of the extracts given from the journals of ministering Friends of that time sound strange today. Thus, Lydia Ann Barclay writes: “I feel now ill with conflict, and the dread of meeting days,” thus vividly depicting her distress at the prospect of ministry. William Allen, on being recorded as a minister in 1820, writes: “I am now placed in an awful situation. May the Great Preserver of men be near to support and sustain under every trial, and prevent me from doing anything which may injure His great and good cause. I am indeed very low and in much fear.”

Another Friend, Mary Burtt, who, after twenty five years’ struggle, at last yielded to the call by quoting a single text, wrote a few weeks afterwards in her diary: “My heart is saddened by the recollection that to-morrow will be meeting-day again.”

Others, like Thomas Pumphrey, Elizabeth Fry and John Yardley, felt that the call to the ministry might be a temptation of the devil, the first named telling us that he “struggled against the call, fearing it was a suggestion of Satan to bring dishonour on the precious truth,” and the last named writing: “I have often secretly said, ‘Get thee behind me, I will not be tempted with such a thing’…Such was my dislike to the work that I suffered myself to be lulled into a state of unbelief as to the rectitude of the concern.”

Now the idea underlying this fear was undoubtedly good, and we can understand and sympathise with it. “In all this,” says Neave Brayshaw, “we see the concern of the true minister that his life shall commend his words.” Or, in the phraseology of our question, these Friends realised the essential costingness of ministry. They distrusted the easy flow of speech, the shallow casual utterance that so lightly runs off the tongue, and they feared above all things “to outrun the Guide” or “to exceed the measure.”

We can respect their position without wishing fully to adopt it. Of the two extremes, reserve and verbosity, this is the less harmful.
The Friends of a century ago had not coined the expressive phrase descriptive of voluble speakers as being “too light on the trigger,” but they evidently knew the dangers attaching to volubility. As far back as 1717, Thomas Story had described the Yearly Meeting as “a crowding time, there not being, for the most part, one minute’s time between the end of one testimony and the beginning of another, an indecency I have ever disliked.”

Now, to balance this, and to prevent the sense of the costingness involved in all true ministry from paralysing us and reducing us to the bondage of fear, let us turn to the first half of our question. “Do we represent the vocal ministry as a call to a splendid and joyous vocation?” “Splendid” and “joyous” are glorious adjectives, not perhaps reflecting the Quaker caution of a hundred years ago, but just the right words in this setting. What indeed is more splendid and joyous than the gospel of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, and what vocation can be more splendid and joyous than that of sharing with others our experience thereof in our own hearts? We do not hesitate to appeal to the young to dedicate themselves to high and heroic tasks: what work can be higher or more heroic than to live and to preach Christ to a world that is “rattling into barbarism” for want of him?

It is this positive and triumphant note that we need to sound to-day–if indeed our own experience warrants our sounding it, and if our faith in God is strong enough. Are we inspired enough to lay on all our members, ourselves included, the great claims of the Christian ministry, by example far more than by precept, but not excluding the latter? This of course does not mean asking our members to specialise in theology or go to college or give up business: it is simply emphasising our fundamental position of the “Priesthood of all believers,” and urging upon all of us our individual and collective responsibility for the life of our Meetings. “In the Light,” said Fox, “everyone should have something to offer.”

Whether in silence or in speech, we lay our gift on the altar, and the fire kindles. We worship as individuals, but not selfishly, for we worship also as a group: we “feel the power of God in one another” as we “meet together and know one another in that which is eternal which was before the world was.”

In such an atmosphere ministry cannot be shallow or casual or lacking conviction and grip. Even if it becomes “humanitarian or bordering on politics” (see Question 4), it will still be “in the life,” based upon the Unseen, and uniting rather than dividing: a humanitarianism or a politic with its roots in God cannot lead us astray. In praying and working for such an atmosphere in our Meetings, Elders will be “concentrating on the development of that spirit out or which a living ministry will arise” (see Question 2). The ministry largely reflects the spiritual life of the group, and for this spiritual life we all–Elders and non-Elders equally and alike–are responsible, “that all may be as one family, building up one another and helping one another.”

John Bunyan and the author’s heart

04/04/2018 § 3 Comments

John Bunyan (1628-1688), a tinker, was a key leader in the radical Baptist movement in revolutionary England. Despite many ways in which his views were in sympathy with those of Friends,and despite the role that Friends had in freeing Bunyan as they fought for religious toleration,  he was a trenchant critic of Friends (see here for a brief account).  Their theological differences were deep and fundamental — compare the overall tone of his autobiography (Grace abounding to the chief of sinners) with that of Fox’s Journal to get a feeling.  (See here for an edition and analysis of Bunyan’s debate with Edward Burrough, for lots more detail — I am still working through this slowly!).

