Apocalyptic Climate Migration and our Testimonial Life

January 28, 2022 § 1 Comment

This is an awfully long post. I’m sorry. But I couldn’t figure a way to break it up.

I believe the next couple of decades—the next generation—will see an existential challenge to our Quaker peace testimony and to the relevance of the whole Quaker movement. Millions, maybe tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of Spanish and Portuguese speaking, brown-skinned people will surge north to escape the deadly heat of the tropics and subtropics that global warming will bring in the not-so-distant future.

In a few decades, it will be literally impossible for humans to go outdoors in much of the tropics without literally dying from the heat and humidity alone. Before that, farming will collapse, infrastructures will break down, especially energy grids, and states will fail. All of this is happening already in some places.

The people in the tropics and northern subtropics will migrate north, as they do already. (I imagine the people in the southern subtropics might head for Argentina and Chile.) We’re talking about millions of people fleeing certain death.

Donald Trump and his racist, xenophobic, white Christian nationalist allies are right about this: a wave of human migration of unimaginable size is headed toward us (at some point) and it threatens to change our world, our country, and our lives in really profound ways. And it’s not just the numbers. Most of these people won’t speak English and they will come deeply traumatized, often unprepared for participation in a knowledge economy, and already very needy.

The pressure to build Trump’s wall—and to fortify it and militarize it—will become impossible to wave off as simply racist fear-mongering. The case for cultural survival of “the American way of life” will seem rational, even to some of the most liberal among us, even though the argument will be morally flawed and it aims at saving something that was already under extreme stress and never even really existed in the first place, except as an idea, if a powerful one.

The mounting suffering on the Mexican side of that wall will become its own source of trauma, exceeding by orders of magnitude the pain of watching videos of children in cages under mylar blankets. We will just stop looking. But we won’t stop shooting.

Part of your mind wants to deny that this is true. But it is true. Part of our optimistic Quaker worldview wants to seek peaceful resolution of looming problems. But there won’t be one. We will finish Trump’s wall. We will militarize it. At some point, the vast majority of Americans will believe that we have no choice. Some of us will even agree.

The only questions are, when do we reach that point, and what do we do to prepare in the meantime. That meantime is NOW. 

We must right now begin to think much more creatively about our testimonial life. What do simplicity, equality, earthcare, integrity, justice, and above all, peace and nonviolence mean in the face of this inevitable future?

More importantly, where do the Light within us and the Guide whose wisdom we seek in our corporate discernment processes lead us? What would Jesus have us do? We must right now pray and worship as we never have before, for guidance, strength, clarity, wisdom, and a prophetic voice and call to action that will make sense to our fellow Americans.

That must start with integrity. We must be honest with ourselves, and with our society, about what we face: this threat is real and inevitable; only its timeline is unknown. And we must be willing to make the sacrifices commensurate with our prophetic challenge.

I invoke Jesus because I believe he offers an alternative to denial, to the violent reaction that the self-proclaimed protectors of the American Way of Life will demand, and to helpless, incoherent hand-wringing and the approval of some minutes of conscience, which is the utterly predictable Quaker response. That alternative is love. Love as Jesus taught it, not as something one feels, but as something one DOES.

Love for the migrants swarming over our borders. Love for the landowners and the communities on the border, both here and in Mexico. Love for the white Christian nationalists. Love for the moderate majority of Americans who will reluctantly agree to extreme measures, who will feel forced to act in violation of their own moral compasses. Love for all the victims, which will be everyone.

I have a thing for apocalyptic popular fiction. I am an avid fan of The Walking Dead, for instance. That show is all about moral injury: how do you recover from having done the unthinkable, which you did because you thought you had to. It’s about all the ways in which humans deal with catastrophic collapse, and all the ways humans deal with the ways that the communities around them deal with catastrophic collapse, because the real danger is our fellow humans. It’s about what Walter Wink calls the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that violence can save you from violence. The zombies in that show are just the mythic carriers of our fear, our fear of losing what we have.

