Quaker Renewal UK, Gathering in the Flesh Lancaster 22 April 2017

Quaker Renewal Gathering in the Flesh

Lancaster 22nd April 2017

 

I am deeply grateful to Sam Barnett-McCormack of Lancaster Meeting for organising the gathering at Lancaster as too the nine members who attended and Lancaster meeting for hosting this event.  I arrived just before 12 midday and met Sam at the entrance of the street into the meeting.  It felt special to meet Sam in person having come to know him quite well over the years on Quaker Renewal UK Facebook group.  We ate lunch together with the Elder for the day, Liz also from Lancaster.

The group gradually arrived and by 2pm we had settled into meeting.  We received one piece of ministry in the first hour.  I found it easy to centre down and open up.  After about one hour Sam invited us to join him for a fellowship activity and drinks in the lounge room.  We each sat in a circle with a drink and Sam held the most beautiful loaf of bread I have ever seen in his hands.  It was large and earthy and very much like a hand crafted boat.  He broke it in two pieces and it seemed to break rather like into two smiles.  He took a piece and invited us each in turn to do the same to eat it and share what this means to them.  When Sam passed the bread to me, I really enjoyed the feel of it in my hands.  I marvelled at all the seeds inside.  I didn’t really know what it meant to me but I just shared this and that I wanted to be obedient and that I was glad to be here eating in and with such company.  It was a deep activity and it was good to hear people share and helped to bring us out of our own individual faith paths into something communal and in the moment.  Thank you Sam for your leading.

We then went back into meeting for about another hour of worship.  We received two further pieces of ministry and again I felt grounded, centred and open.  Some possible ministry had risen inside me but did not feel fully formed so at the close of the meeting I suggested to Sam that might we have some Afterword.  We spent another thirty minutes in afterword and this proved very fruitful.  Almost felt like an extension of the worship meeting.  Sam read a piece from Quaker Faith and Practice about walking with a hand into the dark which felt very much like a completion of our event.  After the meeting some of us had a train to catch at 5pm and others were able to stay and communally wash up.

For me the meeting very much continued with me to Yealand Conyers.  The next morning I went into meeting at 9am and enjoyed worship until 11.30.  The ministry was deep and the meeting fairly gathered.  Afterwards I met Rex Ambler, which was an incredible and timely gift.  A generous lift by a member of the meeting with a stop off for a walk in a local blue bell wood was a further gift.

I continue to process the gifts I received from this gathering.  I am on the first year of a course at Woodbrooke called Equipping for Ministry and have been feeling called into the Travelling Ministry.  After my visit to Lancaster I am feeling led to explore asking my local meeting for a travelling minute for any future trips to South Birmingham or beyond.

I urge you Friends to consider if your meeting might be the next to host a gathering in the flesh of our group.

Learning lessons from the meeting at Bull Street organised by myself and the one at Lancaster organised by Sam are as follows:

  • Do have a time of fellowship at the beginning around shared food is the ideal. This gives the group a chance to settle and know each other before entering into worship.  Do experiment with anything you are led to explore as an activity but either place it at the beginning or the end of the worship meeting.  Sam’s fellowship activity was truly a gift but we all agreed might have been better placed at the beginning with a small period of silence before to help us all centre.
  • Make it very clear that the meeting is not timed and elders will close the meeting when they sense the closing of worship which could be an undetermined length of time within the limits of the time the meeting house is available for. For this reason make people very clear that moving around the room, lying down, or even going out for a walk or a cup of tea is all acceptable.  In fact very wise to do, in particular for anyone with physical health conditions.
  • Allowing for a further opportunity for fellowship around a meal afterwards for those who have the time is also helpful. People have travelled long distances and therefore it is good to make the most of the time available to know one another in the things that are eternal and material (Sam used a much better word for this but I can’t think of it just now!)
  • Do report back learning lessons experienced as it will help future gatherings and leadings.
  • Do put together a poster or flier that will enable our network on Quaker Renewal UK to share the gathering with non facebook Friends and do expect and be ready for people to attend that do not know what Quaker Renewal UK is and will ask you about it! Please help to make these events a success by sharing the event amongst your networks of meetings and don’t expect that may people to come, be happy if you have three and you won’t be disappointed.

The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

2. Patience

 

Khanti Paramam tapo titika, nibbanam paranam vadanti Buddha.  (The pali language, that was spoken at the time the Buddha lived and travelled in the ministry).

 

Patient endurance burns defilements supremely.  All who know say Nibbana is the supreme.

 

I spent fourteen years as a Theravada Buddhist in the Thai forest tradition of Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Sucitto, Ajahn Sundara, Ajahn Candasiri.  I know they would be proud of me starting up a blog post on dhamma: truth.

 

The above pali is etched deeply in my mind, like a big gouge, gorge, important channel or causeway.  That isn’t to say that I would describe myself as a patient person, much as I try to be it evades me, for there is much darkness currently.  The story of my life is about trying too hard!  The Buddha said right practice is like playing an instrument you mustn’t play it too hard or too soft the tension needs to be right.

 

Now I am a Christian, a deepening faith in a relationship is enabling me to reach out and ask for help and guidance with this.  At times of desolation, darkness and despair.  I know through experience the truth that, all matter is ever changing, impermanent and so patience is like an anchor.  If I ask Christ for her help it strengthens me just to hold out, to wait, to find the still place amidst the turbulence.  To wait for Christ herself to rise resurrected, majestic, perfect.  Renewal is an endless cycle of this isn’t it.  Be still and know that I am God.

 

The psalms provide great comfort for me in the times between leadings that I stay in the uncertain, the unknown, the not sure, the overwhelmed, the fearful, the angry, the sad, and the distraught.  I spend most of my time in the not knowing for Christ reigns in me not that often at the moment.  There is no mistaking when she is with me.  Since I first felt the beloved’s presence in a personal dark night of the soul time, patiently waiting one dark night after another.  I felt carried by Christ, just like in the footprints poem.  This is an experience that no one and nothing can take away from me.  I feel so much joy about this that I want to obey Christ’s call in my life as often as I can remember to bring my awareness to her, moment by moment she leads.

 

When one of the other fruits of the spirit arises then I know that Christ herself is leading me again.

 

I bow my head, Christ Jesus is my guide and light without whom I am lost.  Christ Jesus has appeared to me in many forms internal and external.  With her help I can continue to weather the storms knowing that she is with me even when I cannot see or feel or hear her small still voice.

The Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

 

  1. Gentleness

 

I have seen a great light that shines in the darkness but the world does not know it.  This is my first piece of writing on my first blog space.

 

This Sunday I was inspired to tears, I cried a long time through meeting and afterwards.  I might say that crying is no stranger to my cheeks and something I find helpful.

