We live in a skeptical age, one infused by scientific method based on hypotheses and theories, on one side, and irony and posturing, on the other.
We find it much easier to admit what we don’t embrace than what we do. “It’s all relative,” we typically shrug, with a casual or even slipshod acknowledgement of Albert Einstein, who nonetheless held to the absolute of the speed of light. We value diversity and tolerance, or at least claim to, in certain circles.
I’ve been looking at seasons as a matter of life – seasons of youth, middle age, old age – as well as seasons of spiritual development. Some people latch onto a particular discipline, such as prayer or Bible reading, and stick to it daily for decades. I’ve been one, on the other hand, who delves deeply into one for a sustained period before moving into another one, eventually repeating or spiraling back to the earlier ones. What Friends today commonly call the Inner Light was traditionally more akin to what historic Quakers termed the Seed of Christ, taking leaf within us. That is, over seasons.
This is how we kept warm on icy mornings, back in the day before the meetinghouse had a wood stove. Friends would heat the stones in their own hearths, place them in metal carriers, and huddle over them in the hour of worship. The stones would also keep the carriage warm on their journey.
In contrast to pastoral meetings, we often make silence the measure while conveniently overlooking the focus of our practice. William Penn may have been critical of both.
When you come to your meetings … Do you gather bodily only, and kindle a fire, compassing yourselves about the sparks of your own kindling, and so please yourselves, and walk in the light of your own fire, and in the sparks which you have kindled? …
Or rather, do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord fixed with your minds in the Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, refreshes you, and prepares you and your spirits and souls to make you fit for his service, that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice.
Seed embodies potential and active response. It also acknowledges the individual nature of each variety and place, as well as the universal process of photosynthesis reacting to a common source of Light.
If early Friends were imprecise in their definition of Seed – whether it was Christ or grace or the body of believers or even the Light, for instance – they were insistent on a personal experience of this transforming force. “Hast thou been fruitful?” was a common greeting among Friends.
To understand Christ as Light, as early Friends did, also allows another connection, a parallel construction: Jesus as Seed, the most perfect embodiment of response and human potential, an example for all to grow in.
Originating in the mid-1600s in England, Friends understood that church meant the body of believers – not the building, not the denomination, not the structure of hierarchy. Thus, you didn’t go to church – you gathered with the church. And so, the church (that is, people) met.
The gathering of the faithful, and their time of worship, quickly became known as a meeting.
Emphasizing Seed, more than the emerging plant or person, returns us to its inherent potential – not just in this particular generation, but in those to come, as well.
Energy is stored and released across time and place, to work transformation and healing. The Seed metaphor intensifies a comprehension of the Light, and provides a unique and organic identity of faith for the Society of Friends.
In seed, ultimately, the cycle of life remains unbroken. Here we may consider the Alpha and Omega, indeed.
We call them “benches,” not “pews.” And they’re movable, not fixed to the floor. But as we’ve adapted more of the meetinghouse to other functions, chairs have replaced benches in some rooms. So what do you do with the old ones?
This insight, drawn largely from the opening of the Gospel of John, is one of the central differences between Friends and most Protestants, especially those of the Calvinist strands. Sometimes people will use “the Living Word” to distinguish between Jesus and Scripture, though I usually sense their usage soon becomes blurred.