Tenth Month 21

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

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This appears right after the Lord’s Prayer, with its “forgive us our debts.” And it reappears in Mark 11:25 as an aspect of prayer, while Luke 17:3-4 adds conditions: “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” And, in the next verse (Luke 17:5), comes: “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”

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Christ did then require his Disciples to render Honour to whom Honour, and Fear to whom Fear; which Requirings of his, all his true Followers, in their respective Places, are at this Time careful to answer, how uncivil soever accounted by the World; yet have they learnt Gospel-manners, which is, to give the Right-hand of Fellowship to whom it doth belong, in Honour preferring one another, each esteeming other better than themselves. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 20

The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded. – Exodus 35:29

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Maybe it’s a consequence of growing up in a congregation where they passed an offering plate as a conspicuous part of the service every Sunday, but I’m left with the impression of an offering being something tangible – money or an animal to sacrifice. The concept of it’s being “all manner of work,” as in labor, is revolutionary. Wandering in the desert, of course, meant plenty of free time but few physical resources.

The possibilities of many kinds of work, reflecting many varied talents and abilities among the people, also allows for unconventional responses.

Reexamining the entire structure and practice of marriage, for instance, made note of the Hebraic pilgesh notion – a person with whom one has a publicly acknowledged loving sexual relationship apart from marriage, such as Abraham and Hagar in Genesis. As Arthur Waskow explains in Godwrestling: “A few modern rabbis have suggested we should do more with it. … Yet it’s not a marriage. It’s easier to start and to dissolve. … What if a couple came before the community to say, ‘We have decided to live together for a year and one day. We will be faithful to each other and to God. We will help each other grow – in the body and the spirit.’”

Not that I’m endorsing it, mind you, but I’m not so sure it’s so different from many of my own encounters along the road to here, no matter my intentions.

So what will work in our current society that fits our hearts and God’s counsel?

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Praised be his powerful Name, who hath made me willingly renounce both giving and receiving that Honour that cometh from Man, that so I might partake of that Honour which proceedeth from himself alone. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 19

You were to put aside your old self, which belongs to your old way of life and was corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind was to be renewed in spirit, so that you could put on the New Man [and the New Woman] that has been created on God’s principles, in the uprightness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:22-23 (NJB)

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To what extent does suffering in our own life prompt us to more steadfast spiritual seeking and practice? Do we see it stripping away impediments?

Or is it our excuse instead for moving away?

Each of us is different.

As for the insights we gain, I find the King James using the wonderful, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

Renewed, as a matter of healing and comfort.

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But since it hath pleased the Lord by the inshining of his Heavenly Light in my Conscience, to let me see clearly into the Falshood and Folly of this corrupted Courtesy, I do not only conscientiously, but voluntarily decline the using such flattering Speech; notwithstanding, I know ’tis to expose myself to be censur’d by some as a Person unaccomplished, unmannerly, and ill-bred. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 18

Where were you when I planned the earth?
Tell me, if you are so wise.
Do you know who took its dimensions,
measuring its length with a cord?
What were its pillars built on?
Who laid down its cornerstone,
while the morning stars burst out singing
and the angels shouted for joy!
Job 38:4-7 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

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Job seeks to learn the meaning of not just suffering but life itself. Pressed for an answer, God begs the question and diverts our attention, just as he did in the Garden of Eden. There is no easy answer for the existence of evil.

Still, early Quakers took seriously the counsel of Jesus: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. … You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know the master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15:10-12 and 14-15, NJB).

