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 OwnOne 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.
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...