Tuesday, 24 April 2018

What Are "The Things Which Are Eternal"?

A long exposure photograph of a cloudless night sky, showing the path of apparent motion of stars in the sky as the Earth rotates.
“Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal”. It's a popular phrase, made particularly well-known by it's inclusion in Britain Yearly Meeting's Advices and queries, number 18. It falls easily from our lips, and a lot of people seem to put a lot of emotional investment in the idea, but what does it mean?
In my experience, Friends often seem to use the phrase in a way that is rather non-specific. Much like “that of God in every one”, its meaning seems to be in the moment, in whatever form is useful to the speaker. Usually, it seems to add a sort of warm fuzz to the idea of getting to know one another, that it means getting to know one another in a deep sense, rather than a superficial one. You might know what someone does for living, but it is knowing them in a deeper way to find out that they paint landscapes, or write poetry. This is a reasonable distinction to make, and the idea that we, as Friends, should know one another well is a laudable one. Is this really “the things which are eternal”? Certainly, there's a degree to which meanings change with time and context, especially as society changes – or as our Religious Society changes.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

On Quaker Universalism and the Unchanging(?) Nature of the Divine

A selection of faith symbols arranged in a circle.
There are those who say that Truth, or the true Light, or God, is eternal and the same, unchanging, at all times and all places, among all peoples constant.
I do not know if that is true. I do not know the underlying nature of the Divine, but even if it is somehow a product of humanity, it is possible that it is constant, a product not of our changeable and evolving natures but of some common, constant core of what makes us human.
What I can say, however, is that an eternal, unchanging constancy need not be reflected in how the Spirit is revealed to us. It comes upon us in manners suited to our varied natures, in ways appropriate to our different situations. It is in this way that actions, principles and beliefs may severally be inspired by the Spirit, despite their differences. They may be different in small ways, even so small as to seem trivial, or in large ways, even so large as to seem fundamentally incompatible.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Theology and "Notions"

Photograph showing an infant being baptised with water.
Water baptism: a ritual Quakers have traditionally considered
an empty form, based on notions, rather than any true leading
of the Spirit.
A fair amount of my writing could be described as theology. Not high, formal, academic theology, perhaps, but it's theology – questions (and, to be fair, rarely answers) about the nature of God, or at least of what-you-will. I've known some to quibble with the idea of calling it “theology” if there's no theos involved, but there's no better term, so I'll use this one. Indeed, I'm hardly the first person to talk about theology in the context of a non-theistic worldview. So, if you are a purist in the meaning of that term, insisting that it only applies to theistic (some would say only Christian) contexts, I ask your forbearance. Also, to not argue with me about it on this post – as will become clear, a large part of what I will be discussing here is in the Christian context, indeed in the context of early Friends, and in any case it would be rather missing the point of the post overall. If you prefer to think of the wider idea as hierology, you may do so, but this isn't the place for a debate on what counts as theology and what as hierology.
The context of early Friends is important here, because one of the great criticisms of those early Quakers was against notions. All the haggling among the Church and its divisions, in the first millennium, over the nature of Christ, the question of the Chalcedonian formulation versus Miaphysitism – that is, whether Christ incarnate was of two natures, human and divine, united in a single hypostasis, or whether he was of one nature, wholly human and divine – is one example. Another, far more contemporary with the early Friends, would be detailed questions over the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between its members. The early Friends were, of course, strongly bible-believing Christians; though this was tempered by reliance on “the Spirit that gave them forth”, the bible was still important and a key tool of the early Friends. Because of this, they did not consider the basic idea of the Trinity to be a notion – it is clearly pointed to in scripture. Indeed, one of the members of the Trinity is of particular importance to Quakers, for it was said from quite early days that what moved them in worship was the Holy Spirit (among other terms). Precisely what the relationship is between the members of the Trinity, however, would be a notion.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Stop. Attend. (A Message Concerning Meeting for Worship)

Stop. Attend.
I do not mean to call you to attend to my words. If you are reading them, or hearing them, it is natural that they will have your attention.
Stop. Attend.
Stop, as best you can, your busy thoughts, your worries and concerns, your plans for the week ahead and for the further future. Important as they may be, that is not why you are here.
Stop. Attend.
Stop your rational thoughts and reasoning on spiritual matters. Intellect and reason alone are not the path to that which we seek.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Doing It Ourselves

I've heard it said, many times, that Quakerism is a “do it yourself” religion.
People usually seem to mean it one of two ways. In one of those ways, they are usually being broadly positive about the idea. In the other, people tend to give it a negative connotation.
The first, positive way refers to our lack of separate, particularly paid, clergy. We are all in it together, we all muck in to do the jobs that need doing. Whether it's spiritual nurture, pastoral care, administration or looking after our property, everything is a communal task. This is, I think, usually seen as a positive both in the sense of having thrown off the authority of the “hireling priests” and in the fact that it enriches our sense of community. It is also often used as an encouragement, even admonition, to encourage members of our community (whether in formal membership or not) to get involved and take on voluntary roles within the community.
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