A Reminder and a Witness

I’ve heard the question, “If it were illegal to be Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Today, when in many circles being religious is suspect at best, behaving outwardly in a specific way that indicates you are a religious person takes  commitment and courage.

Thomas Ellwood, an Englishman, became a Quaker in the mid-1600’s.  Friends then, acting out their faith, wore plain dress, refused the typical hat honor, and used the same you-language for everyone regardless of their social status.  Ellwood writes:

“A knot of my old acquaintance [at Oxford], espying me, came to me.  One of these was a scholar in his gown, another a surgeon of that city… When they were come up to me, they all saluted me, after the usual manner, putting off their hats and bowing and saying, ‘Your humble Servant, Sir,’ expecting no doubt the same from me.  But when they saw me stand still, not moving my cap, nor bowing my knee, they were amazed, and looked first one upon another, then upon me, and then one upon another again for a while, without a word speaking.  At length, the surgeon…clapping his hand, in a familiar way, upon my shoulder, and smiling on me, said, ‘What, Tom, a Quaker!’ To which I readily and cheerfully answered, ‘Yes, a Quaker.’  And as the words passed out of my mouth I felt joy spring in my heart, for I rejoiced that I had not been drawn out by them into a compliance with them, and that I had strength and boldness given me to confess myself to be one of that despised people.”

Today I know a few Friends who wear plain clothes, and the men uncut beards.  They tell me their appearance is a witness to their faith.  It is also a reminder to them of who they seek to be, and it invites others to initiate conversation with them about religious things.  Recently a local rabbi explained that he wears a yarmulke for many of the same reasons, as a challenge to himself and a witness to others.  And I’ve read that some Muslim women choose to wear headscarves for similar reasons—to witness to their faith and to honor Allah.

I haven’t followed these faithful people yet.  I would be satisfied if I just lived out the words of the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Queries:

What impact does what you believe have on how you live?

What is the difference between authentic, faithful witness and in-your-face offensiveness?

Prayer:

“Lord, make me a channel of your peace.  Where there is hatred let me sow your love” (Prayer of St. Francis).

For further reflection:

“Hear, O Israel:  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. . . . Bind [these words] as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (See Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.)

“I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long” (Psalm 145: 2).

The Path

I grew up with a hunger for God, a love of Jesus, whether I really understood that or not.  Early on it was manifested in being drawn to Bible stories and other stories of people of faith.  Those stories were somewhat enfleshed by the weekly experience of having people invited to “give their lives to Christ” and join the church.  I myself made that decision by age ten.

What I didn’t hear much about then was that I was stepping on a path that would give me a chance to grow, change, and become closer to God, enriching my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  But when the ups and downs of my faith and life set me in Quakerism as a young woman, I was inspired by older Friends, especially women, who seemed to glow.  They had something that inwardly I yearned for.   Their witness invited me to take hold of a path, a way of life—familiar, I now know, in Quakerism and in Christianity—that I then scarcely knew consciously.

This path is not like a trail that one can knowingly follow, nor is it about achieving a destination or status.  It does involve making a life-choice, and then is more about surrendering or letting go in faith. Each one’s journey is different. Trusting and doubting and wondering, seeking and finding and losing, suffering and knowing joy, making wrong turns and finding a way provided when there is no way—all are included.  It’s an ascent that involves deepening.

Friends’ directions for following this path have been to live up to the Light that you have and more will be granted you.  It calls for holding onto a tradition—what others have come to know in the past and have left a witness to—while at the same time living in the present with what you know and experience.

Queries:

What kind of life-choice have you made?

How do you, or can you, reject harmful or unbelievable notions you learned in your past religious experience while also staying open to learning some fresh way to understand the rejected concepts?

Prayer:

Pray the Lord’s prayer (the Our Father), paying attention to what words are meaningful to you and what ones give you trouble.  Then choose one word or phrase to hold in the Light, praying to be touched or taught in a fresh or deeper way through that word or phrase.

For further reflection:

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me. . . . (See Psalm 25: 4-5).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”  (Hebrews 12: 1).