Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Prophetic Quakerism (as opposed to Mystical)

My recent post on Non-Mystical Quakerism generated lots of fascinating discussion. Some had to do with the right label for Quakerism, some on the relationship of "mysticism" to "individualism", and some on the nature of our relationship to God (i.e. is God a part of us, are we a part of God, or are we, as God's creatures, distinct from and less than our Creator?). This post is to weigh in with my own further thoughts on those matters.

Liz Opp said
For me, Quakerism is both an inward, receptive, mystical faith tradition and an outward, witness-oriented, practical (i.e. put into practice) one.
I think I agree with what Liz means here, but for me the preferred way to say it is that Quakerism is "prophetic" rather than either "mystical" or "practical". Since no one else used the word "prophetic" in our discussion, a bit of explanation may be in order. A prophetic faith (at least as I use the term) isn't just a matter of espousing moral or political principles and still less a matter of dry rational analysis, but neither is it primarily a matter of meditating or using spiritual practices to attain an exalted state of mind or emotion. A prophetic faith sees Christ our living prophet as able to speak to us both inwardly and through faithful ministers. Hearing and obeying Christ means learning to conform our lives to what He teaches us, to bear a witness to Him through how we live, and (as led) to bear witness explicitly by bringing a prophetic message to the world. Perhaps I should also make it clear, though most readers will probably assume this, that "prophecy" in this sense has little if anything to do with foretelling the future and everything to do with being confronted with God's will for us.

On the topic of our relationship to God: Amanda said
As far as God being a part of me, rather I feel we are a part of Him. Faithfulness to this revelation of truth, and attempts to make one's life reflect it perfectly, can and have been described as "dissolving one's Self into God". I believe that this "union" is accessible to all, in fact, already achieved and realized, in Christ. Our created selves and identity, once perfectly realized in faithfulness and truth, are not lost, but raised up in unity to glorify the Whole. It is our constant and daily failure to be faithful and perfect in every way which separates us from God, this Whole.
This is so beautifully put that I hesitate to dissent from it. I will even go so far as to say that it is so beautifully put that I like to think what it "really" means is the same thing as what I "really" mean with my own statements. Certainly, its beauty stands as evidence that it flows from a right relationship with God. But....(you knew this was coming)....it remains important to me to state that I am not a part of God. I like the widely-told story about William Bacon Evans when he was headmaster of a Friends' school. One day, as Evans was walking down the hall (according to the story) a young student burst around a corner, ran right into him, and blurted out "JESUS CHRIST!!!". Evans is said to have replied mildly and politely, "Oh no, just His humble servant." That remark seems to me to sum up the attitude we should always strive to maintain.

As to the final spin-off topic of individualism: I have so much to say about this that it will need a separate post. I hope to get to it soon.

Thanks to all for this enlightening discussion.

Rich Accetta-Evans

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