Fifth Month 31

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. – Matthew 16:27

*   *   *

Without the pestilence of giants, there are no giant-killers.

So choose sides! Get busy!

*   *   *

In this we account ourselves happy, yea, we secretly rejoice that he hath accounted us worthy to suffer Shame for his Name, himself having said to our Comfort, Blessed are ye when Men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their Company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your Names as evil, for the Son of Man’s Sake; rejoice ye in that Day (saith he) and leap for Joy, for behold your Reward is great in Heaven; for in like Manner did their Fathers to the Prophets. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 30

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. – Matthew 7:16-20

*   *   *

Actions speak louder than words.

Indeed, when an acquaintance described Judaism as a living agnosticism, I was not surprised: there is a broad trunk of agnosticism, even atheism, running through the Bible, including the New Testament, demolishing icons, asking how we can know what is true and how we can determine what isn’t, testing, probing, challenging. One branch encourages a healthy seeking after the Truth; the other limb, however, embodies mockery and contempt, and makes no effort to pursue social justice. Instead of providing comfortable answers, this trunk of scripture raises questions – like a Zen master relentlessly pushing the aspirant beyond the safety of orthodoxy into the belly of the fish itself.

*   *   *

Actions also speak more truly than words.

As I look back on the extended turmoil I encountered in dealing with a woman I loved deeply, I see how much my own reactions were built on the words she promised, even as I blinded myself to so much of her elusive conduct. They never dovetailed. Only when I admitted the behavior, wholly, into my awareness was I freed to move on.

I, who live so much in the realm of language!

*   *   *

For tho’ the Lord hath given his Spirit, yea, his Son, to be a Leader and a Commander to the People, yet many there are who do not follow his Guidance, saying in their Hearts …  We will not have this Man to reign over us. Now is there not Need that some should seek to convince such of the Evil of their Ways, and the Error of their Doings, (who instead of walking in the straight and narrow Way of Righteousness, which leads to everlasting Life, are going on in the broad Way of Sin and Wickedness, which leads down to the Chambers of Death) that so they may be persuaded to leave off the Weapons of their Rebellion, wherewith they fight against God, and wound their own Souls; and submit themselves unto his Ambassador of Peace, the Spirit of his Son in their Consciences, that true Balm of Gilead, with which they may be healed. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 29

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:18

*   *   *

There are those who profess faith and those who possess faith – one has the words; the other, the anointing and power.

*   *   *

For the Lord is that Spirit. Wherefore he bids them Examine themselves whether they be in the Faith; prove your ownselves, saith he, know you not your ownselves, how that Christ is in you, except you be Reprobates. And hereby know we that we are not in a reprobate State, because we witness the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 28

Forsake me not; until I have shown thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. – Psalm 71:18

*   *   *

What is it in the human experience that makes us so deeply desire to hand over to the next generation the spiritual ecstasy and wisdom we have encountered?

*   *   *

Yet there can also be great resistance or anxiety. I remember noting in one case, how whether by intention or coincidence, the organization now had another deeply committed Christian as its new executive. As she wrote back to me: “I do need and appreciate your prayers and caring. Yes, there are challenges and divisions and disunity. But I see commonality, too – in the depth of the caring that so many people have … and in the struggle to find a way to feel closer to God. It’s a sick society, but a strong Power draws us continually. I certainly feel it, and that is central to my life.”

*   *   *

And thus, He that believeth (in the Cross of Christ, which is the Power of God unto Salvation) hath a Witness in himself, the Spirit itself beareth them Witness that they are the Children of God. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 27

YHWH said to Kayin:
Why are you so upset? Why has your face fallen?
Is it not thus:
If you intend good, bear it aloft,
but if you do not intend good,
at the entrance is sin, a crouching demon,
toward you his lust

but you can rule over him.

Genesis 4:6-7 (Everett Fox translation)

*   *   *

Here, for the first time, the Bible mentions sin. Obviously, there is already some understanding. (How often that’s the case in history, where the concept finally entered into writing often has already been long discussed.) Again, we have the Holy One speaking directly with a human, as apparently was the case in the early days of the chronology. While the Holy One asks Cain about his appearance, the words that follow indicate an acute perception of Cain’s psyche and interior struggle.