 

The ministry spoke of a Vision of a great ball of light, that somewhere in the Bible it says of a great beacon of light.

 

It says it right at the beginning of the Bible and also at the beginning of the chapter of John. Am sure it says it in lots of other places too but these are the ones that arise for me now. The world has seen a great light, shining in the darkness.  I feel sad that it does not know it and trust that if I am guided to share my faith (thank you Chris), I must be obedient to that call and it will bring further fruits of the spirit as a sign that I am treading the right path.

 

What is this light, it is the light of Christ Jesus, our higher consciousness, divine love, the beloved herself.

 

She is available to all of us in as much as we are willing to open to her.  The world opposes her deeply and abhors her and therefore to follow her light is to step a path that is not easy and produces birth pains of a new order (thank you Ben for your brave courage).

 

We know her not by dogma or hearsay but by the fruits of the spirit.  I’d like to dwell on the fruit of gentleness.  Gentleness is as close as the breath on our cheek and as warm as the beat in our heart when one comes near us with this spirit there is no doubt about it.  We feel it like a healing balm (thank you Mike, Sabina, Stuart, many countless friends of mine that have touched my life, Andrzej……Paul, Emma, Mike, Michael).

 

It is a beacon shining in the night.  A reflector of peace and all that is good.

 

I don’t always live in this fruit but when it arises I trust it as Christ’s guiding light in myself and in others.  I look forward to the day when I will be eternally bathed in this light and in the meantime I survive as best I can with the gifts of spirit when they arise in and around me.

 

I personally need community like the desert needs water.  I am grateful for the community that helps keep this little light burning bright in the darkest of nights.

A Friendly Way of Being Christian by Michael Langford

A FRIENDLY WAY OF BEING CHRISTIAN

I took this as the title of my second book because I want to show why   The Religious Society of Friends is the official name of people who in Britain and other English-speaking countries are more commonly known as Quakers.  It is as Friends” that we address one another and people in general. This is because we are trying to put into practice the words of Jesus in John 15:14-15 where he tells his disciples “You are my friends if you do as I say”..  He made it clear that he was only passing on what he was given to say by God and that the God-given spirit in him would continue to inspire and teach his faithful disciples after he, their human master and teacher had been taken from them by death. The recorded words of Jesus are challenging but usually couched in general terms rather than giving us a detailed set of rules and beliefs. So we have to interpret and apply the commands in the spirit in which they were given.

 “Quaker” was the derisive name given to Friends in 17th Century England because they used biblical images of fire and earthquake to warn the political and religious authorities of their impending doom. They were seen as dangerous fanatics but although they were committed to changing conventional attitudes and hoped for the overturning of the established order they opposed any form of coercion and rejected the use of violence.  For centuries European countries had been called Christian because the rulers enforced their version of Christianity on all their subjects and were supported in this by a professional clergy. Religion was used as an excuse for violent persecution and murderous civil and international wars.  The personal conduct of those who regarded themselves as the Christian leaders did not match their professions of faith. So Friends adopted the name of Quaker as a badge of honour, in the hope of seeing the world shaken into a real Christian order. We often prefer to refer to ourselves as Quakers now, to make it clear that we are a separate religious movement with our own distinctive Christian discipline of discipleship. Our book of Quaker Faith and Practice attempts to show what It means to be true children or servants of God, like Jesus. Our true inner beliefs are revealed in the way we live.

In an earlier book Our Christian Origins[1] I have tried to show that what many think of as Christianity is the result of compromises made with other social and religious practices and beliefs as the infant Christian churches struggled to survive in a hostile environment. Unfortunately they ended by creating a coercive unity and institutions that are contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and the original simplicity and equality. “Church” in this context meant a group or assembly of people who came together because they had the same outlook and wished to practice the same style of living.  The first Christians free and loving associations that took no account of social class or status. We recognise that there have always been individuals and small groups in all the churches whose lives have witnessed to the original faith and simplicity of the Gospel but they are often frustrated by their ecclesiastical structures. The Friends or Quakers seek to organise themselves in a way that would be free of the errors and hindrances of dogma and hierarchy, refusing to recognise any distinction between clergy and laity. To avoid misunderstanding, Quakers prefer to call their churches “Meetings”.

Becoming human

We say that a true Christian is not someone who accepts a set of beliefs, as in a creed: he or she is someone whose way of life is determined by a transforming experience (”convincement”) that makes us aware of what it really means to be human so that we see how to live properly, depending on our particular condition and circumstances.  George Fox describes one such experience in his Journal in 1648[2]  He felt “come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” His language is biblical and Christian; the flaming sword refers to a process of purging or purification from childish self-gratification and, mental hang-ups and misleading cultural baggage.  This can be a very painful and soul-destroying experience but the reward is a wonderful new way of enjoying life. The experience is less extreme for most people but it is more common than is generally realised.  The trouble is that it is often not recognised and is suppressed by the weight of conventional, “worldly”, ideas and interests.

There is much more to this than powerful but short-lived personal emotion. It points to an underlying desire for transformed people living in a transforming society.  We are still part of the natural world and of a particular human society and culture. We all start as children and have to grow up but to be wholly and completely human is more than a biological development. Fox goes on to say that he saw “admirable works of the creation” in a new light. He wondered whether he should study herbal medicine for the good of mankind. He then decided td that it was more important for him to challenge the false attitudes and wrong behaviour that caused so much unhappiness. He saw that “as people did grow up in the Spirit of God they receive the word of wisdom, that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.”

Many of different faiths and cultures will recognise the experience and know what he means by “unity in the eternal being”.  The result is variously described as awareness of God, wakefulness, mindfulness or living in the Light.  It must be said that most people, and that would include Fox himself, do not have a single life-giving experience but a series of sometimes lesser ones, so that it is a process.  It is indeed a very individual thing and the only real evidence is in the person and his or her life. We can recognise this life or “light” in those who seem to grow into it with no awareness of any special event or turning point. Children may also show an awareness that others might only reach in old   age. As we grow in mental and moral awareness we pass through different stages and may remain for a while in a state of mind that is morally appropriate to our particular situation at that time. It can be seen as a kind of temporary “perfection” but we must be ready to press on to a further stage.   Practically all faiths and cultures have some way of welcoming the transition into adulthood but biological age, laws and ceremonies are not the determining factor in this spiritual development. Some faiths and cultures manage it better than others. Too often it becomes a formal ritual that ensures conformity with tribal customs. In some Christian Churches this may have become a routine that is imposed on teenagers and usually fails to deliver the promised revelation.

