Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Works, words and Quakerism for yoof

Now this is going to get confusing. Rob, who is not psychiatrist Rob of Mind&Soul but Quaker Rob of Consider the Lillies put a post recently about young people & Quakerism.

I think I probably fall into the category that Rob describes as one of those young Friends drawn to Quakerism because of its social orientation. It is quite possible that this is a reaction on my part. Unlike several other Quakers I have talked to, I did experience "God" outside of Quakerism and the immediate sense of "God's presence", and even the sense that the Spirit can lead us from within. I was a full blown charismatic don'tchya know :)

Of course, as most of you know, I now doubt that those experiences were anything more than quirky activity in the left temporal lobes, combined with the dynamics of a hyped up environment where God-talk was, to be quite frank, cheap as candy.

GOD TALK WARNING: The artificial colourings used in this product may cause hyperactivity in sensitive people. God Talk may contain traces of nuts

So my own journey into Friends was one of wishing to live in integrity with a heady dose of pragmatism. I must be honest and say there are times when I do squirm a little amongst Quakers who are more fond of God-talk than I am, but I'm learning to get used to that.

Which really got me to wondering, why did I join the Quakers and not just sign up to Amnesty international or some other wonderful charity? (And I do think it is important for all of us to consider community, social and political involvement, this is certainly an important part of 'spirituality' or whatever you want to call it and Quakers have certainly put this on the forefront.)

There and again, I am not sure that for me religious experience informs my "testimony". (Testimony here in the Quaker sense of the word - our commitment to such things as equality, peace, compassion, social justice, green issues etc. etc.). Quite the opposite - I would say that my religious experience is enhanced and enlivened by my attempts (small as they sometimes are) to live the testimonies in my day to day life. In seeking to live peacefully, pursue justice and practice compassion, I experience a fullness and depth of life (that some might call living in the Spirit, but I'm going to be ever so British here and not use those kinds of words if you don't mind).

But maybe that is niave. If religion is to do with the response of my whole life and whole being, then perhaps my own whole experience of the world (call it religious if you like) undergirdles my own sense of the rightness of the Quaker testimonies - even if I don't use the kind of language George Fox might have used.

Are you sure you're a Quaker - where's your funny clothes?

It may well be that those young Friends, so quick to declare, 'Works Now!', are responding with enthusiasm to an experience of the spirit (or the light, or even God if you will) that they may not have articulated with words - and almost certainly not with the kind of words Quaker tradition offers us. We no longer live in the kind of Christian society that gave birth to Quakerism. Our language and experiences may be very different from our forefathers and foremothers. Perhaps the diverse liveries Penn spoke off are now making some Friends seem like strangers.

Are you sure you're a Quaker - you don't seem Jesusy enough

However, perhaps continuing in the Quaker tradition may be to forge our own language, articulate our own experiences and find that they lead us to the same concerns for social and political justice, for peace, for equality and for compassionate living. Afterall, the good book says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." (James 1:27, ESV).

Are you sure you're a Quaker - you don't use the right language

I suspect that the testimonies are the best articulation of religious experience we can ever hope to have. Perhaps also, as we explore these things, we might find ourselves more in touch with the earliest Quaker reformers than years of studying the Biblical text and Quaker history can ever afford us. The experience of living the testimonies might lead us to a better understanding of the legacy left to us by the likes of Fox, Fell, Penn and Fry.


Rob said...

Hi CA -

I too get anxious around people who out God-talk me. I sometimes think they have sinister intentions or are trying to invoke God's name to justify their actions of self-will (eg i suspect George Bush falls in this category).

No time at the moment, but consider the idea that religious experience and social testimony are one in the same. I'm reading a great book titled *Faith in Action: Quaker Social Testimony* which makes this point. To paraphrase: 'We don't have a spiritual life separate from the rest of our life. All our life is spiritual and all our actions, or testimony if you will, are lived out in God's glory/presence of the divine.'

Gotta run, but congrats on the new place. Are you at home the weekend of the 16 July? I hope to visit some day soon. - Rob

Contemplative Activist said...

Hi Rob,

I'm working on the Saturday morning. But if you want to come down mid morning/early afternoon that'd be great.

Contemplative Activist said...

Actually - if you preferred to come on Friday night partner dude would be glad to keep you company while I'm at work on Saturday morning :)

He makes good breakfast coffee.

Peterson Toscano said...

CA, This week at the FGC gathering in Blacksburg, I'm attending a workshop all week called "Experiment with Light". Based on George Fox's writings, particularly his tracts, a British Quaker, Rex Ambler, devised a six step guided meditation to help Friends get Light on personal issues that affect them.

The process can also be applied to issues outside of an individual (conflicts in the meeting or world.)

It feels more like a form of psycho-therapy than silent worship, but in essence, it is about growing still and then asking the question, "What's going on in me right now? What do I need to look at?

Then the person looks at what rises in the mind and look at it objectively, as if it were suspended in the soul. We look at the issue in a "cool" way without judgement or rationialization.

The Light then can illuminate the issue and the individual receives words or a image to help find direction on the matter.

Ambler claims this is very much what early Quakers did when they spoke of standing in the Light and haveing the Light speak to their condition.

Here's a quote from Fox (in modern English without too much God Talk)

Whatever it is you are addicted to that's where the tempter will get you...When you have seen what's going on in your mind, and the temptations there, do not think, just submit (to reality). You will then receive power.

If you stand still in that (light) that exposes and reveals, you will find that strengh is immediately given to you.

So, stand still in the light, submit to it, and all the rest will quiet down or disappear. You will then be contented....Your strength is to stand still, once you have seen yourselves.

Peterson Toscano said...

I like this a lot, so much so that I put a link to it from my blog. Thanks for the thoughtful writing that you do. It helps me in my own process.