Pointedly, the Holy One sees this as a moral choice. We can choose to act out of our lower nature or to raise ourselves to rule over it, from our higher nature.

*   *   *

This advice from Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline shows how far-reaching that “lust” can be: “Avoid and discourage any kind of betting or gambling, as well as commercial speculation of a gambling character. Remember how widespread are the temptations to grow rich at the expense of others, and how apparently harmless indulgence leads often by degrees to ruin and crime.”

In short, many of traditional religious concerns have recognized the importance of minding the details in maintaining the essential witness.

*   *   *

O! let us take heed that we do not vex and quench the Spirit of Christ within us, that so we be not of those complained of by Nehemiah, to whom the Lord gave his good Spirit, but they rebelled against it. And what then? So he became their Enemy, and fought against them. These were such of whom Job speaks, saying, They are of those that rebel against the Light. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Fifth Month 26

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains. – Revelation 3:1-2

*   *   *

John, the prophet of Revelation, saw the impact of the fall of Jerusalem and the terror of Rome. Many commentators assert that the age of prophecy was completed once Christ had come in the flesh. But how can any who believe that Christ is coming again think prophecy has ceased? Because the Holy Spirit is among us, our Lord speaks to us and guides us. We can feel this divine gift continue until all the prophecies of Scripture are fulfilled.

*   *   *

One urging: return to the field, reshaping what’s already sprouting, as well as starting anew.

Another urging: move forward, quickly, on other fronts.

As a writer, for the first time in my life, I truly doubted my abilities.

That is, one moment, my emotions – feelings – deaden. No reaction. No desire. No awareness.

The next moment, this isolation paralyzes. Have no sense at the moment of my abilities, of style, of communicating. Wonder what the next big project really is, what its structure will be; without structure, what purpose in beginning?

So I can see the spiritual arc reflected in my own creative process.

*   *   *

With that caveat, I hope that we can revitalize our Quaker way. Our emphasis has rightly been upon action that arises from faith: see what we DO, rather than what we SAY.

I would hope, too, that we keep the perspective of Pilgrim Marpeck, an early Mennonite, preserving “unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity (love) in all things.”

Wake up, indeed!

*   *   *

Unto you, People, unto whom this Message is sent, a few Words do lie with Weight upon my Spirit, to put you in Remembrance of Days past, and that you may call to Mind the Promises you did make to the Lord, when your Hearts were tendred before him, because of the Judgments that then seemed to awaken you, but so soon as the Hand of the Lord turned back, and with-held from smiting, O! who then amongst you were faithful to those Promises? So that may I not say, that neither the Mercies nor Judgments of the Lord have so awakened you as to turn to him by unfeigned Repentance? For whose Sake the Lord hath put in my Heart to mind you, for the Sake of your immortal Souls, that you may be awakened to a speedy Turning to the Lord, that you may not provoke the Lord to with-hold his Spirit from striving with you.

Written in Obedience to the Lord, by your Friend, Elizabeth Bathurst

Fifth Month 25

… In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – James 2:14-26 (NIV)

*   *   *

What a curious leap, going from Abraham to the prostitute Rahab! Her own story (Joshua 2 and 6) is an amazing act of defiance, risking her own life to help the enemy spies escape. She justifies her choice by explaining the fall of the city will be inevitable, as if she has not just heard the news on the street but might perhaps be something of spiritual person herself. Yet that would hardly be convincing in a movie version – where’s the passion, the deeper motivation? (Nobody’s even mentioned money!) Even so, her clandestine assistance is rewarded, and the two spies live up to their promise to save not just herself but much of her extended family in the fall of Jericho. In the end, she is placed as one of the ancestors of Jesus.

(We should note that in the story, she’s a much more interesting and fully formed character than anyone else, including the spies. Pay attention!)

*   *   *

A prostitute, of course, can also represent a host of occupations and societal niches that sit far from our own sense of propriety and daily contact. My quietist line of Friends likes to talk about how diverse we are, but all I see is a wide range of notions, rather than socio-economic diversity. Too often, we’re a cross-section of professional social-service intellectuals who, for the most part, have blue eyes. (Not mine, alas.) We have failed to spread our faith to those who have moved into the neighborhoods where we were, and as a consequence the largest Meetings in New England a half century ago – all pastoral – have been laid down. Perhaps if we were more aware of the teaching nature of a pastoral ministry, we could replant Meetings in the economically pressed, immigrant-filled urban centers. Is this what our Cuba connection is preparing for us? Could we even join with Evangelical Friends to launch on this effort? (In Philadelphia, too, Friends closed their Meetings as a consequence of failing to reach out and welcome the new neighborhood when blacks and other ethnic groups moved in. What kind of ministry is that?)