On the other hand,  there is a lot to like about Bunyan, and Friends have been among those who’ve loved the Pilgrim’s Progress.  I started re-reading this (by audiobook) today, and was charmed all over again by his “apology” at the beginning of the work.   It is lively, colloquial, often witty, rough-and-ready verse, and there are passages that I think almost any author, as well as any teacher or preacher, can read with a sense of kinship.  Here it is.  Read it aloud with a smile, and it all flows rather well!

The Author’s Apology for his Book

{1} When at the first I took my pen in hand
Thus for to write, I did not understand
That I at all should make a little book
In such a mode; nay, I had undertook
To make another; which, when almost done,
Before I was aware, I this begun.

And thus it was: I, writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory
About their journey, and the way to glory,
In more than twenty things which I set down.
This done, I twenty more had in my crown;
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.

Nay, then, thought I, if that you breed so fast,
I’ll put you by yourselves, lest you at last
Should prove ad infinitum, and eat out
The book that I already am about.

Well, so I did; but yet I did not think
To shew to all the world my pen and ink
In such a mode; I only thought to make
I knew not what; nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my neighbour: no, not I;
I did it my own self to gratify.

{2} Neither did I but vacant seasons spend
In this my scribble; nor did I intend
But to divert myself in doing this
From worser thoughts which make me do amiss.

Thus, I set pen to paper with delight,
And quickly had my thoughts in black and white.
For, having now my method by the end,
Still as I pulled, it came; and so I penned
It down: until it came at last to be,
For length and breadth, the bigness which you see.

Well, when I had thus put mine ends together,
I shewed them others, that I might see whether
They would condemn them, or them justify:
And some said, Let them live; some, Let them die;
Some said, JOHN, print it; others said, Not so;
Some said, It might do good; others said, No.

Now was I in a strait, and did not see
Which was the best thing to be done by me:
At last I thought, Since you are thus divided,
I print it will, and so the case decided.

{3} For, thought I, some, I see, would have it done,
Though others in that channel do not run:
To prove, then, who advised for the best,
Thus I thought fit to put it to the test.

I further thought, if now I did deny
Those that would have it, thus to gratify.
I did not know but hinder them I might
Of that which would to them be great delight.

For those which were not for its coming forth,
I said to them, Offend you I am loth,
Yet, since your brethren pleased with it be,
Forbear to judge till you do further see.

If that thou wilt not read, let it alone;
Some love the meat, some love to pick the bone.
Yea, that I might them better palliate,
I did too with them thus expostulate:–

{4} May I not write in such a style as this?
In such a method, too, and yet not miss
My end–thy good? Why may it not be done?
Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.
Yea, dark or bright, if they their silver drops
Cause to descend, the earth, by yielding crops,
Gives praise to both, and carpeth not at either,
But treasures up the fruit they yield together;
Yea, so commixes both, that in her fruit
None can distinguish this from that: they suit
Her well when hungry; but, if she be full,
She spews out both, and makes their blessings null.

You see the ways the fisherman doth take
To catch the fish; what engines doth he make?
Behold how he engageth all his wits;
Also his snares, lines, angles, hooks, and nets;
Yet fish there be, that neither hook, nor line,
Nor snare, nor net, nor engine can make thine:
They must be groped for, and be tickled too,
Or they will not be catch’d, whate’er you do.

How does the fowler seek to catch his game
By divers means! all which one cannot name:
His guns, his nets, his lime-twigs, light, and bell:
He creeps, he goes, he stands; yea, who can tell
Of all his postures? Yet there’s none of these
Will make him master of what fowls he please.
Yea, he must pipe and whistle to catch this,
Yet, if he does so, that bird he will miss.

If that a pearl may in a toad’s head dwell,
And may be found too in an oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain
What better is than gold; who will disdain,
That have an inkling of it, there to look,
That they may find it? Now, my little book,
(Though void of all these paintings that may make
It with this or the other man to take)
Is not without those things that do excel
What do in brave but empty notions dwell.

{5} ‘Well, yet I am not fully satisfied,
That this your book will stand, when soundly tried.’
Why, what’s the matter? ‘It is dark.’ What though?
‘But it is feigned.’ What of that? I trow?
Some men, by feigned words, as dark as mine,
Make truth to spangle and its rays to shine.

‘But they want solidness.’ Speak, man, thy mind.
‘They drown the weak; metaphors make us blind.’

Solidity, indeed, becomes the pen
Of him that writeth things divine to men;
But must I needs want solidness, because
By metaphors I speak? Were not God’s laws,
His gospel laws, in olden times held forth
By types, shadows, and metaphors? Yet loth
Will any sober man be to find fault
With them, lest he be found for to assault
The highest wisdom. No, he rather stoops,
And seeks to find out what by pins and loops,
By calves and sheep, by heifers and by rams,
By birds and herbs, and by the blood of lambs,
God speaketh to him; and happy is he
That finds the light and grace that in them be.