While Friends, like the Bereans commended in Acts 17, “studied the scriptures to check whether it was true,” these verses hold special importance for the Quaker movement. Not only do we receive our name, as “Friends,” from this passage, but we also see a glimmer of that experience we now uphold as the doctrine of the Inner Light – “that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete” – as well as our calling as disciples bonded to one another in divine love and friendship. The Society of Friends did not arise from a vacuum. Rather, because early Quakers were so assiduous in their application of biblical concepts, speaking of their faith without using scriptural language is very difficult. Thus, words such as “kingdom,” “Lord,” “Father,” and so on, which may present difficulties for contemporary ears, need to be heard in their original context if we are to have any significant understanding of the motivation and spiritual framework that shaped the Quaker movement. Sometimes, as we shall see, a word held a much different meaning in their day than it does in ours. Occasionally, a concept will require a contemporary translation to stand parallel to the original, so that we can understand it both in their era and our own.

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But now I know it was the Lord that girded me, though I knew him not. For I well remember, when I have been using the common Language of our Country, especially if after the now most usual Strain, this Testimony from God would arise in my Heart against it, whereby I was reproved in myself for using flattering Speech, though such as was and is accounted of by many to be but civil Language, or Expressions of common Civility to Persons, according to their Quality; in which I had such a Care to keep within the Bounds of Verity, that I dare assert, I did steer as near the Compass of Truth-speaking, as the Nature of such Speech would couch. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 17

Hear this, O elders, give ear, all the inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. Joel 1:2-3 (NRSV)

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Hearing many people speak of religion, you can easily get an impression it’s all ancient history. But remarkable things are happening all around us today, when we look with open eyes. It’s news to tell repeatedly.

Then there’s the matter of telling the story in its full context; scriptural passages used against homosexuality, for instance, take on a broader significance and we find that often sexual orientation is not the issue at all: the larger matters of hospitality, honesty, and social justice go unnoticed! Or when the Apostle Paul cautions children to obey their parents, he also warns parents not to vex their children – and guess which phrase usually goes unquoted!

Now what are our children telling us? And our children’s children saying? The good news runs in both directions!

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For this I speak from good Experience, the Spirit’s first Work is, to convince of Sin, before it effect a Restoration, and this it doth even in all, though all do not regard it, it doth first shew them what is evil, and then it reproves them when they do evil; which Reproofs, if they be despised, cause the fierce Anger of the Lord to be kindled; and such as despise Wisdom’s Reproofs, which are the Way of Life, while they are so doing, they are treasuring up to themselves Wrath against the Day of Wrath, and Revelation of the righteous Judgment of God. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 16

Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! – Psalm 133:1

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Translations can vary so much that a reader of one version who is attempting to follow along as someone reads aloud from another translation may become confounded, even confused, and sometimes outright lost in the text. Yet each translation opens another facet of the text to our senses. Consider the opening of this Psalm: “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!” (Living Bible); “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (New International); “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (New Revised Standard); “How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!” (New Jerusalem); “It’s so good, the turn of a season / people living for a moment as equals / secure in the human family” (David Rosenberg, A Poet’s Bible).

“Good,” “pleasant,” “wonderful,” “delightful” – each opens another nuance to our understanding. Our personal images of the assembly resonate differently with various translations: “brethren,” for me, carries a sense of Old Order Mennonites, Dunkards, or Plain Quakers meeting together; the image of brothers living in harmony may be a pleasant thought for a mother faced with three warring young sons, to say nothing of the son who bears the brunt of his rambunctious siblings (leaving unanswered the question of whether daughters would even create such a problem – do we assume that they automatically live in harmony?); the idea of kindred living in unity not only removes the male exclusivity, but also points us toward consideration of a healthy, functioning family; Rosenberg, meanwhile, makes all of humanity the family! How any of these texts speaks to us depends first upon where we are as individuals. Consider, too, how the sentence itself differs in each version: what Rosenberg gains in vitality comes at the expense of “unity,” a concept that shapes the practice of our Quaker Meeting for Business. But see, too, what his translation adds to our understanding of that unity.

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And now once more I invite you all to turn in to the Principle of God, which daily visits you in your inward Parts, in order to bring you out of a State of Sin and Misery, and to make you Partakers of his Righteousness and Felicity: Come taste and see that the Lord is gracious, who long waiteth upon you, that he may be gracious unto you, because he delighteth in Mercy. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 15

And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. – 2 Samuel 19:2

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Eli’s not the only one with troublesome sons. He’s not the only father to grieve over such sons, either.

