I offer my inner journey as a gift to my community. Like the gift of a child, it doesn’t have to amount to much, by worldly standards, to be sincere and to be a treasure, to those with eyes to see.
Last week I shared my sense that, what we in the West call “Christ” is a built-in potential for humans.
I suggested similarities between how a human population develops writing and how it names the transcendent-transpersonal. It’s an interesting parallel. A culture develops writing; an individual learns to write (in the language of her culture). Similarly, a culture sees the Divine manifesting as Christ; an individual learns the language of Christ as a way of expressing to others and to herself, the Divine within and the Divine among us.
As I was writing last week’s post, I expected that this week I would make some sort of momentous “personal-christ” statement, based on extrapolating from the power I felt moving in me at the time. Of course things seldom work out as we expect. The power, the turmoil, I felt last week is still very present to me, but now I am trying to coach myself to settle in to a period of longing, a period of living with a sense of paradox and of “doing the work” to return to the Source.
So what I have to offer this week is not “my answer,” but only my quest for wholeness. I have been focused for years on planetary wholeness, which I call Gaia. As I have devoted myself to this work, I have discovered I must seek my own wholeness; if this troubadour is to sing of the beauty and wholeness of the earth with every cell of my body, then I am called upon to embody that beauty and wholeness as it expresses itself in me:
A fragment of the hologram of Gaia.
I feel called to express the combination of “my message” and “my lived life” as a coherent whole. That is part of the commitment I made to Lady Gaia, to be public, to be a witness in my lived life.
.: And what, dear Richard, might the coherent-and-beautiful-you look like?
.: Well, the most beautiful thing I can offer is my striving. The result will be flawed, of course, but that’s OK, that’s part of the package for every incarnate life on earth.
.: And for what are you striving?
.: Ah, now we come to the double-eye of my turmoil. One eye of my current storm is what followers of Carl Jung might call a “crisis of individuation.” I have gotten far enough along in my process of maturation that the semi-autonomous aspects of my personality which I have been calling “needy-greedy” are blocking my path toward wholeness. I am striving to love them, these fragments of the Divine, into the wholeness of my larger Self.
The other eye of my storm is the question, “how do I name this process?” Part of my Gift is knowing the names we give to “reality” have consequences. I want to call this process “giving myself to my christ.”
Another phrase would be “pledging myself to my higher power.” (This language has worked well for tens of thousands in AA.)
Or I could follow Jung and say “I am struggling to more fully integrate my shadow aspects into the next stage of my personality, all under the guidance of the Self.”
So, two eyes to my storm, two quiet nameable centers around which energies swirl with frightening speed.
My readers will recognize the energies in our society swirling around the second eye. If I say “Christ,” I am afraid I will offend my sister, Christine, and other Christians who might refer to themselves as “fundamentalists.” Chris has been talking about the “good news” for years, and has been looking for an opportunity to talk to me about the joy of accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Am I going to tromp in and say, “I’ll take that Christ! This is what it means to me”?
When I talked to Chris on the phone this week, I said only, “I feel called to live with a higher level of integrity.” That made sense to her and she could relate to me in a comforting and knowing fashion.
As for the language of “higher power,” I’ve always liked it and disliked it for the same reasons. The way the phrase is used allows many people to join together to do good work. The language of “higher power” says, “we will all have different views of what this means, and that’s OK; let’s get on with our work.”
Saying “Higher Power” turns our focus away from the Divine, to concentrate on the work of the Divine in our lives. Right now I am preoccupied with a sense of “being called,” of being drawn toward something, and I am reluctant to use language that says “yes, but let’s not try to talk about it directly.”
And what about Jung’s language, “integration of the personality under the presiding guidance of the Self”? I believe every word of it. But is that MY language? Is that what I want to say to my friends? I am a troubadour. My job is “to touch hearts with words.”
So these are the energies I can name, swirling around the second eye, the outward-looking eye of my storm. The energies swirling around the eye of my inner struggles are harder to name and more immediately frightening.
Friends know that there is a reality that lies beyond any and all words.
I am trying to remember this.
It is in this realm that my work lies, in prayer, and in carrying my yearning for wholeness into daily life.
Richard, I am feeling very tender and blessed to be able to — as it were — peer over your shoulder as you pick your way through your Journey. Knowing you these several decades (through a LOT of epochs and challenges and excitements and bewilderments), I recognize and respect your language. Mine is both similar and different. We both have either the blessing or the plague of being fascinated with (burdened with?) words — and working all the time to let things into our intellectural constructs.
It sounds — if I may be bold — as if something new is starting to happen with you. I believe that our True Guide, whom in our tradition we call the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen/Living Christ, the Seed/Principle of God planted in our heart, is beckoning you, comforting you, inviting you and even challenging you to come to a different place. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” (and similar testimony given through The Beloved Disciple, the writer of the Fourth Gospel).
You speak of your quest, your journey, your striving, and I think something new is starting to happen for you. In spite of the rigor with which liberal/unprogrammed Friends speak of our being “Seekers,” I believe you are now confessing that you are in some measure a “Finder” as well. (I’ll separately e-mail you the little piece on that I did for our Ill.YM publication, “Among Friends.”)
