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)

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Third Month 26

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. – Psalm 51:10-12

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Notice the mention of Holy Spirit, here in the Hebrew Bible, years before its appearances in the New Testament. The experience is direct, empowering, renewing and restorative, sustaining.

*   *   *

For in the very next Verse, saith Christ, I will not drink of this Fruit of the Vine, until that Day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom. (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.

*   *   *

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)

*   *   *

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?

*   *   *

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)

Second Month 24

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation [King James Version: of any private interpretation]. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)

*   *   *

The prohibition on “private interpretation” means there’s nothing secret here. There are no “secret” understandings for the initiated alone, no code words for a clandestine circle. The Bible is an open book, an open invitation to all, even if the findings are unorthodox.

George Fox, who knew the Bible thoroughly, said our authority arises from the Living Christ and not from the words on a page. Thus, Scripture is subject to the authority of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, to the extent that its authors and editors were faithful to that Spirit, the Scriptures also have authority – at least for those readers who themselves are guided by the divine Light. While our Quaker faith emphasizes the importance of direct experience of the Spirit of Christ, our tradition also looks to Scripture and to the gathered meeting as measures by which we are to test our interpretations and leadings.

Quaker theologian Robert Barclay declared that the Spirit is infallible but men and women are not. Because of our own individual biases and human limitations, he distinguished “between the divine and human aspects of revelation. … Furthermore, these divine and inward revelations do not and cannot contradict the testimony of scripture, nor are they contrary to sound reason.”

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Moreover than this, the Scriptures do abundantly speak forth the Extent and Benefit of Christ’s Death for all Mankind, upon Condition of Faith and Repentance, join’d with new and continued Obedience, which are the Gospel Terms on which he is offered to them: For Christ Jesus gave himself a Ransom for all, he tasted Death for every Man, so saith the Apostle. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Second Month 14

Ye have compassed this mountain long enough. – Deuteronomy 2:3

*   *   *

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.

*   *   *

‘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)

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)

*   *   *

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?

*   *   *

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

*   *   *

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.

*   *   *

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

*   *   *

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.

*   *   *

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  

*   *   *

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.

*   *   *

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)