In 2014, my first year away from full-time employment at the newspaper, this blog featured a daybook. A scriptural passage, a quotation from early Friend Elizabeth Bathurst, and a bit of something I’d noted over my years of spiritual practice.
Beginning next month, the daybook will make an encore appearance.
The project originated when I was a member of the Philadelphia-based Tract Association of Friends, founded in 1816 and best known for its annual “Plain Calendar,” which has no illustrations and presents the year in the old Quaker terminology. There, “First Month” appears instead of “January,” and “First Day” instead of “Sunday,” and so on, to avoid the pagan and often misleading names in general circulation. (For example, “September,” meaning “seventh month,” now falls as the ninth month; October, November, and December similarly fail to align with modern usage.)
Several board members had suggested we create a corresponding daybook, where each day’s page would contain a scriptural passage, a reflection or commentary, a quotation from an historic Friend, and maybe even a prayer. Initially, I was dubious about the undertaking but began collecting material anyway. Several months later, after reviewing the scope of the project, we tabled the effort – wisely, I’ll agree.
Here’s hoping for thy company on First Month 1st.
It’s deep winter and the seed catalogs are piling up, waiting to be perused. As if we were still living in an agrarian society. Even living in a small city like ours, we still find ourselves part of this annual rhythm. Gardening, by the way, is one topic you can discuss wherever you go among Friends.
I am one who has moved about within northern climes, where we have times we cannot dig in our soil. Where we must sit by the fire, figuratively or literally, before the seasons of planting and then harvest. Where we might, as we do in New England, discuss what we’ll order before the maple sap starts flowing. The seed packages will arrive, we’ll get out the grow lights and trays for sprouting, and eventually transplant the seedlings – all while dreaming of harvest. Real tomatoes, anyone?
A faith based on the Light alone also has its drawbacks. For starters, it can become so ethereal and diffuse that it loses its substances. And a practice based on personal experience still needs guidelines for aspirants, as well as a common language.
And so to propose that “Christ is bigger than Jesus” will sooner or later bring us to the question of just who Jesus was – and is.
From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
As we survey the realm of struggle around us, let me suggest that saving the world has a direct connection to saving ourselves, in all senses of the meaning.
Placing the question “Has thee been refreshed?” within this framework has a dimension of renewal and recharging for the work at hand. It’s for more than an hour, then, isn’t it.
An awareness of the focus of our worship also places in context this passage from William Penn’s Advice to His Children:
Love silence even in the mind; for thoughts are to that, as words to the body, troublesome; much speaking, as much thinking, spends, and in many thoughts, as well as words, there is sin. True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment. It is a great virtue; it covers folly, keeps secrets, avoids disputes, and prevents sin.
“Rest,” I might add, can also be recast as “centering.” In Biblical use, the word often also indicates freedom from oppression by the enemy, as well as peace of spirit. There is even a sense of gathering of strength. That is, I see nothing simpleminded in Penn’s concept. Entering it can prove surprising elusive until its refreshment pours over us.
Over time, such testing also requires others who experience it in their own lives. They not only confirm what we have felt, they also help us guard against delusion and self-deception. In the circle of a faith community can come the confidential discipleship that demands honesty and faithfulness.
Friends have traditionally trusted other Friends to join in discerning what is true and what isn’t. “And as we see with that which is eternal, so we judge,” James Nayler insisted, acknowledging that “only those who mind the light of the spirit [will] discern and own our testimony, and receive our witness and his power who is true, and so become willing to follow that truth that leads to freedom.”
While Truth can exist independent of people, it appears to call forth individuals and communities repeatedly over the course of human evolution.
Just what draws each of us to sit in the communal quiet?
There’s a need for relief from the conflicts of daily life – a desire for a time of lightness and joy. But ours is not a religion of escape, and the quest for social justice is a central Biblical theme. Some weeks, in fact, we come quite close to “praying the newspaper,” as our hearts carry a world of suffering to the invisible altar.
To have Christ be the Light and the embodiment of Logos is a much different from Christ being Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. Light, I contend, leads to a much more direct faith and experience than does the speculation about a heavenly throne.
From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN