January 31, 2006

Opening myself to Scripture

A strange thing is happening ever so slowly in my Quaker life these days: I am looking up passages in Scripture.

I wouldn't say that the Scriptures are being opened to me as they were opened to George Fox. Fox, after all, had read the Bible and knew it, supposedly, backwards and forwards. As I understand it, at some point what Fox was reading took on new meaning for him as he came in touch with the Spirit that gave forth those words.

In my case, however, it's new for me even to read a passage from the Bible, let alone get in touch with any Life or Power that gave forth The Word.

It so happens that I started being more curious about certain parts of Scripture because of my encounters with Friends--either in print or through conversation. For example, while reading a number of pamphlets, texts, and online essays, I began to see how references to the Bible were adding weight and dimension to the points the authors were wanting to make, whether about Quaker practice or as a metaphor to make a concept clearer.

I saw how Quaker bloggers were linking to a Bible search engine when they quoted Scripture. I began to see that the writing of Scripture was not all about who begat whom, or what sinister army was destroyed by what God-anointed one.

And most important of all, no one was forcing me to read and quote Scripture. I was discovering it for myself.

It's been like drops in a bucket. At first, I could hardly tell that anything was accumulating from the few references I had come across in my reading. But since I've kept on reading, and since I've kept on having conversations with Friends who are familiar with Scripture, well, I've kept on coming across and hearing about references to Scripture.

It was this most recent First Day, though, when I looked in my bucket... and saw that yes indeed, water was collecting there.

Over the two-and-a-half years or so of worshiping in the worship group, a few Friends there have been sharing parts of Scripture as it relates to their own spiritual journey and daily struggles. I have never felt threatened by these comments; it has always been clear to me that within the worship group, the Bible holds power, meaning, and Life for some of these Friends.

It's also probably no coincidence--it's actually probably God's doing--that the worship group has been meeting in a church's fellowship room, where there are a number of Bibles on a bookshelf. On a couple of occasions of late, one Friend or another has pulled a Bible off the shelf, looking for something in particular to share with the rest of us.

And then for some reason, this past First Day, when one Friend spoke about how twice in two weeks he has reflected on the parable of the sower, I found myself wanting to understand why that parable spoke to this Friend in the way that it did.

I cared about the Friend too much to not read what was speaking to him, and so after worship, I approached the Friend and asked where I might find that parable in the Bible. He pulled a Bible off the now-familiar shelf, quickly found the passage for me, and then excused himself to tend to his family's needs.

When I got home, I looked up the passage again, this time online, and read beyond the specific parable to which the Friend had referred. It was an added bonus, then, to come across the admonition against putting a lamp under a bowl, and the importance of "using our measure" (Mark 4:21-25). Here in one short section of the Bible were two essential "advices" of Quakerism:

1. that we not hide our light under a bushel; and

2. that we live up to the measure of Light we have been given... and even more will be granted us.

As a result of this emerging curiosity about Scripture, now I'm going to have to consider whether or not to get the booklet that has the Bible studies from the 2005 Gathering, since they are written by Thomas Gates, whose pamphlet on the functions of meeting had spoken so deeply to my condition...



Joe G. said...

I recently started to reread the whole bible in a year. I haven't done that in a long time. I find that as I have opened myself to Scripture, whatever it might say or how I might react, the more it opens to me. I want to get the booklet by Gates, too! Thanks for sharing this Liz. You truly are an open person!

Claire said...

Wow, I've been having a similar sort of experience, in a different sort of way, though. I used to have such an aversion to the Bible, and references to it would make me uncomfortable, but almost a year ago this started to fade.

Through conversations, blogs, and writings by other Friends or spiritual people, I've come across many Bible references. I began to feel a need for a deeper understanding, to find the gems in what I once dismissed as a book with too much corrupted historical influence and too many contradictions. A couple months ago I began to feel a strong need to familiarize myself with the Bible and Scripture. I finally sat down started reading it this last month (unsure where to start at first, but then I just read Matthew), and have also developed a serious interest in the early history of Christianity, and hunger to learn more about Jesus as a historical figure, and also his place in the contemporary world.

It's a little overwhelming, and I'm trying to have patience with myself - when I develop strong interests I have a tendency to want to know everything NOW, or VERY SOON, and with such an overwhelming amount to learn, that's simply not possible.

I am very interested in getting the Bible studies from the 2005 Gathering booklet by Thomas Gates - Jeff Hipp pointed me to it this past First Day. (Unfortunately, there are also a ton of other books on my wishlist, too!)

Alright - I'll stop rambling now! I just very much identify with beginning this new study!

Love and Light,

Contemplative Scholar said...