 

What I am describing may be called “mysticism” but it is important to note that genuine experiences of this kind have practical consequences and show us what to do with our lives. There is no suggestion that we should despise or shun the material and physical world of nature. On the contrary Fox’s heightened awareness of “the admirable works of creation” gave him a lasting interest in what were then called “the natural sciences”.  Long ahead of his time he advocated the teaching of them to both girls and boys. Friends see no conflict between a truly religious approach and a correct scientific one because for us true religion is also experimental and based on experience.

Although this is an intensely personal experience it strengthens our sense of community. Those who see it in purely individual terms are deceiving themselves. Unity with the Eternal Being means unity with the Creation and that includes human communities. We have evolved as social creatures who need the mutual help and support of our fellows. Humans do not just form family groups but spiritual ones. That is where religion comes in because it provides a set of ideas and practices that hold a community together. As members of a society we form religious communities for our mutual help and encouragement in this more intensive way of living. Those who say they have no religion are never the less conforming to the attitudes and social rituals and ceremonies of their fellows. They make distinctions between “us and them” and often unconsciously assume that their ways are the obvious and proper human ones.

 We all belong to the same human species and we can see that similar transformative ideas in different peoples produce a loving spirit and moral attitudes that are recognisably the same everywhere.  On the other hand as social animals we inevitably form separate social units which jealously guard their collective identity against other groups of the same species. The original wandering human bands based on family have, over a hundred thousand years, joined up to form ever larger units. This has resulted in the emergence of many diverse populations, each with its own shared language and culture, subdivided into many dialects and sub-cultures, accompanied by a variety of religious beliefs and rituals.  For most of human history this has led to competition for resources, to violent confrontation as each group tries to defend its separate identity and to warfare between nations. The emergence of a single unitary world government is, in the usual political sense, unlikely and undesirable.  The idea of a universal religion is abstract and notional. Implementing the rule of God on earth requires an altogether different way of thinking. We have to apply universal truths in particular ways. In order to do the Truth we must begin from our particular self as a member of a particular community.  Then, as Pierre Ceresole says[3] “… work for God, and you will see not only that it comes to the same thing as believing in him, but something infinitely more…”.

The Bible story

Humans talk to each other and the way we tell stories to each other makes us unique as an animal species.  We all do this and tell each other stories. Each family, group or association has its own story. In every society, there are shared memories, a story that holds the group together and keeps it going from generation to generation. It will only keep together and continue to exist for as long as it shares this common story. For George Fox and other early Quakers, the Bible told the story of their own origins and they saw their lives as a continuation of that story. So there is a very particular Quaker story that begins in 17th century England and a much wider story which takes us back through four thousand years to the origins of the ancient Israelites in Wester Asia.

The Bible records the insights and struggles of a particular “People of God” as they try, and more often fail, to lo live up to the ideal of the rule (or “kingdom”) of God on earth. In places the story may be a highly imaginative one (a myth) but they were told by and for real people and can still mean something for us.  These scriptures point to the most ancient and universal human story and illustrate universal human values.  Much has changed over the centuries and as each generation retold the story it would have added something and might have forgotten something or understood it differently.  

Of course many Christians object to that way of treating their Holy Scripture; for them it is a kind of divine dictation which cannot and must not be altered or questioned.  Friends however never took that view. They read the Bible constantly and greatly valued it, but they were prepared to read it critically and see it as the work of men who although divinely inspired were still fallible. It is the underlying meaning of the Bible stories is important for us and although we draw inspiration from them we do not accept these written words m as our ultimate authority. We have our own way of applying and practicing this prophetic tradition. So although Friends regard the words as inspired, we say that it is wrong to call the Bible the “Word of God”, as most Christians do. The Bible itself tells us that Word is the creative power of God that is Light and Life in us. Some of what I am going to say might have surprised or shocked earlier generations because it is based on later knowledge that was not available to them but I am following the same principles of interpretation.

The legendary ancestor of ancient Israel was Abraham and he is the spiritual ancestor of all Jews, Christians and Muslims. He was a Hebrew, a real historical people who lived on the margins of the great civilisations of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt and interacted with them without belonging to them. Abraham stands for those who do not conform to the unequal and complex social structures of “advanced” civilisations with their many false gods. He worshipped the one God who is everywhere for everyone   This God makes himself known by inward revelation to his prophets.  No human language can give an adequate description of the source of everything that is. The great prophet Moses is presented as a humble man who had to remind his fractious people of the one God and hold them together in times of great difficulty. On God’s behalf he promised the people future prosperity in the land chosen for them but explained that the promise was a conditional one for it meant agreeing to live in accordance with the will of God and failure to do so would bring disaster.   Accepting this agreement was called the Covenant (or Testament).  It did not mean that the People of Israel were any better than other people but that they had taken on a very heavy responsibility. It is a challenge that requires personal and collective discipline. The Law of Moses includes both detailed rules about eating and ritual behaviour and moral instruction but the prophets who followed Moses made it clear that the ceremonial parts were of no use unless the ethical standards were maintained. They insisted on a fair and equal society and love for one’s neighbour. They also had visions of a world peace and came to look forward to a time when all nations would live in the spirt of the Covenant so that there would be no more need for the divisive special religious rules. Obviously we are a long way from that. The Bible is an honest book and shows us how things are as well as how they should be. Those who are looking in the Hebrew part for bloodshed and cruelty in its pages will find them, for what we get from the Bible is what we bring to it.

Apart from the later Christian additions the Bible as we have it was mainly put together and edited in Babylon when that city was the centre of the civilised world. Although it includes some very ancient material, this is often poetic in nature and an unthinking literal understanding can be very misleading. We should read in the reflective and prophetic spirit of its writers. Their deeper psychological insights can be applied directly to ourselves and earlier Quaker writing gives many examples of this. Jesus had a thorough knowledge of what he called “the Law and the Prophets” but he related all these accumulated memories to his own times, especially as they affected the concerns and problems of ordinary people. He is our best guide when we interpret those texts and try to apply them to ourselves.

By the time of Jesus Jews were living in many countries and were especially numerous in the great empires of Rome and Central Asia but they all looked to Jerusalem and its Temple as the centre of their homeland and identity. Although the implications of his teaching were universal Jesus limited his efforts to his own people in his own land and went to his death in Jerusalem. He had at most only two or three years of public ministry and surrounded himself with only a small group of devoted followers. So he was little known in his lifetime. His faith in the future of God’s Kingdom was so great that he could leave its world-wide propagation to a few humble disciples. Jesus warned the Jews of another disaster if they tried to oppose the new “Babylon” (the Roman Empire) by violence. When he said that his kingdom was not of this world he meant that it had nothing to do with the usual political and social set-up based on the lust for power and wealth and defended by violence.

