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)

Second Month 23

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “You who now hear these words spoken by the prophets who were there when the foundation was laid for the house of the LORD Almighty, let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.” – Zechariah 8:9 (NIV)

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Uniting faith and action is a constant balancing act in the spiritual journey.

Friends were often advised “not to run ahead of thy Guide” yet also to be watchful and ready to move “as Way opens.”

One dilemma we quietist Friends face has to do with the fact that some planning is required for any of our corporate activities – even if it’s nothing more than scheduling and announcing an hour for worship. Still, I see so many times when committee work seems to stifle the very movement of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, we must tend both our spiritual and earthly gardens (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Yes, I like the idea of gardens as well as temples, both having solid foundations.

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Read here now what this Principle is, in which the Lord hath given a Remnant to believe. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 22

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. – Acts 1:8

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In Quaker tradition, a witness is a way of living, rather than speaking or even being one who speaks.

A witness and a testimony are the same: simplicity, honesty, equality, community, peace are central to the faith.

A witness or a testimony (they are the same) is a living model, an example of what the Holy Spirit directs for us.

Or, in the wonderful quotation attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

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This is he who is the Resurrection and the Life, in all that do believe in his Light, as ’tis recorded concerning him. Therefore whilst ye have the Light, believe in the Light (saith Christ) that ye may become Children of the Light. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 21

The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me;
            his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke,
            the Rock of Israel. – 2 Samuel 23:2-3 (NIV)

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Perhaps no other Biblical character is as fully drawn as a human as is David, although children often see little more than the runt of the litter who somehow goes on to slay the giant Goliath.

What is missing, of course, is the intensely passionate man – a lover of women, music, and poetry, as well as a successful warrior and ruler – someone we would see as a charismatic leader. Yes, David had his struggles and failings, as well.

But to the end, he also hewed close to a personal faith, returning to it repeatedly each time he strayed. This passage, from the last words of David, reveals a much different facet of this complex person – an element of the prophet who was nonetheless eldered by more faithful prophets like Samuel and Nathan.

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Though I have heard it said, The Quakers hold themselves infallible; I see now it is not so: They hold not themselves infallible as they are Men, but only as they are guided by the infallible Spirit, namely, the Spirit of the Lord; a Measure of which he hath placed in all Men: And this never failed any, who were led by the same. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 20

Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. – Isaiah 66:5

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To tremble is to quake, as can happen when we not just detect words in the air but feel the meaning of a profound message in our hearts. God calls us to serve and love in many ways, and that can overwhelming enough. But others also hurl threats, blame, derision, sarcasm, hatred at us, and all take a toll, especially when we have done nothing to deserve them – especially when we’ve been acting in harmony with faith.

We cannot dwell on the negative, but need rather to look to advancing God’s blueprint for living.

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With blessing, we may come face-to-face with ourselves, as well.

With blessing, we may come face-to-face (like Jacob with Esau, after the angel) with our brother.

So much is illuminated by the Burning Bush – living Light that consumeth not, the joyous light of salvation and redemption.

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So that Man must come to be freely willing to serve the Lord, and to take up the Cross, and bear the Yoke of his Son Christ Jesus, not only of Necessity, but of a ready Mind. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Second Month 19

But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. – Matthew 10:19-20

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Again, we are directed toward living prophetic ministry, this time in the words of Jesus. But he adds new twists to the instructions:

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I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. … But when someone arrests you, don’t worry about what you will say or how you will say it. At that time you will be given the words to say. But you will not really be the one speaking. The Spirit from your Father will tell you what to say. – Matthew 10:16-20 (Contemporary English Version)

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On top of it all, now the “the wise as snakes and innocent as doves” counsel presents its own challenge in all of our daily actions!

After the accounts in Mark and Matthew, Luke weighs in on the sending forth the disciples, adding even more detail and revealing just how dependent they are on the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

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See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your grace will rest on the person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and the people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Luke: 10:4-9 (NRSV)