{6} Be not too forward, therefore, to conclude
That I want solidness–that I am rude;
All things solid in show not solid be;
All things in parables despise not we;
Lest things most hurtful lightly we receive,
And things that good are, of our souls bereave.

My dark and cloudy words, they do but hold
The truth, as cabinets enclose the gold.

The prophets used much by metaphors
To set forth truth; yea, who so considers Christ,
his apostles too, shall plainly see,
That truths to this day in such mantles be.

Am I afraid to say, that holy writ,
Which for its style and phrase puts down all wit,
Is everywhere so full of all these things–
Dark figures, allegories? Yet there springs
From that same book that lustre, and those rays
Of light, that turn our darkest nights to days.

{7} Come, let my carper to his life now look,
And find there darker lines than in my book
He findeth any; yea, and let him know,
That in his best things there are worse lines too.

May we but stand before impartial men,
To his poor one I dare adventure ten,
That they will take my meaning in these lines
Far better than his lies in silver shrines.
Come, truth, although in swaddling clouts, I find,
Informs the judgement, rectifies the mind;
Pleases the understanding, makes the will
Submit; the memory too it doth fill
With what doth our imaginations please;
Likewise it tends our troubles to appease.

Sound words, I know, Timothy is to use,
And old wives’ fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere did forbid
The use of parables; in which lay hid
That gold, those pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.

Let me add one word more. O man of God,
Art thou offended? Dost thou wish I had
Put forth my matter in another dress?
Or, that I had in things been more express?
Three things let me propound; then I submit
To those that are my betters, as is fit.

{8} 1. I find not that I am denied the use
Of this my method, so I no abuse
Put on the words, things, readers; or be rude
In handling figure or similitude,
In application; but, all that I may,
Seek the advance of truth this or that way
Denied, did I say? Nay, I have leave
(Example too, and that from them that have
God better pleased, by their words or ways,
Than any man that breatheth now-a-days)
Thus to express my mind, thus to declare
Things unto thee that excellentest are.

2. I find that men (as high as trees) will write
Dialogue-wise; yet no man doth them slight
For writing so: indeed, if they abuse
Truth, cursed be they, and the craft they use
To that intent; but yet let truth be free
To make her sallies upon thee and me,
Which way it pleases God; for who knows how,
Better than he that taught us first to plough,
To guide our mind and pens for his design?
And he makes base things usher in divine.

3. I find that holy writ in many places
Hath semblance with this method, where the cases
Do call for one thing, to set forth another;
Use it I may, then, and yet nothing smother
Truth’s golden beams: nay, by this method may
Make it cast forth its rays as light as day.
And now before I do put up my pen,
I’ll shew the profit of my book, and then
Commit both thee and it unto that Hand
That pulls the strong down, and makes weak ones stand.

This book it chalketh out before thine eyes
The man that seeks the everlasting prize;
It shews you whence he comes, whither he goes;
What he leaves undone, also what he does;
It also shows you how he runs and runs,
Till he unto the gate of glory comes.

{9} It shows, too, who set out for life amain,
As if the lasting crown they would obtain;
Here also you may see the reason why
They lose their labour, and like fools do die.

This book will make a traveller of thee,
If by its counsel thou wilt ruled be;
It will direct thee to the Holy Land,
If thou wilt its directions understand:
Yea, it will make the slothful active be;
The blind also delightful things to see.

Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest thou see a truth within a fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-Year’s day to the last of December?
Then read my fancies; they will stick like burs,
And may be, to the helpless, comforters.

This book is writ in such a dialect
As may the minds of listless men affect:
It seems a novelty, and yet contains
Nothing but sound and honest gospel strains.
Wouldst thou divert thyself from melancholy?
Wouldst thou be pleasant, yet be far from folly?
Wouldst thou read riddles, and their explanation?
Or else be drowned in thy contemplation?
Dost thou love picking meat? Or wouldst thou see
A man in the clouds, and hear him speak to thee?
Wouldst thou be in a dream, and yet not sleep?
Or wouldst thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Wouldest thou lose thyself and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Wouldst read thyself, and read thou knowest not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not,

By reading the same lines? Oh, then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head, and heart together.

                                                             JOHN BUNYAN.

John 1: Seeing, part 3

03/26/2018 § 3 Comments

I feel for translators.  Unless they happen to be truly bilingual, and steeped in the kind of literature they are translating, and have a good insight into the author’s mind, and a ready fluency with the nuances of both the source and the target languages, it’s very easy to produce a bad translation.  There is an Italian proverb that captures some of the problem:  “Traduttore, tradittore”  —”Translator, traitor.”   I am not a translator by any means, but I have a feel for what translators are up against.

