Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Nature of Reality: Step #3

How does one explain the nature of reality according to the Society of Friends? After all, early Friends didn't think much of theological abstractions or obtuse dogma. Unlike the Puritan/Reformed or the Catholics who wrote volumes and long tomes on theoretical topics such as God's sovereignty, election, and hidden decrees, the Trinity, the Atonement, original sin, the nature of Christ, etc., Quakers most often wrote practical exhortations, ethical warnings, prophecies, and spiritual journals. They did so partially, because at heart, the Society of Friends was and is a deep movement of spiritual experience of God, not abstract analysis or theoretical explanation.

Ultimate Reality is seen relationally and intimately, not primarily intellectually. After all who can know the mind of God? How can we the finite know the Infinite except by the Spirit, by personal transcendental experience?

Secondly, Friends saw from day to day that professing creedal Christians who focused on theology and dogma didn't often practice basic human virtues, let alone the ethical truths of the Spirit--peace, compassion, patience, purity, and joy. On the contrary, the professors of Christianity were hypocritical and intolerant; their leaders used their clerical office for greedy gain, to oppress others, even to slaughter their own neighbors in the name of Jesus Christ.

For the Friends there was no good news in the religions they saw around them. George Fox when searching for God despaired of finding any succor. "But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? And this I knew experimentally.

When it comes to intellectual knowing, there is some truth in a poem I wrote "Less Is More":

When young
I knew so much
So I thought
But the less time
The less I know
By the time of my death
I will know nothing
But will be known
By God who knows all

from Western Friend
December 2008

Our Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice says, "The Quaker way emphasizes experience over religious belief or doctrine. It is difficult to capture the essence of that experience in words. Yet every Faith and Practice attempts to do that very thing...The religious practices of Friends are founded in direct communion with God and the conviction that the Divine Light is accessible to each person; Yet it is one Light, one Truth. We wait with hearts and minds open to the Divine so that Truth will be made known among us.

Key Truths Friends Have Experienced:

#1 God is love and desires all humans to come to the Truth.
John 15: 12-15 The son of man says, "Love each other as I have loved you.. I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I heard from my Father."

#2 Truth is primarily relational.
from PYM's F.&P. "Truth is tested, not by the degree to which it conforms to dogma, but by its power to transform our lives and the lives of others."

#3 Truth starts within us and moves outward.
"All life is sacred." PYM
"True religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness...I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of him."
John Woolman

#4 True faith creates within us Life contrary to the "world."

#5 Worship is expectant openness to the Divine--beyond forms and rituals, is sometimes hindered by forms and rituals, especially if the latter are done by rote rather than a Divine encounter.

#6 True values are not relative customs according to time and place and culture, but are eternally true and come from the inner essence of God. From God's Spirit come Equality, Honesty, Purity, Community, Peace, Love, Justice, Mercy, Humbleness, Simplicity, Kindness, Expectant Silence, Temperance, Goodness, and Joy.

#7 Individual leadings should be brought before the Body for corporate discernment.

#8 Worship leads to service.
There is an old Quaker joke about a stranger who came into a Quaker meeting. Nothing was happening, so the man leaned over and asked one of the Friends, "When is the service going to start?"
The Friend whispered back, "The service will start outside after the end of worship."

#8 There is no professional clergy. All Friends are active ministers of various kinds.

#9 Scripture is interpreted by the Spirit within the gathered body of the faithful.
"...tell them in the name of God that there is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening." 2 Timothy 2:14 NJB

#10 Receiving love from the Light within the community of the faithful leads to the living out of testimonies among all humans and in nature.

All Friends may not hold to every one of these key truths, but most have in the 360 years of the society's existence.

To be continued


Tom Smith said...

I appreciate this list very much. In fact I led a discussion at our Meeting just this past week on "What should someone believe/do to be a 'Friend'." In a "liberal" unprogrammed Meeting there was very little that could be agreed upon. About the only thing that received unanimous (we were in an informal setting and not seeking unity) was that someone who believed in the "reality of physical sacraments" should not be concerned a Friend.

In reality there are MANY more people who call themselves Friends who have "professional clergy," or hireling ministry than Friends who do not have. FUM and EFI in Africa and South Africa as well as in the US have by far the most members of Friends than unprogrammed Friends.

