Sunday, November 18, 2007

Holy Disobedience

Coming after an introduction to Holy Obedience written by a God- entranced Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly, it is fitting that we also consider the Holy Disobedience advocated by the sometime Communist, peripatetic Socialist and fellow traveler of many Quakers, A.J. Muste. It a Muste slogan which is quoted by Quakers when they proclaim "There is no way to peace - peace is the way."

Inspired by a recently published book by Georges Bernanos, Tradition of Freedom, Muste sets down his convictions regarding the peace-time draft. Written in 1952, after the conclusion of World War II when Muste was quite active in the peace movement, this pamphlet illustrates his continued commitment to resistance toward conscription.

Of the book by Bernanos, Muste says it “is a hymn to freedom, an impassioned warning against obedience and conformity, especially obedience to the modern State engaged in mechanized, total war.” This literature might still be appropriate reading today.
"Most believers in democracy and all pacifists begin, of course, with an area of agreement as to the moral necessity, the validity and the possible social value of No-saying or Holy Disobedience. Pacifists and/or conscientious objectors all draw the line at engaging in military combat..."
But more than refusing to bear arms, Muste argues, "To me it seems that submitting to conscription even for civilian service is permitting oneself thus to be branded by the State. It makes the work of the State in preparing for war and in securing the desired impression of unanimity much easier. It seems, therefore, that pacifists should refuse to be thus branded."

In this small volume Muste argues forcefully not only against the horrors of war and destruction, but also against the conformist attitude which allows the militaristic state to forge ahead with its totalitarian plans.
"Precisely in a day when the individual appears to be utterly helpless, to "have no choice," when the aim of the "system" is to convince him that he is helpless as an individual and that the only way to meet regimentation is by regimentation, there is absolutely no hope save in going back to the beginning....[It] is of crucial importance that we should understand that for the individual to pit himself in Holy Disobedience against the war-making and conscripting State, wherever it or he be located, is not an act of despair or defeatism. Rather, I think we may say that precisely this individual refusal to "go along" is now the beginning and the core of any realistic and practical movement against war and for a more peaceful and brotherly world."
The simple protest of non-conformity becomes a spiritual rebirth which has the potential to turn the tide of sentiment against the tyrannical urgings of the propagandists, the talking heads, the scripted orations of our nation’s fear-mongers.
Non-conformity, Holy Disobedience, becomes a virtue and indeed a necessary and indispensable measure of spiritual self-preservation, in a day when the impulse to conform, to acquiesce, to go along, is the instrument which is used to subject men to totalitarian rule and involve them in permanent war. …It does not seem wise or right to wait until this evil catches up with us, but rather to go out to meet it — to resist — before it has gone any further.
This is a foundational document in the peace movement; one which stands even today as a beacon of light in the totalitarian darkness of a State of War.

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet #64: Holy Obedience

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holy Obedience

At the beginning of the holocaust, at the start of the devastation of World War II, Thomas Kelly returned from Europe with a message for Quakers. He returned from that visit shaken by the suffering he had witnessed in Germany but buttressed by new experiences of divine love able to meet that agony.
"Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history."
That journey prepared Kelly for his 1939 William Penn lecture to the Young Friends Association in Philadelphia. Entitled Holy Obedience, that lecture became a central theme to the posthumous collection "A Testament of Devotion." In that slim volume of five essays, Thomas Kelly calls all of us, Friends and others, to the internal life of obedience, of faithfulness. As noted by Jerry Flora "The mystical teaching of Quaker theologian Thomas Kelly continues to enrich and inspire a new generation of readers searching for a meaningful life in a world veering towards chaos."

