January 14, 2010

Marty Grundy's pamphlet "Early Friends & Ministry"

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had recently read Marty Grundy's pamphlet Early Friends & Ministry. Marty is frequently called upon to speak to Friends about some element of early Quakerism and how it was practiced, or about the life and leadings of an early Quaker figure.

I was eager to get my hands on this pamphlet when it was made available. I was supposed to have attended a retreat for the Friends General Conference Traveling Ministries Program in the spring of 2009, during which Marty would've presented many of the remarks found in the pamphlet. I had to cancel my plans to attend that retreat because I was sick, and it sickened me in a different way that I had missed hearing her in person.

One thing I have consistently liked about Marty and her writing is that she articulates certain subtleties about Quakerism that speak to my condition. She also speaks to my concern about traditions that may be falling away from the faith as practiced by modern Liberal Friends.

For example, after drawing on the words of some early Friends, Marty reminds us that "the goal of early Friends was to experience and live in obedience to the indwelling Divine Presence, to be made pure and holy, and to live in friendship and spiritual empathy with the entire Quaker community. (p. 7)"

Based on some of the vocal ministry I've heard recently, I worry that some of us, some of our meetings, are losing our focus about just who or what we're supposed to pay attention to. Sometimes the messages in worship seem to focus on remembering how great we are, or remembering how great the community is, or remembering what good works we can do.

Without the reminder for us to "experience and live in obedience to the indwelling Divine Presence," wouldn't we be just like any other support group? Without that reminder, that a Living Principle can speak to our condition directly, what would distinguish a Quaker group from any other group or congregation, for that matter?

Is not having a minister, rabbi, liturgy, or hymns really the message that Quakers want to bring to the world today?

Another subtlety that Marty points out has to do with how modern friends have come to accept terms like "the Light," "the Inward Teacher," etc. Much of why we can use these terms so freely, especially when there is a broad variety of belief among us, Marty points out, is because "early Friends were not so shy" when it came to defining those terms.

Marty also spends time talking about the phrase "refiner's fire," how that phrase was used by early Friends, and how that fire acted upon them, including this example by George Fox:
...[And] then the spiritual discerning came into me, by which I did discern my own thoughts, groans and sighs, and what it was that did fail me, and what it was that did open me.... (p. 6)
Just that phrase alone, "refiner's fire," gave me something to ponder deeply during my next two Meetings for Worship.

(It may be that modern Friends are more familiar with George Fox's Epistle X, which speaks in a different way to this sort of experience...)

I reflected on times in my own life when I felt that the Light of God--this sort of refining fire--was somehow purifying me, shining a light into my soul that allowed me to look at where I had wronged someone, or where I had fallen short, or where my ego had gotten in the way of my listening for God. The experience was both a searing one and one of tremendous release:

I could look honestly at my behaviors, feel God's love for me anyway, and receive the spiritual courage and guidance on how to move forward.

It's a strange thing, to feel fear, love, and release, one on the heels of the other, in such a short amount of time, within a few ticks of the clock...

There are lots of other bits and pieces in this pamphlet worth savoring. For example, Marty has a gift for putting things in a much larger context, and in this pamphlet, she writes about the time that preceded the founding of Quakerism, the attitudes that were prevalent at the time, and how that era led into the next.

And she offers some challenges for modern Friends, too, including comparing today's individualism with that of early Friends, as well as the weight that early Friends gave to the corporate body.

With the Spirit working through Marty's voice, she also successfully pokes at me, personally, and the half of the coin I have been forgetting to consider in my day to day life:
It was also expected that they [early Friends] would add deeper commitments to their daily lives as they became able to do so; it wasn't a matter of picking and choosing bits with which they were comfortable and complacently ignoring the rest...

The question for us is, are we exemplars of faithful living...? Are we open to ongoing nudges from the Spirit to cling more closely to the Root while continuing to discard things, activities, acquaintances, habits, and thought patterns that distract us from closer obedience?... (p.11) (emphasis mine)
At the end of the pamphlet, Marty lifts up the prophetic nature of Quakerism--a topic that I can tell is working slowly on me at a deep level.

Like the corporate nature of our faith tradition, the prophetic nature of Quakerism seems to be seldom talked about. Or maybe more precisely, it's talked about a lot, but it's not named as prophetic.

Well, I sense this post has run its course, so I will leave it as it is.



Anonymous said...

Cool post as for me. I'd like to read a bit more concerning this theme. Thanx for giving that material.
Joan Stepsen
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anj said...

Thanks for posting this. It sounds like a timely pamphlet for me and I am on my way to ordering it!

Mary Ellen said...

Thanks, Liz. Good reminders to ponder. (We chewed over a chapter in Lloyd Lee Wilson's book for our Nominating Committee retreat - some people had difficulty accepting or "translating" the theistic language - this surprised me! How else can we do our committee work than letting the Light direct us?)

Liz Opp said...

Hmm, I thought I replied to these comments... Is Blogger flaking out or am I???

Joan - Welcome, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

Anj -

I hope the pamphlet speaks to you in a meaningful way. I enjoy sharing bits about readings that help open me and enrich my understanding...

Mary Ellen -

When I served on Ministry & Counsel, I too was surprised by the number of things Friends said that... well,... surprised me--about questions they had about some pretty fundamental elements of Quakerism and the like.

To me, as in your case, it's evidence that our "Quietism" has gone too far and we are not being explicit enough to newcomers and even to regular attenders about what is at the core of our faith tradition:

a Loving Principle or Mystery that joins us to one another;

loving care and loving kindness for one another and for strangers so that we may be one in That Which Is Eternal;

the direct and immediate relationship that we can have with that Loving Principle, so that we may be Guided and Led into our full measure of Light;

and so on.

I worry that unprogrammed Friends spend too much time exploring and talking about and engaging in peace-and-social-justice issues without grounding ourselves in these foundations.

But perhaps I am speaking to the choir. smile