But even beyond that, my testimony to you… and I detect elements of that perhaps being your testimony as well… is that it is not WE who do the finding. Rather, we ARE FOUND — by the Good Shepherd who has never let us wander fatally off the cliff. That, I think, is the heart of Luther’s discovery that “By Grace are we saved, through faith… not by works, lest any man should boast.” The initiative is from The Divine, our cosmic Lover.
I will repeat here something I gave in ministry at our Meeting not too long ago (in abbreviated form.) A watershed experience for me was during a midwinter conference (Athens, Ohio) my freshman year at Oberlin (’59-’60 New Year), sponsored by the World Student Christian Federation. We heard a keynote by Martin Luther King. I was in a workshop with Eduardo Mondlane, the “George Washington” of Madagascar (Malagasy, is it now?) — who had grown up in Methodist mission schools, and became leader of the national resistance/liberation movement against the Portuguese (not exactly pacifist, but within certain strands of the Christian tradition.)
But beyond these stellar folks was a man who had written the study document that preceded the conference, Anglican bishop Leslie Newbiggin. I probably still have his book on a shelf somewhere. However, what sticks with me the most from that week was one phrase (later elaborated) from a talk he gave.
He said, more or less, aphoristically:
“Religion is about man seeking God. The Gospel is about God reaching out to mankind.” That made my mind do one of those 180-degree flips, and largely put behind me all the demands, the rigor, the anxiety, about whether we were “doing it right” — either in terms of behavior or belief. From that point on, I’ve been open to — and largely experiencing — the marvel and miracle and Grace of God reaching and finding me, affirming and restoring me (through all my many failures and weaknesses) to that Imageo Dei of which you eloquently speak. I continue to be amazed by this Bounty, which is so diffeerent from the self-help “gospels” which flood our particular subcultures if not culture itself.
If I have a quibble with you (and I believe there is a fundamental unity underlying whatever quibbles I propose), it is that you may still be captive to that version of Quakerism in which you and I both have been immersed for maybe 3 decades, and which I don’t believe gets to the essential center of the revolutionary movement of God which seized that earliest generation and “shook the earth for 10 miles around” (rough quote, unattributed.)
In other words, we’ve been confined by that phrase picked up by mid-20th century Quakers of the stripe that has flourished around college campuses, that what we believe in (the only statement of “dogma” allowed) is “that of God in everyone.” And it ends up being a statement about ourselves, rather than about God’s transformative Power.
(I’ve sometimes said, in theological shorthand, that we’ve made it a statement about Anthropology rather than Soteriology — a description about ourselves, rather than God’s salvation.)
Lewis Benson (do you know any of his essays?) pointed out that the T.O.G.I.E. phrase was not all that common in Fox’s useage — and a look at when and how he used it comes out at a very different place than how it’s been used in our dominant FGC tradition. Rather, the most frequent Foxian testimony was, “The Power of the Lord was over all.” Looking to the Source, not to our navels.
Somewhat along this line, I’ve been discovering the whole letter that Fox wrote to Cromwell’s mentally-distressed daughter, Lady Claypool, and will send you that entire text to take into prayer and contemplation. We’ve all heard the lead line of the letter, “Be still and cool in thine own thoughts…” but seldom have come to the heart of his advice and testimony. When you read it, I welcome your saying how it may grab you.
A dear Friend whom I’ve rediscovered after first meeting her at a national conference on Quaker Service 10 years ago has sent me a one-page summary/translation of that same piece; I will forward also to you this writing by Helene Pollock on Fox’s classic. In sum, both George and Helene are saying that we’re going a mistaken direction in looking at ourselves (including our consuming pathologies) rather than to the Light which both reveals our “transgressions, confusions, and distractions” AND empowers us to gain victory over them — a first step on the way to Peace.
This, dear Friend, is a treasure I can’t help sharing with you. And if witnessing to that Good News makes me “evangelical,” I’ll take whatever blame accrues to that word… which I don’t want to concede as a monopoly of the so-called Evangelicals.
I guess I was starting out in this “note” to write you a simple query, about your recent FGC experience: whether you had met and/or been at the workshops of either (1) Steve Chase, and/or (2) Helene Pollock and her alter ego Rachel Hicks? If so, that would give us some more common ground on which to discourse.
My printshop beckons: blessed old Omega Graphics, with the press purchased after the fire in 1984, exactly matching the proceeds of the benefit concert organized by our friends/clientelle, Rhian being one of the instigators. I’m having good progress on the annual IYM MinuteBook project, which I started in 1980. The book was only 40 pages then. It set a record this year at 108. As clerk of our Publications Committee, I’ll be working with colleagues to give Friends some guidelines as to appropriate length and content, which has been pretty much undisciplined up to now. “Discipline” — there’s another word both misunderstood and underappreciated among “our kind” of Quakers — which has come to have increased positive meaning for me.
Well, I’ll get down out of my pulpit now, as I tie on my shop apron and go to my other place of labor (as much as I appreciate this keyboard.) Thank you, Friend, for letting me benefit from hearing you in your pulpit.
With hugs and cheers and some tears of happiness,
Sharing in God’s Spirit, -DHF