On one hand, it may be seen as the most original, yet it was left as the least developed of the three. Because early Quakers were hardly methodical in their usage of imagery, these concepts can be seen evolving and mutating over time, even within the writing of a single Friend. Combined with the widespread and frenzied activity of the early Quaker movement, as well as inhibitions in the face of the Blasphemy Act, the resulting literature can often blur any distinctions between Light and Truth or Light and Seed, so that they will at times appear synonymous, while at other times quite discrete. Often, the Seed is presented as identical to the Light or to Christ. Sometimes, it might appear to be Jesus. Yet it can also be envisioned as the individual response to the Light – that is, what the Psalms call “soul.” It might even be considered as that image of God in which each person is created.
Considering today’s emphasis on individuality, plurality, and personal psychology, I believe that returning to the metaphor of the Seed holds the most potential for fertile spiritual development and guidance in our own era.
As a poet and novelist, I’ve long struggled with those who search Scripture for “God’s laws” – that is, something far more cut-and-dried than the drama and humanity I see in the stories. I’ve come to look for movies and operas, rather than “thou shalt not” directives or even speed limits.
When I heard that John Calvin, founder of much of the Protestant movement, trained as a lawyer, suddenly that whole line of legalistic thought came into focus. Followed by the traditional story that the day he left the University of Paris, young Ignatius of Layola showed up, on his way to founding the counter-Reformation Jesuits (who, in the Spanish conquest of Latin America, became the world’s biggest slave owners). I wouldn’t be the first to wonder about the direction of Christianity had the early church continued in the direction set by the former slave Patrick in Ireland, rather than his contemporary, the Roman orator/lawyer Augustine in Africa.
Designed to store energy through a dormant period that can extend across years, and then reproduce its species, a seed will respond to specific conditions to release both a root and a stem and leaves, as well as flowering and replicating seed of its own. Amazingly, these kernels already know which direction to move in, no matter how the seed was implanted – one, the root, toward the heart of the Earth; the other, stem and leaf, toward the sun. The resulting plant will breathe, transforming carbon dioxide in the air to oxygen again while building organic matter within itself. Through the emerging chlorophyll, the green wonder of our planet, photosynthesis regenerates sunlight into food, which will, in some sequence, sustain every animal as well.
The concept is mind-boggling and miraculous, yet taken for granted. Without it, though, life on Earth would not exist.
In one tradition, an individual who speaks within the silence worship speaks on behalf of the meeting, and any “I” messages are viewed with suspicion. In another tradition, worshipers listen for the “I” as a measure of authenticity, that what is being spoken arises from experience.
Getting here has been by a zigzag path. When I was beginning to write poetry, I remember hearing John Logan read from his collection given that name, and it has been accurate.
Christ is available to all persons, bypassing the constraints of political, military, industrial, financial, educational, governmental, or even religious institutions or authorities. As such, it challenges the very foundations of society, yet holds the potential for instilling justice, regenerating, and bringing healing throughout all.
While Friends often look to writings from the earliest days of the Quaker movement, much good, often profound, new material is being published in our own time. The Pendle Hill pamphlet series is a fine source of inspiration and practical direction from contemporary voices. Here’s the rack in the Dover Friends social room.
I’m in the camp that would like to break away shortly after the rise of worship, trying to sustain the deepened awareness. I certainly sympathize with those who admit a sense of guilt, hearing all the things they don’t have time to undertake, as well as those who think it all goes on just too long.
On the other hand, I also see the announcements as a kind of vocal ministry and as a celebration of our lives and community.