My take-away from this kind of apocalyptic fiction is the Quaker message: when things get really bad, you can only stand firm in the Light within you, sink down in the Seed, and act from Truth with love. Jesus is again the model here: it matters more how you live, how you suffer, and even how you die, than whether you live or die. For we’re all going to suffer and die.

I harp on Jesus because liberal, neoplatonic theology about that of God in everyone will not speak to the white Christian nationalists who will dominate the public reaction to the coming tide of migrants, and who may very well control the official state reactions, both locally in the border states and nationally in our immigration policy. It will not speak to most of the Americans who will feel caught in the middle, either. But Jesus might speak to them. Jesus will at least give them radical cognitive and moral dissonance.

More to the point, the spirit of the Christ is a real power in this world, and in their world. It can be denied. It can be suppressed. And it can fail to break through in this struggle. It’s failing right now, and we’re nowhere near the catastrophic collapse that is coming. In fact, I fully expect the failure of love and the spirit of the Christ to stop this disaster. I expect another crucifixion.

But the spirit of the Christ cannot be killed. By the spirit of the Christ, I mean the Spirit that anointed Jesus into his ministry, that gave him his charismatic power and the power of his love; the Spirit that has inspired, strengthened, and gathered the faithful for the two millennia since. The Spirit that gathered the first Quakers, the Spirit that still gathers our meetings for worship, if only now and then.

That Spirit is not all powerful. It did not give us a holy church after Jesus; we got a violent and imperialist church instead. It did not give us a “city on a hill”, as the Pilgrims hoped; we got the genocide of Turtle Island’s First Nations instead. But it did give us Mary Magdalene, Hildegard of Bingen, Jacob Boehme, George Fox and John Woolman, post-war food kitchens for starving Germans, and the many saints of our own time.

No wall can hold all these desperate people back. And trying to hold it back will morally injure this nation. It will shred our national ideals, leaving us with nothing to work with as a nation when the wall finally falls, however and whenever that happens.

But we might be able to build a new future on the faithful few who stood in the Light as best they could throughout the suffering, who insisted on steadfast lovingkindness in the face of it all. Assuming that our changing climate does not wipe us all out—which sometimes looks pretty likely to me—there will be some kind of resurrection, and we could carry its Seed.

I know this sounds extreme. It is. You would like to think it’s unlikely. But I urge you to look at your denial. I urge you to read the articles I link below, and the many others like it. And then I urge you to sink down in the Seed.

Let us begin now a public ministry of the message of love at the center of Jesus’ message. Let us preach—and live—in the spirit of the Christ, the gathering spirit of Presence and Love. Let there be at least this one candle in the house and let us take off the bushel that hides it.

NYTIMES articles:

Global Warming’s Deadly Combination: Heat and Humidity

A Hotter Future is Certain . . .

Why Join A Quaker Meeting?

January 21, 2022 § 3 Comments

In a comment, John Edminster raised up what I feel is the best reason to join a Quaker meeting, which I had failed to do in my first version of this post, so I’ve added to it with red font. See John’s comment.

The best reason to join a meeting, which is my own reason, is that you feel led to join. Your Guide has brought you here and now it’s clear that this is a home where your soul can flourish. You might be able to identify some particulars about the meeting or about Quakerism that attract you; but deeper than that, behind this conscious appraisal, lies a less articulate and more compelling truth—God wants me here.

In many meetings, one can see no obvious or outward difference between being a member of a meeting and being an attender, beyond, perhaps, being able to serve on some committees, and even these strictures seem to be relaxing here and there. Meetings tend to expect more commitment from members, so that’s a difference, but they are less clear about what members can expect from the meeting. We are less clear about what the incentive to join really is—why join a Quaker meeting?

Joining a Quaker meeting is a little like getting married. Becoming a member changes you inwardly much the same way that getting married does. And it changes your relationship with the meeting and with the other members of the community much as getting married changes your relationship with your spouse and with your friends and other relations. 