In Holy Obedience Kelly takes his theme from an observation by Meister Eckhart in the 14th century:
Meister Eckhart wrote: "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves." It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without my reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me - commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don't realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don't understand what I mean.
According to Thomas Kelly there are three gateways into this life of holy obedience. The first is one in which Kelly has intimate experience: the gateway of profound mystical experience.
"It is an overwhelming experience to fall into the hands of the living God, to be invaded to the depths of one's being by His presence, to be, without warning, wholly uprooted from all earth-born securities and assurances, and to be blown by a tempest of unbelievable power which leaves one's old proud self utterly, utterly defenseless..."
Kelly does not recommend retreating from the world in a trance of mysticism. Quite the contrary.
Do not mistake me. Our interest just now is in the life of complete obedience to God, not in amazing revelations of His glory graciously granted only to some. ... But holy and listening and alert obedience remains, as the core and kernel of a God-intoxicated life, as the abiding pattern of sober, workaday living.
A second important aspect of entering the gateway to holy obedience echoes the advice given in many Eastern religions:

Begin where you are. Obey now. Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed. Begin where you are. Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter, utter submission and openness toward Him. Listen outwardly to these words, but within, behind the scenes, in the deeper levels of your lives where you are all alone with God the Loving Eternal One, keep up a silent prayer..."

Kelly is known to Quakers as a mystic, as one who has seen beyond the limits of personal greed and self-gratification. He is convinced not only that he has been given a message, but that he must deliver that message. This is the message of not only a Quaker mystical theologian; this is a message of a prophet in our midst.

Here is a slim essay that, like all substantial devotional writing, needs to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and repeatedly. View the complete 1939 William Penn Lecture: Holy Obedience

Monday, November 5, 2007

Rufus Jones

In the pamphlet Religion As Reality, Life and Power Rufus Jones makes an eloquent case for a mystical approach to religion. Familiar with the questions often raised by young college students, he addresses the Young Friends Association in Philadelphia in 1918 about truth, life, beauty and meaning.

Rufus Jones, professor of philosophy at Haverford College, is not one to mince his words, to couch his thoughts in vanilla-flavored jargon. Even in a small lecture like this Dr. Jones goes straight to the point without evasions. Here he addresses the essential question 'What is Religion?'
"I shall consider religion in this lecture as a way of realizing and fulfilling life, a way of finding the whole of oneself. Life is ... the discovery of infinite interior dimensions and possibilities, the finding of almost inexhaustible resources and supplies of power for the continual expansion of personal capacity and so the constant winning of unwon goals and the perennial acquisition of joy. … As the word implies, religion binds back the soul into union with realities which refresh it, restore it, vivify it, and integrate it and complete it; i.e., put it in possession of the whole of itself."
Religion is considered from the vantage point of Truth, where the context includes the Eternal, and Beauty, where "we suddenly become aware of free and spontaneous powers, of something unfathomable within ourselves.", and Service, where altruism is as essential to life as is an ever-present egoism. Yet considered by themselves none of these agencies of life are sufficient. "The most striking thing about the type of human life which I should suppose is normal is its infinite reach."

Jones is especially convinced of the enormous capabilities of the human self, especially concerned that youth has lost its way, has lost sight of the possibilities, has become separated from the potential fulfillment of life.
"Most of the tragedies of human life are these tragedies of separation and division. The divided self, sundered from its fellowship and companionship for which it was made, is always a sick and feeble soul. The way of health and healing is a way of union and correspondence with those necessary realities from which we have become isolated and we shall find that religion is one of the mightiest of all the constructive, unifying forces we know. As the word implies, religion binds back the soul into union with realities which refresh it, restore it, vivify it, and integrate it and complete it; i.e., put it in possession of the whole of itself."
Comparing his stunning vision of a nearby mountain being slowly revealed by the rising mist, Jones waxes poetic about the internal realities and the potential for true revelation:
"Sometimes - Oh joy! when the inward weather is just right; when selfish impulse has been hushed; when the clouds and shadows, which sin makes, are swept away and genuine love makes the whole inner atmosphere pure and free from haze, then I know that I find a beyond which before was nowhere in sight and might easily not have been suspected. I can not decide whether this extended range of sight is due to alterations in myself or whether it is due to some sudden increase of spiritual visibility in the great reality itself. I only know the fact. Before, I was occupied with things; now, I commune with God and am as sure of Him as I am of the mountains beyond my lake, which my skeptical visitor has not yet seen."
Do we remain Jones' skeptical visitors, or will we join him when the 'inward weather is just right' in the pursuit of his visions, his convictions, his mystical approach to the life and power of religion?

View the complete 1918 William Penn Lecture:Religion As Reality, Life and Power