Arise and shine in the new morning

James Nayler opens his 1655 tract, Salutation to the Seed of God, with this perplexing decree:

Arise, shine forth, thou seed of the covenant, to which the promise is, for thy glory to come; and with judgment is the Lord arisen to redeem his chosen, and all that turn to him shall be covered with righteousness, even that which before the world was, and above all the world is, which is perfect for evermore.

The dense sentence, overlapping itself with metaphor, has more in common with contemporary poetry than it does with analytic exposition. At the outset of the 38-page tract (as it appears in the Collected Works), this galvanizing invocation addresses a puzzling first-person singular “Seed of the Covenant.”

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It’s not the building

One of the most revolutionary concepts the Society of Friends has upheld is an understanding of “church” as a body of believers – not as the building or organization or a hierarchy or even a nearby bishop. This sense of a gathering of the saints is the reason ours is a “meeting” of the church – of the believers – and why we gather in a meetinghouse, rather than a building calling itself the church. For that matter, early Friends typically referred to the gathering place of other denominations as a “steeplehouse,” thus emphasizing a distinction between the building and its users.


Often as questions

It may surprise many of you to learn that in my first years with Quakers, I was generally pretty hostile to anything smacking of Christianity. And yet seeds were planted:

  • Because America has an underlying Christian mindset, Eastern religions would have trouble taking root here. This, from Norris Wentworth while giving me a lift in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • “What do you think of Jesus?” during my clearness session for membership in what turns out to be one of the most universalist meetings in America. (Our preparative meeting was about 150 miles away in the desert of Washington state.) Followed by a remark to me, “I fear that we’re losing our Christian connection.”
  • “What do you think of the Bible?” as an elderly Wilburite Friend in Whittier, Iowa, drilled her eyes in my direction. I doubt my analogy of a sharpening-stone wheel satisfied her.
  • “And just what spirit was thee speaking of?” Mary Hawkins, an elder at Columbiana Meeting in Ohio, before adding. “there are many spirits – anger, envy … “ I have since been careful to say, Holy Spirit or Spirit of Christ.


In the image of what?

Here, too, we can begin to sense new ways in which we may be seen as created in the image of God. Just as each seed is patterned on a universal model of stored energy that will unfurl into root and leaf, it also carries a particular identity to replicate its own kind. Likewise, each of us displays individual characteristics and abilities as we respond to divine Light.

While the opening chapter of John presents Christ as the Logos as well as the Light, it is possible to see the Logos – an ancient Greek philosophical stream that presents this variously as the principle of the universe, the means of reconciliation of opposites, the way of knowing and knowledge itself, the divine way or plan, and so on – as also working as Seed.

Thus, John’s gospel could begin alternatively as, “In the beginning was the Seed, and the Seed was with God, and the Seed was God. … All things were made by it; and without it was not anything made that was made. In it was life …” to be manifested in human form.


Frequency of practice can make a difference

Sitting in meditation twice a day, as I learned in the ashram, allows a deeper session than does an every-other-week or once-a-month schedule.

Suitable physical exercise, charitable activity, or spiritual reading may also guide the experience.

We speak of preparing for worship, but rarely of how much easier it is to pass through that barrier when sitting with others. That is, as early Friends sensed, even when two or three gather in the Name.


There’s a psychoanalytic awareness

Unlike their mentor, Sigmund Freud’s two principal disciples, Carl Jung and Otto Rank, both looked increasingly to religion for insights. To what extent, then, can we draw on their conclusions to advance a deepened understanding of Light, Truth, and, especially, Seed?

Jung, for instance, speaks not just of Light but more crucially “the shadow.” How do presentations of the unconscious and collective unconscious work in relation to Quaker “waiting worship” or the Inward Voice?

One Friend, beginning to consider these, also adds symbolism/archetypes, masculine/feminine, and synchronicity/”as Way opens” to the search.


Gallery window

The second floor of the Dover Friends meetinghouse was originally a gallery — or balcony — that we closed off in the 1950s to conserve heat in the worship room below. One half of the space has since been converted into classrooms, but this side is used mostly for storage.

Passage into silence

From my earliest days of practicing meditation, I’ve been aware of an invisible wall of resistance or restlessness before passing into the comforting depth on the other side. It reminds me of those early experiences of a sonic boom, when planes overhead would “break through the sound barrier” – not that we sense a loud crack of arrival, but there is a distinct change all the same. Maybe it’s an awareness that the air in the room feels different – heavier, like water, is one description. Maybe it’s not that far removed from the ancient Israelite priests who “passed through the veil” to offer sacrifice in the most holy space in the Temple.

My experience of meditative worship has also changed, from the initial goal of getting naturally high or stoned – of transcending out of the world – to the present centering down into the essence of life, but the wall remains. Some weeks it’s more pronounced than others; other weeks it’s quite faint. Even so, coming to that point Bill Taber referred to as “soft eyes” worship, where Friends begin removing their eyeglasses, is delicious. Even our antique Regulator clock seems to stop ticking.


Getting intimate with soul

For me, a significant breakthrough arises in envisioning soul not as a vehicle we ride through eternity but as the Seed. That is, the soul or Seed is perceived as an abode or agent within us where we encounter the Light – or perhaps even where the Light penetrates us.

This is the discernment I find embodied in many expressions of soul in the Hebrew Bible.

For instance, in the Psalms: my soul is sore vexed, let me tear my soul like a lion, he restoreth my soul, I humbled my soul with fasting, heal my soul, I pour out my soul in me, my soul waiteth upon the Lord, my soul thirsteth for thee, my soul refuseth to be comforted, my soul longeth, rejoice the soul of thy servant, my soul is full of troubles, my soul had almost dwelt in silence, thy comforts delight my soul, bless the Lord oh my soul, the hungry soul with goodness, my soul melteth for heaviness, my soul is continually in my hand, let my soul live and it shall praise, my soul is even as a weaned child, bring my soul out of prison, and so on …

These are all emotional, experiential, and varied reactions somewhere deep within individual awareness and identity.

In other words, while we may speak of this as a place of soul or Seed, it is also a realm of psychology and the fine arts as much as theology – a dimension contemporary Friends already live within.