August 31, 2007

Faithfulness and obedience

In recent weeks, I've been holding the concepts of faithfulness and obedience side by side. I sense intuitively--or maybe it's that I know experimentally--that the two are different in some way, and I haven't been quite ready to explore how.

And then I came across a short post from Friendly Mama, in which Mary Linda reflects on her own inward turning to a readiness of being obedient and of service.

Here's an excerpt of a comment I left:

Obedience has been a word that has been "traveling" with me, too, of late....

Like you, I went through a subtle but important turning point in my faith journey among Friends, during which I shifted from "participating in the meeting" to "offering myself to the Spirit," making myself available to serve.

Need I say that my life as a Friend really hasn't been the same since...?!
The distinction feels important to me, so I'm going to take a whack at pulling the threads apart and see what comes of it.

It seems to me that it is a weightier matter to be obedient than it is to be faithful, though both are important within Quakerism. At first glance, I might attribute the sense of weightiness to the frequency with which these two words are used among Friends: it's almost as though the less frequent a word is used (i.e. "obedience"), the more weight is given to it.

The early query, which still is used here and there among Friends today, is "Was thee faithful, did thee yield?" It wasn't "Was thee obedient, did thee yield?"

Is there a reason why the one query exists in Quaker vernacular but not the other?

Is there an implied greater degree of difficulty, that to lay aside one's own ambition in order to be obedient is more difficult when compared to acting faithfully to an inward prompt, for example?

Does the faithful act already draw upon an unspoken or innate "alignment" between what we personally wish to pursue and what we understand God asks or instructs us to pursue? Does being obedient entail acknowledging and feeling our inner tantrum in the face of recognizing that God wants us to do the very thing we don't want to do?

So when it is "compared" to faithfulness, does obedience point to more intense labor and wrestling before we finally yield, before our own will is broken in order that we might follow God's? Does obedience require more of us--more humility and being low in order to allow ourselves to become an instrument of the Spirit?

Of course, the questions and the answers to them are rather insignificant in the Big Picture. It is far more important that we live into being faithful and obedient servants than it is to understand why or how faithfulness and obedience differ.

But these questions have been with me, and now they are with you as well. Thanks, as always, for reading me.



Michael said...

Thank you, Liz.

Your attention to the word "obedience" offers me a very different perspective on a challenge about which I posted yesterday.

"Does being obedient entail acknowledging and feeling our inner tantrum in the face of recognizing that God wants us to do the very thing we don't want to do?"

This speaks to me in an uncomfortable yet necessary way.

Bl├ęssed Be,

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for stopping by, Michael. I am glad you thought to include the link to your own post in your comment. I appreciate what you have written there.

I suppose I could have included another section on Comfort/Discomfort, or retitled the final section "Difficulty and Discomfort," but such is life. I still have more consideration to give to the concepts of faithfulness and obedience.

Do take care, and I'm sure we'll stay in touch as we continue to travel this path.


Rich in Brooklyn said...

Hi Liz,

This is a good post. My comment touches only one small tangent of it: your quotation of the 'early query' as "Was thee faithful; did thee yield?" This strikes me as a lovely query. Can you tell me of a primary source demonstrating that it was an early query among Friends? I ask because I've sometimes found that sayings, practices, and insights attributed to early Friends are actually more recent in origin.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans (Brooklyn Quaker)

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Rich--

I appreciate the question and it does have me thinking! You are right to ask about the origin of the phrase. I have used it and referred to it as an "early query" most likely because that is the reference I was given when I first heard it--which of course is now lost to memory, whenever that "first time" was!

So far, with what little (internet) research I've carried out, I have come across a remark from Douglas Steere, from a longer piece:

One of our members leaves directly [after MfW], and it is not her Sunday dinner that is responsible. She says that her cup is often so filled at meeting that she is not quite fit to talk about things in general at this point but feels that she must hold it full and get home as soon as possible to see what this means for her to do. "Was thee faithful?" and "Did thee yield?" are not archaic echoes of personal queries Friends used to ask themselves centuries ago in the first flush of their discovery. More than one member has hurried off to do something on which the divine accent has settled in the meeting. (emphasis mine)

It is hard to know if Steere is saying the queries are not "archaic," or if he is saying they are not to be used "in the first flush of [a] discovery."

I had hoped to look at the online Faith & Practice, but it seems that the recent update I did to my browser is causing me difficulty in accessing a few pages I had previously been able to access! ...Or perhaps the website itself is down and any number of web-visitors are having the same trouble I am. Hrumph!

In the meantime, I have sent the question to a Friend who seems to enjoy looking up things of historical import to Quakerism, so we'll see if that turns up anything.


Liz Opp said...

Well, I have now heard back from two Friends who know a good deal more about Quaker history than I.

One Friend wonders if the personal queries "Was thee faithful? Did thee yield?" are not from early Friends, since queries historically were asked of or presented to the corporate body for consideration. These specific queries I've lifted up are very personal and individual in nature, perhaps pointing to a more recent emergence of them.

Another Friend pointed me to a few different resources, including the same passage I have referenced in my previous comment.

I was also pointed to Steere's pamphlet from Pendle Hill (#182) On Speaking Out of the Silence: Vocal Ministry in the Unprogrammed Meeting for Worship.

I also learned that since these queries likely are/were used in direct communication between Friends, one might need to scour personal correspondence in the hopes of seeing the queries written there in order to see more definitively in what time period they initially emerged.

So there: I've asked two Friends a question and have received three or four different answers!


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