One common challenge is to decide if you are seeing a real  nuance in the source, which needs somehow to be reflected in the target, in the translation.   Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  In the case of a language no longer spoken, there is that extra problem — you can’t ask a native speaker.   As I have mentioned in the first of this series of posts on “seeing” in John 1, some commentators have concluded that you just can’t tell all the words for “seeing” apart in this text.  And yet, different words are being used.  And this by an author for whom “seeing” is a foundational activity — seeing pervades the gospel of John.

I will turn in this post to “blepo” (1 occurrence) and “emblepo” (2 occurrences), and then in a future post or two will step back from the detailed word-study to a broader exploration of seeing in this gospel.

Before we go into the text, a couple of notes.  First, etymology: The stem blep–  is very common in later Greek, and indeed becomes the default word for “see” in the modern language ( vlepo).  I was surprised to discover that no one knows where it came from, historically.  Chantraine’s Dictionnaire etymologique discusses various proposals, and finds solid reason to reject all of them,  So, a bit of a mystery.

Now word-formation.  The difference between these two verbs is only a little prefix, “en”. When located just before the “b” at the beginning of the stem, the “n” is pronounced, and spelt, “m”.   The prefix is the preposition “en”, meaning “in”.  Used in a verbal compound, it can mean “inwardly directed,” or it can mean “thoroughly” or “more intensely” — and often it’s hard to say what the additional nuance means.  In this case, the dictionaries suggest that sometimes it can mean “look directly at, look right at.”  Another way to say this is, “look meaningfully at.” You can imagine the gesture of it.

Back to the text.

The root verb, blepo, occurs in this chapter in verse 29 — we’re down by the Jordan, and John is standing there with some of his disciples.  He sees (blepo) Jesus going by, and remarks “Look, the lamb of God that takes away the world’s sin.”  He then relates the whole story of how he learned about this person and his role in the world (discussed in the second of these posts.”

Now, when the word is used elsewhere in the gospel, it typically just means “what happens when your eyes are open.” — That is, your visual sense is operating as expected. Some translators of the gospel use “noticed,” more often they just use our vanilla word, “saw.”  Even more informally, we can imagine that John is standing there with his friends, amidst a lively, shifting crowd of seekers, finders, and spectators, and registers at this moment that among the passing flow of folks, there’s his cousin — about whom he has received spiritual instruction, the announcement of an impending change worked through this person.  (Note:  For people who like fastidious theological distinctions, note that in other cases we might say “the inward teacher instructed him,”  but that’s Jesus over there, the embodiment of the Word/Christ, the inward teacher.  This embodiment is, a few days later,  “filled with the spirit,” and driven out into the wilderness– yet the Holy Spirit is also the “holy spirit of Jesus” (as in Acts 16).  But then the first reference to God teaching “this people myself” are in Isaiah 54.  Christology and pneumatology are complicated games, and the complexity reminds me that we can’t put this stuff into formulae. )

When John sees Jesus the next day, though, the word is emblepo, and there does seem to be a possible nuance: John this time is not just registering Jesus as one of the crowd.  He looks meaningfully at him, maybe nods towards him, maybe adds a little emphasis to his announcement “There’s the lamb of God,” in order to encourage the two disciples to check him out — now’s your chance!  The two disciples head off to talk with Jesus.   The nuance of the verbal compound may have been visible or audible — the meaning emerging from the fabric of the situation, and therefore not graspable by a dictionary.

In the second and final occurrance of emblepo in this chapter, Jesus is encountering Peter for the first time (a meeting brought about by Andrew, one of the two who visited Jesus in the prior episode).  It is frequently the case in John that when Jesus meets people in these stories, he already seems to know them.  Here, Simon is introduced, and Jesus looks (emblepo) directly, meaningfully, with awareness, at him — and in his first exchange, gives him a nickname, The Rock,  which seems to portend that this fisherman will play a foundational role, a key support, in the community just taking shape, as Jesus gathers his people.

Prayer as learning

03/21/2018 § Leave a comment

Reading Emerson’s Nature, found this line (in Ch. 8) which speaks (part of) my mind.

No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something.

It’s the “heartily” that struck me. A characteristic Emerson word.

A propos of the idea of “prayer as learning,” I once wrote:

In this transition of expectant waiting for the moment of illumination, there is learning.  A common fruit of prayer is a heightened awareness of the subject [that becomes a focus for the prayer]…. The Light illuminates and shows us our condition;  it is what we should focus on, rather than the shadows that it reveals. …We can find ourselves struggling against change, feeling reluctant to become, even in a small matter, a new person….

During all this time of searching, you may also be thinking, making plans and resolutions.  As long as these ideas and schemes do not become distractions, substitutes for attentively standing in the Light, they can be resources for the future.  As with all potential distractions, note them, look at them in the quietness of the heart, and then set them aside.  Until you have been able to look at your current problem in the love of Christ, you are not likely to see the true value of your plans and resolutions.  Perhaps they will be useful, when their time comes; perhaps they are wishful thinking, a premature rushing to closure.  Nothing of value will be lost if you keep your inward eye towards the Lord’s peace and stillness.

