Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Power of Truth

Quakers speak blithely of the Truth, seldom knowing why it is capitalized. What is this Truth? Is this a Truth which evolves, which is different for each person, or is this Truth common among all people of faith in all generations? And what importance has this Truth? What are its origins, and how can it convince us?

These are the questions that Herrymon Maurer addresses in this small pamphlet, written in the shadow of nuclear holocaust, written with a hand that rips off the cover of complacency, written with a heart that struggles with the ignorance and deafness of his fellow travelers. “Our eyes grow clouded, our ears dulled; we neither hear nor see that we must lose ourselves in Truth.”

What is this Truth? It is the realization that outward works are ineffectual, even non-sensical, unless they spring from an inward reordering. Knowledge of the inward root is this Truth without which all action becomes meaningless, indeed, rootless.

Certainly the example of Jesus should be a hint to us of the right path, the other way:
Jesus preached no outward salvation, put himself at the head of no organization, offered — much to the displeasure of those who were deaf to the message of the prophets — no outward leadership, no panaceas. As his life was love and inward following of God, so also was his death. He who rejected in the wilderness the temptations of the world and its outward powers, who counseled nonviolence and the return of good for evil, died so that men and women might be made free.

The emphasis of Maurer's message is that we each have responsibility for our own confusion, our own misdirection. Our responsibility is “to know what is inward and to make outward works mesh intimately with it.”

Read with Herrymon Maurer about his certainty about the Truth, about our responsibilities, about our faith.
The Power of Truth

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obstacles to Mystical Experience

Scott Crom, a Quaker and philosophy professor at Beliot College in Wisconsin, wrestles with the dual nature of man's existence: the struggle between reason and intuition, between tradition and illumination, between liturgy and prophesy. Just a glance at his section heading will give you a glimpse of the depth of his examination: Intellectual Obstacles; There Are Many Paths; Between Time and Eternity; Obstacles in the Will; Socrates or Augustine?; The Personality of God; The Final Breaking Point.

Central to his concern is the role of reason in the spiritual realm.
"Does reason control the will, or can the will overpower reason? Both and neither. The very question is symptomatic of a split, if not a downright illness, on the part of the person for whom it is a pressing question. It is psychologically akin to the tail-chasing paradox found in those who admire a life of spontaneity and simplicity, and deliberately set out to make themselves spontaneous and simple, thereby pushing themselves further away from what they think they want."

But as a Quaker, Scott Crom realizes the limits of philosophizing, the traps of theologies. Quakerism, he says, "replies that religion really begins in an experiment, to end in an experience. Doctrines and interpretations tend not only to be stumbling blocks to the seekers, but divisive factors among the religious. Accordingly, a doctrinal formulation of belief does not matter nearly so much as what one feels and experiences, and how one lives and responds to his own illumination and to the world around him."

This essay is in the spirit of an investigation, of questions, paradox, problems, and sometimes solutions which attempt to fit both the sense of mystery and the requirements of religion. Determine for yourself whether Scott Crom raises more questions than he answers.

Read the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet 132 by Scott Crom:
Obstacles to Mystical Experience

Monday, February 4, 2008

Our Hearts Are Restless

The premise of this pamphlet is that "Quakerism is a way of response to God, a way of response to the universal tide of unrest which ever relentlessly sweeps in upon us."

Gilbert Kilpack, a director of studies at Pendle Hill in the 1950's, begins with an astounding declaration:
The outcome of all human living and thinking depends upon what we make of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. I say this not to astonish nor for the sake of novelty, but because to miss the implications of these chapters will, in the end, make all the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kind of world we make.

The author focuses our attention with fundamental question which we must all face: "Why am I here on this strange earth - what is the point to my life, to any life, to all human life? That is the question which passes from soul to soul and which we turn from and even conspire to avoid as one avoids some insidious disease..."
The essential, the primal question is simply "that of God in every man" seeking its fulfillment. That there is that of God in every man cannot be affirmed too many times, but it can be affirmed too easily. We should, every time we use the expression, be made to stop and think of the strange, terrible, and wonderful implications of such a belief.

From there Gilbert shines a light on each of our social testimonies, including Peace ("Sometimes I think I can hear the angels in heaven singing a funeral dirge for Friends' peace testimony.."), Community, Equality, and Simplicity. A reflection on our lack of true light leads him to question "How does 'the secret shining of the seed of God' become a living flame?" And answers at length "that to become Children of the Light we must first of all learn to pray... I do not care how broad a definition one gives to prayer so long as one does not impose a humanly fabricated limitation upon the possibilities of prayer."

I am enchanted by his understanding of the mystic:
The mystic is not one who possesses a special power to invade the Divine; rather he is any ordinary person who persistently puts down his human pride, that the Divine may invade him. The worldly man is the one who has learned to sidestep the everlasting seekings of God’s truth; the mystic is the one who has learned not to sidestep. Anyone can become a worldly soul and anyone can become a God-like soul. I never know whether or not I am a mystic until I bend my knees, which are not so much stiff as stubborn, till I bow my head, which is not so much filled with lofty reasoning as with lofty pride, till I calmly fold my hands, which are more restless from anxiety than from a desire to serve.

With examples taken from mystical literature, his own insight, and the writings of many others, Gilbert leads us through a discussion of prayer, its purpose, its mode, its difficulties and its rewards. He leads us to his six rules for seeking (q.v.) concluding "Only one thing is to be sought alone. God alone is an end in Himself."

Read the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet 32 by Gilbert Kilpack:
Our Hearts Are Restless