The disaster came in the lifetime of some of his disciples as he had said it would. After a terrible war the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and has never been rebuilt. After a second Jewish revolt sixty-five years later the Jews lost any semblance of a homeland when Judea and Galilee became the Roman province of Palestine Yet the Jewish nation has survived because most Jews were already living in other countries and to this day they have kept their Jewish identity wherever they live.  Meanwhile within weeks of the death of Jesus his original disciples made many converts in Jerusalem and their message of a new universal covenant was taken up by Jews from other countries. Very soon their swelling numbers included former Gentiles, non-Jews. The legalistic parts of the Law of Moses were  discarded.  A New Covenant for a universal people of God was linked to the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of a new life to all. They were given the name of Christians and they became a growing international religious movement that was no longer confined to Jews.

After fifty years a second generation of Christians felt the need to have writings of their own to record the teaching and life of Jesus and explain the New Covenant. A later selection of these was added as a supplement the Hebrew Scriptures.  This is what we call the New Testament. As numbers grew so did the threat of persecution and also of rival factions and harmful teaching. In the struggle to get better organised and maintain unity, Christians began to give leading figures greater status and power and to copy the procedures and some of the popular thinking of other rival religious cults. They ended by having a hierarchical priesthood or a paid professional clergy.  Women were increasingly marginalised in a patriarchal society.  This was accompanied by attempts to formulate and enforce a single system of beliefs which led to bitter argument and schisms.  Finally, outward forms of this “Christianity” became the official religion of the Roman Empire and other kingdoms and supported social and political systems that Jesus and other prophets would have condemned and it is not what we mean by the Christian Way. Friends regard all such developments as a serious perversion of the Gospel.

The Christian Way and the Quaker Path

To begin with Christians were mainly poor people with no political power or social status. They were pacifists who did not defend themselves by the use of violence. They were of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages. They tried to be good law-abiding subjects of whatever country they lived in but their primary loyalty was to Christ and not to any purely human authority. They all had the Jewish Bible, usually in the Greek translation.  Most teaching was by word of mouth and they chose men called elders or overseers to read to them and tell and explain the tradition.  Their form of worship allowed for vocal contributions from anyone present and this they called prophecy.  Churches kept in touch by exchanging letters (epistles), some of which were included in what became our New Testament. Prophets or apostles also travelled from church to church and country to country to inspire, encourage and renew the faith. There was as yet no priesthood.  Some of these ministers might get some help with keep and travel expenses but they were not a paid clergy.

This was the model adopted by Friends in setting up their own Meetings but we call our “prophets” “Ministers of the word”.  Strictly speaking all members of a Meeting minister to it as servants to one another, because minister is just a word for a kind of servant. The whole Meeting appoints a man or woman to undertake a particular “office” like that of Elder, Overseer, Clerk or Treasurer but this is the exercise of a “gift” or responsibility that is recognised for a certain time.  Ultimate authority comes from the spirit of Christ as discerned by the Meeting and does not depend on man-made qualifications. Quakers get organised from the bottom upwards. Individuals try to discern what Christ requires of them but yield to the greater collective wisdom  of their local Meeting which in turn accepts the greater authority of the larger area or regional Meeting. The larger area Meetings gather less often but rely on the wisdom and experience of representatives from the subordinate Meetings as well as on a more numerous attendance. For practical reasons the largest Meeting with the most authority is that of a province, state or nation that meets once a year.  The intention was always to form a world-wide church but this only began to happen in the second half of the 19th century. There are now more than fifty Yearly Meetings or Friends Churches scattered over all the inhabited continents. They keep in touch and try to cooperate on an equal basis. Differences in language culture and belief present problems and so all Friends Meetings and Churches have a lot to learn from each other.

The titles given to Jesus – Christ ad Son of God – are now a problem for some Friends. They caused problems for Jesus himself. “Christ” was the way that Greek-speaking Jews referred to the Jewish “Messiah”.  When taken literally it means “anointed” with real oil, but by then denoted the special king, priest or prophet who was to implement the kingdom or rule of God on earth.  Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a religious, political and military leader who would establish an independent Jewish kingdom or even a world empire. It was assumed that he would have supernatural help to do this. Jesus by contrast sought to bring God into the lives of ordinary people and to give hope to those generally regarded as sinners. In his “kingdom” the rich and powerful would put themselves on the same level as the weak and the poor. He told the Jews to love their enemies instead of trying to conquer them.  If there was to be a supernatural intervention to bring about the new world order it would be after his death.

In ancient times kings were regularly given a semi-divine status and called “Son of God” This is reflected in the Psalms of the Bible, especially as regards King David who was also a prophet and seen as an ideal ruler. Jesus was thought to be a descendant of David and could be seen as having a claim to the Jewish throne but he refused to be anything like the usual idea of an earthly king. That is why he usually discouraged people from calling him the Messiah. He preferred to speak of his mission as that of the Son of Man, another messianic title that was associated with the rule of God on earth. In his final confrontation with the religious and political human authorities, he did not renounce those other claims to God-given authority even though it cost him his life. His power was that of the poor and weak who live good lives come what may – the power of the “Cross”. Jesus died by crucifixion and the “Cross” became a symbol of self-denial and apparent failure but eventual victory.

When the full extent of human wickedness, stupidity and misery really gets through to us we begin to feel alienated from society as it is.  We can also feel alienated from our self. This, in the words of George Fox, “crucifies us to the world”.  Yet it is the divine gift of a new life which is real living as opposed to mere biological existence.  The death of the self brings joy and deliverance, for it is our entry into the Kingdom.  It is a “birth from above” (John 3:3ff.). Early Friends described this as “the heavenly birth in the virgin womb of eternity”. As they saw it  was a kind of resurrection that made the inevitable death of this body irrelevant. One of them, James Nayler wrote : “This is not a notion of what was done in another Generation, past or to come, hundreds or thousands of years distance, but that which leads to a New Birth, spiritually begotten and born and brought to light, without which none can see the kingdom of God, nor enter therein.”

The School of Christ

When Christians speak of Jesus as Christ they are referring to the divine power that was seen in Jesus.  After his death, his disciples still felt his presence and they recognised it as the spirit of God at work in them and in all creation.  Most of all it is the divine love shown forth in Jesus that makes him Christ for us and that we see as essential to becoming a complete human being. So Christ becomes a way of speaking of God when we relate to what is divine in our humanity. Paul says that to follow Jesus is to “put on Christ”. The Gospel according to John says that before it appeared in human form, as  in Jesus, the divine energy was the Word or Light that was with God from the beginning (John 1:1-12). When the man Jesus died the Christ spirit could remain with and be recognised in his disciples.

