Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Experiment with Light

One of the most powerful aspects of working with the ‘Experiment with Light’ was the experience of knowing in a group when we were hearing truth. This tallied exactly with my own experiences of authentic ritual and of ministry in a truly gathered meeting. There was a quality of depth to it, an authority that simply could not be argued with... And what was extraordinary to me (as a modern individual) was that in seeking truth in this way, the truth discovered was not an individual thing. Truth revealed in this way is not ‘my truth', which, once sensed within me I must assert against or above the truth others discover within; the truth I connect with when I truly surrender will lead me, if I am obedient to it, into unity with others - an experience central to Quakers from the earliest times. It is as if, like fragments of a hologram, we are all aspects of one whole and in the stillness of what we call Quaker worship we can get beneath our ego separations and be reminded of this greater pattern, whatever name we give to it. To live in the Light is to be open to this awareness and seek to be obedient to its guidance at all times.
From working with this process, I learnt that when I am supported (and challenged) to live in this more open way, I do not need to turn to others to be told what to do, I do not need to inhibit my deepest convictions, nor do I need to cling to structures – whether schedules or codified principles of behaviour – to guide me; the whole of my life becomes an experiment in obedience and discernment. Truth is then neither a philosophical notion nor a matter of ethical principles – even ones as worthy as Quaker testimonies. Such codifying of behaviour is actually the very opposite of the experience to which Quakerism points us, which is obedience to something alive and dependable within, a source of revelation available to all beyond any system of religious belief. This is surely what Penn meant by the 'one religion' of the poor and humble, just and meek (QPF, 19.28) – this was not prescriptive, how we should live, but descriptive, how we will live when we are 'dwelling in the light'.
Alex Wildwood, A Faith to Call our Own
One of the things that has simultaneously shocked and delighted me since becoming a Quaker attender in December last year has been just this awareness of the experiential – experimental – nature of faith when lived rather than professed, or assented to. Don't get me wrong – witness is as important as ever, maybe under certain circumstances more important than ever – but it is a witness to simple experience, rather than an act of witnessing to a system of belief, or a set of creedal statements.
This is not to say that beliefs are unimportant; Quakers see belief as so important that nothing second-hand will do. The authority for what one accepts is known within, and is not accepted from anyone else, whatever their status. The Quaker emphasis is on a shared search for truth, and a working out of faith within a challenging but supportive group. At its best, a meeting may include people whose theological views are mutually incompatible at many points, but who nevertheless work and worship together without any disharmony. (Lewes Quakers)
The title of this post is taken from a Quaker spiritual practice, but the insight it represents is of course hardly unique to Quakers – though the radical conclusion drawn may be! Richard Rohr wrote:
God's revelations are always pointed, concrete, and specific. They are not a Platonic world of ideas and theories about which you can be right or wrong, or observe from a distance. Divine Revelation is not something you measure or critique. It is not an ideology but a Presence you intuit and meet! It is more Someone than something.
All of this is called the “mystery of incarnation” - enfleshment or embodiment if you prefer – and for Christians it reaches its fullness in the incarnation of God in one ordinary-looking man named Jesus. God materialized in human form, so we could fall in love with a real person, which is the only way we fall in love at all. Walter Brueggemann called this clear Biblical pattern “the scandal of the particular.” We first get the truth in one specific ordinary place and moment (like the one man Jesus), and then we universalize from that to the universal truth (the cosmic Christ). Our Franciscan philosopher, John Duns Scotus, called this the principle of “thisness” (haecceity or haecceitas in Latin). We can only know in focused moments what is always and everywhere true.
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 17
It seems ironical, doesn't it, that I am writing about not needing support from external authorities for what God shows me directly, while quoting extensively from my own reading? It's important, though, to understand that what I am saying here is a shared thing, and that I am in the company of f/Friends!

I have all my life tended to doubt myself, doubt my own insights, and to seek for that external authority for my own insights, and yet here I am confronted with an experience which I cannot even myself gainsay. Outside the Meeting, it seems to go on, this sense of being part of something (Wildwood's 'hologram') far greater than myself, and which joins me to so many others across time and space, even though we are in no human contact.

There is an old Quaker expression, “living adventurously.” Truly, Susan and I seem to be caught up in just that...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

That of God...

