Revelation Continues

Quakers believe that God continues to speak to us, guide and direct us in a way that is available and discernible without an intermediary.  I personally find that the Bible is often a vehicle for that revelation—for unexpected openings and experiences of Presence.

I have read the Bible enough that much of it is quite familiar.  And yet there are times when I read a passage I know well and suddenly some new insight opens up.  The insight is not just an interesting new idea.  It is rather something that shifts me inwardly.  I may or may not have words to describe what happened.   I am drawn closer to the divine, I am guided, my condition is spoken to.  I remember a time when I was reading one Psalm every day for a week.  Almost every day a different part of the Psalm caught my attention and taught me.

Since before the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I have been part of a group of blacks and whites eager to hear what the Bible has to say.  Recently we have been studying the second half of the book of Isaiah.  In Isaiah 51 we had heard strong and powerful words, “Awake,awake; listen; rouse yourself!”  I was preparing Isaiah 52.  In the first two verses I heard the strong words again, “Awake, awake…; shake yourself from the dust…; loose the bonds…”

I put my pen to paper, and these words rolled out:

“Awake, awake, white people.

Take off your blinders.

Shake yourself out of your illusions.

Turn to God who loves us all equally and rejects injustice.

Loose the bonds of those you have oppressed that your bonds might also be

loosed.”

When I shared the words with the group, intending to have them listen for words for themselves, the group instead was silent and we were dropped deep.

I know my words are not the meaning of the text itself.  God is speaking to the oppressed people of Israel exiled in Babylon, not to a powerful group.  And yet I believe that the Bible passage was a vehicle for an experience of continuing revelation.

Queries:

What do you believe about revelation?  Does God continue to speak to us and guide us?

What is your relationship with the Bible?

Prayer:

Our Guide and our Hope, help us to hear your voice in the Scriptures, in each other, and in the signs of the times.  [based on intercession in Give Us This Day, November 15, 2016, Evening]

For further reflection:

“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching . . .  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (See 2 Timothy 3: 16-17.)

Compassion

Out of curiosity I went one night to a Racists Anonymous meeting.  We were a small group of many colors who had arrived there from different routes.  One had been sensitized to racism by connections with LGBT people and issues; another by discovering his unconscious prejudice against the South and southern people only after he happened to move there.  Being aware of what prejudice feels like and does to one group that is discriminated against can tender one’s heart to how other groups are treated and to one’s own participation in that system of discrimination.

I think attending such a group could help me live a more compassionate life, a call to which is a clear part of Jesus’ message.  He spent time with, touched, and told stories of persons who were outsiders in his day—lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, women.  Our tendency is to see a particular person and make judgments about that person based on assumptions and fixed ideas about a whole group of people.  Sometimes such notions protect us from foolish mistakes, but other times they close us off from presence and compassion: just what Jesus wants us to know.

True compassion isn’t comfortable.  Jesus teaches that we should first take the wooden beam out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye.  To have compassion is to uncover things in ourselves that we would rather not see, to look within rather than to criticize or blame others.  A lot of unraveling of defenses has to take place in order to be present to others and to care about them.

At the Racists Anonymous meeting I felt the vulnerability, self-giving, deep caring, and humility that go with compassion.  We weren’t taking care of anybody or fixing anyone.  We were trying to listen, learn, and respect.   And we were calling on the only One who can gift us with true compassion.

Queries:

What is my responsibility to my neighbor?  And who is my neighbor?

Where are there hard edges in me?  If I look at them in God’s light, what will I see and hear?

Prayer:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).

For further reflection:

“Now I know that you [Elijah] are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (See I Kings 17: 8-24, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath).

“Was none of them [the ten lepers] found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  (See Luke 17: 11-19).

An Anxious and Fearful World

With suicide bombings that seem to happen anywhere anytime, and mass murderers who attack even in places and on occasions that we always thought were safe, it is no surprise that people are afraid.  Some people are even being taught to fear physically their own government.  The response in some American environments is to buy and carry guns for security—even in churches.

I don’t want to argue about whether having a gun makes one safer, but rather to point out that for Christians security rests in God alone.  And that security doesn’t mean that we and those we love won’t be killed or taken down at a young age by a terminal illness.  And it doesn’t mean that if we are true believers we will prosper.  The security comes in living as a beloved child of God.

In the Bible a message from God very often begins, “Do not be afraid.”  To the exiled people of Israel living under Babylonian rule God says, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary with his life-changing news that she is to conceive and give birth to a child she is to name Jesus, he says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

After the tragic racist-motivated shooting of Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and eight members of his congregation, it would be easy to imagine that church succumbing to fear and a desire for vengeance.  But no—on their website, in Ninety Seconds That Changed the World one reads, “Our mission is still hope.”  The AME Church arose out of a social justice protest—against Methodist churches that gave whites priority at the prayer rails.  Racism is nothing new to the people of that denomination.  Emanuel AME’s response to the attack on them:  “We know we live in a violent and sinful world. . . Our faith must be stronger than our fear.”

Queries:

How can your faith be stronger than fear?

There is a lack of fear that is foolishness and a fear that enslaves us.  What does God’s “fear not” mean?

Prayer:

Relax and let go your racing thoughts until you can focus on something that makes you afraid.  Stay with that in your imagination until you can get a felt sense of the fear.  Where is it in your body?  What does it want you to notice or know?  Holding it in the Light of Christ, where is there fresh air?

For further reference:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (See Psalm 27).

Freedom to Change

I have certain religious and political/social justice ideas that I value. I can be caught trying to change other people to get them to agree with my point of view. I don’t think those efforts ever work.

Recently I had two experiences that resulted in openings. After the Charleston shootings I was talking with a white friend about racism. I caught myself trying to change him.   What I got was resistance and defensiveness. I was frustrated because if white people can’t talk about racism, how can blacks and whites make any progress in racial equality. So I backed off the arguing and somehow I invited his story. What he shared opened my eyes and changed me. No longer was I the one with superior ideas. We became equals. At that point, unexpectedly and freely, he suggested he could change.

On another occasion I was working on a committee trying to develop a statement about how a person becomes a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Friends in the yearly meeting had different ideas. One point of view was that a person becomes a member at birth if one’s parents are members. That understanding was very important to a number of Friends because it gave them such a deep feeling of long-term belonging and being valued. One such person helped us express the idea correctly. Although her “birthright” membership is in a meeting in another yearly meeting where she hasn’t lived for many years, our effort to include what mattered to her left her feeling very affirmed and valued by a yearly meeting to which she didn’t belong officially. Suddenly and unexpectedly she found herself re-thinking her feelings about her membership. A new decision became a possibility.

From these examples I see that we are not changed by arguments but rather by having our persons respected and our hearts touched. The power of God joins us soul to soul as one.

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Queries:

What is your experience of being in the midst of strongly-held different points of view?

What helps you be open to change? To feel free to change? To know that you are God’s beloved?

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Prayer:

Pray with Psalm 131, put it in your own words, until you can feel what it would feel like to be “calmed and quieted like a weaned child with its mother . . .”

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For further reflection:

“Not by strength of arguments or by a particular disquisition of each doctrine, and convincement of my understanding thereby, came I to receive and bear witness of the Truth, but by being secretly reached by the Life.”   –Robert Barclay, Apology, Proposition 11, section 7

“Beloved, let us love one another . . .” (See I John 4:7, 12-13).