Seed embodies potential and active response. It also acknowledges the individual nature of each variety and place, as well as the universal process of photosynthesis reacting to a common source of Light.
If early Friends were imprecise in their definition of Seed – whether it was Christ or grace or the body of believers or even the Light, for instance – they were insistent on a personal experience of this transforming force. “Hast thou been fruitful?” was a common greeting among Friends.
To understand Christ as Light, as early Friends did, also allows another connection, a parallel construction: Jesus as Seed, the most perfect embodiment of response and human potential, an example for all to grow in.
Originating in the mid-1600s in England, Friends understood that church meant the body of believers – not the building, not the denomination, not the structure of hierarchy. Thus, you didn’t go to church – you gathered with the church. And so, the church (that is, people) met.
The gathering of the faithful, and their time of worship, quickly became known as a meeting.
Emphasizing Seed, more than the emerging plant or person, returns us to its inherent potential – not just in this particular generation, but in those to come, as well.
Energy is stored and released across time and place, to work transformation and healing. The Seed metaphor intensifies a comprehension of the Light, and provides a unique and organic identity of faith for the Society of Friends.
In seed, ultimately, the cycle of life remains unbroken. Here we may consider the Alpha and Omega, indeed.
We call them “benches,” not “pews.” And they’re movable, not fixed to the floor. But as we’ve adapted more of the meetinghouse to other functions, chairs have replaced benches in some rooms. So what do you do with the old ones?
This insight, drawn largely from the opening of the Gospel of John, is one of the central differences between Friends and most Protestants, especially those of the Calvinist strands. Sometimes people will use “the Living Word” to distinguish between Jesus and Scripture, though I usually sense their usage soon becomes blurred.
The final chapter of the New Testament returns to an expression of Seed – in a multiplicity of varieties, at that:
and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits … and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse … Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life …
In a flash, the Bible leaps from the Garden of Eden to the end of Revelation through the imagery of two trees and their fruit filled with seeds.
Seed opens silently, usually unseen, over a period. In the stillness, it can be felt as sprouting, perhaps repeatedly, like a burning bush without extinction. Seed can be the gift of life itself. If you enter into that Seed, you may find a place of calm, patience, nourishment, protection. The Seed itself miraculously expands, surrounding your physical body. From this perspective, I keep coming back to Meeting for Worship to continue this growth and awareness.
Traditionally, Quaker meetings recognized and nurtured individuals who had spiritual gifts as ministers, elders, or overseers. These roles could be filled by men or women, and their service extended over the entire congregation.
A person who offered vocal ministry during worship might be designated as a minister, if the messages were considered theologically sound. Because a minute would be drafted and approved in the meeting’s records, the individual would be known as a recorded minister.
Elders were those who held the ministers and ministry in prayer through the service. In other traditions, they might be called bishops, except that in Friends meetings, they function within the congregation, rather than over it.
Overseers were individuals who were skilled in sensing the needs of others and in knowing how to respond. They were the ones who could transform the meeting for worship into a community of faith or a people of God.
Above the coffee pots in our meetinghouse sits this painting, originally used as an illustration in an edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s collected poems.
The particular poem is “How the Women Went from Dover,” telling how three Quaker women came to town in 1662, preaching and teaching until they were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to cruel punishment. It was the start of our Friends Meeting, the fifth oldest congregation in the state. Despite continuing persecution, nearly a third of the population became Quaker.