We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God's continuing creation.
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.
George Fox, 1656, from Advices & Queries: 42
You can call it God if you want, but you don't have to. Quantum consciousness will do. Nonlocality, tangled hierarchy, and discontinuity: these signatures of quantum consciousness have been independently verified by leading researchers worldwide. This experimental data and its conclusions inform us that it is the mistaken materialist view that is at the centre of most of our worlds problems today. To address these problems, we now have a science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective.
Amit Goswami

We do not live in a world set up by a blind watchmaker, slowly running down to some kind of unimaginable entropic stasis. What we live in is a network of appearances, beautiful beyond conceiving, subtle and aware, compassionate, even.

God is above all, and in all, as Thomas Aquinas explained. There is that of God in all of us, too (John 17.22-23). How can we doubt that what we do, what we do, think, feel, pray, affects, ultimately, everything?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Community in the Spirit...

We know the power of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of people within the community of our meetings. These people may have been drawn into the community by a sudden convincement, a long period of seeking, or have grown up within it from childhood. We also know that we are engaged in a life-long growth into faith, and experience a continuing irruption of grace into our lives which demands and sustains a commitment to a life of discipleship. We recognise this power at work in people of all ages, races and creeds: a transforming power which can issue in lives of joy, humility and service.

The concrete expression of the Holy Spirit is a strange thing, and perhaps lies at the root of all that is meant by the word incarnation. Traditionally the word is used of Christ, who “came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” (Nicene Creed) But God’s Spirit indwells us too (Luke 11.13; John 16.12ff) and works through us (Mark 13.11; Galatians 5.22-25); and it is the Spirit who fills us in worship, and changes us.
In just the short time I’ve been attending my local Quaker Meeting, the sense of stepping into a community has been palpable. I’ve encountered all kinds of Christian community over the years, of different sizes and degrees of intentionality; yet Quaker community, as I’ve begun to experience it, is something different again.

In the Meeting, under the spiritual leading that arises out of shared silence, the Spirit can weave that fabric called community in an extraordinarily concrete and palpable way.

George Gorman wrote:
One of the unexpected things I have learnt in my life as a Quaker is that religion is basically about relationships between people. This was an unexpected discovery, because I had been brought up to believe that religion was essentially about our relationship with God.

If we are sensitive, we find that everything that happens to us, good or bad, can help us to build a vision of the meaning of life. We can be helped to be sensitive by reading the Bible and being open to experience of nature, music, books, painting, sport or whatever our particular interest may be. It is in and through all things that we hear God speaking to us. But I do not think I am alone in my certainty that it's in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.
But Quaker community is known most clearly and distinctively in silence, and it is out of that silence that all its works of peace and justice flow. The French Quaker Pierre Lacout wrote:
In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow – a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamour of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out.

Words must be purified in a redemptive silence if they are to bear the message of peace. The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other. The word born of silence must be received in silence.

It’s into that silence that I’m increasingly drawn, sinking into it as into a long-lost home. I keep asking myself why it's taken so long...

Monday, February 04, 2013

Living Water…

It seems to me that it is a minority that ever gets the true and full Gospel—in any denomination. Most of us just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says, “Worship me!” whereas he frequently says, “Follow me” (e.g., Matthew 4:19).

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Saviour” or continue to receive Sacraments in good standing. The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

Richard Rohr, adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer (CD, DVD, MP3)

Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open to the healing power of God’s love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.

(Quaker Faith & Practice – Advices & Queries 2)

We have become so used to reciting creeds, learning catechisms, and assenting to statements of belief, that we have nearly forgotten that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3.6) Organised religion can be a place of great comfort and safety—but it can be a place where Christ is hidden as much as revealed, for it is the Spirit of whom Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16.12-15)

I can’t help but feel that for some people, or at certain times in people’s lives, all that is needed is silence and community. We are so much the creatures of our own words, so conditioned by the words that continually surround us, that we cannot think till we have the words for our thoughts, nor know what we have thought till we have the words to describe it. God calls us to be still, to rest in him (Psalm 46.10; Psalm 91.1). Only so can we hear the one whose native voice is silence, who speaks “in silence and in truth” (John 4.23-24)

I’m coming to long increasingly for this stillness, thirst for it really, with a kind of irresistible thirst. With the Samaritan woman (John 4.7-15), I long for that living water…