In the gospels Jesus speaks of mysterious food and water that bubbles up from within people from an inexhaustible supply. This sustenance he identifies with “doing the will of the Father.” Of course every Christian will agree that we should do that. Good-hearted atheists will agree too though they will balk at describing it as God’s will and prefer some more secular equivalent like “doing what’s right.” Quakers rightly have not worried very much about the words people use to describe this spiritual reality but they have insisted on something that most other Christians have denied: that the will of the Father is very specific and personal and to know the crucial details requires that we be constantly alert—that we listen. The Jewish Law tried to capture God’s will in generalities—don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness, and most importantly love your neighbor. These generalities are helpful. They provide “cruise control” for those times, all too many, when I’m not really listening. But generalities like this aren’t enough. When there is a confused teenager in front of me I need to know which truth to tell and what words to use and I need to know it now. One size definitely does not fit all.
This is where Jesus’ message, repeated by Fox, blasts its way through. Stop, listen, the Source never goes away, you will be given the words then and there whenever you need them. Those who take this seriously enough to really try it find that it works so often and so well that it is real and isn’t just a result of the better impulses of our own personal subconscious minds. We can say we know this experimentally.
So what is missing from modern Quakerism? Why isn’t it more inspiring? Because while this is a walk you can and must try to walk by yourself it is also a walk that you should and ultimately must walk in fellowship with others. We are branches on a vine. A cut-off individual branch inevitably withers. This food and drink that bubbles up within each individual isn’t meant just for that individual; it is meant to be shared in a community of listeners and doers of the Word. This is why we meet for worship together and don’t just meditate alone. This is why we are called a Religious Society of Friends. There is too little sharing of this spiritual food and drink among us. Why is that?
Because the sharing is meant to be reciprocal. I'm talking about sharing not preaching. It is quite different from trying to use these experiences to “prove” God’s reality to those who don’t believe. I would never try to use the spiritual food and drink that the Spirit has given me as a weapon to “make someone believe.” Real sharing occurs only among people who have similar experiences. Which Friends in our Meeting are kindred spirits with stories to share? They can be hard to find. What we don't want is to get into a debate with someone who thinks all this "God stuff" is silly. Those who consciously reject the idea of God aren’t yet ready to hear these stories. I wouldn't chase them away. They are coming because they are responding to a call from a God they don't yet believe in. Quakers have always known that we need to treat such people gently and just wait for God to work on them from the inside out. But they are not the people we need to talk to in order to be fed.
Inspiration comes from the inspired. When Friends stick to politics and other "safe" topics spiritual power becomes dampened. On the other hand, when inspired Friends find each another both are made stronger. There is an increasing number of Friends who are getting their courage up. They are actively seeking out spiritual friends among Friends. The Quakerblogosphere is part of that but ultimately the real work has to be done face to face.
(This post is part of a series which begins on January 1, 2007.)