Saturday, October 23, 2010

Advent, in the Manner Of Friends (Quakers)

Advent, In the Manner of Friends

The celebration of Advent by Quakers (mostly pastoral meetings) is a comparatively recent departure from Friends' traditional avoidance of the rites, liturgies, and language marked by the Liturgical Calendar. This tension between non-liturgical and liturgical expressions makes us ask if there is a way to think about this wonderful season that is uniquely Quaker and that draws upon Friends faith and spiritual practice.

I have a suggestion as to how this might look for Friends. The following article tries to articulate that suggestion by starting with a personal story and then winding its way via the Friends practice of “Speaking Truth to one's condition” to a newly formed understanding of Advent. You are invited to follow this labyrinth from its beginning to its climax in hopes that you will also discover a new way to rejoice in the ongoing miracle of Truth becoming flesh.

I'm alive to write this because a liver specialist listened to me. After he had listened just a few minutes, he called an ambulance without consulting me, and procured the immediate care I needed. Did he listen because he cared about me? Maybe a little, but he listened mostly because he cared about my brother, Kent – a respected colleague – and he knew Kent cared for me. Kent had asked him to listen to me because Kent loves me deeply, profoundly, unconditionally. The physician had the skill and insight to see my condition and “spoke to my condition” in that phone call.

Isn't that how the Kingdom is supposed to work? It is a chain of caring beginning with Jesus' love for us – a love that draws us into a deep love relationship. In turn we care about others even though they are relative strangers because we know Jesus loves them deeply, profoundly, unconditionally; we care about them because we want to care about those whom Jesus loves. So we listen to others and care for them on behalf of Jesus. Because Jesus' love for us is deep, we listen to others with all our hearts. We listen past their sometimes obnoxious exterior; we listen past their shallow ramblings, or their political narrowness; we listen past their masks; we listen through their anger, hurt and resentment, as well as their joy; we listen until we get a sense of their hearts; we listen until we, in George Fox's words, “know their condition.”

Then we "speak to their condition." This may or may not mean that we address their condition directly, it may or may not mean that we share profound insights regarding their lives, but it always means that we speak in response to their condition, and that we speak words insinuated to us by revelation not by cognition. We have no words of our own, just words engendered by Love, words that speak truth and love into their very souls. It may be true that we don't speak directly to them at all, perhaps we just call an ambulance. Perhaps we speak on their behalf to some oppressor or someone who, with cruel intent, has spoken razor blade words meant to shame, belittle, or crush them. We may speak directly to their flagging spirits in discouragement, to their despair in great loss, to their paralysis in great fear, to their ego in its lost esteem, and/or to their souls in their seeking. This is the work that God asks of us as our part of God's mission.

This Truth spoken is not fashioned from our theological formulations, it is formed in the heart of God in much the same way as we were formed in our mother's womb. We give birth to it through our obedient speaking, and the Truth becomes a living thing. It is Advent, the coming, it is the Word incarnate – Christ with us – born of God – in the speaking of Truth.

Advent celebrates the birth of Truth in the form of a living being – Jesus. It is a joyous remembering of the greatest event in human history. But to leave the celebration there, is both to miss the point and, even worse, to miss the joy of sharing in a new Advent born of our obedient delivery of the Living Truth spawned by God and spoken in Love. It is a saving, healing,Truth. It is Truth that, having been born in our speaking, becomes flesh and Like the “Word” in John's prologue, shines into the darkness, and the darkness can neither comprehend it nor overcome it.

Rejoice, for unto us, a savior is born...again...and again...and again.


liberata said...

"...and the Truth becomes a living thing."

That's a beautiful contemporary rendering of "And the Word became flesh."

Thank you!

Jim Schultz said...

What is truth? I found myself wondering while reading the Gospel of John and its use of the word truth for in connection with Jesus. So far in what is probably going to be an ongoing lengthy process I have concluded that truth/Truth is what's real. Paul says we see through a glass darkly. I think most of what we see and value is not truth. Jesus as the Truth is reality. When Moses asked the voice in the burning bush who shall I say sent me, he was told to tell them I Am sent him. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are what's real. They are not the imaginary friends in the sky some consider them to be. Which leaves us to wonder how much of what we perceive as real is actually imaginary or at least a distorted image of what it really is.

Raymond Voigt said...

I'm glad you're getting treatment for what appears to be a serious liver condition. I had a similar situation last winter where a skilled diagnostician identified in five minutes, a spinal problem I suffered with for years.

Years ago, in the aftermath of a serious accident I suffered, I was often brought to tears thinking about the wonderful health care professionals who repaired me. It revealed to me a web of human relationships that bind our civilization together.

Not the coercion of laws that compel adherence to social protocols, but intricate relationships of vocation and communications which can only be described as love.

Did the totality of that experience bring me closer to a spiritual understanding of God? No. But it gave me faith in the good intentions of my fellow humans. Nobody helped me for free, but for the coin of commerce. But doctors, nurses, and therapists choose their jobs because of deep inclinations toward caring for their fellow beings.

My accident was far too random and violent to find a God within it. The main lesson I learned is that we can go at any minute and opportunity is not to be wasted. I enrolled in Harvard night school the following spring and began to use my reason and will to find my way out of my troubles.

I'm glad your beliefs give you comfort along the way. I'm hopeful that the scientific knowledge and rational professionalism of your doctor will get you through your health crisis.

Thorny Quaker said...

@Jim Schultz,
Been contemplating your comments since I first read it. I have wandered from your question about ultimate truth or spiritual truth and have been wondering about what it means to be truthful in our normal discourse and how that relates to being honest. They don't seem to be the same thing.

So am working on a post that will address that issue. Thanks for the thought fodder


Anonymous said...

"When I speak, where does it come from? When I speak, where does it go?"