Saturday, January 17, 2009

Query #2

(This is the second post in my attempt to blog through the Advices & Queries of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.)
"Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open to the healing power of God's love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way."

There are six sentences in this query. Each one could stand on its own and provide rich food for reflection. This may be a long post...

We in the West tend to think in an Aristotelian way: We compartmentalize and catagorize. We view life not as an integrated whole but as discrete components linked together. Thus a man can be a devout and contrite Christian on Sunday but use predatory and deceptive practices to sell used cars on Monday. We can speak out against abortion but cheer as our military rains down destruction upon a foreign city. We can scrupulously pay our church tithes while doing little to help the poor.

One of the most thrilling and terrifying aspects of following Jesus is allowing His light into all of the compartments of our lives. The definition of integrity, according to Princeton, is "an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting". As the Spirit of Christ lovingly conquers and unifies my heart and life, I become more and more integrated and whole. My barriers and rationalizations crumble and I begin to see that theft is theft, lying is lying, injustice is injustice and murder is murder. It gets harder to dodge and hide from Truth. I find within me the conviction and strength to stand firm against the tendency to compromise truth. Order comes. The Kingdom of God is within and at hand.

There is a fanciful (and very unscientific) way that I picture human beings. It is difficult to describe, but I'll try: On the outside we are three-dimensional physical lifeforms comprised of flesh and blood and hair and bone, walking around on this planet Earth. But on the inside of each of us there is a window which opens to the vast spaces of another dimension: The God dimension. God's love-light shines into the inside of us through this window. We go through our days here on planet earth performing our various tasks with a window inside of us that opens to God. But there are shutters on the window. I think of them as the louvered shutters that you see on houses in Florida which can be cranked shut in case of hurricanes. Most of us go through life with the shutters closed. Still, as Leonard Cohen sings, "There's a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Some people's windows are clamped tighly shut because they were deeply hurt or because they have become acclimated to the darkness of sin. Other people's louvers are open a bit to allow some, but not too much, of the light in.

As we begin to accept the reality that God loves us with an eternal, unfailing and unconditional love, the louvers on our internal window begin to squeek open a little bit more. More light comes in. I think of the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when the little boy is in the darkened house and the intense alien golden light is shining through the doorjams and keyholes and vents. His mother is terrified, but the boy fearlessly opens the front door and faces the probing light. I want to be that accepting of God's light to be able to fling open the door to my heart. But it is a long journey back to the innocence and purity of that child.

"Cherish that of God within you", says the query. This is a uniquely Quaker phrase. Early Quakerism was, in many ways, a reaction against Calvinism. Calvinist thought, which still permeates much of modern-day Christianity, views mankind as utterly depraved, separated from and despised by God and, by default, destined for Hell. The Quaker view, while not blind to the potential for wickedness within mankind, sees that God values and is at work within every individual. There is "that of God" in everyone. He has planted seeds in each of us and is gently drawing us towards Him. Those seeds only need to be nurtured. The more we begin to dwell upon His deep love for us, rather than our messed up condition, the more we naturally open up to God. One of my favorite sayings is by Philip Yancey, which goes something like, "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more than He already does. And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less than He already does." This is because God's love is perfect. And it's all about Him, not us. The more we grasp this the more our entire outlook on life becomes imbued with rich hues of God's lovingkindness. We find peace and rest and purpose. We become guided and motivated more and more by the sense of love that God has placed within us, rather than by negative motivators such as fear, revenge, pride and ambition.

Does our worship enrich our daily lives and does our daily life enrich our worship? In other words, are we integrated? Or do we subscribe to the artificial duality of sacred and profane, secular and religious? One of the great re-discoveries of the Anabaptists and Quakers was that we don't need to go to a special place and conduct special rituals performed by a special priesthood in order to interact with God. The living room and the office cubicle is as sacred as the cathedral. We can worship God in the way we do our work, drive our car and shop for our groceries. We may encounter God in these ways and in many other unexpected ways.

Christianity is not just a belief system or a set of rules and creeds. It is a comprehensive, all encompassing, integrated way of living.


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