Ninth Month 2

I urge you, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

*   *   *

Once, after I prayed aloud in one meeting for worship, a member of that Meeting’s ministry and counsel committee told me she doesn’t believe in a God who cares for the little sparrow. Where does a hungry or injured member in a meeting like that turn for guidance?

When it comes to turning to prayer, many people today have no idea of where to begin in this practice, much less of its power and profundity. Although I had heard many prayers before coming among Ohio Friends, I had never experienced prayer until the morning Thomas Cooper got down on his knees at Middleton – and the message seemed to come down from Heaven as well as rising to the throne of God. We do have much to share here.

*   *   *

And this Light of the unerring Spirit, by which the Lord leads his People in the Way everlasting, it shineth within, It shineth in the Darkness, though the Darkness comprehend it not, as saith the Apostle. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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Eighth Month 13

And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. … And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw David leaping and dancing before the LORD, and she despised him in her heart. …
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
And I will yet be more vile than this, and will be base in my own sight: and the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. – 2 Samuel 6:16-23

*   *   *

This must have been some blowout fight, one the entire palace heard and long remembered the details. Two lovers, intense in their passion, but whose differences ultimately shatter any compatibility. Outwardly here, we have her expectations of how royalty should act and appear – Michal (short for Michelle) had, after all, been raised as the king’s daughter – while David was a man of the people.

In the terse portrayal of Michal, we are given a heartbreaking tragedy. She was, after all, given to David as his wife (after David had presented her father the foreskins of 200 slain Philistines – twice the requisite payment), then given to another when David was forced to flee (and escaped with his life because of Michal’s concealment, 1 Samuel 19:11-17), before they were reunited. It’s the stuff of Hollywood.

The chilling line, though, of having no child of her own cuts sharply. After their rupture, the king had more wives and lovers. The queen, however, was shunned to the day of her death.

*   *   *

But notwithstanding the Wrath of the Adversary, their Innocency will appear with its open Face; for the Time is now a hasting, wherein it will be seen who are but nominally, and who are really righteous. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 24

… You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. … – James 4:1-3 and 10 (NIV)

*   *   *

I wonder what James would have made of an advertising-driven consumer society like ours. He rides straight into the matter of possessions, seeing the difference between needs (true needs) and desires, before emphasizing the self-centered nature of the latter. He tackles the realities of day-to-day living.

*   *   *

An examination of the headings in a compilation of Rules of Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends, With Advices, published in London in 1834, indicates some of the many ways Quakers sought to bring spiritual insights to daily lives. Its queries and counsel cover Arbitration; Books (acceptable reading); Civil Government; Conduct of Conversation; Covetousness; Detraction and Defamation; Gravestones and Mourning Habits; Heathen Names of the Days and Months; Liberality and Benevolence; Love and Unity; Marriage; Masters, Mistresses, Servants, and Apprentices [in a contemporary setting, we might label that Employers and Employees]; National Fasts and Times of Public Rejoicing; National Stock; Oaths and Affirmation; Parents and Education; Plainness and Moderation; the Poor; Slave Trade and Slavery [in a modern setting, we might consider Third World labor and imports]; Temperance; Tithes and Sufferings; Trust Property; War; and Wills, Executors, and Administrators; Youth.

*   *   *

We may find ourselves startled today to hear of applications of these concerns. My great-grandfather Joshua, for example, coming home to find his son Leroy playing with a deck of cards, snapped them up and threw them into the wood-burning stove: “I will show thee where those belong!” – will seem harsh from our perspective, which likely lacks their degree of discipleship and service. We cannot understand their barriers to keep out music, dancing, theater, or novels (“We Quakers only read true things”). Not surprisingly, the testimonies that disturb us also seem to be on much thinner scriptural grounds than many of the others.

*   *   *

And so he goes on expostulating the Matter with them, till at last he threatneth to visit them, and be avenged on their Nation. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Seventh Month 4

I will make them and the region around them a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; and they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. … they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. Ezekiel 34:26-29 (NRSV)

*   *   *

Make no mistake: digging into the Bible can lead to social revolution.

Around 1170, Peter Waldo, a wealthy resident of Lyons, France, began studying the scriptures themselves and presenting them in the vernacular, in effect igniting a radical Christian movement known variously as the Waldensians, Albigenses, Lollards, and many other names. This encounter with Scripture led to many testimonies and practices similar to our own Quaker heritage, including pacifism and a refusal to swear oaths, but also convinced many individuals to live communally. But that, in turn, threatened to undermine the worldly powers that be.

In 1198 Pope Innocent III launched the first inquisition “against this malady.” Despite four centuries of intense, severe persecution, however, the movement somehow survived underground to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, the Anabaptist strand of the Reformation – Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite, and Brethren – claims the Waldensians as their own root.

The Protestant Reformation itself drew its impetus from a close reading of scripture as expounded by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others in the early 1500s.

Our own Quaker outbreak of the mid-1600s arose not to reform the church, but to renew it: George Fox and other Friends boldly proclaimed that Christianity had been living in darkness and apostacy for twelve to fourteen hundred years; their criticisms of the institutional church of their times is relentless and scathing, thoroughly quoting Scripture for its perspective.

The pursuit of justice so passionately proclaimed by the prophets and an awareness of Divine harmony is an unending mission, one we sometimes fulfill much better than at other times.

