Old year, New Year

Whilst continuing as a regular attender at Brentford & Isleworth meeting and taking an active part in Woodbrooke’s online ‘Becoming Friends’ course, how and why have I managed to so neglect my personal quaker web space?

It was originally begun to provide me with thinking and reflecting space – a kind of public journal – but also to provide a resource (by way of the links and topic pages) for others who may be interested in quakers or attending meetings or contemplating membership.

I have been struck at times by the potential tensions between ‘christocentric’ and ‘evangelical’ quakers on the one hand and the ‘liberal’, ‘universalist’ and ‘non-theist’ quakers on the other.  The possibility of ‘schism’ as in the past is there; but perhaps the schisms have already happened and the tendency today is for a sort of ‘ecumenical quakerism’ – holding together over what all quaker ‘flavours’ more or less have in common.

(Which amounts to the ‘testimonies’ or ways of living in simplicity, truth and integrity, peace and non-violence, equality and (economic) justice and now increasingly in ‘sustainability’.  Also, I think, quaker practice such as involvement in peace, social justice and sometimes protest.  Some of these things are dealt with under the ‘history’ and ‘testimonies’ tabs above.)

My New Year’s Resolution (foolish?!) is to develop these thoughts further here; to provide richer resources for all who might find them useful; and to pursue my own (is it selfish?) spiritual development by all the paths currently open to me and new ones if they appear.

As a final ‘thought for the day’ (and year) it seems to me that the possible tensions between different ‘flavours’ of quakers is much the same as those between different groups of (so-called?) Christians and between members of different religions and none. If ‘liberal’ quakerism (that is, quakerism which might be Christian – or not – but is not dogmatically ‘christocentric’) has something special to offer the world, it is perhaps that willingness to welcome all spiritual paths and lay no claim to an ‘abolute possession of the truth’.

That thought require some explanation. For many Quakers, and certainly the early quakers in 17th century England, ‘Christ’ was and is the ‘centre’.  But perhaps ‘liberal’ quakers have come to see that that Christ is in the spirit and not in the letter (of the ‘law’ in the Jewish sense); that Christ is the spirit which may be known by many names (perhaps including ‘inner light’, ‘holy ghost’, and all the words used to describe stages of inner realisation of the spirit by Eastern religions and mystics of all persuasions). That Christ or spirit is like the sufi story of the elephant (attributes or manifestations of ‘God’).

This idea is not new to 21st century ‘liberal’ quakers but is found from the beginning, for example in the words of William Penn (in 1693): “The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers.” (QF&P of BYM 19.28)

But Penn could also write (at about the same time):

“O! you young men and women, let it not suffice you, that you are the children of the people of the Lord; you must also be born again, if you will inherit the kingdom of God.

Wherefore, O ye young men and women, look to the rock of your fathers: there is no other God but him, no other Light but his, no other grace but his, nor Spirit but his, to convince you, quicken, and comfort you; to lead, guide, and preserve you to God’s everlasting kingdom. So will you be possessors as well as professors of the truth, embracing it, not only by education, but judgment and conviction; from a sense begotten in your souls, through the operation of the eternal Spirit and power of God in your hearts … that, as I said before, a generation you may be to God, holding up the profession of the blessed truth in the life and power of it.” (QF&P of BYM 19.59)  This last sounds like a true ‘born again’ Christian and echoes words of Jesus but He also said (it is claimed):  31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

    32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32 NIV UK version).  And this sounds to me rather like Jesus saying ‘devout souls are everywhere of one religion‘ like Penn 1700 years later.  In some versions (of the Bible in English) ‘speak against’ is rendered ‘deny’ or ‘blaspheme (against)’.  This saying of Jesus is also found in Mark (3:28-29) and possibly elsewhere and seems to suggest that whilst you might be forgiven for denying the God of Israel (by whatever name) or Jesus (by whatever name or denomination) you should not deny the Holy Spirit (by whatever name). Hence the point is to be ‘a devout soul‘ – of whatever religion and the essential (but not unique) message or teaching of Jesus is Love – ‘love one another’, not ‘argue about belief and fight one another’.

If it’s not too late, Happy Christmas and an enlightening New Year!

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