From the Quaker toolbox: “Yearly meetings” and related

03/18/2018 § Leave a comment

I have felt for a while (and I know I’m not alone) that we Friends these days don’t have all the kinds of meetings we could and perhaps need to have — and therefore the gifts that would be called out and exercised by them are not discovered and cultivated.  In this post, I want to lift up one such variety.

When our yearly meeting recently began to experiment  by holding gatherings between annual sessions, I wondered if maybe this could provide an opening for a further experiment — to develop some modern echo of the old regional “yearly meetings,” one of whose major features was public meetings for worship, intended to reach out to nonFriends.  I have tried to gather some concrete information about how these meetings worked, and how they fit in with other Quaker activities.  What follows is a sketch for a study.  Unlike most of my posts, this one will have references at the end, in someone wants to join in the fun.

Reading in the accounts of the first century or two, I have been puzzled by the frequent references to “yearly meetings,” or “general meetings,” or “circular  meetings.”  Friends mention “yearly meetings” for Wales, at York, at Skipton, at Bristol, Woodbridge, Colchester, Baldock,  and more.  Benjamin Holme, traveling in New England in 1715, mentions a yearly meeting at Dartmouth, and then a few months later “on Rhode Island.”  Catherine Phillips describes how her husband organized a yearly meeting at Truro (Cornwall, not Cape Cod) in 1785.

Now, some of these are clearly embryonic versions of what we think of as Yearly Meeting.  Elizabeth Emmott’s Story of Quakerism reports that

In 1658 a “General Meeting for the whole nation” was held at John Crook’s in Bedfordshire; in 1660 Ihe ” General Meeting “was held at Skipton in Yorkshire, and, as George Fox says in a letter, ” from thence it was removed to London the next year.”

Hugh Doncaster tells us that in some areas, “circular meetings” were settled for groups of counties, by which a meeting for worship and business would be held in each county in turn (thus, Samuel Fothergill and Bejamin Holme attend a “yearly meeting” in Worcester, which is the “circular meeting for the seven counties” in the west country of England).   Some at least of these circular or “general” meetings evolved into later quarterly meetings.  Some, however, seem mostly to have been for worship and fellowship — but also with the specific intent to hold public meetings for worship, by which to reach out to nonFriends.

I traced down many references in my little research project, because I was very interested to see any descriptions I could find of what actually happened at these meetings.  Of course, when I checked Braithwaite’s Second Period, I found that W.C.B. had read everything there was to read, and written an admirable brief summary (pp 546-549).   However, accounts in the journals of Thomas Story (pp. 273, 285 289,307), Catherine Peyton Phillips (pg. 279), and Benjamin Holme (passim) provide interesting additional details.

These meetings often included gatherings of ministers, and of elders (and sometimes the two together), and meetings mostly for Friends.  But the public worship was carefully prepared for — usually more than one session, often over more than one day, with lots of publicity ahead of time.  Temporary meeting places were erected for large crowds (the word “booth” is used, these clearly held hundreds of people — one meeting is recorded to have attracted 4,000 people), and minister’s galleries (as in meetinghouses, to help the preaching be heard by a large gathering). There were lots of logistics (and Catherine Phillips’s account of the Truro meeting gives some welcome glimpses into the behind-the-scenes work).

Ministering Friends were expected to be there in numbers, and it was assumed that in a favored gathering, Truth would be “largely declared.” After the gatherings, the ministering Friends would spread out over the adjacent countryside, holding public meetings, as well as visiting Friends meetings or isolated Friends along the way, as led.  It is reasonable to assume that the publicity attending the big event would make Friends meetings more intriguing for nonFriends, especially if ministers “from away”  were known to be in town after participating in the yearly meeting.  Friends in their journals do sometimes report an uptick in convincements and meeting attendance in the region in the wake of the gathering.

Thomas Story’s account of the gathering in Exeter gives a sense of the “pedagogy” or teaching impact of such events, held over several sessions, “like those in the north, not meddling with matters of business or discipline, but only worship, doctrine, and occasional communication of holy things.”    His account also provides a sensitive description of the ministers’ experience — burdened until they had discharged what was given to them, passing it on to the people for whom the gift was given:

The meeting began on first-day morning, the 9th of the month, and ended the third-day following, and was a good time throughout; but as generally such meetings are observed to be, was brighter and brighter, and brightest in the end.  For as they consist of a mixed multitude of all sorts and notions, the understandings of the uncouth and ignorant are darkest at first coming; but as they begin to be illuminatd by the testimony of Truth, and their senses a little awakened to relish something of the sweetness and virtue of it, Truth then flows more freely to them, with a greater facility in the minister, and reception in the hearer.

