I am preparing, along with my husband, to go to Britain Yearly Gathering in Bath next week. I’m trying to read the materials and prepare, but I’ve never been to Yearly Meeting and I’m not sure what to expect… or to pack… or how to prepare… despite the materials provided ahead of time. I will report back in about 10 days. Frankly, in these turbulant times, I’m not sure what Quakers have to offer. I can only think of this passage:
…13“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely. 14“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.15“Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.… (Jeremiah 6)
I am disappointed in politics and I no longer care about events in the Middle East.
I’m taking my latest read A Game of Thrones (yes, I may be the last person NOT to have read any of the books or to have seen any of the television programs). I will socialize and enjoy the city of Bath but beyond that, hopefully some silence and worship.
For George Fox and other early Quakers, there was no value in simply holding an opinion about Christ, or in any religious ‘notions’ whatsoever. All the traditional Christian ‘beliefs’ – in the incarnation, resurrection, atonement, redemption etc, are primarily symbolic expressions of experience. They have no meaning as verbal doctrines or intellectual commitments; their only value is as descriptions of real states of awareness and relationship. The ‘soaring, airy head-knowledge’ cannot help us. Real Christian faith is knowing the power of the inward presence of Christ, experiencing its struggle with the darkness of addiction and temptation within us, and coming to live a transformed life of selflessness and integrity.
The above is merely one of many great quotes from an excellent article about Quakers and Christ. I found it because I Googled ‘why British Quakers left Christ behind’ and because I, too, continually wonder what happened in the The Religious Society of Friends to make them, as a body, reject such a core belief as was held by George Fox, Robert Barclay, and other early Friends. I have my own theories, but Craig Barnett’s article is worth reading in its entirety.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of growing up in an abusive household is the trait of hyper vigilance. Growing up, I always had to be aware of my surroundings and know what everyone was doing for my own safety’s sake. One couldn’t just relax in the knowledge that the world was going to be okay whether or not I maintained my vigilance. I could not assume anything. As soon as I assumed that things were all right, then something awful happened to prove that I had been wrong or had seriously misread the circumstances.
This means that my search for meaning in life and my search for security in relationships should always hold an element of rest from hyper vigilance. If I could find something solid on which to rest my ‘vigilance hat’ then life would be more bearable and I could finally relax. As I got older I saw that this end point for which I was searching was not always cut and dried. Relationships fail because humans are notoriously unreliable. My reading of circumstances could be fooled and miscalculations occur through no fault of my own.
This meant that, for me to continue on an even keel in the world, I had to find something immovable. I had to find something that I could rely on no matter what the circumstances. Is it any wonder I turned to God? Is it any wonder that those damaged seek a sure foundation on which to rest from fighting? There are those who daily work to keep their heads above water. Some have to dodge bullets. Some are tortured. Many have addictions. Others watch as loved ones die all around them. Is it so ridiculous for those in this situation to realize that in the midst of such chaos there is something/Someone who is unchangeable by human circumstances? And here I’m not speaking of creeds or church or anything institutional, only of the concept of God.
Who cares if what we rely on as a sure foundation can’t be proven? For those of us seeking a refuge you cannot pry this certainty out of our hands. This immovable God keeps us safe in the knowledge that suffering isn’t in vain; that we can relax our vigilance if we release the consequences from our grasp. For some of us, we see answers to prayer and we see others unanswered. For some of us, we see circumstances changed or pathways opened. Secularists seem infuriated by those of us who live in what they see as ‘fantasy-land’. Reason is much more comforting, they tell us. Science has all the answers, they tell us. Why can’t you see the world as it is; abandoned by anything resembling a God or Deity? Wouldn’t life be much easier if we got beyond this ‘fiction’?
John Gray wrote a wonderful article for BBC titled “The Childlike Faith in Reason”. Gray takes on the idea that human reason is somehow superior to faith. He writes,
Speaking as an atheist myself, I can’t help smiling when I hear religion being mocked in this way. Looking at the world as it has been and continues to be at the present time, it’s belief in human reason that’s childish. Religious faith is based on accepting that we know very little of God. But we know a great deal about human beings, and one of the things we know for sure is that we’re not rational animals. Believing in the power of human reason requires a greater leap of faith than believing in God…
If human beings were potentially capable of applying reason in their lives they would show some sign of learning from what they had done wrong in the past, but history and everyday practice show them committing the same follies over and over again. They would alter their beliefs in accordance with facts, but clinging to beliefs in the face of contrary evidence is one of the most powerful and enduring human traits.