Paul also says that Jesus who had been a “son of David in the flesh” was shown by his resurrection to be “Son of God” (Rom.1:3/4).  But he goes on to say that by triumphing over death Jesus has become “the first-born among many brothers and sisters” (Rom.8:29).  It follows that we can all be “sons” of God as well (Gal.3:26/Rom.8:14-17).  ‘Son’ in this case is not exclusively masculine. A ‘son’ is the heir and successor to ‘his’ father, in a special position of trust and co-operation. When this is applied to Jesus it makes him more than just a child or servant of God but his adult human representative. Jesus died so that this special relationship to God could be the reward of any complete human and there is no distinction of sex or gender here. Sadly, the prejudices of generations of scholars and theologians have made it difficult for many of us now to read Paul with an open mind. Jesus himself is recorded as saying: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt.5:44-45a) and “Your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35). The staunchly orthodox early Christian Irenaeus puts it: this way “The glory of God is the living man.  And the life of man is the vision of God.”

The ‘kingdom’ promised by Jesus has not come in the external sense that it now exists everywhere on earth and for all people. Perhaps it never will but the Christian Way can and does enable people of any nation and culture to come together to live better and more meaningful lives. In the words of a theologian, “In the Christian story truth is not an object but the project of freedom made possible by the presence of God in the midst of his people… truth is the divine happening that invades our contemporary situation.” (GOD OF THE OPPRESSED BY JAMES H.CONE 1975 SPCK)  I am not saying that it is the only true one for everyone  There are other ways promoted by other faiths, each with a story of its own but they all require  commitment to a shared way of seeing and doing. For the first time in human history we can have a truly global outlook and in the 21st Century there must be mutual respect and cooperation between faiths as we seek universal love and compassion.  Christ-centred Friends agree with that but it is by committing ourselves to our particular Christian discipline that we find practical ways of witnessing to this truth.  Our Quaker path is a contemporary way to recover, “The new and living way” that “Christ has opened for us” (Heb.10:20).

 

[1]           Our Christian Origins, Michael Langford, [  ]

[2]           George Fox’s Journal, Nickalls, p27.  Religious Society of Friends, 1975 2nd Ed

[3]           Quaker Faith and Practice (5th Edition) 26.26, Religious Society of Friends

Event, Longer Meeting for Worship Saturday 5th November, All Welcome

 

Quaker Renewal UK F/friends you are warmly invited to a:

Longer Meeting for Worship on Saturday 5th November 2016

From 2pm until 5pm or whenever elders close the meeting

 circle-of-light

At Bull St Meeting House, 40 Bull St, Birmingham, B4 6AF

All Welcome, there will be a bring and share lunch from 12-2 for those that are able to arrive early.  After the worship meeting those who wish to eat together will be welcome to walk to The Warehouse Café, a local vegetarian restaurant, for dinner.

This meeting is for anyone Quaker or otherwise who is being led to Quaker Renewal in the UK.  We shall set out to listen deeply to our inner guides, the light, the divine, Christ Jesus, the seed for guidance, encouragement and nourishment on our journeys.

If you plan to come to our Meeting for Worship on Saturday 5th November 2016, please kindly RSVP to Ruth Gaston at the following email address: longermeeting@gmail.com.

If you are unable to come physically, but would like to be a part of this meeting, you are welcome to dial in through skype to join the meeting. I will set up my laptop in the meeting so you will be able to join in virtually.  Please dial in at 1.45pm to Quaker Renewal on skype to join.  Please request to connect with Quaker Renewal on Skype ahead of the meeting so that I can join you to the group.  You will need to set up a Skype log in if you don’t already have one, it is free to do so.  If you have a webcam on your computer when you dial in select the video button so we will be able to see you.

 

The Resurrection and The Life by Michael Langford

THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

 

Wherever the Lord‘s power is spoken of, there the Lord is. (Didache IV.1)

 

To be possessed of the word of Jesus means that one can also hear his silence, and so be perfect, so that he acts through the things he says and is understood through his silence… Let us therefore do everything as though he were dwelling in us, that we may be his temples and he our god in us (Ignatius to the Ephesians XV.1-3 c.108CE)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Through the written words of the New Testament we can glimpse something of a historical person, a Jewish teacher and healer, Jesus of Nazareth.   If we discount myth and miracle we do not learn very much about him.  He died young and his public ministry was limited to the last two or three years of his life.  He had few disciples and he committed nothing to writing.   So it is astonishing that twenty centuries after his death he is still influencing millions of people in all parts of the world.  We can even say that he changed the course of world history.  For believers and non-believers alike this demands an explanation.

 

Our knowledge of Jesus begins with those who knew him in his earthly life.  They could not forget him.  Those who had known him personally had an experience of seeing him after his death.  Others (and notably Saul of Tarsus whom we call Paul) had an overwhelming experience of recognising him in a light or a voice.  For them Jesus was still alive and present.  That is how Quaker Christians think of Jesus now when they call him Christ.  We share the faith of Jesus as we follow in the Way he is still showing us.  We do not just agree with what Jesus is supposed to have said long ago.  As Paul puts it, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16) and this empowers us to live with Jesus in a new way that is utterly transforming.

 

THE JESUS WE KNOW

 

The Jesus ‘of history’ said and did things that made some think he was the promised Jewish Messiah.  But he also made it clear that he was not the kind of Messiah that many Jews were expecting and the apparent shame and defeat of his death made this painfully obvious. There was to be no “restoration of the kingdom of David”.  He had indeed given hope for a manifestation of divine power that he referred to as “the Kingdom of God” but what actually happened was unexpected.   A putative Jewish Messiah became the Christ of the Nations. The one who had been “Son of David” was shown to be “Son of God” (Rom.1:3/4).  According to Paul, by triumphing over death Jesus has become “the first-born among many brothers and sisters” (Rom.8:29).  It follows that we can all be sons and daughters of God as well (Gal.3:26/Rom.8:14-17).   Jesus himself is recorded as saying “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt.5:45 & Luke 6:35). Jesus went to his death to show us the way to our rebirth.  Theological doctrines about the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ are a problem for many us but they point to what is intended for all of us. There is a spiritual death of the self and a spiritual rebirth (Col.3:1&3).  A literal baptism is only a symbol of this” (Rom.6:3-5).  Our new life as “adopted” sons and daughters of God begins here and now because God has placed in our hearts the spirit of his son. (Gal.4:5/6).  This is a resurrection because we experience it in our body, but it is not just “flesh and blood.”

