A Friend After 50 Years

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

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Location: Arkansas

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Another crack at carnality

I get a sense that the term "carnal" was often used in a not-necessarily-sexual sense by early Friends. It seems to simply be a way of making a distinction, in vocal ministry for example, between a message or leading that comes from God and one that doesn't. Carnal in this sense may have some connection with self-will. I struggle with these ideas as they seem to embody (incarnate?) a dualism that separates the physical and the spiritual, and which often leads religious folks to label what may be of God within them as coming from "me alone" -- hence sinful or inadequate.

I interpret "carnality" then as identification of oneself as an "individual I" dissociated from others (and God), with interests and desires that bring one into conflict with others. The idea of an I is not totally useless, but it is simply a way of describing things, not the actual nature of things as they are. Perhaps the key to overcoming this state is to simply understand its mistakenness. We are not in any sense "separate" from creation except in our own minds. "I am the branch and your are the vine." There is that of God within us not as a sort of divine implantation in a gross material body, but our "jars of clay" are actually themselves of the divine substance. "I and the Father are one, and as I am so shall you be." Quantum physics tells us that "material" at its smallest component has no mass.

The objections to overemphasis on pleasures of the flesh have root in the understanding that we are not simply these seemingly physical "things." Keeping ourselves occupied with carnal pleasure gives temporary (but ultimately unavailing) relief from the discomfort of living as though we are separate, disconnected creatures. This makes the pain greater and inspires more lust to escape. Turning our attention away from all this and toward the light which reveals us to ourselves leads to reacquaintance with our divine birthright. Then, sex, food, and even shopping can be enjoyed even more when these are simple pleasure rather than guilty addictions.

3 Comments:

Blogger Larry said...

Dave, this is good stuff. It's refreshing to me to see another Quaker trying to deal with theological ideas; I have found that so rare among my Quaker Friends.

My own take on carnal is that it is simply worldly (in the N.T. sense, rather than spiritual. It can be good or bad just like spiritual can be.

Blessings, and keep up the blog. I'm not the only one reading it.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Dave Carl said...

Thanks, Larry, I appreciate that.

>I'm not the only one reading it.

There's two of you!? :)

3:11 PM  
Blogger kwattles said...

For what it's worth, carnal comes from the Latin for "meat." I'm not sure of the etymology but in Portuguese the first definition of the word "carne" is simply "meat."

So when reading early Quaker writings, I generally assume that they used the word "carnal," thinking of the animal side of human nature. It comes close to what we call "pleasures of the flesh," although it would also include other passions such as blood-thirst and fear.

4:47 AM  

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