January 21, 2010

How God reaches us

Shortly after I finished reading Marty Grundy's pamphlet Early Friends & Ministry, I considered more fully the purifying sear of what early Friends sometimes called the refiner's fire. Marty touched on how this quality of the Light helps us understand how we block God's presence in our lives and what blocks us from opening to receive God's love.

So it is that when we pass through the refiner's fire, we are made to become more truly ourselves and what God intended us to be. We become more ready to live up to our measure of the Light we have been given.

In a Meeting for Worship shortly after I finished reading Marty's pamphlet, I also began to consider the phrase "that of God in everyone." I found myself reflecting on some of the writings of Margaret Fell, as shared by Michael Birkel in his Pendle Hill Pamphlet The Messenger That Goes Before.*

Margaret Fell writes beautifully about "that of God" while making it clear that what each of us has inwardly that IS of God--our measure of the Light--is not identical from person to person.

And because of that, God must reach each of us through different means.

As I sat with that statement, I found myself thinking of how the key to my front door does not turn the lock to my backdoor, yet the doors belong to the same house. If my neighbor and I own the same make and model of car, the ignition key to my car does not start the ignition to the car my neighbor drives.

All mechanical keys are similar to one another, yet each one opens--or answers to--only one lock.

Once we ourselves understand both the refinement process and that "that of God" is unique in each of us, then we ourselves can practice the discipline of answering that of God in one another--not necessarily by being "identically kind" to one another but by striving to know how to interact with our brothers and sisters, so their own blocks to God's love and guidance might be cleared away; so that their lock may be opened and God may find a way into their hearts.


*There are other, more comprehensive books dedicated to the writings of Margaret Fell.

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.