Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
It was quite a challenge to participate in this seminar. Tutor Alex Wildwood had much to offer but was equally a ‘listening’ leader.
We shared concepts of the Way as we saw it. A wiggly pyramid to climb (or if inverted to widen out to), or a river into which many wells flow . . . It is good to be tolerant remembering that we are a society of ‘seekers towards the Permanent’ rather than a ‘Found it lobby’. Among its members Quakers contain many spiritual paths and it may not be appropriate to challenge them. Instead, incorporating our diversity provides us with freedom to choose.
Most religions (and most of us) hope that the way forward will lead to peace and contentment. On the way we may experience (a unity with) the Supreme Spirit.
Life on this seemingly broken and chaotic planet can seem a mystery. We try to attain our deepest longings and sort out that which we consider ‘meaningful’. Most religions advocate a ‘letting go’ of self to discover the spiritual, eternal reality, the seed of Life. Just believing in what suits you is not really a solution; understanding the nature of Reality emanates from wisdom.
Religion has often been the basis of conflict, so Quakerism hopefully goes beyond this to present a Way without the usual structures and doctrines etc. Unlike ages past we now have access to knowledge about all sorts of religions; we live in a pluralistic world so should beware of imposing beliefs.
Alex gave us time for both group and individual introspection. We considered what it might mean to attain the ‘mountain top’ destination. We begin from a state of confusion and conflict and move toward ‘liberation’. People need diversity, a variety of views and ways in order to realise true self. It involves love and understanding, a liberalisation from past limitations. Each of us considered the influences of our individual journey and was challenged to consider if our ‘Goal’ had changed over the years.
Thinking of the ‘Way’ for the Society of Friends we wondered if beliefs were necessary. Could we merely depend on the guidance of some Inner Light? Traditionally this concept was of an Inward Light – God within through Christ. We remembered Quaker F & P No 1.04 – the challenge of Christianity and the roots of Quakerism: How do we interpret our faith in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus? Do we follow his example of love and action? How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire us? We were given some options / suggestions to consider how we might convey our faith in the Spirit-led life:
* The risen Christ who transforms and guides
* Using Quaker Testimonies as patterns of living (non-violence, acceptance etc.) towards a spirit-led community
* Openness to a science-based understanding and listening to the wider community of life
While we live we may learn and we’re free to find our spiritual dimension of life. With personal honesty and some faith we seek a strength that is beyond ourselves. But that which is greater usually inspires a surrendered life.
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I can see why this would have been a difficult seminar. It looks like there were many false premises that were built upon, such as you have pointed out in your excerpt below.
I think it too long to pick up on everything, but feel moved to point out a couple of things. First the notion that the normal Quaker state is to be a "society of seekers... rather than a Found it lobby." Take Fox's oft quoted admonition (which I can't put my hands on at the moment and hope someone will fill in my gap here) to "...walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone..." There is no answering that of God except you have found that of God within and have that same life in you. Nothing answers the hunger after life except life. The second thing I want to quote answers both the notion of being seekers rather than finders and the idea that diversity of paths is a good and desirable thing. It is a passage from Stephen Crisp's sermon 14, which is available as a download from this website.
Stephen Crisp went on to point out that his hearers had all known themselves to be subject to the "man of sin" in their hearts and had found themselves unable to overcome that sin in their own strength. He described them as poor, helpless people broken off from all hope except they know Christ to appear among them. This is not a call to diversity but a call to come out of the many ways (diversity) into the one way that leads to life. Only experiencing the life of Christ in and among us are we made free from sin and this was the unity enjoyed by the early Friends, for it is Christ's life operating within us that makes us to be one in him.
John, I found the quote about walking cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone. It is in the Works of Fox, vol 1. pp. 287-289 which is an epistle Fox wrote to Friends in the ministry. The entire epistle is relevant to the topic of this seminar that you report on. Rather than post that epistle here in this comment, I will post it as a separate post and hope you have a chance to read it.
Those who cherish the idea of "many spiritual paths" need to come to grips with Jesus' statement concerning Himself. Do we believe Him? He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Not a way, but the way...
Sometimes we can take things a bit too literally. Jesus is spirit one with God. 'Me' is His way of love which I believe many may find apart from being Christians. He went out of his way and against trends and culture to associate and help people from other religions, even the hated Samaritans. It follows I think that a loving God is not terribly exclusive.
John in Dorset.
You are right, John, that the love of God excludes no one. He has provided a way of salvation for all men... but only one way-- the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).