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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Resist Not

A Friend on the meeting listserv responds to a post on "prayer without ceasing." She wonders how we will know when this becomes a product of the ego or neuroticism. She wants to "be simple" but finds it difficult.

"Being simple" is probably impossible if it arises as an expectation. Reality always circumvents such concepts. Its like asking the ocean to fit in a bucket. We are as we are. We notice all sorts of phenomena arising within us, and we can give them names like "ego" and "neurotic." These phenomena are not isolated from the whole of life, and thus they cannot be avoided. Our labeling, (in itself not a "bad" thing) gives them the appearance of disconnected problems, and our evaluation function, which is also a part of all this, says "I don't like it." This is all fine so far as it goes. The trouble starts when we reject the thing we don't want. "Resist not evil" Jesus said. Resistance treats the problem as an enemy that can be defeated, and we know how Jesus told us to treat our enemies! So if we find ourselves noticing that we are in the "don't like it" stage, the next thing is to be grateful for the opportunity. Here's something to listen to with affection, to be present with, to find a new path to connection to the divine realm within. This brings the inward "gospel order," a necessary predicate to achieving gospel order "out there."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Karen Armstrong Interview on NPR

I listened to this interview with Karen Armstrong after a Friend sent me the link. Armstrong has what seems to me a mature and enlightened approach toward scripture that I found most encouraging -- a way to engage with a view to how it speaks to us, accepting that there is much to struggle with (she points out that "Israel" means "one who wrestles with God" ). I appreciate how this approach neither forces us to accept meaningless formulations nor requires us to flush our tradition wholesale (a reaction I encounter among some of my beloved Friends!) because we find parts of it difficult or no longer edifying.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oliver Who?

I'm reading a book on early Quakerism and the religious and social ferment leading up to it. It covers a lot of English history very rapidly -- too much so for my comprehension. After reading this and Geo. Fox's Journal, my curiosity was piqued: so who was Cromwell and what was all the fighting about?

I found this link by the BBC that gives a short summation in several video clips that helped to answer some of those questions.


Friday, November 02, 2007

To Do or Not to Do

The following is a response to a message on our meeting listerv. The original question was about how we prepare for worship. Mary replied that its not necessarily so much about "doing" anything....

Interesting, I was thinking about the "not-doing" aspect of much of spiritual practice yesterday. For example, Mary says in essence that she "does" meditate, but meditation or Quaker worship are imbued with less of "our doing" and, as M says, being open to spirit.

I've read that some seekers in the 17th century thought Quakers were going too far in setting up organized times to meet for worship. After all, if the spirit is in charge, why should there be a set time or place? Some Advaita teachers recommend no spiritual practice at all, as they claim that will only enhance the practitioner's ego ( e.g., "I'm becoming ever more spiritual!")

Both Advaita (non-duality) and Christian teaching come to a similar conclusion: understand that, while "doing" occurs, the "doership" is not ours. Advaita and Buddhism would say there is no separate "doer" while Christianity traditionally (in its European-derived configurations at least) maintains the duality between humans and God but holds that we should submit to God. Advaita teacher Ramesh Balsekar urges us to understand that we are not separate from God but if we think we are, then take the "thy will, not mine" approach. As for meditation, he says, "don't do it unless you happen to fall into it." Similarly for speaking: "don't speak unless speaking happens."

So how to prepare for worship? Whatever you fall into! After all, the very unique set of causes and conditions that lead up to the occurence of "Elizabeth" (e.g.), are undoubtedly too unique and complex to be susceptible to a list of instructions!

Of course, many if not all of the possibilities have been assayed by Richard Foster in A Celebration of Discipline and are also set forth in the Renovare Bible. These include such things as fasting, solitude, prayer, celebration, study, etc. Foster's sidekick, Dallas Willard, writes in "The Great Omission" that we should not undertake these things mechanically, but only as the spirit moves us.

They don't mention playing the drums, by the way, though I'll put that under "celebration!" In the end perhaps its not the "what" that matters as much as the "how." Do it all for God, or for our non-G-word Friends, for all-that-is, the "Not Merely Me in which I Am Included."

'What can I do?' - SiCKO