Twelfth Month 1

The king fell into a rage and treated this one more cruelly than the others, for he was himself smarting from the young man’s scorn. And so the young man met his end undefiled and with perfect trust in the Lord.
The mother was the last to die, after her sons. – 2 Maccabbees 7:39-41 (NJB)

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It’s a terrifying story, the murder of a mother and her seven sons because they refused to violate the Law of God – in their case, keeping Kosher. I see it commemorated in the Chanukah candles, one a night, in defiance of tyranny.  Let the king be offended. Our Lord will reign.

The difference between a thought (notion) and belief (faith) hinges on whether you would stake your life on it. Belief – true faith – changes the world, for the better. (Belief also changes the word.) Too often, thoughts merely get in the way. A Zen koan, anyone?

The way of the world appears in the Atlantic City signs and allure. Everybody else – busload after busload – turns onto the expressway toward glitter, while we continue straight on for a silent Meeting. We’re at liberty.

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So shall Fear be far from you; and as for Terror, it shall not come near you: You meek and harmless Ones, you shall increase your Joy in the Lord, and shall inherit the Earth, and delight yourselves in abundance of Peace. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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Eleventh Month 11

Behold, I will send a messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 3:1

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How many times in a day do we feel lost just wondering what to do? What we’re supposed to do? Even how other people handle this situation?

It’s not just parenting or dealing with an aging parent or the boss on the job or coworkers or customers and clients. There’s always our religion, usually somewhere in the background.

Sometimes I want answers. (Many other times I’d rather not be bothered.)

Even so: A messenger is on the way. A messenger is at hand. Knock! Knock!

(What shall we do?)

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For he that long offer’d himself as a Guide, is now become a Judge in the Conscience of this Creature; and his just Judgment against all Unrighteousness must be accomplished. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Tenth Month 12

“… Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  … – 1 Samuel 1:6 -17 and 20 (NIV)

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So here we have it, that apparently ancient equating of “drunken woman” with “wicked.” Where is this, anyway, Texas?

Of course, we also have the great irony that what follows is anything but wicked. Rather, her prayers are answered with a son who becomes the great prophet Samuel.

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And thus I am brought to the next Thing promised, which was, to shew whence this Principle of Grace proceedeth: I have, according to my Measure, shewn, what it is, now I come to shew, from whence it comes; to which I say. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Ninth Month 22

Always aim at what is best for each other and for everyone. Always be joyful; pray constantly; and for all things, give thanks. 1 Thessalonians: 3:15-18

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Not infrequently, when we’re on our feet or knees in ministry, the answer we’ve been seeking in prayer comes to us – from our own lips. Often, the best ministry arises from that point of struggle in our own lives. Too often nowadays there is no one else who offers the encouragement that existed in the old days. Indeed, the initial openings in worship can be pretty frightening – one can even fear he or she is going crazy – until being reassured by those who have already experienced similar trial by fire. The depth of thy spiritual journey will take thee in that direction. Fear not!

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For this Principle of which I write, ’tis the Unction which we have received from the Holy One, whereby we know all Things; that is, this doth instruct us in all Things that are necessary to be known by us. For ’tis that spiritual Anointing that the Apostle John speaks of, which those who have received it, and in whom it abides, needs not that any Man teach them, but as the same Anointing teacheth them all Things, and is Truth, and is no Lie, even as it hath taught them, they should abide in him, that is, in Christ Jesus, from whom this Anointing doth come. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

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)

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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.

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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)

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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!)

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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?)

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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)