Inward transformation. This is hard to express. There is something about the declaration and commitment of membership that transforms your identity, your sense of yourself, your sense of who you are. It somehow makes you feel more whole, more expanded as a person while at the same time more rooted. This runs deeper than just a sense of alignment with the community’s values. 

Community. Although we each identify with different aspects of the Quaker tradition, with its history, faith, and practice, and with its people, still there is something deep and meaningful that we all feel in common, however hard it is to express. We become members one of another, as the apostle Paul said (Romans 12:5); we come to know each other in the things that are eternal, as early Friends expressed it. This runs deeper than just loving the society of good, like-minded people. The spiritual dimension of this relationship comes blazing to the fore in the gathered meeting for worship, when we share with each other somehow psychically a sense of presence to each other that transcends all understanding. But this feeling is also there in some subtle way outside of the experience of gathered worship.

Reality check. This rosy picture is not always true, of course. It’s not necessarily true for everyone, and it is not necessarily true all of the time or for all of one’s life. Sometimes couples divorce, and sometimes members find they are members no longer in the inward ways that matter. But it’s safe to say that it’s true for most of us and for a lot of the time, and this identity and this immersion in religious fellowship, are deeply fulfilling for those who seek and find it in ways that are unique to the Quaker way.

Spiritual Pastoral Care

January 13, 2022 § 2 Comments

A while ago, a member of my meeting approached a member of our pastoral care committee seeking help with a general malaise of spirit.  This was not a request for secular counseling, but for spiritual counseling.

When our committee member brought the matter to the committee, no one on the committee remembered ever receiving such a request. I’m pretty sure that some of the committee members did not actually recognize that this was the nature of the request. We were not prepared. Someone on the committee agreed to talk to this person and I don’t know what the outcome was.

The same thing happened during New York Yearly Meeting sessions some years ago: someone came to a member of yearly meeting Ministry and Counsel Committe seeking spiritual pastoral care right then during the week-long sessions—help with their spiritual life—and the committee did not know right away what to do about it. It had never happened before in anyone’s memory, and there was no established infrastructure for answering the call.

I suspect that these meetings and committees are not the exception among us. This says several things:

  • First, that many of our members do not have spiritual lives that are deep enough and sustained enough to encounter obstacles that need pastoral care. 
  • Also, that perhaps those who do have deep and sustained spiritual lives and experience crises in their spiritual lives do not come to their meetings for help. Why not?
  • That most meetings do not see the spiritual formation and nurture, support, and pastoral care of their members’ spiritual lives as a core charge of the meeting or of any of its committees, either pastoral care or ministry and worship, and/or that they have not created an infrastructure for it. 
  • That most meetings do not proactively “advertise” their eldering services to their members, even if they have people and processes ready.
  • That most meetings have not inventoried their resources in this  area. They don’t know who among them has an active prayer, meditation, or devotional life, and so has the spiritual experience necessary for such pastoral care; or who might actually have a spiritual gift for such care or even a calling to such a ministry, whose service therefore lies fallow in disuse by the meeting.

I therefore think that our pastoral care committees and our worship and ministry committees should:

  1. conduct such an inventory;
  2. inquire of such elders whether they feel a call to such ministry, and if they don’t or haven’t thought about it, to encourage them to do so;
  3. prepare for requests like this from the members—know who will respond; and,
  4. once this is in place, proactively 
    1. ask members to share their spiritual lives,
    2. publicly and periodically provide and announce resources and other supports for the spiritual life, including programs on Quaker spirituality, various spiritual “technologies” (meditation techniques, Bible study guides, breathing exercises, etc.); and
    3. periodically advertise the service/ministry.

The goal would be to build the spiritual maturity of the members and of the meeting, so that enough of us are so deep into the life of the spirit that one might on occasion need the help of the community, and the community would recognize the call and be ready to answer.