*   *   *

But now, from a certain experimental Knowledge, and in full Assurance of Faith, can I testify for God, he is no Respecter of Persons, but in every Nation he that feareth God, and worketh Righteousness is accepted of him: For though all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God, wherefore he hath concluded all under Sin, ’tis that he might have Mercy upon all, not willing that any should perish in Sin, but that all might come to Repentance. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 24

… You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. … – James 2:14-26 (NIV)

*   *   *

We have here one of the instances where a New Testament author presents an interpretation that can be standing at odds with the Hebrew Bible text it is invoking. Return to the Genesis passage and you will not find Abraham called God’s friend or even righteous. Yet in Genesis 22:16-17 the angel makes clear that Abraham is being blessed for not withholding his son. Or is it more accurately (verse 18, Everett Fox translation) “in consequence of your hearkening to my voice”?

So just who did start calling Abraham God’s friend and crediting him with righteousness? An orthodox line takes hold.

James, we might add, was likely looking for a parallel in the near-sacrifice of Isaac (who remains voiceless throughout: how we need to hear the story from his perspective!) and the crucifixion of Jesus, where Pilate did not change course at the last minute.

*   *   *

And Abraham being justified by Faith, ’tis said, He received the Sign of Circumcision, a Seal of the Righteousness of the Faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the Father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised, that Righteousness might be imputed to them also. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 23

…  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? … – James 2:14-26 (NIV)

*   *   *

I’m nodding in agreement with James right up to the point where he invokes Abraham, and then I hit the stone wall. I’m of the camp that sees offering Isaac on the altar as a horrific violation – the act of a zealot. Rather than defending his son in his innocence, Abraham betrays him. Only at the last minute, when God is so disgusted with Abraham that he sends an angel rather than speak with him directly, does Abraham finally act in true faith. He acts by not acting! Yes, God has been testing Abraham, who fails every step along the way, except that last one.

But Isaac is traumatized. God stops speaking directly with Abraham. And Sarah dies soon after.

So acts alone are not sufficient; they must be rooted in a living faith, and must have a connectedness with what Friends termed “the everlasting Gospel, the power of God.” The implications of such total obedience are profound. First, obedience itself means “listening” and then “taking action.” Even “right action.” The Quaker way of worship itself encourages a listening for the voice of Christ in our midst, that we might then act faithfully to the divine leading. Second is the concept of immediacy in our communion with the divine: no one stands between us and the Spirit of Christ. Third is the role of the faithful community – the “People of God” George Fox envisioned, or the City Placed on a Hill as an example to all. Fourth is the linkage of faith with action: the deeds that reveal our faith — hopefully bathed in love.

*   *   *

But then it must be a living Faith, according to the Definition of the Apostle James in the second Chapter of his Epistle. And it must be such a Faith as purifies the Heart, and is held in a pure Conscience, and is manifest in the Life by Works of Love, and gives Victory over the World. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Fifth Month 22

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead … – James 2:14-26 (NIV)

*   *   *

Look closer and notice that James is not speaking about charity. The action he invokes is not imposed from above “on the less well off.” It is not directed at strangers. It is not to make us somehow feel better about ourselves, either. Rather, the action is to be extended within the circle of faith itself, where we too often less easily acknowledge need and step in to assist, much less to do so as “a brother or sister.”

Indirectly, James is speaking about church itself, as a verb. Churching is how the circle of believers gathers more intimately as our lives open into one. Lives, as in living oneness.

*   *   *

‘Vocation. This also they own to be a Benefit bestowed on them by the Father, in the Son; for that they who were by Nature Children of Wrath as well as others, have been called of God in Christ, with an High and Holy Calling, to obtain Mercy from him, even to become Saints, that so they should shew forth the Virtues of him who hath called them out of Darkness into his marvelous Light. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)