Epistle, Fourth Month 2006
What follows is the written response to an exercise for a Quaker workshop I am attending. The assignment was to write a statement of my "rock-bottom truths." Maybe it's because of reading Samuel Bownas, or maybe it's because of some excerpts from Fox that I'm reading, but I found myself writing something that felt more like an epistle--sharing the experience as a whole with others--rather than writing a list of This-I-believe's.
The epistle is written in the first person plural rather than the first person singular. I find that both voices work for me, yet each carries a separate energy. Since the words came to me in the "we" form rather than the "I" form, that is how I am presenting this piece to you.
When we are come to be known by the Living Presence, that which is eternal and lives within us and gives life beyond us, when we are free with our vulnerabilities and with our failings, then shall we be opened even moreso to the Love and Compassionate Power that we seek.
Yet God does not ask us to be weak or timid; God prods us and nudges us into our awakened state so that we may know our measure of Light and we may yield unto it and we may live up unto it, giving ourselves completely to it so that we may be well used, exhausted with our joy of having lived a faithful life.
And even as we fall spiritually asleep in our daytime lives of busyness and city errands, yet the Spirit travels with us and does not abandon us. Like a parent who is at a loss for how to care for a daughter or son who has strayed from the family’s values and manner, into a world of material temptation, God frets with loving concern over our drifting away from the holy values and manner of love, spiritual obedience, and communal generosity.
God waits up for us into the quiet hours of dawn, sneaks up the stairs with us, catching the secret smells of the world’s pressures in our clothes and on our breath. This is how close God is to us, ourselves unknowing and skeptical. We go through our despairing days and our frenetic lives, never seeing that God has slipped into our back-pocket, like a spare twenty.
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The Great Comforter presents itself most clearly when we stop pursuing material goals, when we lay down our reaching for trophies that set ourselves one against another, when we give up insisting that our personal rights must be preserved regardless of the brokenness and care of others.
We are all in this together. We are yoked together with God.
There is no law greater than the Single Law to love one another, to nurture the Seed in one another through preserving dignity, offering respect, and demonstrating authentic humility. This Law does not go away in times of duress or struggle. In fact its need is greatest at the worst of these times, and we are bridled to this work...
And so: how ought we to prepare ourselves for God’s compassion? The preparation is in the practice and discipline of receiving.
To say Thank You when one offers a compliment. To yield into an embrace when one is offered. To meet the tender gaze of another’s eyes without turning away in discomfort.
God says Thank You and Bless You and I Am With You more often than we can know. God embraces us secretly and openly in each moment of our days. God gazes softly at us in wonder and in tenderness. All this and more does God bring to us, and we must be careful not to shirk it off, turn our heads, cool our hearts, fill our days, and wait for God to strike us down with lightning, or whack us smartly on the head so that we may know for certain that God is paying attention.
Instead, we must discipline ourselves to be with the discomfort of welcoming and receiving God’s love, grace, and blessing. We must discipline ourselves to be with the discomfort of being good enough, of being seen, of being known. Somehow we are taught to believe that if we are truly known, we will be abandoned. But I say, when we are truly known, we shall be embraced and uplifted, we shall go out with joy and be met with laughter, we shall shine like the sun and we shall spill our measure of Light onto the sidewalks, and the hearts of those around us shall catch the fire of the Spirit, and their rough edges will be made smooth and the good in them will be raised up.