I too have recently felt led to become better acquainted with the Bible -- but I'm struggling! (See Bible Wonderings.) Starting from the beginning is giving me new insight about a lot of issues in our world today, however. I am seeing much more clearly where certain lines of thinking come from.

David Carl said...


I attended the Bible Half-Hours on which the Gates pamphlet is based. I would say the talks were a good introduction to -- and argument for -- the Bible as a component of liberal Quakerism. Gates contends that we must mind the spirit, which really can only be experienced in a realm beyond words, but that we also need language to convey to one another and others what we are experiencing. (Very loose paraphrasing here!)

I also came across the Quaker Psychology group's table (forget the exact name) at FGC. They had a flyer disussing Jung and noting that the Bible provided early Friends a rich store of symbols and imagery. So for what its worth, but this sort of reinforced Gates'point for me.

Finally, part of "being Quaker" today means encountering Friends with many different points of view about religion. I really do want to be conversant with the sources that animate Friends and others in such a central and important manner. To a great extent, these sources make up my own DNA as well: even the most horrific aspects of the old testament help us to understand where we come from.

Take care,


Liz Opp said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. I feel affirmed in where I am in my journey among Friends, simply because you each are willing to share the place where you currently are--or recently have been--around your own comfort with reading Scripture.

I'm also struck by the movement of the Spirit around a concurrent interest in Gates' Bible study's booklet, and I appreciate Dave Carl's comment on his personal experience from last summer's Gathering, where Gates presented the Bible half-hours each morning.

As for the Quaker psychology group that Dave Carl refers to, I believe that's the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology, which typically holds its conference each year in the eastern United States over the Memorial Day Weekend. Their website has a few articles about Quakerism and Jungian psychology as well.

Other comments and reflections:

No doubt I'll peek every now and then at the Bible Wonderings that Contemplative Scholar has pointed out, but I know I also have to take very small, careful bites if I want to be sure not to throw off my spiritual digestive system! smile

What I really appreciate about each of your responses, including those of Joe G. and Claire, is that none of you rush me into looking at other parts of Scripture. You all offer what has been helpful to your own path while also witnessing me on mine.

It reminds me of a reference I read awhile ago, in some Quaker text somewhere, that with Friends who are new to the ministry--new to offering vocal ministry, new to bringing forward their gifts and other forms of their ministry--we Friends with more experience must be careful not to tread heavily on these tender grasses that are emerging among us...


Contemplative Scholar said...

Liz wrote: "No doubt I'll peek every now and then at the Bible Wonderings that Contemplative Scholar has pointed out, but I know I also have to take very small, careful bites if I want to be sure not to throw off my spiritual digestive system! smile"

My reply: Yes, I fully and completely understand!

The "Bible Wonderings" are not writings I would actually want to recommend, as such, to anyone! (wry smile) Those writings represent an honest and rugged journey -- not a pretty sight. Lots of limping and dust and sunburn.

Paul L said...

Liz -- Look for a new book by Paul Buckley on how Quakers read the Bible (I'm not sure of the precise title) to be published by the Earlham School of Religion within the next two weeks. From what he's told me about it, I think it'll provide a lot of good guidance.

Anonymous said...

Your post really spoke to me. I'm coming up on my one-year anniversary of Biblical curiousity, actually... it was Midwinter Gathering last year, rooming with Kat and Judy, that began opening my spirit to that particular source of divine Light. Lying in bed listening to them read aloud from their favorite psalms was incredibly powerful. It helped me understand the spiritual energy I had heard Christians (only occasionally Friends)speak of with regards to that text. I went home and started asking Friends to recommend translations and favorite passages, and began from there.

It's such an rich part of my spiritual practice now. I appreciate your writing on it; it is, as you said, always a blessing to have your place on the spiritual path validated and related to by others walking on it.

Im peace,

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Kody, great to see you stop by, and to learn more about your own experience with Scripture.

Imagine how much fire there'd be if we regularly shared our favorite Quaker texts, our most treasured Quaker practices, our favorite passages from Scripture, our joy of feeling filled with the Light of the Divine!


Unknown said...


I'm so encouraged and inspired by this post. I'm in seminary right now and so much of our reading from the Bible (if we do any of it) is for academic purposes, when to me it's always before been a spiritual journey of some sort. Good to get a breath of fresh air from one who is seeking the Light through this ancient text.

It's so encouraging, too, that Friends from different perspectives are finding the Spirit in this text again after what seems like a dry spell of either rejection or fundamentalism.

Thanks for your honesty and your willingness to seek the Light wherever it leads.

Liz Opp said...


Thanks for stopping by... and for your enthusiastic comment! I feel encouraged, even while I cannot know where I am being led... or how long it will take me wherever it is I am going.