Second Month 14

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)

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Second Month 4

…  Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran off to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down … . – 1 Samuel 3:1-11 and 19 (NIV)

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As pure storytelling, this is precious. Every parent can remember being awakened in the middle of the night by a child. So what’s coming next?

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Wait for him, I exhort you, in the Way of his Judgments, For the Lord is a God of Judgment, and blessed are all they that wait for him, as saith the Prophet Isaiah. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 31

You see, God’s grace has been revealed to save the whole human race. Titus: 2-11

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In an age that encourages diversity and individualism, we need a common point of reference – a source of definitions and concepts, a foundation on which the superstructure sits.

Language shapes thought, which in turn shapes action and emotion: it can give us, as a people, a mirror. We live within contemporary attitudes that value cynicism, detachment, irony, individualism, sensory bombardment, constant kinetic fever, compulsions, and addictions.

I believe the Bible can counterbalance that, once we liberate it from false constraints and teaching, from the exhortations of those whose hearts are filled with darkness and hate. One way to do that, as Jesus demonstrated, is to turn the verses back on them. Grace is where salvation is revealed.

Perhaps the reason so few of us have found meaning in the Bible arises from a lack of sustained silence and listening, reflection, and yielding. Even when we do face the text, we let our focus get distracted in the wrong thing, asking about Jonah’s big fish, rather than the human drama of hatred and resentment he’s entrapped in – but that part is nothing new! We criticize the patriarchal societal fabric that Naomi and Ruth manage to turn to their own service, rather than perceiving the many ways our own choices and actions are shaped by the societal framework of contemporary America. So how do we nurture grace in our daily encounters?

Now, more than ever, the whole human race needs saving.

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This our spiritual Shepherd hath a tender Regard to the hindmost of his Flock; he gathereth his Lambs with his Arms, and carrieth them in his Bosom, and gently leadeth those that are young. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 30

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark: 1:16-18

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What authority Jesus embodies! He speaks and people drop what they’re doing and respond.

He doesn’t even need a net to catch them.

But these aren’t just anyone – they’re hungry.

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Therefore you weak and feeble Ones, put your Trust in him; for he giveth Power to the Faint, and in them that have no Might he encreaseth Strength. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 29

…  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. – Revelation 3:20 and 22  

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The first time I heard free Gospel ministry in meeting, I was repulsed. Revulsion rose in me. Sin? Quakers? Satan? How dare anyone mention such darkness! Now I see that darkness all too clearly in those who reject the Light of the world. I am grateful to the Friends who taught the power of yielding and surrender to Almighty God. Because of my training in Yoga – in meditation, especially – I was quite aware of the nuances of Friends’ Meeting and the movement of the Holy Spirit. But immediately after accepting Christ as Lord and Savior – an act that meant dropping all the intellectual and emotional resistance within me – I realized I had been seeing only half of the life of the meeting. A new reality – strength and depth – opened before me. Obviously, we can learn from other spiritual paths – but not at the price of abandoning our own. We can learn to sit more quietly, with greater focus. We can learn, again, to fast and to maintain our bodies more fitly for service. We can learn what it means to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices. But we must also be careful, lest we clutter our path and stumble. Scripture reminds us how close abominations like infant sacrifice lie to our own calling. There are many spirits, but only one Holy Spirit. Friends forget that Satan is a spirit, too. Quote Penington and the Bible on the dangers of trying to “do it”  (spiritual/goodness/”self-improvement”) on our own – in our own light rather than His Light. Where is the POWER of our modern meetings? Low state in the reports, etc. O heard one described as one big group therapy session – without turning to the Cure.

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That there are many that have borne false Witness against them, yet … their Accusers contradict one another (for both seem to grant we own a Christ) which well they may do, since they differ in Principles amongst themselves; however they agree thus far like Herod and Pilate, to unite against Jesus, so have they against his Followers. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 28

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come unto him, and will sup with him, and he with me. … – Revelation 3:20 and 22   

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Behind the initial warm-fuzzy response – after all, we see Jesus standing there, not just any beggar – there’s the honest slam-the-door-in-their-face reaction. What gall! He’s practically begging. A Buddhist monk, perchance? As if we have any food worthy of offering.