Liz Opp said...


I wonder what would be your own "Key Truths" that you yourself have experienced as a Friend. Would it be identical to the list you have here?

Perhaps I need to answer my own question with my own list of key Truths I have experienced as a Friend. Hmmm....

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. A while ago, there had been a go-around among some of us bloggers about the 10 things we love (or make us crazy) about Quakers. It started off as a meme, "10 Reasons Why I'm Quaker" and took off from there. My own list is here. It's not the same as striving to identify "key truths," but there seems to be some connection... --Liz

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello Tom,

Thanks for responding.

Sounds like we need to hold our "liberal meetings" in the Light. Our deep sense of God as Friends is that we hold all to be sacred, not because we don't do or don't believe something.

Any Friends who have professional clergy in the sense of being hirelings--motivated by secular concerns--certainly need to be held in the Light.

Thanks for sharing,


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Liz,

Thanks for the comment. Your question is an excellent one. Briefly, I would say that the Key Truths are the ones that I have experienced as a Friend. However, I now plan to look over the list very carefully to see how true this is.

Secondly, thanks for the creative idea of "10 Things I love about Quakers." I branched over to your website and started reading several posts and that led me to Robin's, etc.

And my mind is fairly gushing with thoughts--will send you some later.

Thanks for the spiritual communion,


Daniel Wilcox said...

Dear Liz,

Here's my response to your question: "Would it be identical to the list you have here?"

Also, by the way, I read your list and was ministered to, but I'll respond later on that.

#1 God is love, is for sure from my experience, including several "openings" to me which were so real, when they happened, I felt I would give all that I value in life for "this communion of love" I experienced. I don't usually write about them because they have such deep personal meaning to me--sort of like living love letters from God. But I have written about two of the experiences briefly in two poems.

#2 Truth is primarily relational. This came backwards to me after I had spent years thinking of Truth mainly as correct doctrine. Finally, I came to the realization that doctrine had never loved me, had never freed me, but almost always caused verbal conflict and confusion. Instead, I changed my focus to the experiences I had of God. As a child of the Enlightenment, that is hard to do because I am skeptical of "experiences." I've seen others deceived by their "experiences."

What I finally realized, however, is that religious truth doesn't reside in doctrine, at least not in the sense that many religious people think.

#3 Truth starts within us and moves outward. Yes, this I experienced. I realized when I came to the end of the dead-end of doctrine, that my love of the Truth and seeking of the Truth came from my first encounter, not from my intellectual pursuit of various points about religion.

#4 True faith creates within us Life contrary to the "world."

This has been my experience, to such a degree, I sometimes find it hard to understand how the world's values can have any appeal to anyone.

#5 Worship is expectant openness to the Divine. I have lived far from Friends meetings most of my life and have had to meet for worship in the Spirit as a "Quaker at large" or in the midst of other denominations' forms of worship, live in expectant openness. I am not a ritual oriented individual so this has been a challenge. I am so thankful that now I live within 45 minutes of my meeting on the Central Coast.

#6 True values are not relative...This has been my experience. I won't go into detail, at least not on this list. My wife emphasizes when I start talking to give her the short version;-)

#7 As mentioned above, I have seen plenty of individuals who had "leadings" that proved later to be delusion, illusion, or misguided. Sometimes group discernment is way too slow, but often it protects individuals from the bogus or even "wolves in sheep's clothing."

#8 Worship leads to service. Yes, this has happened to me. The deeper I experience God the more I seek to live out God's love to others. I am especially concerned with worldwide outreach and the Middle East.

#9 There is no professional clergy. I learned this one the hard way. I used to be a member of a yearly meeting who sometimes "recorded" pastors from outside of Friends. We suffered the result-- lost the testimonies and deep Quaker truths because the paid pastors, though sincere, didn't live in Friends understanding.

#10 Receiving love from the Light. Basically same as #8

I hope that answers your question. It certainly made me think and led me to reflect on my past spiritual experiences.

Now, however, I still need to reflect on whether these 10 are my own highest 10 for myself, as I tried to make this list as inclusive as possible. For instance, I would speak more of the Son of Man in my own experiential list.

And, lastly, my "10 Reasons Why I'm Quaker" is slightly different, but I save that for another day:-)

In the Light,