 

The “Jesus of history” is as remote and elusive as any other historical figure. The living presence of Christ Jesus is known by an inner and personal revelation (Gal.1:12 & 1:16).[1]  We can recognise this in one another and help to evoke it in another person. This experience gathers a new people linked together by a shared faith that goes beyond any distinctions of race, culture or social status (Col.3:11).  In our new life we experience the “gospel” which is “the power of God for the liberation of all those who put their trust in it” (Rom.1:16).  Our contemporary Jesus is Jesus the Christ or Son of God who is also Son of Man.  We know him in our inner personal life and in the lives of his other disciples.  You can never become a disciple of Jesus by the doctrines and teaching of others.  People who look for him like that “do not know who Jesus is and are condemned by their religion never to find him” (Marcel Légaut).  Nevertheless the word of another person may still awake a kind of memory or hidden feeling that is lodged somewhere in the spirit of the listener.  So it is that from person to person and from century to century right to our own time a succession of disciples have re-lived and re-transmitted the experience of a presence – the presence of Christ.  A Christian is someone who is aware of Christ taking form in him or her self and in all their brothers and sisters (Gal.4:19). According to Paul, we can here and now in our mortal bodies, have the life of Jesus (2, Cor.  4:10/11).

.

The faith we see in Jesus somehow transfers itself to us.  We test the truth of this “gospel” by living it in what is often a hostile environment.  For Jesus it involved his death, and in a sense it involves our death while still in the body, the death of what we think we are.  When we let go of our idea of what we are, or want to be, and let in that of God the distinction between what is divine and what is earthly in us becomes blurred.  The divine emerges in our lives as Christ: “I am crucified with Christ; and I no longer live as myself, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20).  The aspect of the Divine that we call the Son was in its earthly life a Jew descended from David and this could make him an earthly Jewish Messiah or Christ; but when he ‘rose from the dead’ he was “recognised as Son of God” (Rom.1:3).  Clearly this eternal Christ who was present at the beginning of Creation cannot be identified in all respects with the Jesus who “died in the flesh” and yet he is still the same lord.[2]  We cannot give a satisfactory explanation of this in a purely intellectual way, so we just say, “Christ Jesus”.  It is only as Christ that Jesus can be known everywhere and reveal himself in everyone. This is the only way we have of really knowing Jesus now.  Paul draws the logical conclusion that as we resurrect in Christ and truly follow him we also become sons of God (Rom.8:23&29).[3]  That is the way the first Quakers saw it.

 

OUR RESURRECTION

Quite illogically Christians usually combine the orthodox belief in a general simultaneous resurrection in the future with the thinking of ancient Greeks like Plato and Pythagoras.  These philosophers saw the material body as a sort of container, or even as a prison, for an immortal soul. So when we die our bodies are completely discarded and our soul is set free to merge with the divine consciousness.  Nevertheless we are assured that we shall still retain a sense of individual identity.  Most Christians think of this as “salvation” and equate this with entering the “kingdom” promised by Jesus.  Jesus however was thinking of the “Kingdom of the Son of Man” as prophesied in Daniel 7:13/14.  This was to replace all the ‘beastly’ world empires by a universal order that was human and humane because it was from God.  Jesus associated this with the New Covenant that would end the particularity of the Jews by making the essential covenant of Deuteronomy 30 a universal one:

“This commandment is not too hard for you neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth, in your heart, so that you can do it.  I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.  If you obey… by walking in his ways… then you shall live… But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear… you shall perish… therefore choose life.” (Deut.30:11-20and Romans10:4-8)

 

Unlike John, Paul never lived to see the end of the old temple-based form of Judaism so he accepted that the old covenant form of worship was still in force for most Jews and some Christians.  That is why he opposed the idea that the Kingdom had already come on earth.  He still thought it would mean a general resurrection of all the dead and a Day of Judgement for them.  Nevertheless when Paul uses phrases like “clothed in Christ” and “Christ who lives in me” he has already accepted the Kingdom as an inner reality.  His words to the Corinthians, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom” means (as George Fox pointed out) that some of them are not ready for this spiritual Kingdom.  In contrast to the above Paul tells the church in Rome “You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, seeing that the spirit of God dwells in you … If Christ is in you then although the body is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit is your life because you have been made righteous… our old nature has no claims on us; we are not obliged to live in that way…  Moreover, if the spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you then the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give new life to your mortal bodies through his indwelling spirit…  For all who are led by the spirit of God are Sons of God” (Rom.8:14).  Clearly to be “in the flesh” here refers to a state of mind and that is the way George Fox uses the expression, or else he uses the word “carnal”.  Redemption of the physical body means its sanctification and not its rejection.  A transformation of this sort is a kind of death and we emerge from it into a new life (John 3:3).  If we know this resurrection while we are still in our mortal animal bodies why should we fear the physical dissolution of those bodies?  “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power” (Rev.20:6).  It is those who are not truly alive who are afraid of death.

 

            All that we really know about resurrection is what we experience of it in this life with Christ Jesus and we can only explain it in those terms.  Beyond that, says Paul, there is “hope for things unseen.”  So any claims to factual knowledge are idle speculation.  In 1Thessalonians and 1Corinthians Paul dutifully repeats the official line as given by the Twelve in the Didache (and later in Mark13, Luke and Matthew) but the literal interpretations of it by his converts caused problems.  He tries to correct their simplistic ideas in 2 Thessalonians and in all his later letters. For Jesus his physical death was also a baptism into a new life and it was one his disciples could share with him (Matt. 20:22-23/ Mark 10:38-39/ Luke 12:50).   Paul develops this idea in Romans 6:3-11.  If we can experience a spiritual baptism like that of Jesus in this life then we can die to ourselves while still in this body and be resurrected into a new life here and now.  So there is a resurrection that takes place for all Christians here on earth.  Each one of us has more than one kind of “end” depending on whom, when and where we are.  There is an inevitable end when we die biologically but we can also end an inadequate and insufficiently human existence by taking on a new one that we share with Christ.  Jesus can still be with us but in a different and universal way than can only be put in words as poetry: “God brought us to life together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:4-6).  Note that Paul does not use a Future Tense here. This can be our present experience.

 

Some Gnostic teachers quoted Paul and claimed him as their authority.  Like him they emphasised the different spiritual composition of the resurrected body after death and advanced the idea that Christians who are truly baptised or anointed in the spirit already enjoy a form of resurrection. This is also the theological stance of Quakers.   Sharing the death and resurrection of Jesus in this way means that the teaching of Christ in us governs the way we understand any written scripture.   I must emphasise however that for the Gnostics creation was a disastrous mistake, perpetrated by the inferior deity worshipped by Jews.  Unlike Paul they did not believe that Christ had come to redeem and restore creation.  They said that Christ was an “emanation” from a higher realm who had come to rescue those few who still had a spark of the true God in them. Only a small number of “knowing ones” would be able to enjoy this salvation from the evils of created matter…  I see no resemblance here with either Paul or the Quakers. Unfortunately in his edition of Fox’s Journal John Nickalls has changed Fox’s exhortations to be “crucified to the world” to “crucified from the world”, thus completely changing the meaning.  Fox is asking us not to spare ourselves in confronting the world in order to save it.