Quakers and the “Jersey Devil”

December 18, 2021 § 5 Comments

Oops! Looks like the first link I gave was wrong. Here’s the correct link:

https://throughtheflamingsword.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/the_real_jersey_devil.pdf

Folks who live in or near enough to New Jersey know about the myth of a Jersey Devil who supposedly haunts the Pine Barrens, a pine forest in the central-southern part of the state. It turns out that the myth has a strong Quaker connection. This is a fascinating bit of both Quaker and local Jersey history involving George Fox, George Keith, and Benjamin Franklin, among others.

Gathered Meeting Algebra

April 17, 2021 § 5 Comments

This post is just a piece of fun. Don’t take it too seriously.

Because I use some complicated table formatting, I’m not entering the post in this web page, but rather providing it for download as a Word file here. Using a Word doc allowed me to display the mathematical expressions properly. In order to see the formulas properly, you might also need to disable View Gridlines in the Table Layout ribbon tab or wherever that feature is in your version of Word.

Download the post as a Word doc.

“That of God” in the Gathered Meeting

April 1, 2021 § 5 Comments

I suspect that many Friends would agree that the central principle of Quaker religion is the presence and activity of the Light within us. For early Friends, as for us, this is based on our experience, not on some legacy concept from our tradition which we then accept on faith. We know that something within us brings us into direct, unmediated communion with God. 

To express this experience, early Friends did turn to their tradition. They found their experience articulated in the opening sentences of the gospel of John and called it accordingly, the Light: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

Today, many Friends have a new way to express our experience of the Light Within—“that of God” within. Whatever we call it, this presence, principle, or capacity within us still enlightens us, with its guidance, healing, conviction, forgiveness, renewal, strengthening, and inspiration. Though we rarely get into the metaphysics of how it works, the Light Within, or that of God within us, somehow enables for us holy communion.

The second essential and distinctive principle of the Quaker faith in my opinion is the gathered meeting. Not only can any individual commune directly with God, but also the worshipping community can commune directly with God as a community, without any mediating persons, rituals, or substances. This is the principle behind our worship practice and our discernment and decision making practice. We submit the call to ministry to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We submit the governance of our community to the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than to human politics. We surrender the gathered body to the Presence in our Midst.

What is this Presence? What enables the collective mysticism so distinctive to Friends? What is the corporate analog to the Light within each individual? Just as “that of God in everyone” is key to individual communion, so something is key to our collective communion. What do we call that something?

The traditional answer, of course, is Christ. It was the spirit of Christ who first gathered those Seekers on Firbank Fell in 1652, as George Fox opened the way for them with his preaching. In the centuries since, Friends have testified that it is the spirit of Christ who has gathered us and guided us as a movement.

However, this formulation no longer works for a lot of Friends. Without the kind of direct experience of Christ that so enlightened early Friends, many of us have become averse to a Christ-centered articulation of our experience. I feel the same way as regards the traditional salvific theology of Christ taught to us by the conventional church. But I have received an opening that reconnects my experience to my tradition in a continuing revelation. I share it only because I hope it will serve others as it does me.

First, as always for me, experience: we still are gathered in the Spirit now and again. Whatever we call it, something still is at the center of our worship, upwelling with Spirit, bringing us into mystical union with each other and with itself. That is, in the gathered meeting, the worshippers share something transpersonal, something that transcends our personal experience in the sharing, something that awakens in us collectively the deepest joy, gratitude, unity, and astonishment. Whatever we call it.

To express their experience of personal revelation of Spirit, early Friends turned to their tradition—to the Bible—and found in John’s gospel a way to express it—the Light. Where would we turn to express our experience of the gathered meeting, if not to our tradition, as well? Granted, we no longer have unity about the Bible’s authority. But the Bible’s authority is not the issue, for three reasons.

First, Friends have never given the Bible ultimate authority; that is the Spirit’s alone. 

Second, where else would we turn? To the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita? To the Quran or the Analects of Confucius? To the humanist philosophies of Bacon, Locke, and Descartes? 

The Christian context and the biblical content are our tradition. They are the only spiritual tradition we have in common. To turn away from them is to hack at our own roots with the axe of perversity, with acts of peevish obstinacy. It’s a kind of collective self-wounding.

