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

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cats, Minds & Screwdrivers

There are many ways to describe religious truth.

Many are perfectly legitimate.

None of them are adequate.

Attempting to impose one on others --or even to impose another's on ourselves without our own genuine experience of it -- is a grievous error.

Words are divisive because that is their nature. They proceed from human thought, the very principle of which is to limit and separate. I can think of a cat, but I cannot think about the cat's respiratory system, its life history, its relationship with the family dog, and the precise pitch at which it purrs, all at once. Nor do I need to do that. If I could take all that in, I might be having a religious experience of some kind but wouldn't be able to ask the question, "is the cat in for the night?"

But knowing that the cat does have a history, relationships, biology, and all the rest, I see the artificiality of the mental images and descriptions I create to help me deal with the presence of a cat in my life. I know then that I cannot take in or describe "wholeness" or "allness" with my mind. My mind is not made for that. This is frustrating only if I expect my mind to do what it was not made to do, just as attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver would be an exasperating experience.

That does not mean that either minds or screwdrivers should be discarded, or even trained, disciplined, shaped in some way. What they need to be is understood. I need to understand that my thinking mind can help figure out what size screws I need to buy or which flight to take on my next trip to California. I also need to understand that my thinking mind has created an image for, or of "me" but that this image is no more complete or accurate than anything else my mind cooks up.

I also notice that I am conscious of this thinking mind. This is proof that the "I" image is something smaller than the "I" that is conscious of it. That conscious "I" may be nothing less than the "I AM THAT I AM," the name God revealed to Moses.

John Woolman "died" to his "self will." He noted, however, that "John Woolman" didn't actually die, he was still there. What could he have died to? Often we take "self will" to mean "the bad little me who just won't listen to God and do what he commands." As long as we think this way, there will be struggle. In fact, we may never be able to do God's will out of this model, because we will always be artificially discarding God's messages -- or part of them -- when God's voice comes in the nature of a prompting that we identify as coming from "the bad little me." If I were the Devil, I'd derive supreme enjoyment from creating just this sort of confusion! Getting these frail humans to endlessly torture and judge themselves for their sins would be another delightful trick. Let them think they are capable of judging themselves! That, of course, would be an obvious conflict of interest in the judicial system: no one gets to be the judge of their own case. (Hence, Paul said, I don't judge myself -- God judges). But it gives us a great sense of power to be able to kick ourselves. Sure it hurts, but we also get the satisfaction of doing the kicking! And since we can say that we are only hurting ourselves, its completely legit -- even admirable! (When I've explored the source of pain in my own life, I've been able to ultimately trace it to my own hand, or foot -- figuratively speaking).

Of course it doesn't hurt only us. As within, so without. We cannot love others as ourselves when we don't know how to do the latter. So whatever those promptings from within, listen with patience and forbearance. If you want to be peaceful and kind with others, start practicing on yourself. When thoughts arise, as they always will, we might answer, "yes, possibly so -- is there more? Particularly 'where the words come from?"


Blogger earthfreak said...

I'm surprised that no one has commented on this post, since I found it so moving and apt.

But then, I hadn't commented on it either, perhaps because I didn't know what to add.

So I'll just say, thank you


1:16 PM  
Blogger Dave Carl said...


It was written only for girls with puppy dogs!


7:23 PM  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Dude, what happened to your post from today? (6/19) I am coming back to read it and come up with something juicy to say, and I find it's gone, was I hallucinating? Did you decide you were being a tad too snide? (if so, I disagree!0

Oh well, I'm sure there'll be more good stuff eventually.


5:07 PM  
Blogger Dave Carl said...


Haven't posted anything today. Posted yesterday, 6-18, on The Problem with Quakerism Today. Hope I'm not being snide, merely having a larf, as John Lennon might have said. I await your juicy rejoinder.


7:19 PM  

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