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
Here widespread expectations of generosity and excess counter our Quaker discipline of frugality and moderation. The situation becomes especially complicated for individuals like me who find themselves lacking in gift-giving savvy.
Even when Friends formed a sizable community, they found standing apart from the surrounding society on these activities became impossible over time. Quakers eventually yielded to giving the children an orange or two the day after “the day the world calls Christmas.”
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.