The sensible and living, who, in the life of the Son, and as they stand related to him who beareth the infirmities of all from the foundations of the world, in the beginning of such meetings, are often deeply and mysteriously laden, but being eased of their burthen and travail, now laid upon those in the auditory, where it rightly belongs, things then proceed, and conclude to mutual comfort and ease… This meeting ended in peace and gravity.

There are, and must be costs to such exercises, as the old accounts make quite clear– costs and temptations.  The holding of such meetings requires some daring — a confidence, not in our own powers, but in the value of the Truth we have come to experience, as a living, robust, and effective spiritual path, which can render a coherent and inviting account of itself — both as to practice, and to the doctrine, that is, the reasons for what we do, and what it does to us — how it leads to liberation, to wider, richer,  more loving, more fearless and joyful living.  Can we listen openly and expectantly enough?

It requires daring of those who would participate in the ministry at such a meeting — a true reliance on the power of Christ our teacher  to guide, to provide words as needed, and to open, to prepare ears and hearts so that the seed sown in faith and love finds some good ground.  It will challenge us to open ourselves to the differing demands and needs of worshippers who are not used to our ways, for whom Quaker worship will hardly seem like worship at all, and who may need support, guidance, and invitation so that they can see and feel what is possible — what is in fact happening to them in the depths.

It will challenge us accept the experiences of poverty of spirit, of disorientation, of rejection, and of struggle to stay faithful and pure — all as part of the fulness of the path of light we seek to walk, to advocate, and to embody in our measure.

References

Braithwaite, W.C. (1919, repr. 1961) The second period of Quakerism.  London: The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, and Wm. Sessions.

Brown, Alfred W (1885) Eavesham Friends in the olden time.  London: West, Newman & Co., Printers

Doncaster, L. Hugh (1958) Quaker organization and business meetings. London: Friends Home Service Committee.

Holme, Benjamin  (1754) A collection of the epistles and works of Benjamin Holme, to which is prefix’d an account of his life and travels in the work of the ministry, through several parts of Europe and America: written by HIMSELF. London: Luke Hinde.

Phillips, Catherine.  Memoirs of the life of Catherine Phillips.  in Friends Library vol. XI.pp 188-287.

Story, Thomas.  Life, in Friends Library, vol. X.pp. 1-372

Tanner, William (1858) Three lectures on the early history of the Society of Friends in Bristol and Somersetshire. London: Alfred Bennett.

As we reflect on our meetings’ spiritual condition*

03/16/2018 § Leave a comment

A few years ago, I circulated this letter within the Yearly Meeting. I was reminded of it recently, and in case it might still have some use, I repost it.  Maybe as you read it, you can think of things to add — things your meeting attends to, in reflecting on its spiritual condition, or things you wish could be attended to, or ways that you have see these conversations be productive  — and maybe even valuable after the report”s been written.

Another question that’s occurred to me is, is there a way that a meeting’s State of Society report could be used as part of outreach beyond the meeting, and beyond Friends?  What uses has your meeting found for this exercise?

************************

As we reflect on our meetings’ spiritual condition: a letter to my Friends.

                                                                                                               2/5/14

Dear Friends,

At this time of year, our meetings are thinking about our “state of Society” reports.  In the past few weeks, I have found myself often drawn  to reflect on this work, and on the service it can be to us, to see our meetings’ condition, and in doing so our own as well.

Our practices can too often feel like customs or routines to follow, out of habit, or to maintain order.  Yet we can, with prayer and imagination, come to them in the Spirit in which they were adopted, and find in them renewed openings.  The first operation of the Light is to show us our condition, and there also ability comes to follow it.  In turning to the Light, we find renewal for our journey as a people gathered.

What I have been led to consider is, What are the evidences of a meeting’s health?  Activity, busyness is no more an evidence of a community’s health than it is a sign of personal health.  On the other hand, persistent quiet is not necessarily a sign of tranquility.  I am concerned to lift up two kinds of evidence: the climate of the  meeting, and the ministry to people of different conditions.

Climate

Is there a climate of engaged love?  Acceptance and hospitality are of great value, but the kind of love that healthy meetings have is a practical one that reaches further.  Such active love is eager to see a growth in each member of the fruits of the Spirit, and intentional about spiritual nurture to encourage that growth.

Do Friends voice, and act upon, the assumption that “each hath a gift and is serviceable” for the life of the whole?  Are the marginal or shy, the young, the tired, held in the kind of loving attention which does not press, but is on the lookout for opportunities to see and name how each can serve according to their capacity and measure?

