Getting intimate with soul

For me, a significant breakthrough arises in envisioning soul not as a vehicle we ride through eternity but as the Seed. That is, the soul or Seed is perceived as an abode or agent within us where we encounter the Light – or perhaps even where the Light penetrates us.

This is the discernment I find embodied in many expressions of soul in the Hebrew Bible.

For instance, in the Psalms: my soul is sore vexed, let me tear my soul like a lion, he restoreth my soul, I humbled my soul with fasting, heal my soul, I pour out my soul in me, my soul waiteth upon the Lord, my soul thirsteth for thee, my soul refuseth to be comforted, my soul longeth, rejoice the soul of thy servant, my soul is full of troubles, my soul had almost dwelt in silence, thy comforts delight my soul, bless the Lord oh my soul, the hungry soul with goodness, my soul melteth for heaviness, my soul is continually in my hand, let my soul live and it shall praise, my soul is even as a weaned child, bring my soul out of prison, and so on …

These are all emotional, experiential, and varied reactions somewhere deep within individual awareness and identity.

In other words, while we may speak of this as a place of soul or Seed, it is also a realm of psychology and the fine arts as much as theology – a dimension contemporary Friends already live within.



In the end, ours is a deeply personal faith

The best writing and best vocal ministry among us come from the well of individual experience, and even when it counsels us to a course of action, its voice seems to arise more in confession and self-discovery than from any outward agenda. What we have is both timeless and fresh.

Paradoxically, this has also called us to be part of a community of faith – individuals who also respond to this voice. The fact that we have come to sit facing one another in a circle – or, more accurately, what we call a hollow square – says something about the value we place on each other’s presence in this enlarging vision.

These days, as I look at our committee structure, I find myself seeing it recast as “ministries” – where each of us may grow and blossom through service. Ideally, then, the inward and outward would come together.


The (garden) plot thickens

In the opening chapter of Genesis, seed is even presented as the basis for morality itself: “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind, and God saw that it was good” – good here as both nutrition and righteousness.

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; and to you it shall be for meat. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Only in the Garden of Eden, in the second chapter of Genesis, is the concept of limitations introduced, again as seed, where some fruit may prove toxic to humans. Curiously, this is entwined with ethical comprehension and an awareness of individual mortality. As they say, the plot thickens.



How humbling, indeed

I’ve never asked previous clerks how they experienced sitting at the head of an institution founded in the 1660s, but I find it humbling.

The mere thought of superintending the construction of our present meetinghouse in 1768 is overwhelming enough, as is the faithfulness that led the congregation through the American Revolutionary and Civil wars. The succession of mighty Quakers who came here in traveling ministry reflects the history of the movement itself, beginning with an elderly Elizabeth Hooten, who first nurtured George Fox in the emerging faith.

Dover Friends originally sat down to worship in primitive homes and barns, then in our first two meetinghouses, and finally in the room we know so well.

There aren’t many places in the United States having organizations with such long histories. We know only a portion of ours.


In the dim filtering of time

As Friends continued to express a varied awareness of the Light, they eventually inverted its meaning from a central Light pouring into the human heart; nowadays, this Light is commonly presented instead as an innate illumination from within. Regrettably, any expression of the Seed has fallen away altogether. In effect, the modern expression of “Inner Light” obscures and occupies a range of thought belonging to the Seed, while losing the awareness of Inward Light altogether.


The Seed, initially, is the most problematic of the three central Quaker metaphors

On one hand, it may be seen as the most original, yet it was left as the least developed of the three. Because early Quakers were hardly methodical in their usage of imagery, these concepts can be seen evolving and mutating over time, even within the writing of a single Friend. Combined with the widespread and frenzied activity of the early Quaker movement, as well as inhibitions in the face of the Blasphemy Act, the resulting literature can often blur any distinctions between Light and Truth or Light and Seed, so that they will at times appear synonymous, while at other times quite discrete. Often, the Seed is presented as identical to the Light or to Christ. Sometimes, it might appear to be Jesus. Yet it can also be envisioned as the individual response to the Light – that is, what the Psalms call “soul.” It might even be considered as that image of God in which each person is created.

Considering today’s emphasis on individuality, plurality, and personal psychology, I believe that returning to the metaphor of the Seed holds the most potential for fertile spiritual development and guidance in our own era.

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A text comes alive when it prompts people to talk about their own lives

As a poet and novelist, I’ve long struggled with those who search Scripture for “God’s laws” – that is, something far more cut-and-dried than the drama and humanity I see in the stories. I’ve come to look for movies and operas, rather than “thou shalt not” directives or even speed limits.

When I heard that John Calvin, founder of much of the Protestant movement, trained as a lawyer, suddenly that whole line of legalistic thought came into focus. Followed by the traditional story that the day he left the University of Paris, young Ignatius of Layola showed up, on his way to founding the counter-Reformation Jesuits (who, in the Spanish conquest of Latin America, became the world’s biggest slave owners). I wouldn’t be the first to wonder about the direction of Christianity had the early church continued in the direction set by the former slave Patrick in Ireland, rather than his contemporary, the Roman orator/lawyer Augustine in Africa.

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