Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More on Asking the Important Question

In re-reading The Quakers in America (Thomas Hamm), I came across a passage (page 15) that I remember had struck me the first time I read it almost a year ago:

What is clear is that Fox and other Quakers agreed that all people had within them a certain measure o fthe Light of Christ. If they heeded it, that Inward Light would show them their sinful conditions and their need for Christ, and would lead them to salvation. But if they ignored it or failed to heed tis admonitions, they would be lost and ultimately damned. This experience was not limited to those in Christian lands. Pagans who had no knowledge of the historical Jesus could still experience the Inward Light of Christ, and, if obedient to it, could be saved without ever having heard Christian preaching or knowing the Bible.
(emphasis mine)

I don't intend for this to come down to an argument about universalism, as that would address a different and less important question about details and theology.

Earlier in the chapter, Hamm comments on the striving of the earliest Friends (page 13) :

These were men and women suffering from inner torment, trying to work out for themselves, and seeking others who could help them answer, what seemed to be the most important question that anyone could ever confront: How do I know the will of God for my life?

I find that the question is not just "how do I know the will of God?", but "what is the will of God?" and "how do I follow the will of God in my life?" The first passage I quoted above is stating that this is a struggle reserved not only for Good Christians, but for all of humanity. I am not trying to discredit Christianity in particular or any one religion in general - again, that would be addressing the wrong question. There are certainly valid, Spirit-led fruits to be found in the diverse theological standpoints of the world, including Christianity.

(From page 16) Fox's argument was that the same Spirit that had inspired the writers of the Bible was still available to humans, and that past written work of that Spirit, while it should be valued, should not be placed above the Spirit itself.

The Spirit manifests itself in the well-known ministry of many contemporary and historical figures, and so I find studying such ministry (such as found in the Bible) of great importance. However, to come back to focusing on the Important Question, it is vital to keep in mind the proper direction of our seeking, and not to be led astray by replacing the inward and coorporate seeking of Truth with the ministry of others, past or present. For past written work of that Spirit, while it should be valued, should not be placed above the Spirit itself.

I feel that this goes for theology, as well. Theology, while some of it may be the work of the Spirit, should not be placed above the Spirit itself. Since theology is how we describe the ways of the Spirit, this may seem a difficult thing around which to wrap one's mind. Our ideas about the ways of the Spirit should not be placed above the Spirit itself, whether or not these ideas are the work of the Spirit. This is a strong example of the apophatic nature of Quaker spirituality; even our ideas about the nature of God must be let go in order to truly know God. It is easy to get caught up in these details and to forget to continue listening to the Inward Guide; it is easy to get caught up looking for the answer without asking the Important Question about the will of God in our lives.

I would like to encourage Friends of all sorts, whether struggling with theology or theological differences (especially pertaining to faith language, as that is an ongoing struggle in many corners of the Society), to explore whether anything is being placed above the Spirit itself in these struggles. In these struggles, are we really asking the right question in seeking to find the answer?

Edited to add:
You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the Apostles say this'; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light, and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?
-George Fox, 1652

Love and Light,
Claire

4 Comments:

Blogger Judy Tretheway said...

Thou speaks my mind. Perhaps this is a key to the richness of the Quaker blog community, those inward leadings of a message that come mid-week have a way to be shared into the worship space we have created within the blog-sphere. For I have always felt in inappropriate to do anything but start fresh within the time and space of Meeting for Worship and yet felt at a loss as to what to do with the leadings that were arising every day but First day. I realize I am not directly addressing the topic of your blog, rather I am addressing the beauty of being able to receive the rich gift of your message.

12/1/06 7:57 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

Welcome to the blog-o-sphere, Judy.

Quaker blogging is a very new thing, and I too have been able to find much richness in not only reading other blogs, but in writing my own, as well.

Thanks for stopping by!

Love and Light,
Claire

13/1/06 5:58 PM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

Good point, Claire. The way we think about the Spirit can become a detour away from the Spirit. Like a meta-language (language about language), it comes a meta-religion or a meta-faith. Soon we end up building entire kingdoms out of this meta-religion.

14/1/06 8:22 PM  
Anonymous Robin M. said...

Dear Claire, I'm just now reading this post that I had bookmarked a month ago "to read later". Nicely done!

27/2/06 1:03 AM  

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