In many ways, this post is a continuation of my previous post, about the workshop on Taking up the Cross, offered by Margery Post Abbott. I'm not sure how organized I'll make these pieces, but I believe they are worth sharing, even if rough form.
What is it to be a Friend?
This question is what Marge started us with, speaking out of the opening worship. Here is some of what she offered, to set the tone:
1. It involves an attitude of waiting and attending: This form of waiting is waiting for something to happen, as well as being ready to serve, as in waiting tables.
2. To know Christ inwardly, we need to take up the Cross and live into the Kingdom of God.
3. We seek the Truth by turning inward: By engaging in times of retirement as individuals, and by engaging in times of worship as a community.
When these three things happen, they can build a broken and tender community that will allow for the in-breaking of the Spirit.
Love... and the paradox of the Cross
Within the Cross is an intersection of horrible suffering and infinite love. Marge's companion in ministry, Ken Jacobsen, spent some time talking about Love and its relationship with the Cross:
The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love.I took this to mean that when we take up the Cross, we are tested to love one another beyond what we ever believed we would be asked to do. At one point, Ken added this:
Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that same Love will also sustain us and lift us up.Later, the group returned to the theme of love and noted a few other things:
- The fact that we try to love brings us closer to doing just that.
- When something rises up in us to resist the Love that is offered, and because God is Love, we must be willing to lay aside our ego and instead follow God's will.
- Love is transcendent. Even death cannot stop Love's transcendent nature, and the Love of those who have passed away can reach across death's threshold and be among us.
Taking up the Cross and our relationship with God
At one point, someone raised the question, "What's the difference between having a relationship with God and taking up the Cross?" My own reflections in response to that question are these:
- There are lots of different ways to be in relationship with God. Taking up the Cross is a specific experience that we hadn't expected or, for many of us, hadn't been told about and certainly don't ask for.
- The experience of being pierced by the Light might also be connected with taking up the Cross. It's not about being shown something that we hadn't been ready to see or know before: It's more about recognizing that to deny God's call brings us more pain than being faithful to the call itself.
- When we take up the Cross, we rely more heavily on the Guide to lead us through the difficulty. It may be days, weeks, or years later before we can understand what that trial was about, but if we have carried it out in love and humility, knowing we have been faithful despite the burning pain, our relationship with God will have been deepened.
The Cross as symbol?
At one point later in the day, a Friend challenged all of us to consider that the Cross is a symbol and that "Quakers don't do symbols."
It's true that unprogrammed Friends engage in a form of worship that focuses on the stripping away of outward symbols. We don't establish alters, use incense, ring bells, or even sing hymns to prepare ourselves. Rather, we are to leave the matters of the world behind as we approach our place of worship, opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit.
The danger of having outward symbols is that a symbol and even the story around it can become an idol, and we can mistakenly begin to worship the symbol rather than the Living Presence to which that symbol points.
It's often hard for me in the moment to find the words I want to say, but reflecting on this piece brings me back to this element of Quakerism:
- Quakers embody and internalize all sorts of outward symbols inwardly.
The Christian story and the Quaker tradition
During the workshop, we were reminded that even Christ wasn't an outward symbol for early Friends. They believed and experienced the Living Christ as real and immediate.
For all of our wrestling with our modern version of Quaker tradition, theology, and spirituality, I think it was Marge who made this point:
Early Friends didn't have a tradition to wrestle with! But modern Friends wrestle with what we understand to be the Quaker tradition.Early Friends encountered the Christian story in a new way, forgoing both the established tradition and the recognized authority--the Church--of their time.
Today's Friends also wrestle with what we perceive to be authority, establishment, and tradition. We don't care for being put into boxes or identified by labels, let alone being told what to do and how to do it. Maybe it's because so many Quakers are White or because we are American or because we are primarily middle class that we have to take something that is given to us and re-make it, rejecting and casting out some elements while reshaping and even elaborating on others.
But I unite with what Ken Jacobsen stated, and I'm paraphrasing here: To retain its vitality, the Quaker tradition must be transformed into our lives.
P.S. I hope to wind up this series of posts with a shorter one about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from faithfulness.
My own reflection on Taking up the Cross
Some thoughts about spiritual accompaniment and joy out of faithfulness