 

CHRIST HAS COME TO TEACH HIS PEOPLE HIMSELF

 

One at least of the original disciples, John, lived to see the end of the Temple and of any dreams of a purely Jewish and national restoration of the Kingdom of David.  In Revelation he shows us how all worldly kingdoms (“Babylon”) are doomed to perish, The Old Covenant has given way to the New Covenant, established forever by Jesus, the New Passover Lamb.  John had a vision of a Christ who has come with ‘words for his churches’ – relevant words for a contemporary situation. The gospel book that also bears John’s name develops this theme by its references to a new birth and a more inward and mystical understanding of the Kingdom.  The same is true of John’s first Epistle:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”   (1 John 3:2-3).

 

What we can know and experience now suffices for what we are now.  That however includes hearing what we must do and doing it.  We are not alone in this for we are in the unseen presence of all the faithful children of God who have gone before us:

“What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven.  You have come to God himself, the supreme judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.  Make sure that you never refuse to listen when he speaks” (Hebrews 12:22-25).

There are many similar passages in early Quaker writing.  Perhaps the best known is from Francis Howgill in Quaker Faith and Practice 1994, §19.08: “The Kingdom of Heaven did catch us and gather us all as in a net….. And we came to know a place to stand in…”

 

Shortly before his death Jesus said, of the coming Kingdom. “… and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake to bear testimony before them for gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:9/10).  This is repeated in one of the most quoted passages in the New Testament. Matthew 28:18-20

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.  And, see! I am with you every day until the completion of this age.”

Note well that the second saying is not attributed to Jesus, the mortal man, but to Jesus the risen Christ.  And there is one significant addition, “I am with you every day until the completion of this age.”  These words are the basis of the Quaker phrase in this subheading.  If all authority is now his, why, Quakers ask, should we give it to human priests and church officials?  We are not limited to the words of a long-dead teacher and neither do we have to depend on interpretations by self-appointed leaders and experts. The commands of the living Christ are too all-embracing ever to be obeyed in our own strength but if Christ is with us every day, why should we need human substitutes to guide us and keep us in the Way?

 

Whereas “baptising in the name of Jesus” has become an innocuous traditional formula, the correct translation “baptising into the Name” has real force.  Name stands for the power and glory of what cannot be named in ordinary human language and to be baptised into it is an awe-inspiring concept that cannot be reduced to a ceremony with water. The earliest recorded Christian prayer (after the Lord’s Prayer) is the Eucharist prayer from “The teaching of the twelve apostles” or Didache 10.2-10.5 (my Italics):

“We give thanks to you holy Father for your holy Name which you have made to dwell in our hearts and for the knowledge, faith and immortality which you have revealed to us through Jesus your servant.  To you be glory forever.  You Lord Almighty have created everything for the sake of your Name; you have given humanity food and drink to partake with enjoyment so that they might give thanks; but to us you have given the grace of spiritual food and drink and of eternal life through Jesus your servant.  Above all we give you thanks because you are mighty.  To you be glory forever.  Remember Lord your church, to preserve it from evil and to make it perfect in your love.  Sanctify it and gather it into your kingdom which you have prepared for it.”

If George Fox had known of this prayer he could have used it as evidence to support his understanding of the Christian gospel.

 

Paul tells us that he is the servant of a gospel “that has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col.1:23).[4]  John says the same in Revelation 14:6 and the prologue to the gospel book written in John’s name puts it in yet another way.  For Paul and John Christ is the self-expression of God in all creation from the beginning of time. This is what John means by calling Christ the Word of God.  Other Christians speak very movingly of this with reference to the Holy Spirit

“that has always been quietly anonymously at work within every human life… drawing your attention to this, to that, opening your eyes, always making you aware, awakening all that is truly human in you, all that is most real… more than the occasional prompting… a more permanent aliveness…” (John V. Taylor A Matter of Life and Death pp.11/12).

Originally the Quakers avoided any hard and fast distinction between the Holy Spirit as the Divine Presence and the Christ we know as Son of God.  They rejected any idea of a resurrected but absent Jesus who will not be seen again until a future Day of Judgement.  They protested that Christ had come and was still coming to all those willing to receive him.  In Fox’s words, “The Father of life drew me to his Son by his Spirit” (Journal. Ni.p.11/Works 8.247).

 

The Day of the Lord and the coming of Christ is for all of us in this life and it is of crucial importance that we be ready for it. The Quakers emphasised the centrality of Christ as their only present teacher and orderer. Wherever they were they lived in New Jerusalem.  Fox taught that salvation begins now with the power that comes from Christ.  This enables us to live on earth in accordance with God’s will for us.   When we come alive in our complete humanity other people are going to notice the difference. They may not welcome this and it may indeed be the case that we enter the Kingdom by way of the Cross.  Although we may also say that the Kingdom is in us we are also part of it.  The Church of this “City of God” does not simply exist in the world for its own sake, and neither do the local church communities or meetings which are supposed to be a visible manifestation of the “new and living way“ that Christ “has opened for us” (Heb.10:20).   Just as we find freedom from self in this world by serving one another so must we seek the good of all God’s creatures and the freedom of all his children in the world as it is.  George Fox wrote:

“…stir abroad while the door is open, and the light shines; and so go on in that which lets you see the world, to comprehend it, and to see what is imprisoned by it and suffers by it.” (Epistle 135)

 

When Paul says that the gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven that must include whatever idea people may have of the abode of the dead.  In 1 Peter 3:19 those who lived and died without conscious knowledge of Christ are called “the spirits in prison”, and a Jew would naturally think of the Patriarchs and of all the faithful Israelites who died before his time.  Christ, in the spirit, sets them free just as he does for us.  This never excluded Gentiles who had no knowledge of the Scriptures but who recognised the Law of God in their hearts and followed it (Rom.2:12-15).  As Eva Pinthus has pointed out in her paper (April 2006) this is the neglected message of Easter Saturday.  It is of crucial importance to most Africans and many others who will not accept any offer of resurrection that does not include their ancestors.  Jesus did not die to save a few individuals but to restore humanity.  There are some very moving Greek icons that show Jesus releasing Adam and Eve from their subterranean prison.  Peter knew what it was to be a basically good man trapped in a spiritual prison, and so did George Fox.  When I was in a deep and terrible pit myself I found that Jesus was standing next to me.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is still going on both as a personal encounter with Jesus as lord (master-teacher) and as a coming to life on the part of those who experience this. There can be no final and satisfactory way of saying in words how Jesus becomes the universal Christ who is part of what we mean by “God”. Clearly we cannot follow Christ now in exactly the same way as his disciples followed Jesus then.  People could only be disciples of the human Jesus in his mortal lifetime.    Quakers do not claim to imitate Jesus but can join others in the “Imitation of Christ”.   As we come out of bondage and alienation and find an inner peace, so we are drawn together to form our little communities that express this freedom in the way they organise themselves and the way they live.  That is the “Church”, God’s free men and women.  When it comes to the way we order our corporate affairs we Quakers have something of real value to say to other Christians but only if we can link it to “Christ has come to teach his people himself.”  Without that we have nothing new or helpful to say to people of any other faith.