As a Quaker, I suppose it is antithetical the views of The Religious Society of Friends to say that I have no faith in humanity’s ability to do the right thing. But, I don’t think I ever had that faith in humanity and it hasn’t changed much by my being a Quaker. I have never felt that the world is basically good and oh, what a wonderful blessing it is! No, for me, the world has always required careful navigation with a huge CAUTION, DANGER AHEAD sign posted at every turning and every decision. Only when I found God in the 80s could I rest from such hyper vigilance. My faith rests on the idea of the basic inhumanity of humanity and the stability of a God who sees and still commiserates with us and can even intervene to change circumstances. Only as a Quaker can I see that we should do what we can to alleviate suffering, but we need grander, more spiritual means to change humanity.
Mr. Gray continues,
The belief in reason that is being promoted today rests on a number of childishly simple ideas. One of the commonest is that history’s crimes are mistakes that can be avoided in future as we acquire greater knowledge. But human evil isn’t a type of error that can be discarded like an obsolete scientific theory. If history teaches us anything it’s that hatred and cruelty are permanent human flaws, which find expression whatever beliefs people may profess.
I don’t happen to believe that humanity’s flaws are ‘permanent'; there is a cure, but that’s another theological issue and one of which I’m sure many Quakers will disagree with me. All I’m saying is that it is not unreasonable to rest on God after all else fails us, especially science, including politics and activism.
Science hasn’t enabled us to dispense with myths. Instead it has become a vehicle for myths – chief among them, the myth of salvation through science. Many of the people who scoff at religion are sublimely confident that, by using science, humanity can march onwards to a better world.
But “humanity” isn’t marching anywhere. Humanity doesn’t exist, there are only human beings, each of them ruled by passions and illusions that conflict with one another and within themselves. (note 1) (John Gray, Can Religion Tell us More than Science?)
At times, I find that, again, I am becoming hyper-vigilant with everything or everyone around me. This is untenable, because it throws me right back into a childhood of super-awareness and distrust. Suspicions grow and I am required to play spy or psychologist or priest. This is why my faith cannot be about keeping rules or moral purity. I cannot be the moral police in any of my relationships, personal or casual. I don’t want to be. Those who claim to be sanctimonious morals-keepers perpetuate the worst sort of crimes in the world and are surely the most unhappy. I need somewhere to run to when all else fails.
Richard Foster writes, “….the condition of our hearts is more important to Jesus than how well we play by the rules. This frustrates moralists no end, because their primary concern is moral rule-keeping. It’s so much easier to point the finger of blame when we can keep score on behavior”. (Life With God, p. 27). Call me an ostrich who lives with my head in the sand, but I do not want to be a moral score-keeper. My job is not to police others. We know how well that has worked out in centuries past!
Yes, we can judge a tree by its fruits, but it’s not up to us to prune it and keep it healthy. That’s God’s job (Luke 6:43-45). My immovable foundation in a time of great uncertainty (which seems to be most of the time) is God and always will be.
1. For all we know, and Quakers will no doubt take extreme issue with this, war could be God’s way of allowing humanity to cleanse itself. (Matthew 10:34-45)
Love must inevitably change and mature, and every relationship has its times of stress as well as its times of renewal. But there are periods in some married lives when all that can be done is to go on trying to love and to continue to believe in that elusive and unique quality for which we gave ourselves to our partner… True love is proven when the loved one begins to be not only the mysterious beckoner of destiny, but becomes also the occasion of dull indubitable duty. At a frontier of life when one partner begins to say to him or herself: ‘How can I love longer? but I must love’, then sometimes steadfastness and faith have power to nurse into existence the new being needed as companion and lover. (489)
From: Christian Faith and Practice in the experience of the Society of Friends, 1959 ed.