April 20, 2006

Another great read from Thomas Gates

I just finished reading the "Bible half-hours" that were offered by Tom Gates as FGC's 2005 Gathering. Since I consider myself Scripturally illiterate, I was hesistant about buying and cracking open this small, humble pamphlet that FGC put out after that Gathering... But then it showed up at an FGC event I attended recently and, well, Opening the Scriptures came home with me.

Just as in his earlier pamphlet Members One of Another, Tom Gates gives voice to dynamics and concepts that many Friends are slow to articulate or even explore.

Rather than rewrite and paraphrase this Friend, I include a few direct quotes here and add the page numbers from the pamphlet, Opening the Scriptures.

On the difficulty of using what he calls "religious language"

I can't help seeing a contrast between the rich spiritual language of early Friends and our modern spiritual reticence, a poverty of language, a reluctance to put into words that which is most important in our lives... Our modern dilemma in a nutshell: unable to find the perfect word, we lapse into silence. (pp. 14, 15)
[There] is a very stark realization, that we do not always know how to talk about God, or at least how to talk about God together, as a community. We often seem to be speaking different languages, or just as as commonly, no language at all.... As a consequence, we say less and less, and our shared language is reduced to platitudes...(p. 18)
Gates also writes very clearly about Fox's understanding of the Light, its properties and its functions; and the Seed as metaphor.

For me personally, though, the other gem that is in this pamphlet, in addition to his remarks about religious language, is what Tom Gates writes about "the yoke of our tradition" as Friends.

Understanding the yoke of our tradition

In our time, we... find the image of a yoke difficult to swallow because it implies some kind of limit on our freedom, and deep down we are heirs to the enlightenment idea that there can be no legitimate limits to human freedom.... But perhaps unlimited freedom is not our highest purpose.... Perhaps there is a certain amount of irreducible suffering that every person must bear, and if that is true, something to help us bear that burden might be a good thing. A yoke is exactly that: something that helps us bear a burden.... [In Matthew 11:28-30], we might see this yoke as something which Jesus imposes upon us, but I prefer to see it as the yoke which Jesus himself wears, and which he offers to share with us. A young and inexperienced work horse is trained by first being yoked together wtih a more experienced animal. (pp. 54-55)
In this way, as we delve more deeply into the early tradition of Friends, not only might we come to understand how we are yoked to God but we might also come to understand how we can grow in the Spirit by allowing ourselves to be yoked to one another, so we might learn what it means to be faithful, what it means to nurture the Seed within us, what it means to be made low and wait humbly on the Lord, to know the Light.

I know for me, in my experience, it is only when I stop wrestling with God, when I yield, give over my stubbornness, and receive the burden--that is, take up the yoke that God is presenting to me--it is only then that I feel a weight lifted from me. The weight is not entirely removed, but it is somehow made lighter, and I can breathe and move forward again.


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Related posts*

Beppe on Gates' other pamphlet
My own post on opening myself to scripture
Another, more recent post of mine that has a reference to the concept of being yoked together

*This is certainly a partial list--I know I've missed quite a few posts that exist in the archives of the Quaker blogosphere. For example, I know Kwakersaur recently raised a question about Friends' infrequent mention of Scripture as part of vocal ministry, but I couldn't find it!

I hope readers will use the comments section to refer us to other posts that reflect these themes. Thanks. -Liz

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