 

SOPHIA PERENNIS – THE PERRENNIAL WISDOM

 

This Christian way of understanding resurrection need not prevent us from learning from other faith traditions.  Hindu thinking distinguishes between three kinds of rebirth.  First there is the transmission of hereditary traits from one generation to another; this is what we now associate with genes and DNA.  Secondly they speak of a transformation or transition of our conscious selves while we are still in this life; this may be compared with John 3~3, Romans 6:3-5 and Ephesians 4:23.  Finally there is the way the Spirit transfers itself from a deceased body-and-soul to a newly formed one.  That is often called “reincarnation” but, in what I have read, there is no transfer of individual consciousness and it is not the same person in a different body.  It is like filling a container with water from the sea, emptying it back into the sea and then refilling it.  It is the same water and yet not the same.  A wave has a brief individual existence before being reabsorbed by the sea.  Christian mystics also are not so sure about the survival of our self-conscious identity after death.   Meister Eckhart says, “The soul must relinquish her existence” and William Blake:

“I will go down into Annihilation and Eternal Death, lest the Last Judgement come and find me unannihilated, and I be seized and giv’n into the hands of my own selfhood.”

 

In other words the usual idea of an individual immortal soul or psyche is questionable.  In John 12:25 Jesus says: “He who loves his soul (psyche) loses it, and he who hates the world will keep it for life (zoe) eternal.”    When Jesus “breathed his last” on the cross his breath or spirit merged with the divine spirit and took on eternal life in God.  Many English translations confuse the Greek words psyche and zoe and translate both as “life”.   We can relate to the living spirit of Christ because we can live in the same spirit during our mortal existence. Teachers of other world faiths would agree with this while offering an alternative way of naming and explaining it.  The first really important point to understand is that whatever form the teaching takes it requires single-minded attention and life-long practice and is in that sense exclusive.  The second point is that we can only do this together, as a community that has its own order or discipline. Early Friends were well aware of the truths that might be found in other faiths but they were very clear on those two essentials

 

Martin Buber gives us the Jewish perspective on this: “As Yahweh’s suffering servant Israel becomes God’s visible presence in the world, enduring suffering for the freedom of humanity.”  He gives us this advice:

“The true solution can only issue from the life of a community which begins to carry out the will of God, often without being aware of doing so, without believing that God exists and that this is his will.  It may issue from the life of the community, if believing people support it who neither direct nor demand, neither urge nor preach, but who share the common life, who help, wait and are ready for the moment when it will be their turn to give the true answer to the inquirers”

(Israel and the world by Martin Buber. III p.230).

Quakers who now say that it is no longer meaningful or necessary to speak of Jesus as Christ are effectively denying the main experience that gives Quakers a valid reason for their continued existence as a church or community: “For amongst us Christ is King… we look not at persons, but at the power of God; and know the reign of Christ amongst us.” (Fox. Works III.31),

 

 CONCLUSION

 

We cannot know Jesus directly as the man who lived and died two thousand years ago but we can experience the divine creative energy that revealed itself in him.  Jesus, in order to release its full potential in all men and women was prepared to share death with the meanest and weakest of us. This gives a new universal meaning to the community of heaven on earth promised by the Hebrew prophets.  Ever since then some people have witnessed to a presence among them and within them that makes this possible. The death of Jesus is a historical fact but the mystery of his resurrection is only true for those who know Jesus in and for them selves.  Then he becomes our own personal experience.  “Christianity” is all too often just another religion made up of theological definitions and cultic practices.  It makes Jesus the object of certain beliefs.  As opposed to this the faith of a Quaker Christian is the knowledge of a Presence that can be traced in his disciples from age to age as it comes to light in them.  Anyone “in Christ” is a “new creation” (2 Cor.5:17).   “The gospel” says Fox, “is what brings a man to be a man.”  The humanising presence of the eternal Christ can make us in our turn divine. Ancient and modern theologians agree on this:

“The glory of God is the living man.  And the life of man is the vision of God” (Irenaeus).  “Once humanity comes into being God will appear as the infinite where our freedom has room to breathe.” (Maurice Zundel)

 

Bibliography

A matter of life and death by John V.Taylor.  SCM 1986

Can these dry bones live? by Frances Young.  SCM 1992

Treatise on the Resurrection and Gospel of Philip 

          from The Nag Hammadi Library.  Harper Collins 1990

The Didache from Early Christian Writings Penguin Classics 1968 1981

          or from The Apostolic Fathers I.  Loeb Classical Library 1977

Jesus, Revolutionary for Peace by Mark Bredin.  Paternoster Press 2003

What is Civilisation? (6.The coming to birth of the spirit)

          by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.  Golgonooza Press 1989

City of God by Augustine of Hippo: Chapter XX.

Israel and the world by Martn Buber 1948

Catholic Quakerism by Lewis Benson, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 1983.

Conversations with death  by Marjorie Agoston (typescript only).

Apocalypse and Apostasy; a commentary on the Book of Revelation

          by Michael Langford (typescript only).

 

I would like to give the last word to a Quaker poet:

 

There is God and there is man.

Man does not know that he is God,

But God knows that he is man.

 

If a man thinks that he is God he is insane.

Yet man is God and does not know it.

 

Man is God as a wave is the sea.

Rolling for ever across the oceans,

breaking on the shores of time.

 

Man plays hide and seek with God.

Using all his cunning to never find him.

He searches in every imaginable way,

in every imaginable place.

Yet never looks into the depths of his heart.

The game is over when the last trumpet sounds

the dying breath of reunion, realisation and peace.

 

Man cannot seek God because he is God.

All seeking hides the wisdom

that knows that this is so.

How can we desire to have no desire?

In being, just being, we reawaken as God.

How many words does it take to feel the silence of God?

Martyn Tozer

reprinted with permission from Quaker Monthly February 2007.

[1]  to me is an incorrect translation

[2] The use of upper case letters in translations from the Greek of  the New Testament is entirely a matter of later interpretation.  When applied to Jesus lord means teacher or master of disciples.

[3]  In Greek plurals like apostles, brothers, disciples and sons are both feminine and masculine.  So in George Fox we get the translation “sons and daughters”.

[4] Note the correct translation as known to Robert Barclay and George Fox.