Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Staying in the light

Our society considers scientific rationalism to be the highest ideal. To be able to be detached from the vagaries of the world and observe it carefully and work out ideas and beliefs from what we see. We call this the light of reason.

But this is not the light within. We are mistaken if we, on reaching the light within, immediately start to analyse what we see, to be observers of the light such that we end up looking for what the light is telling us, rather than what the light is showing us.

We must stay with the light and engage with the light. The first thing that will happen is that we will feel the presence of the light: this feeling may be troubling or uplifting to our heart; our bellies may tighten in anger or sag in despair; we may feel passionate or impotent: we must stay engaged with the what the light is showing us, with all of our body, immersed in the light and waiting to see the action required of us. We must learn not to become detached and start observing as though from a distance. This is a discipline: it take time and effort, especially as we have been trained by our society that the best way to find out what we must do is to be detached and rational in our minds.

Ideas and beliefs, values and principles, do not change the world. People do. And people need to be motivated to act. If we let our values and principle inform our motives, we will be burdened with guilt and inadequacy and as likely as not to miss-apply our motives and destroy where we thought we were creating. Ideas and beliefs arise from previous action in the world – we need to discover the action required of us today, and have the appropriate motives to carry it through.

The light within will show us the motives we need to effect change in the world. Creativity comes from the light, not from ourselves. So when the light shows us the world as it is, no matter how disturbing, we need to stay with the emotional response the light gives us, and remember how this feels, for it is this response that will truly motivate us, not by force of will, but by engagement in action.

And having engaged in action, we can then reflect on what we have been shown, and share with others how it went for us, and see how are ideas and beliefs are changed; how are values and principle have been informed. But because we have been motivated to action from within, this sharing will not take the form of debate and argument, but instead we will tell stories, and we will hear the stories of others, and so we will testify to the world.

Yet our Quaker testimony will be upheld - though it may be expressed differently – for the light within shows us the one and eternal truth that some call God and others the divine, and others the Christ, and others Nirvana, whilst others will not name it at all, for fear of thinking about it as an object to be observed rather than the basis of our whole being.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Living without `thinking'

In response to Gordon (7th Jan) I would say that living is a complex rich personal experience that becomes a rich social experience when we share our lives and live in each others presence. Human language and thought evolved to facilitate this not in order to travel independantly through the ether conjuring truth from its own structure and by sticking to anything else it could find and then dragging it around. Talk, writing and thought are out of hand. Lets bring them back to sharing experiences between friends and otherwise living our interdependance.

Surprisingly the difference between novice and experienced nursery children is that the novice children see no difference between social conventions such as `not putting the crayons away' and taking what another child is playing with. Experienced children are acutely aware of the difference between social convention and morality ( not taking from someone else, not physically man handling them etc). Studies show that they do not learn the difference from the behaviour, emotional responses and talk of the responsible adults. The adults behave, even subtly, in the same way for both (this is also true of the home environment). They learn from the way their peers react. Their peers could not care less about the crayons, except when they are frightened of being told off by the adults, but show distress, aggression etc when something is taken or they are manhandled. Moral principles come directly from our relationship with one another mediated by nothing else!! By the way the adults in nusery settings believe that they teach the children moral principles and so to do their parents. Why do they believe this? Because they have told them. The light does not come from, through or by words. As children get older talk about moral principles does involve parents and teachers but your friends still drive the whole business. You are as good as the company you keep.

There are a whole lot of things we can draw from this finding. All of them about the dangers of denaturing human experience. Perhaps even we have been reduced to only being able to talk about living.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Truth Vindicated

We Quakers supposedly believe that when we wait in silence and open ourselves, the truth will be discerned. We call this the 'light within' or the 'inner light' or the 'seed' or the 'light of Christ' or the 'divine' and many other names, for that which is revealed is not words or creeds, but a presence, a pure knowing that transcends language and that we can rest secure in.

But faith falters - this so-called 'light' - it's, well, just so obscure and insubstantial - surely there must be more, something concrete we can put our finger on or thrust our hand in – 'something else'.

It was always thus: Augustine needed Plato; Aquinas needed Aristotle; Anglicans need Cranmer, Presbyterians need the Westminster Confession, Evangelicals need Scripture, Charismatics need Tongues.

But Quakers too have sought 'something else' right from the start, and especially the authority of the Bible. George Fox was still warm in his grave when,  around 1691, George Keith wanted Quakers to submit to Christian Orthodoxy. At the turn of the 19th century with the rise of evangelicalism which insisted on the literal inerrancy of the bible, many Quakers began to put the authority of the bible ahead of the 'light within'.  A pamphlet, 'Truth Vindicated' was published at this time, by Henry Martin of  Liverpool, and re-published in the United States in 1836 with a remarkable introduction which makes clear, albeit using the Christian saturated language of the time, 'the light of Christ to be sufficient for Salvation' and that there is no need for 'something else', and:
'when any external thing, no matter how excellent in itself, is set up above the teaching of the spirit of Christ in the soul, it leads to contention and division'
Today we wisely do not consider the bible to be literal and innerant, but instead we tend to treat the whole thing as fairy stories to be dismissed, rather than looking to the 'light within' to show us  which scripture in our day is 'profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works'.

But we still crave 'something else' and in the spirit of our age, that is scientific rationalism and noble ideals. We look to reason to discern the truth to us, and to ideals to inform us how to act in the world. Instead of  letting our lives testify to the 'light within', we have turned our testimony on its head and say that our values and principles tell us how to live our lives. 

And yet again there is 'contention and division', as the pages of 'The Friend' constantly testify.

But the 'light within' is there to show us the limits of our reason and the inadequacy of our ideals. Instead of a Principle of  Equality, the 'light within' should be telling us how to treat equally the very next person we meet, and instead of turning to Pacifism, we should be turning to the 'light within' to reveal to us how to resolve the actual conflicts in our lives on this very day.

The Truth is vindicated by the 'light within' -  'blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20.29b, AKJV)