King David suffered likewise in aces. His first son born to Bathsheba dies in infancy as a consequence of David’s adultry. His son Amnon rapes his half-sister, which the father grieves, and then is killed two years later. Son Absalom, responsible for Amnon’s murder, stirs a rebellion against his father and even has sex with David’s concubines in the interim.

Even so, the father weeps over the death of Absalom in battle. The kingdom is restored, but the king does not celebrate.

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So shall you feel your Souls redeemed out of the Earth, and out of the earthly Nature, after which you will witness the Peace of God to be extended towards you, like a River; but if you rebel against him, you shall dwell in a dry Land, and shall not see when Good comes. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 14

Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” – 1 Samuel 3:18 (NIV)

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While Hannah and Elkanah quickly fade from the story, albeit with a glorious round of celebration followed by three more sons and two daughters, Eli’s fate is more complex. While he is blessed as young Samuel’s guardian and teacher, Eli’s own two sons are “worthless men” (1 Samuel 2:12, RSV) who swindle people coming to the temple.

When Samuel has a vision that Eli’s sons will die childless, ending the family line, he courageously responds to Eli’s request for the details, drawing Eli’s stoic response, “let him do what is good in his eyes.”

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The Apostle gives Caution to whom he wrote, saying, Ye therefore beloved, seeing ye know these Things, beware lest ye also being led away with the Error of the Wicked, fall from your own Stedfastness. For ’tis threatned by the Lord, That when the righteous Man turneth away from his Righteousness, and commits Iniquity, and dieth in them, for his Iniquity that he hath done he shall die. Wherefore we are exhorted to continue in the Grace of God, and to keep ourselves in the Love of God, because of the Danger that there is of falling from this Grace; for ’tis those that endure to the End that shall be saved. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 13

 …  Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” … So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.” – 1 Samuel 1:6 -17 and 20 (NIV)

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As a novelist, I acknowledge a “fictional reality” that examines events around me and asks: would this situation “work” in a novel? Would people believe it? Sometimes, it would; others wouldn’t. Similarly, there is a biblical reality that may refract its own take on “reality” – perhaps even differing from the reality we call history.

Just how, for example, how much does Eli know? Or is he merely wishing her the best?

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The story leaves me wondering about her motives in relegating her young son to the temple. Is this done to keep the child out of the claws of Hannah’s rival or the ravages of his half-siblings? Does it restore her full relationship with her husband? Is she able to argue that by consecrating the child to the LORD she has trumped her rival’s production? And what reactions and rights does Elkanah have in all of this, a decision that is apparently made without his permission.

All of this is a prelude to the brief Golden Age of Israel, as the story emerges.

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But blessed be the Lord, he hath caused many Witnesses to rise up amongst us, who have given Testimony to the Truth as it is in Jesus, and have taught others, both in our own Country, and in Nations abroad, to take heed to that sure Word of Prophecy, nigh in the Heart, and in the Mouth, which if the true Grace of God, that is sufficient for us, not only, as some say, to leave Men without Excuse, and so to aggravate their Condemnation, but as ’tis received and obeyed, it will lead out of Sin into Holiness, and in the End crown with Salvation. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Tenth Month 12

“… Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  … – 1 Samuel 1:6 -17 and 20 (NIV)

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So here we have it, that apparently ancient equating of “drunken woman” with “wicked.” Where is this, anyway, Texas?

Of course, we also have the great irony that what follows is anything but wicked. Rather, her prayers are answered with a son who becomes the great prophet Samuel.

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And thus I am brought to the next Thing promised, which was, to shew whence this Principle of Grace proceedeth: I have, according to my Measure, shewn, what it is, now I come to shew, from whence it comes; to which I say. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)