Is the meeting teachable towards unity in the Spirit?  In our day, we are deeply aware of the diversity of our communities.  indeed, we often in challenge ourselves to be yet more diverse, and include more kinds of people, from more conditions, than we are accustomed to do.   Out of such diversity can come a growth of insight, and a greater capacity to reach and be reached by the Witness of God in others of different background.   Sometimes the diversity of beliefs, and the many differing paths by which we have been  gathered into our meetings, feels like the paramount truth of our condition, and while we are grateful, we can also feel weakened as a community, and fear we are reduced to an association of isolated reporters:  “I wouldn’t want to generalize about Quakers, but what I can say is…”

Yet our God is a God of unity, not confusion, and our communities are places where the divine presence should enable us to feel the truth of the unity which God wills for us, and indeed which is our basic condition.  Truth and love, justice and forbearance, compassion and courage, are all different names for the life of the One as it is expressed in and through us.  Yet it requires an act of intention to pray towards, long for,  that unity, and patience and courage to seek how to name it or enact it as we have found it.

In the end, Friends, the most important question about a meeting’s climate is, What is the spiritual hunger you share?  If it is companionship, that can be achieved in many ways.  If it is visibility and activity, those, too, can be achieved by various means.  If it is comfort and quiet, and the preservation of the community’s history, these also are goals within reach.

But any of these can be accomplished without any real growth of experience with the Spirit as a living, disturbing, creating, healing, transforming power.  Are there any in your meeting who cry with the psalmist “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” ?

In that hunger lie wrapped up all the other yearnings for peace, truth, equality, simplicity, and community — and indeed these many faces of love and power all are seen to be different effects of seeking and dwelling, in our measure, in the Presence that we seek for, and sometimes experience.

Ministry for, and to, different conditions  

The ministry of the meeting, which includes the words spoken, and the silent ministry, and the words or deeds of service or prayer with individuals or groups at other times, is rooted in a listening, loving focus on the actual people gathered, and on the One in whom they are gathered.

As you consider the meeting’s condition this year, Friends, listen for the conditions within the community, in compassion and honesty.  Three conditions that have come particularly to mind in my exercise are these:  the “young” members, of any age, who are new to Friends;  the “established”; and the “well-grown in the truth.”  Each of these conditions has characteristics which may require particular kinds of service to help them forward, and it is good sometimes for a meeting to reflect on whether the ministry is offering what it could, under God’s guidance.

— In the “young,” that is, those new to Friends, there may be exploration, enthusiasm, receptivity, a need and desire to learn the foundations of the Quaker path.  They need guidance, but not only instruction.  They have come to you in curiosity perhaps, but under that is a restlessness or inquiry, and it is the witness of your acts and life joined with words of explanation and welcome that they will be helped to see that among you they can find a living path. Inquirers need to feel our humility, but also where we are touched with Fire and the holy spirit.

— In “established Friends,” there is a growth of discipline and order, a maturing exploration of  and use of gifts, and a habit of bearing responsibility for the life and support of the meeting.  But in this period, there can be an engagement with contradictions, and continued mysteries in the understanding of Quakerism.  Faith and discoveries which were nourishing and inspiring in the first days among Friends may feel stale or insufficient for the demands now encountered.  New resources and opportunities are needed, if such active Friends are to re-discover their spiritual childhood, the place of wonder and gratitude, openness and receptivity. Fire and the Spirit!

— Those well-grown in the truth have a tested understanding of the value of the diverse paths people can follow, as well as the dangers of a mere celebration of diversity. They  have an understanding of the pitfalls and dangers of life in the Spirit, for individuals and meetings, and a sympathy for questioning and doubt.

Their experience has brought a reliance on the workings of the Lord in many situations, and they have learned to wait and listen; they have seen (or others have seen in them) a growth in tenderness, courage, freedom, discipline in love and truth.

At this stage, though, there are fresh challenges, that come from habits long established, the same problems and challenges returning over and over.  They can read the indicators of the meeting’s long-term good or ill-health and stability, its growth and depth; caring deeply, they can yet feel take for granted, and their own seeking and spiritual thirst is not seen.

Fire and the Spirit — the baptism is needed at every stage!

People in each of these stages of their spiritual life offer ministry rooted in the questions and findings of that condition,  but each also has its temptations and problems. In every stage there are times of dryness, of misplaced complacency, of frustration, and of hope.  Everyone needs to receive nurture and love, in meeting and out, if their gifts and strengths are to be confirmed and to grow. All need exhortation or inspiration, instruction, reassurance and consolation, gratitude and challenge — accompaniment in the Spirit, as individuals trying to walk in the Light.

In closing

Friends, as you  consider the meeting’s condition, and the conditions of the members, seek out the resources that the Quaker path can offer for the seeker, the finder, the certain and uncertain, the mystic and the non-mystic, the contemplatives and the ones bearing concerns for witness. All these are sitting among us, sharing our common life; and indeed each of us may well stand in each of these conditions at some time in our life.

Under the guidance of the spirit of Christ, by whose light and life our body can be ordered to work as one organism, we can do our best to see how truth and life prosper among us, and be prepared to help each other as way opens. But if nothing else, we can hold each other in that Light where heart’s secrets are known, even if we do not know them, and grace and power flows:  ministering to the divine growth in each other, as we receive ability from God.

