Thursday, March 02, 2006

sacramental life

Since I've been writing lately about other people's sacraments and liturgies, today I thought I'd comment briefly on the Quaker view of sacraments, from my perspective. I see from Quaker Blogwatch that others have been writing about sacraments lately too, but I haven't gotten to read them yet--I think it will be interesting to write my opinion first and then read other Quakers' thoughts on this matter.

The other day in church history class we were talking about the beginnings of the women's rights movement in the 19th century and Quaker women's place in that (like Sarah Grimke, who I blogged about a few days ago). Our professor said, "Did you notice Grimke never brings up the idea of administering the sacraments or ordination? Why do you think that is?" Everyone else gave kind of a blank stare of, "Oh yeah, I hadn't noticed but you're right. I wonder why that is..." So he said, "Well, that's because Quakers don't do sacraments."

I got to pipe up (as the already-designated Quaker expert in the room =) and say, "Well, Quakers don't do PHYSICAL sacraments," and he said yes, that's true. Someone else in the class asked, "What do you mean? How could you do them besides physically?" So I got to explain how Quakers think every moment is equally sacred because we're always in the presence of God, there aren't "special moments" when we're more closely connected to God than others. There might be moments when we're paying more attention, or when we feel more connected for one reason or another, but that doesn't make those moments more sacred.

For Quakers, our communal gathered silence is "communion," it is a sharing of life with the people present as well as the Spirit who speaks in and through us. It is a sharing in the body and life-blood of our present God, a way to partake of the Living Water after which we will never be thirsty again, and the Bread of Life which sustains us and meets our needs (John 4 & 6).

True baptism is that of the Spirit, and no amount of water can force that. The Spirit is welcome to baptize any of us at any time, but we don't presume to be able to cause that to happen. A moment to confess belief before God and others can be helpful, but being doused with water doesn't ensure our "salvation" any more than saying the words, "Jesus, please come into my heart." The point is to live a faithful life, in step with the Spirit at all times, allowing God to continually baptize us in the fellowship of communion with God's self and our spiritual community.

The point is to live a sacramental life, where we are aware each moment of the presence of this Spirit who we can know more and more, who teaches us adn guides us, who genuinely cares about us and wants what's best for us (even if we can't see how it's best at the time). It's a crazy idea--that God wants to hang out with us, that every moment is a moment in which we couldn't get any closer to the Spirit if we tried, that everything we do and say can be a sacrament shared with this amazing Being. It's a cool thought, isn't it? Gives a whole new dimension to life... Maybe that's what Fox was talking about, when the very colors seemed to have become more full of life. (I think that was Fox, somewhere in his Journal, but I don't have time to look it up for you'll have to find it yourself!)

Query: how have you experienced life as a sacrament today?

Here's a great song by Peter Mayer to get you in the mood for centering on this query:

When I was a boy each week, on Sunday we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest, He would read the Holy word
And consecrate the Holy Bread, And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is, Everything is Holy Now
Everything, Everything is Holy Now

When I was in Sunday school, We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two, Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad, That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track, ‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, everything, everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small, But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So, the challenging thing becomes, not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When Holy water was rare at best, it barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath, 'Cause I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there, Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down,
But I walk it with a reverent air, ‘Cause everything is Holy now

Read a questioning child’s face, and say that’s not a testament,
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come, and say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning outside I stood, And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush, And singing like a scripture verse,
It made me want to bow my head, I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then, Everything is Holy now,
It used to be a world half-there, heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air, ‘Cause everything is Holy now.

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