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And then was the Time of his Love, even when he stood at the Door of our Hearts and knock’d, that he might be entertained by us. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 27

 [T]o know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. – Psalm 143:8

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I love the repeated Biblical image of walking. It’s step-by-step, in a rhythm that allows us to observe and reflect as we go. It even seems to get into a pace with the heartbeat.

At some point in walking, we find ourselves no longer looking at our feet but looking up and out. That’s when we begin to notice others.

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It is safe to say that few Quakers view Scripture as “the Law.” The texts are too rich and lively for that! Instead, we are free to question, to argue, and to challenge the texts as we dig for the meat inside the shell. For me, this has often taken the form of Godwrestling, drawn from a radical Jewish movement that meets in its members’ homes, where children and adults jointly “wrestle” with a passage, opening asking “What if instead? Maybe the dream was interpreted incorrectly!”

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Because there are many valid ways to read the Bible. Because of this, too, no one will ever understand this library fully. (And stay clear of the person who claims to!) In other words, this is a book we can come to at each stage of our lives and still discover fresh insights and inspiration. Ours is a living faith, with a living God. So we grow.

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So walk and look about. As if you were walking on air.

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Now since God himself is said in Scripture to dwell and walk in his People, why should it be thought arrogant for them to say, Christ in them is the Hope of their Glory? (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 26

Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

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This is one of those seemingly impossible demands until we realize it’s a two-way street. If we do all the talking, we’ll soon be exhausted. We need to wait and observe and listen, in our spirits, as well.

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There is also a medieval practice of bringing ourselves to the text and letting the text read us.

This can be especially helpful if we open ourselves to voicing our own impulses of praise, thanksgiving, anguish, ethical struggle, family and work situations, love, faith, trust, and so on – in short, opening ourselves to the many aspects of prayer itself.

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Another approach I find helpful at times involves plugging a suitable synonym into the passage: “trust” for “faith,” “unmarried young woman” for “virgin,” “centering” for “rest,” or “employee” for “slave,” and so on. The results can be eye-opening.

And this, too, can be a form of prayer.

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So what other words can we use for “prayer”?

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And we find the Apostle Peter making the same Supplication, even, That the God of all Grace would make them perfect. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 25

And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt harken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. – Deuteronomy 28:2

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In his 1953 A Quaker Approach to the Bible, scholar Henry J. Cadbury describes the collection as “a training school in discriminating among alternatives. One of the most sobering facts is that it is not on the whole a peaceful book. … The sobering thing is that in nearly every (controversy) the people shown by the Bible to be wrong had every reason to think they were in the right, and like us they did so. Complacent orthodoxy is the recurrent villain in the story …”

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Repeatedly, the practice becomes one of going beyond our own wisdom and vision to seek something yet unseen. Blessing, in this sense, demands openness and risk.

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For in Christ Jesus neither Circumcision availeth any Thing, nor Uncircumcision, but Faith which worketh by Love, saith Paul, Gal. v. 6. and this is the Victory whereby we overcome the World, even our Faith, saith John, 1 John v. 4. Therefore, say I, without this real Faith, it is impossible we should please God, or be justified in his Sight. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

First Month 24

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. … for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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If we think we’re faultless, we’ll feel no need to turn to the Holy One for healing or guidance. In fact, in an air of superiority, we become less human. It’s harder to welcome and appreciate others. How can we truly relate to anyone, then? Where’s the empathy or compassion to arise?

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In that weakness, Paul admits a need for a daily blessing of Christ’s presence, which he here calls grace. Early Friends used the expressions “the Seed of Christ,” “the Witness of Christ Within,” and “Children of the Light” to also acknowledge as “the Inward Light.” This is a radical and revolutionary understanding of the gospel – of the good news.

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If we fall on our faces while attempting to reach out to others, let us remember that one of the great discoveries in walking with Christ comes when we learn that falling on our face doesn’t really matter. Jesus frees us from our false pride and stands ready to lift us out of the mud. In the state of humility that comes from walking in the Spirit of Truth, we can enter great joy and grace.

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Even that Word of his Grace, which is able to build us up, and to give us an Inheritance among all those that are sanctified through Faith, which is in Christ Jesus. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)