Second Month 28

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1

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So much of the Scriptures tells of real people attempting to live in faith over time spanning from nomadic, almost hunter-gatherer awareness, into settled agricultural communities, and on into urban culture. Once, speaking of faith, George Fox proclaimed, “I know this experimentally,” meaning by direct experience. But I’m coming to like a second understanding as well: I know this by trial and error.

With the Bible, despite all of the inevitable editing and revision of Scripture over the centuries, distinct voices of authors touch the deepest chords of human experience, good and bad. Unlike the array of Hindu scriptures, in which all the texts are on equal footing, the Bible presents a historical evolution in awareness, clarity, and relationship. The God who faces Moses, for instance, has many of the elements of the Trickster found in many primitive mythologies (Coyote of many Native Americans, for one); the Trickster possesses supernatural powers that can be extraordinarily helpful, when you need them, but is also easily crossed, with an anger that can be devastating. But Moses was a man trying to lead a band of followers through an extended journey to a promised land. By the time we come to Jesus, though, the relationship becomes one with a beneficent heavenly Father. Our understanding has changed and deepened.

I like a faith that allows room for questions and questioning, even more than answers. Here we are invited to act with our eyes open and opened, rather than any blind faith.

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And thus I chose to express it, because thus I have found it, viz. A Principle of Divine Light and Life in Christ Jesus, placed in the Conscience, which discovers both Sin and Duty to us; and not only so, but it reproves the one, and enables to perform the other: And this I know, that a Measure of the same is placed in the Consciences of all Mankind, by which they might see the right Way, were but their Minds turned thereunto. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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Second Month 27

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them. – Matthew 18:20

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When Jesus extended this invitation, he introduced an opportunity for intimacy. Sometimes a small circle sitting quietly in worship has a special warmth and flavor. We are not alone, but welcome the unseen visitor.

Crucially, “name” also means “power.” Anybody else remember playing police as a child, invoking the line, “Knock! Knock! Open up in the name of the law”? It’s the same usage, except that for Jesus, the power comes with the Holy Spirit.

Through the Spirit of Christ, this Presence with and within us, we may speak to God and God may speak to us. Our hearts may speak tenderly, even wordlessly, one child of God to another.

We build a new creation, a peaceable kingdom here in this life, as it is in Spirit.

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And by this Grace shall we be to those about us, as Saviours in the Hand of the Lord upon Mount Sion, as others have been to us, when we were in spiritual Babylon. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 26

And shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28-29

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Or, as Peter expanded on Joel’s prophecy, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” [Acts 2:17-18].

In the teachings of Paul, we find no fewer than seven references to continuing prophecy, ranging from Romans 12:6, “. . . let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith,” to 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Despise not prophesyings.” In 2 Timothy 3, Paul himself prophesies the future apostasy of the church.

Dare we doubt that we are to witness and possibly even prophesy ourselves?

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Wherefore, he hath given the Beloved of his Soul out of his Bosom, to come into the World to save Men from their Sins, that they might be made accepted in him: Therefore, as by the Offence of one, Judgment came upon all Men to Condemnation; even so by the Righteousness of one, the free Gift came upon all Men unto Justification of Life, which makes it clear to me, the Lord will not condemn any for Adam ‘s Sin, who have not demerited his Wrath by actual Transgression. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 25

Everything that is hidden will be found out, and every secret will be known. Whatever I say to you in the dark, you must tell in the light. And you must announce from the housetops whatever I have whispered to you. Don’t be afraid of people. They can kill you, but they cannot harm your soul. Instead, you should fear God, who can destroy both your body and soul … – Matthew 10:26-28 (Contemporary English Version)

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I find it curious that you cannot hide securely in the dark. You become lost instead, or may trip over unseen things or fall into pits. You are vulnerable to creatures with superior abilities to smell or to hear, too.

Yet dreams and yearnings arise most powerfully in the night. Besides, as an African saying relates, too much sunshine makes a desert.

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For all Souls are the Lord’s; as the Soul of the Father, so also the Soul of the Son is his; and he hath said, the Soul that sinneth it shall die. Yet hath the Lord no Pleasure in the Death of the Wicked, but that the Wicked turn from his Way and live. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 24

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation [King James Version: of any private interpretation]. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)

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The prohibition on “private interpretation” means there’s nothing secret here. There are no “secret” understandings for the initiated alone, no code words for a clandestine circle. The Bible is an open book, an open invitation to all, even if the findings are unorthodox.

George Fox, who knew the Bible thoroughly, said our authority arises from the Living Christ and not from the words on a page. Thus, Scripture is subject to the authority of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, to the extent that its authors and editors were faithful to that Spirit, the Scriptures also have authority – at least for those readers who themselves are guided by the divine Light. While our Quaker faith emphasizes the importance of direct experience of the Spirit of Christ, our tradition also looks to Scripture and to the gathered meeting as measures by which we are to test our interpretations and leadings.

Quaker theologian Robert Barclay declared that the Spirit is infallible but men and women are not. Because of our own individual biases and human limitations, he distinguished “between the divine and human aspects of revelation. … Furthermore, these divine and inward revelations do not and cannot contradict the testimony of scripture, nor are they contrary to sound reason.”

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Moreover than this, the Scriptures do abundantly speak forth the Extent and Benefit of Christ’s Death for all Mankind, upon Condition of Faith and Repentance, join’d with new and continued Obedience, which are the Gospel Terms on which he is offered to them: For Christ Jesus gave himself a Ransom for all, he tasted Death for every Man, so saith the Apostle. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)