Monday, April 16, 2007

I have been left with the understanding of the balance between the inward and the outward, and to see that the lack of such balance has, at times, led me off into the deep weeds on either side of The Way.

It is by holding the Inward Light of the Spirit in one hand, and the outward historical Christ in the other that I have been and still am being transformed into the likeness of both.

This is not growth from contradiction. It is from the interplay of two vehicles of revelation, each a manifestation of the same revelation.

Although they reveal the same thing, neither of them, alone, in my experience, has been sufficient to set off of keep the process in motion. I have laid aside the Teachings, at times, and found myself adrift with scant orientation, at war with my intention and less able to connect with those around me. The same result has obtained at others times in my life when I have laid aside an active spiritual practice based on listening and tried to be guided strictly by the Teachings.

Joel Bean spoke to this condition, and his legacy as I understand it matches my vision.

“Our Society has had opportunity to learn, by sorrowful lessons, the danger of exalting too exclusively our Christ within, on the one hand, and Christ without, on the other. We have need ever to guard alike against that refined and emasculated spirituality which undervalues the Bible and the outward means of grace, and even the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God, and that no less fatal outwardness and superficiality which would substitute profession and prescription, and ritual, for saving faith and all the soul-renewing and life-transforming verities of Christian experience, realized through the imparted energy of the Spirit of Christ within.” (Joel Bean, address to the Annual Meeting of Friends’ First-Day School Association in Philadelphia, 1880).

The Society of Friends has been divided because Friends have been unable to maintain the balance that existed in the beginning. Over time people were born or came into the Movement who became or were oriented more toward one pole than the other, who saw the element they favored, their own spiritual partiality, among Friends and identified with it. They did not see, or perhaps did not value, the other element, that the other orientation was just as much a part of Friends faith and practice. Nor, over time, could they abide its presence.

Although reasons such as geography and family connection left Friends on one side or the other of various divisions who did not "fit in" (laying the groundwork in some cases for further division) the general drift of the realignment of the Movement into the domains that exist today has been to separate those whose primary orientation is the Bible and those who place such emphasis on the Inward Light (in the many ways they conceive of it). Gross generalization, to be sure, but a useful one.

It seems difficult for the two--the Spirit and the Bible--to reign together. Perhaps, better stated, it is difficult for Friends to allow them to do so. It is a condition that often excludes comfort and certainty--and requires great charity toward others, at least in the short term. And we do value comfort and certainty. And we do seem to run low, at times of conflict, on charity.

In my brief "sojourning" among the domains into which the Movement is divided, today, I find much of what God has made me in all. But where the divide is the sharpest, where the balance is the most one way or the other--I find significant parts of the condition into which I am being brought are missing or in short supply. This is especially true of compassion or loving kindness for those "across the divide" or outside the circle.

It is among Friends (and other people) who seem to have access to and can draw upon both the inward and the outward that I feel the most unity.

But I cannot, at least not any longer, bring myself to accept these divisions and to reconcile myself to being apart from those who are on one "side" or the other, nor, at least any longer, to be at war--for the sake of peace and unity, of course--with them. I see my way, now, as to abide with all, striving for the humility and the meekness that so often eludes me and yet which I know is to only way we can all come and be together. Providence has placed me in the Liberal domain of the Society of Friends and from that ground I work, here I do my best to bloom. But Providence has placed others in the other domains of the Movement to do the same and, as the song says, they have skies as blue and hopes and dreams as high as mine.

I sometimes find myself annoyed with Friends on one side or the other--and especially annoyed with myself--when the lack of such necessary meekness and humilty as results in harmony manifests itself in hurtful and divisive ways toward the "other". When that happens, anymore, I instantly am brought to recall the words of Rachel Hicks:

"Now, as I write this, after years of reflection and observation of the effect of promulgating opinions and doctrines not essential in themselves, especially on the mission of Christ in that prepared body, I am confirmed in the belief that it tends to unprofitable discussion and controversy, and often to alienation of love for one another…Had love of God abounded in the heart, it would have been seen that obedience to Him in all things was the plan of salvation ordained by Him from the foundation of the world, and we should then have remained a united people of great influence in gathering the nations to the peaceable kingdom of Him who was ushered into the world with the anthem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!”

Rachel Hicks
(New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1880), p 39

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