Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the journal

I have quite a bit of time to read these days while I sit around and feed my son--practically half my day is taken up this way! I've read a bunch of novels and such, and decided I was ready to move on to something a little more enlightening. (Not that novels can't be enlightening, but I didn't have a whole lot on hand that were particularly enlightening, mostly just entertaining.) So I decided to read George Fox's Journal. I've read an abridged version before, but never the entire 760 pages (plus three prefaces and forwards)!

The first thing that stood out to me was in William Penn's preface, where he says, "They would have had every man independent, that as he had the principle in himself, he should only stand and fall to that and nobody else, not considering that the principle is one in all." (Excuse the androcentric language.) He's saying this as a negative thing, of those who opposed Fox and the early Friends.

I found this quote interesting, considering the way Quakerism is sometimes interpreted today. We tend to interpret the "inner light" as something very individualized: my inner light tells me how to live, what to share in meeting for worship, etc. But Penn seems to be insinuating that we are NOT independent--and I tend to agree with him. I think if we all reflected we would probably agree with Penn, but it's not always how we live. Quakerism is, at best, a communal faith. I have an inner light, but it isn't worth much except in the places where our inner light guides us to the same thing as a community, or at least into listening to one another in genuine love when we can't agree. The point is that this inner light is Christ, as Fox is very adamant about. Christ wouldn't tell one of us one thing and another something else. As we listen, we find that "the principle is one in all," that we all can hear God, but we often need honing by one another's listening.


david said...

Janet Ruffing in Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings makes an interesting distinction between our professed and operant theologies. In effect there is a distance between our explicit beliefs and the beliefs implicit in what we do. One function of spirituality is to help us close the gap -- either by adjusting our practice -- or adjusting our professed beliefs.

I think one of the difficulties individualistic faiths -- like modern day liberal religions -- is without communal accountability for our professions -- the power of spirituality to help us in closing the gap is greatly weakened.

Closing the gap, in my opinion is really about integrity. Something Quakers profess to value.trilobite

cherice said...

I've been thinking a lot about the difference between these two levels of theology, professed and operant, in my own life and in our Quaker community. How can we have the integrity to bring these closer together? I guess maybe first we would have to be honest enough to recognize what we're NOT doing that we say we value, and what we are doing that is opposite of what we say we believe. That kind of honesty is really hard. It's much nicer to think about all the great beliefs we have than to actually live by them.