A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who's Your Coreligionist, Pt. II

Martin has challenged me to go beyond my “notable quote” approach to the passage in Sheeran’s “Beyond Majority Rule” which I’ve previously posted. I’ve taken in his review and will now attempt to respond to his queries of me (see his comments to the previous post on this topic).

My first response is to question the underlying assumption about “cleavage.” I am of course quite unfamiliar with seventies-era Philadelphia Quakerism, or even current-era for that matter. I suppose one of the things that triggered my desire to disseminate Sheeran’s observations were recent debates, on the use of language about Jesus in meetings.

I don't experience a cleavage in my meeting between Friends of the type that Sheeran describes. On the other hand, PYM Friends might not have "experienced" it either: it took social scientist Sheeran to come do interviews to unearth it. If we have cleavages, there are more obvious ones than this one. I also wonder if the "non-gathered's" that Sheeran discovered were truly having no experience of the spirit whatsoever? I have my doubts, as you'd have to ask why they would keep returning to a meeting for worship. Perhaps there were so many vocal messages about peace and social justice that it kept them happy and distracted from any workings of the spirit. Or perhaps they were new enough to Quakerism that the spirit was only sneaking up on them....and they hadn't realized it or learned to articulate it.

In either event, our meetings for worship are fairly quiet, so I have a hard time believing that there's "nothing happenin' here," to paraphrase Mr. Stills, of a spiritual nature. Our meetings for bus., on the other hand, take place right after MFW. This has the advantage of a group who is already somewhat centered, although this often gives rise to a sort of bubbly gregariousness and good-humor that can overwhelm the worshipful nature of the meeting.

So any cleavage of the sort Sheeran describes is for us not so much of the "us v. them" variety. My sense is that it is "us v. us, or more accurately, the spirit nudging us while we often pull back into a more sociable, culturally-conditioned way of being: what we're "used to." But I also think we're working on this. As one of our elder Friends likes to say, "God's not done with me, yet." Nor us, I hope.

So what then, did I find notable about Sheeran's findings? That there is unity to be had when we sink down below our notional preoccupations. Its hard to speak of the ineffable, and the more time we spend in the ineffable state, the easier it should be for us to see that our verbal diagrams of the spirit are merely maps, not to be confused with the country we wish to actually inhabit.


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