*   *   *

But albeit it hath been so intended, yet through the Mercy of our God, there is a Remnant who have not been so affrighted as to flee from, but have drawn near to see and feel, whether there were any Substance in the same, and such have found to their Satisfaction, that the Substance of Life hath lain hid under this dark Reflection, which through the Cloudiness of the Understanding, and Prejudice that hath been in the minds of People against the Principle of Light, they have enviously cast upon the Professors of it, as the Means whereby they convert and turn People to it. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 14

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables. … – Matthew 12:1-3 (NIV)

*   *   *

In addressing the masses, Jesus often relied on parables – spiritual lessons based on real-life types of situations – in part, as commentators have noted, because he could reveal “truth to the spiritual and ready mind” while simultaneously concealing it from others. (For his own explanation, see Matthew 13:10-18.)

Much of the power of a parable resides in the reality that it can never fully be contained – there are always elusive elements in motion, just as there are in good metaphor (even for the spiritually and ready minded). You keep coming back to these mini-dramas for your own renewal and growth. You can never nail them down with an ultimate “moral” or “law” for action. In fact, they often contest the prevailing understanding or teaching.

The kind of open-ended reading they demand also challenges fundamentalists, who place the Bible in a position of dominant authority and extract a flat equation rather than wrestle with metaphor. Some, in fact, insist on the King James version, because even synonyms threaten their perceived purity.

But what if the texts we are translating are themselves corrupted? That is, if editors tampered with the Scriptures before passing them on? The early Bible authority St. Jerome, responding to intense probing by Augustine, suggested as much when he responded, asking him “not to challenge an old man … who asks only to remain silent.”

So we return to a parable as a story, one that can be told in many ways and many languages and still convey its central message as we repeatedly listen in wonder.

*   *   *

Therefore the Spirit of Christ is the Rule of his Peoples Faith, and the Guide of their Life; yet doth not this detract from the Scriptures, nor the Estimation of this People (called Quakers concerning them) for I know they do believe, that whatsoever Things were written aforetime, were written for our Learning, that we through Patience and Comfort of the Scriptures might have Hope. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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 5

There are six things the LORD hates,
            seven that are detestable to him:
                        haughty eyes,
                        a lying tongue,
                        hands that shed innocent blood,
                        a heart that devises wicked schemes,
                        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
                        a false witness who pours out lies
                        and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

                                                                        Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV)

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The list could, of course, be longer. Much longer. But it’s enough to contend with any day.

*   *   *

It is a Principle of Divine Light and Life of Christ Jesus, placed in the Conscience, which opens the Understanding, enlightens the Eyes of the Mind, discovers Sin to the Soul, reproves for it, and makes it appear exceeding sinful; quickens such as accept and believe in it, tho’ they were dead in Trespasses and Sins, makes them alive to God, and bringeth up into Conformity to the Image of his Son Christ Jesus, that he may be the First-born among many Brethren. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fourth Month 15

When one rules over men in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings the grass from the earth. – 2 Samuel 23:3-4 (NIV)

*   *   *

I must confess my admiration for a king who was, among other things, a poet and who filled his court with poets. How many of the words attributed to him were instead from the people of his court, who shared in his glory?

How I long for rulers who can look back on their lives and service, as David was doing, and see the fruits of peace rather than war.

David, of course, knew both.

*   *   *

Yet may we say, since we have felt the Beginnings of this Work in our Hearts, we have been made as Signs and Wonders in the Earth. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Third Month 16

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. This was the true light that gives light to every man who comes into the world … – Matthew 3:1-3 and 7-11 (NIV)

*   *   *

The opening of the gospel of John expands the definition of this Light, the Logos, this Christ made manifest in the person of Jesus. It was from the very beginning of creation – and will be with us to the very end of time: the Alpha and Omega, as Revelation proclaims.

As Quakers, we teach a principle of the Inward Light, an often controversial understanding we have drawn especially from the gospel of John and from the Apostle Paul. As Friends, we historically recognize this Light as the Spirit of Christ, which can shine within each of us, if we accept it. As this text will continue, “to those who did accept him, he gave the power to become the children of God” regardless of our ethnic or social background. All we have to do is accept, rather than reject this gift.

Through the acceptance of this Light we can be something other than the kind of people we were previously: we, too, can come out of darkness or arise from the mud.

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Yet we grant the Baptism of those that were adult, or come to Age, and had Faith to entitle them unto it; this was the Baptism of John, who was a Fore-runner of Jesus Christ; but this was not permanent and continuing, but to pass away, that Christ’s might take place, for he must increase, but I must decrease, saith John himself. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Third Month 6

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 (NIV)

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Among its many dimensions, the Great Flood sets Noah and his family apart from the rest of humanity. Even so, he and his household are flawed people, becoming more so in the trauma. In the end, there’s plenty of blame to go around. (While Noah walked with God, was he passionate and loving, or merely obedient? Did he plead for his neighbors, or issue calls for repentance? Did he invite others to join in the enterprise?)

As for our own era? Even before we listen to talk of a “zombie apocalypse,” how accountable are we for furthering God’s creation?

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The same did Peter witness, And as I began to speak, (saith he) the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us in the Beginning, then  remembred I the Words of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with Water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)