Monday, November 21, 2005

A Shared Experience

In a keynote address to Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting Association (SAYMA) in 2003 (which happens to be entitled Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition and is probably included in the recently published book with that title, but is in fact a piece of writing on its own), Lloyd Lee Wilson speaks of apophatic spirituality. He describes apophatic spirituality as the spirituality of subtraction, where one finds God by subtracting from one's life everything that is not God.

I first heard of this kind of spirituality a few months ago, and I remember thinking that it was an odd way of going about things that must be overwhelming, and clearly, was not right for me. Now, in reading the words Lloyd spoke, I realize it is exactly what I have come to do this last month and a half or so.

In a previous post of mine, I spoke of letting go; by "letting go", I do not necessarily mean that, for instance, by letting go of my belief in God that I no longer believe. I mean that I must pull the rug out from underneath this belief and discover my true experience - minus the padding of reason. I was speaking of removing reason from any primary source of my faith, and though I did not consciously articulate it, I removed reason in this way because I found that though reason is important, it is not God, so it is thus secondary. In Lloyd's address I found these words which speak to my condition:

Our primary path to understanding is a direct, unfiltered and unmediated relationship with the risen Christ who is here with each of us and with all of us in community. Of course, we do value Scriptures and the accumlated wisdom of our yearly meetings and the rational thought process that help us understand the consequences of our actions - it is simply that all these are of secondary value in the Quaker tradition.

It is the experienced reality of the inward encounter with the Divine that is the foundation stone and bulding block for everything else.

It was at this point that I could not read any further without a pencil for underlining things, it struck me so. Earlier today I was speaking to a good friend of mine about it and discovered that I was speaking with more animation than I usually speak; I realized that this was more exciting to me than I initially acknowledged.

When I spoke of my experience before (in a previous post), I knew, I knew I was not the only one to have gone through something like that, but had reached a point where I needed to take a break from reading some of the Quaker books I'm not yet through with, as I continued to get tripped up on words telling me how such an experience should be, or will be, or how all these people experienced it; I needed to have my own, authentic experience without such words to twist me around.

In the last week, though I feel as though my experience has been less intense and less the forefront of my consciousness, I have found myself able to find my own experience in the writings of others - something I had not entirely expected. Reading the words of Lloyd Lee Wilson in this address from two years ago has stricken me, as I feel like a large centrality of my experience has been articulated, and I continue to find more and more places where this experience is articulated. I find myself unconcerned with the language used - whether one speaks of Christ risen, or doesn't mention Christ or God at all is of no importance to me. It is instead the deeper, transcendent meaning that I hear when I read these parallel experiences.

I mentioned that my experience has felt less intense this week, which initially seems like a cause for concern to me; "Did I completely lose touch, just like that? Is my experience over and forgotten already?". It was quickly apparent to me that it was indeed, not at all over or gone. More words from Lloyd speak to me:

[The dialogue] may wax and wane, but seasoned Friends over the centuries have reported that God's presence is an ongoing personal conversation, not the intermittent and infrequent reception of a general broadcast. It is as if whenever we stop to listen, we discover that God is already speaking with us.
(emphasis mine)

Yes. Yes, I feel this deeply. I tested my experience this past week, and this is the best articulation of what I found.

In another recent post I spoke of nudgings, and of how I've begun to listen for God in all aspects of my life; My life is about being attentive and faithful to where I am called. My life is happening all the time. Then I read yet another line from Lloyd's address which rang true:

As Carole Treadway of the School of the Spirit reports, an apt description of a Conservative Friend is one who seeks to live every moment under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Though I am, indeed, a member of a Conservative monthly meeting, it is not this label with which I am concerned. The part of this that strikes me is the description of a Friend who seeks to live every moment under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment.

It is a joy to discover and lift up these words, this shared experience. Through shared experiences, both similar to, and different from our own, we grow in the Light.

Love and Light,


Anonymous Andrew said...

Great post Claire. If you haven't read any Bill Tabor yet, I highly recommend his writing. He has helped me to imagine more and more fully what a life where every moment is centered in the Holy Spirit might look like. I know I am far from this possibility and yet I also feel clear I am where I need to be. The first step to giving ourselves more fully is always to imgaine. Then we can ask and pray. Peace, Andrew

23/11/05 10:30 PM  
Blogger Kuan Gung said...

Explore...and explore more...

25/11/05 9:42 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for sharing this Claire. I very much appreciate it when people share their experience with the Spirit. -Rob

26/11/05 8:31 AM  

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