Sunday, 7 December 2008


Religion is like scaffolding around a building. This is all our notions and ideas and questions like ‘Who is God?’, which are often left over from childhood confusions and accumulations of poorly thought through cultural accretions.

Over time we come to believe that the building will fall down without the scaffolding. That belief is more important than experience. In the Quaker silence there is the opportunity to strip away the scaffolding and reveal the building behind it.

And Lo! The building does not fall down, and, furthermore, it is beautiful.

At the time when I had my first spiritual opening or awakening, I was in contact with a group of evangelical Christians. They immediately told me what my experience meant, introducing me to all the classic doctrines of the Christian Church, with that spin of literalism that they so relish. Soon my experience was covered in the scaffolding of dogma, including the important dogma that this was the only significant experience – my ‘conversion’ – from now on all teaching would be the ‘literal truth’ as revealed in the Bible and mediated through the church and its ministers.

However, two more significant openings occurred, and the second of these, the revelation of the fallacy of human authority, led directly to me becoming a Quaker. In fact, I count myself as a Quaker from that moment, some nine months before I first attended a Quaker meeting, and nine years before being accepted into membership.

Not only did the belief in the innate authority of human institutions melt away, but also belief in the authority of the bible and the multitude of interpretations that were being pushed at me from all quarters – not just from fundamentalist evangelicals, but from traditionalists and liberals as well. There is only one test: ‘does this interpretation speak to my condition?’ And my condition is mediated through my own knowledge that I have built up from my own experience.

In the twenty years since that spiritual opening on 6th December 2008, I have not had any more dramatic spiritual openings. Now I look to that direct experience of what some call ‘the divine’ as being normative, though not necessarily common. There to be discovered, should I only let go of myself and my chattering mind and enter in. For in the same way that beliefs and dogmas – what Quakers call ‘notions’ - can blind us to the reality of God’s presence, so can the objectification of experience by the mind.

We can approach any encounter in three ways:

Oh! -That’s interesting
Oh! -That’s beautiful

And we enter into the ‘divine presence’ of the ‘I AM’ that is beyond words, beyond attachment.


Daddy Hardup said...

I like the scaffolding image.

Perhaps if we remove the scaffolding we will find there is nothing there.

Rather like the nothing that the Romans found when they stormed into the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple.

Anonymous said...

I would like to expand and amend your metaphor. Scaffolding is generally intended as a temporary structure used to maintain and repair a building. In that sense theology, practices and so forth are meant to help ensure that our faith is healthy. Unfortunately sometimes the scaffolding is put up wrong, or faith dies anyway, and all that is left is a permanent scaffolding that is treated as something to maintain in its own right.

Maurice Bartley said...

Thanks Gordon for sharing your wonderful analogy of the scaffolding that obscures the beautiful building. For me their is a beautiful building - it is the person in relation. On Saturday Susie spoke of an image of being surrounded by camouflage within a cage. The camouflage obscured the gate to the world outside. When we do see the gate we have to choose whether to go out into the beautiful world; or to remain within, where ruled by fear we can build a new arrangement of camouflage!!