A Place to Stand

I have been a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting conservative for over twenty years. I am currently the clerk of our small Monthly Meeting. I am a recorded elder and presently serve as the Recording Clerk of our Yearly Meeting's Ministers, Elders and Overseers. My name has been put forward to be the next clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. By trade I am a philosophy professor.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Speaking in Parables

Every generation has similar experiences of the divine but we need language in which to communicate these experiences to each other. Natural language is designed to talk about natural things. So when we want to create words to talk about spiritual things we have to borrow words from the physical realm and adapt them by analogy to talk about spiritual things. So, in the end, we all must speak in parables.

In part we can pass this language along from generation to generation but there is danger in that. The danger is that we will start using the words mechanically, repeating them by rote and not tieing them to the spiritual experiences they are meant to convey. For example how many of us will speak of God the Father mechanically. When Jesus first minted this new metaphor it was shocking and new. Jesus said that God was "Abba" an informal expression rather akin to "Daddy" in English. The metaphor of a divine King to be feared was being put aside. God was as tender loving and close to us as a parent to a little child. Do we still hear the meaning behind the metaphor? Often we do not.

To some extent every generation must invent a new language for talking about the spiritual. So in my last post I made up my own metaphor of pushes and pulls. They aren't literal pushes and pulls of course, but those who have had experiences like mine might (if I picked a good metaphor) say to themselves "Yes, I've had that experience." Of course my metaphor is rather trivial and easy. It is certainly not as profound as Jesus' insight. But each of us offers what we have to offer.

I don't put my metaphor out there to suggest that everyone use it. Use it if you wish, if it doesn't work for you, forget it. What we need to do is talk about our experiences more. Shared experience of the divine is the very heart of Quakerism. I urge Friends to use whatever language seems natural to them and not to try to tell others what language they must or must not use.

Please share your stories in whatever language comes most naturally to you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just posted something similar on another blog; however, it's on my mind this morning, so I will repeat it here.

I've started to find the legalistic use of "Quaker language" a block in my spiritual journey. After several decades as a Friend, I simply don't care if someone says "Sunday" rather than "First Day" and etc.

In fact, I find a strict adherence to this kind of language somewhat of an "outward trapping."

I know some people do not agree with me. However, so many of the announcements I hear are phrased "meeting will be 11th month 3rd day" that I'm wondering what the purpose is. Are we really still taking a stand against pagan language?

Or have we fallen into a trap of putting on a little "name tag" of arcane language use so that we can remind ourselves that we are Quakers?

The issue bothers me a great deal. I like the idea that we have Quaker distinctives, but would rather that they be in how we live our lives than in how we describe days on a calendar.

Yes, this language has been passed down from generation to generation, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of it die on the vine. It seems to serve no modern-day purpose.

6:16 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

I don't mind using the traditional language myself but I'm not really fond of it. I suppose because I see it as superficial I don't mind one way or the other. I'm guessing that what bothers you is that you sense that some people are more concerned with sounding like a Quaker than with the deeper change of attitude and perspective that infuses a whole life. Friends were changed themselves before they sought to change the world and the change wasn't merely a matter of refusing to call the first day of the week "Sunday."

Am I right in thinking that your real concern is that Friends not be satisfied with relatively superficial distinctives and that we should be focused on deeper ones?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I've read suggestions that we rewrite parables - actually try to express their essence in much different words to speak to us and those in our time and culture. I think that can be a valuable exercise.

5:07 PM  
Blogger HysteryWitch said...

I too am concerned about the calcification of the metaphors we employ to discuss the Ineffable. One of the primary reasons I claim Neo-Pagan as one of my labels is because this perspective allows me to engage in playful proliferation of metaphors to discuss the Divine. What about the Divine as Mother, or Child, Lover, or Beast? What about the Divine, as Mary Daly would have it, as verb? Currently, I am playing with the Divine as place rather than entity, as matrix and context of Process rather than as Source.

I have no problem with Christocentric language except that it is held with a reverence that I think retards our ability to engage as individuals. Each breath I take, I am a newly born soul in a new context. My God is a God of process. I must have a language that expresses that faith.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard M said: "Am I right in thinking that your real concern is that Friends not be satisfied with relatively superficial distinctives and that we should be focused on deeper ones?"

Absolutely! I think our deeper distinctives will be evident with less reliance on the superficial ones. I don't want to be too harsh here, but at a certain point superficial distinctives can become ends in themselves.

7:06 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...


Have you ever known anyone who actually tried to do this? Have you? I think we should be open to new ideas like this but then of course we need to evaluate them.


Experimenting with different thought systems can be a valuable thing, but it can also pull a person too far into the realm of ideas in which the concrete experiences get left behind. Thought systems can become a substitute for real experience. This is obviously a danger for Christian theologians (like the ones who allegedly argued about how many angels dance of the head of a pin. This is actually an "urban legend" but it does colorfully warn of a real danger.) People who experiment with nonchristian thought systems have to be careful of the same danger. So just keep focused on whether the spiritual path you are treading is making you more rather then less patient with irritating people, more rather than less willing to sacrifice your own interests for the sake of other people, etc. Keep an eye on the fruits.


That's basically the reason I've never adopted plain dress or plain speech. I am concerned to live simply and speak the simple truth, but I can do that without adopting any old-fashioned dress or speech. I respect others who do want to adopt these outward symbols of Quakerism but it doesn't appeal to me. And it doesn't make me less Quaker!

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from mMlbourne Australia.

The men and women who have provided the electricity, or energy, or spirit that kept religions and religious language (in all its forms) alive in all times and places---and renewed it, were the inspired Saints, Yogis, Mystics and Sages.

And even Visionaries like George Fox and William Blake.

It was never, and could not be the ordinary people who live entirely within the dreadful sanity of the normal consensus "reality".

Please check out this Revelation of Real God.

1. www.kneeoflistening.com
2. www.dabase.org/dht7.htm
3. www.dabase.org/broken.htm
4. www.dabase.org/tfrbklih.htm

10:36 PM  

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