Ye have compassed this mountain long enough. – Deuteronomy 2:3
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The use of “compass” as a verb is intriguing, especially since we are likely to think of it as an instrument of direction. What we have instead is the archaic “to go around; make a circuit of” sense of wandering. Even of avoiding an obstacle, rather than facing it head on.
It’s an apt image for modern American society, too, especially when it comes to faith, Scripture, or even many of the hard issues before us.
When it comes to the Bible, it even fits many of today’s Quakers, at least from my end of the spectrum. And so, almost nobody, including its organizers, had any inkling into the range of response they would share when they initiated a Friends Bible Conference held in Philadelphia’s historic Arch Street Meetinghouse in 1989. More than 260 mostly unprogrammed Friends participated, and the presentations have been published as Reclaiming a Resource (Kimo Press, Falls Church, Virginia, 1990), a book I recommend. Workshops explored “The Bible and Liberation Theology,” “Using the Written Bible To Hear the Bible Within,” covenant communities, care of the creation, “Divine Judgment and Near-Death Experience,” the book of Job as an allegory for coping with the AIDS crisis and other sufferings, “Who Is Sophia? And Why Is She Important?,” “The Gospel According to Women,” Jungian perspectives, working with children or music, story-telling, and more. Each workshop, in effect, examined another way of working with and studying Scripture. The collected papers share many of the intensely personal ways other Friends put the scriptures to work in their individual spiritual endeavors.
I, for one, like the views from the mountain. There are many trails to top. At that point, there’s no longer a hollow center in the wandering but a unified look at the landscape. Everything begins fitting together. Sometimes, when you seem to be running around in circles, remember to look up. You may see a new pathway open.
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‘Tis the Grace of God, ’tis the Light of Jesus, ’tis a Manifestation of the Spirit, ’tis the Glad tidings of Salvation, ’tis the Word of Reconciliation, ’tis the Law written in the Heart, ’tis the Word of Faith, ’tis the Seed of the Kingdom, ’tis that Stone which hath been rejected by many a foolish Builder, but now it is become the Head of Sion’s Corner. These are all significant Expressions of that excellent Principle, which I have undertaken to treat on. But if any shall say They are Expressions of so different a Nature, that they know not how to reconcile them, and make them one together.
To such I answer, they might as well confess, they cannot understand how the Lamb of God can be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, nor how the Shepherd of Israel can be the Bishop of his Peoples Souls; there seeming as much Difference in these latter, as in any of the former; yet do they all speak of one Thing, altho’ it be exprest by divers Names: For it will admit of a manifold Description; tho’, as I said before, ’tis still but one Thing, if rightly understood in its true Notions. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)