Sunday, July 19, 2015

How is Being a Quaker Like Riding a Motorcycle?

 In the World, Of the World

 Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone -- George Fox, 1656

Driving back from the North Carolina coast a couple of weeks ago, I had a train of thought. We frequently used a smartphone to guide us around the Outer Banks. It's fascinating to watch that little blue dot move around the map as you drive through an unfamiliar town. I definitely felt the master of the situation, at least as long as we had a good cell signal.

Heading home, we first rolled across the coastal plain for a couple of hours. It is mostly large farms with intersecting roads, and the flatness of the terrain is alien to this hillbilly. A mental image came to me of being that blue dot on a flat map. The vastness of the seascape and the uncommonly distant horizon I had been viewing for the past week came back to me. Then a feeling that I used to get in my motorcycling days returned, that of being a small but finite presence in an immense world, not in insignificance, but as one of many sentient beings.

Most bikers have probably had that same feeling, and maybe horsemen too. Unprotected by a shell of steel, you are unbound, and there is a unity with creation that brings a profound peacefulness. It is a wonderful feeling, and I thought of how much I missed it.

Then I drew a parallel. There is a well-worn quote by George Fox, the man usually described as the founder of the Religious Society of Friends: "you will come to walk cheerfully over the world," and it seemed to fit the moment. There aren't very many Quakers, so in some ways we're as isolated in this world as a rider on a motorcycle. But the satisfaction we get from our lifelong seeking of truth is a gift that brings honest joy. For most, the space we occupy in society is small, but at least for this Friend and probably all of us, walking cheerfully because of a full and active sense of spirituality expands us, grounds us, and gives us a place.

It's a lot like riding a motorcycle.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Being Messengers

As usual I've struggled and struggled (wrestled?) with this post.  Whatever it is writers are supposed to do, in terms of wordsmithing and getting it right, that ain't me.  It's so frustrating, to feel that one is meant to Say Something but it just doesn't come together.

Same thing in Quaker Meeting - sometimes the churning is so strong - sometimes it passes, other times it just becomes obvious that I'm to Speak, whether I know what I'm going to say or not.

So here goes - what I scribbled yesterday on a break from Physical Therapy, mixed in with thoughts in the night, and more nudges this morning - Lord guide my typing!


Quakers traditionally have tried to listen to (or read) the Bible in the same manner as we listen to spoken messages in Meeting for Worship: we listen for the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures; we seek the Light to which the words point.

There's an old saying about the water sometimes tasting of the pipes:  sometimes the message seems like no message at all, just a familiar, annoying repetition of same-old-same-old, nothing new, nothing worth considering.

Other times a message - a biblical passage or spoken ministry in Meeting - may just seem incomprehensible, or offensive, or too long, or too short.

Who knows how early Friends managed to sit in Meeting for hours on end, who knows how much of the ministry felt edifying to the hearers, who knows how they actually "did their thing"?  I certainly don't.

But yet I sense a thread, a breath of the wind of the Spirit, a tender morsel of the spiritual food of which they partook, a bit of the Light by which they found their way...


Last time at Quaker Bible Study we discussed Luke 7:1-17, two stories of healing.  I found it an edifying discussion, with many new glimpses of the Spirit.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to read and listen to and sit with the Bible, with F/friends!

Today I'm thinking about how these two miracles fit in with what comes just before and after, in Luke's gospel:  Luke is such a careful writer, I'm quite sure the order is never accidental. 

Just before is the Sermon on the Plain, roughly comparable to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, just the sort of "teachings" that liberal / progressive Christians have in mind in advocating following Jesus's teachings (as opposed to Paul's doctrines about Jesus, emphasized by Christians of another sort).

Then come these two miracle stories:  the healing of the centurion's slave (Luke 7:1-10) and the resurrection of the widow's son (Luke 7:11-17).  Two unnamed people "returned to service" for the benefit of the centurion and the widow, respectively.  Interesting.

And then, along come two of John's followers - John the Baptist, that is, the forerunner, the one announcing the coming of Jesus and calling for repentance to make straight the way - and John's guys are messengers:  John tells them "Go ask Jesus this" and they go and ask Jesus just what John told them to say (Luke 7:19-20).  Jesus answers the question John has sent, and sends the messengers back to him.

In verse 24 John's guys are even called messengers, the Greek being "angelloi" -- the very same word is translated as angels or messengers depending on context - "When John's angelloi had gone, Jesus began to speak..." about John, whom the crowd had previously gone out to see.

Jesus says of John, in verse 27: 
"This is the one about whom it is written,
'See, I am sending my angelos ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you'"

So John is a messenger (angelos) and John's followers are messengers (angeloi) sent to Jesus with a question and they bring the answer back, most faithfully, and we ourselves give "messages" in Meeting for worship - you know it's no accident we call our verbal sharings "messages" and "ministry" -- the idea of people "tuning in" to God and sharing the message we've been given, as faithfully as we can, and turning one another to the Light within, listening to the Still Small Voice, each of us individually and all of us together, helping one another along the way -- all this is so very central to who we are as Friends.


Well, this post / message has gotten way too long, but I still feel one more tidbit I'm meant to share, one morsel, one breath...

Michael Birkel in Pendle Hill Pamphlet number 398 (titled :The Messenger That Goes Before: Reading Margaret Fell for Spiritual Nurture)  writes:

"Read Scripture, [Margaret Fell] says, not only to find out what happened in the past but also to discover what is happening within us now.  We are invited to an inward preparation for the coming of the One who baptizes not with water but with fire and Spirit."

I commend the Michael Birkel's pamphlet to all who read this post - but in the meantime I pray:

Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and thy servant shall be healed (cf Luke 7:6-7)


Show me truly your message and your messengers and help me speak your message as you would have it spoken


Make of us Friends, in Charleston WV and all Friends everywhere, your faithful messengers, speaking when you give us words and silent when you may very well be speaking your truth to and through someone else, to whom we ought to listen.  Prepare our way for you.