In that Spirit,  our “state of society” report can rejoice with discernment, and challenge forthrightly with love, for welcoming and for building up; and accept our doubts and failings with patience and compassion, so that everything serves the Life we call by so many names, whose work is healing, wisdom, and unity.

In Christian love your friend,
Brian Drayton
Lyndeborough, NH

 

 

 

 

 

Quakerism experienced as a force of nature

03/10/2018 § 1 Comment

I am working up a little piece on the old “Yearly Meetings” or “General Meetings” that occurred up and down Quakerdom during the first decades of the movement, and were important occasions for outreach to non-Friends, as well as encouragement to Friends in the regions.

In the course of this, I encountered the following passage, which delighted me.  Italics and breaks added.

[In the year 1660] In Bristol, 65 persons assembled at Dennis Hollister’s house were carried off to prison, and a like number the following week, making in all about 190 prisoners in Bristol.

D. Hollister and G[eorge] Bishop, being summoned before the Mayor, arguments were used to dissuade, and threats to terrify them from meeting : but they answered with Christian courage and freedom that they thought it their duty to meet in obedience to the requirings of the Lord, whom they ought to obey rather than man : and that

they might as well think to hinder the sun from rising, and the tide from flowing, as to think to hinder the Lord’s people from meeting to wait upon Him, whilst but two of them were left together.

They were sent to join their brethren in prison : but happily a speedy liberation was obtained for those who were subjected to this imprisonment through the unwearied intercession of Margaret Fell with the King.

(William Tanner (1858)  Three Lectures on the early history of the Society of Friends in Bristol and Somersetshire. pp. 26-7)

“How does Truth prosper among us?”

03/07/2018 § 2 Comments

substance of a message given in Central Philadelphia meeting

In New England Yearly Meeting, at this time of year, meetings are preparing their reports on their spiritual condition, the state of their society for the previous year. We are pleased to recall the old Query from the early years of our movement, “How does Truth prosper among you?”

Very often we respond to this old question as if it meant “How’s it going?” So we can say, Well, we’ve got a First Day School that’s going well, and there’s a lot of activity around social justice concerns, and we’re doing some outreach, and Meeting for Worship is important. There’s an issue we need to address, and we’re grateful for what’s been given to us this past year. Our answers are like the shimmer on the surface of the rippling sea, not showing much of the quieter movements, far below the surface. This morning I have been led to some consideration of the word  “Truth” in the query.

Friends in the past used “Truth” in ways that went well beyond a simple proposition or assertion of fact, a “truth claim,”  some specific content. “Truth” instead connoted something of the action and the reality of God’s work in the world, as we experience and try to live it.

When I go to the center, and find my way to the place of Presence, as we have done in this gathering this morning, and I am feeling in that Presence a sense of  stillness,   then the Truth I encounter means that I see my unity with those around me.  I can see or feel again my unity with humans at large — my neighbors known and unknown to me — and beyond the human world, unity with other living beings and the landscape they live upon. I can feel my being a creature, a part of the creation, and take delight in it.

Having felt or tasted that unity, in that place of connection, I find that Truth takes the form of light or illumination, so that I see, am given the ability to see, often with pain or grief, ways in which I have failed to keep that unity in mind, failed to live up to what I have been shown already;  or allowed that understanding to be overwhelmed or drowned out by the noise and bustle of daily living.  So “truth” then is encountered as judgment — judgment in the Light.

Yet if I can accept that truth, at the Center, and wait in the place where unity is felt, I can be led to see and accept that I, even I, can experience forgiveness, can move with the guidance of the Light’s judgment to renewal of my life, and that, if I have not lived fully in the measure of that life and light that I have been given to see, yet the promise is still there, and some power given to heal that grief, and move again into faithfulness.  So “Truth” means mercy,  too — the action or experience or process of mercy.

From the truth rooted in experiencing unity, illumination, grief and mercy — in the operations of divine love — I may find, in the Presence, a dawning realization that to me, in my measure, is given some role to play in Christ’s work of reconciliation, of healing, of rescue, of service — in addition to the daily bread of faithfulness — so that “Truth” means concern, and not just concern in general, but concern as a specific focus and way that I am given to follow, for a time.  So then “Truth” is also a path, and the pathfinder — and the companion along the way.

The God, the mystery God, with whom we are gathered here, who has brought us together this morning, can be called by many names, in our many languages and moods and needs.  One of them, though, is “Truth,” and I am seeing this morning that unity, illumination, grief, judgment, mercy, love, concern, are all other ways of saying “truth,” and when we ask ourselves about the prosperity of Truth, the truth of of our condition, we are really being challenged to examine where we are seeing evidence of these operations and effects, the  life, of the active Truth among us.

How does Truth prosper among us?

 

 

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