And here is my third reason for not denying the value of our tradition: the Bible is a proven vehicle for personal revelation and renewal, even for those who reject its authority or find parts of it disagreeable, as I do and I have. Experience proves that one can find “that of God” in the scriptures. That’s why denying their value is perverse. 

That doesn’t mean that they are above criticism or correction. Nor do I deny how they have been weaponized for oppression and suffering; this was my original reason for turning against Christianity and the Bible. The Bible is not holy, nor would I even call it sacred, except insofar as it can be a channel for revelation. Building on its value as a potential channel for revelation fosters continuing revelation.

Thus, for me, the expression that works to name “that of God” in the gathered meeting is the spirit of Christ. I am making no claims here about Jesus as the Christ, but trying to name a bridge between my experience and my tradition.

Here’s why: “Christ” means, in Greek, “anointed” (as does the Hebrew word “messiah”). So “the spirit of Christ” is the spirit of anointing. The same spirit of anointing that Jesus experienced and declared for himself in the fourth chapter of Luke: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; he has anointed me (christ-ed me) to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18). 

That spirit anointed all the prophets before Jesus. It anointed Jesus. It anointed the disciples at the Pentecost. It anointed the Seekers on Firbank Fell. And it anoints us today, in our vocal ministry and for our other ministries. It anoints us in the gathering of our community into oneness and joy. Whatever we call it.

I call it the spirit of Christ, the spirit of anointing. For me, the spirit of Christ/anointing is “that of God” within the gathered meeting.

True Prophecy, Real Poetry, Spirit-led Ministry

March 4, 2021 § 1 Comment

True prophecy’s job was to invoke the presence of God, to speak in God’s own voice on God’s behalf. This was true in the age of Isaiah and Amos, the time of Jesus, the words of Fox and Pennington. 

One of the criteria for including the work of a prophet in the ancient Hebrew canon, the Law and the Prophets, was the quality of the poetry. God would not speak in bad poetry.

In The White Goddess, the poet, writer, and mythologist Robert Graves’s chaotic and magnificent manifesto masterpiece on the origins and nature of (true) Western poetry, he defines the purpose of poetry thus: “The function of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites.” (p. 14)

The Muse is the Goddess, the Mother-Lover-Crone. True poetry, for Graves, is prayer and prophecy.

One knows true poetry when one feels it. The direct experience of the White Goddess is visceral, as Graves describes it: “… the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine …” (p. 24) These signs do bodily manifest the exultation and dread that accompanies all theophanies, all encounters with Truth.

How like the experience of our vocal ministers when the Spirit has truly descended upon them.

Negative Reactions to Jesus and Christianity

January 17, 2021 § 7 Comments

A Friend of mine recently shared that some other Friends in his meeting experience “negative reactions—even visceral ones—when reference is made to Jesus or Christianity during worship”. I’ve been one of these people, actively hostile to Christianity and the Bible, in vocal ministry, in First Day School curriculum, and so on. I’ve changed my mind since then. So I have a tenderness for Friends who feel this way, on the one hand, and a convert’s zeal for pushing back, on the other.

As a result of this transformation, and because I’m a theologian by calling, I have labored a long time and very deeply with how I now identify regarding my own Christianity. I like the response Friend Don Badgley uses when asked whether he is a Christian: What do you mean by “Christian”? But actually, almost no matter how someone might define being Christian, my answer will be no. The main reason is that I have never felt directly called by him into his discipleship.

However, clearly, many, many people have felt so called, some of whom I know intimately and personally, and some of whom, like Fox, have convinced me of the genuineness of their experience through their powerful testimony. Because I respect and trust their testimony, I therefore believe as an article of faith that there is a spirit of Christ who calls some people into his discipleship and who, according to the testimony of the first Friends, originally gathered Friends as a peculiar people of God and has guided the movement for most of its history.

Thus I consider myself a guest in the house that Christ built. I believe he is real and the house is his. Thus, I believe the Religious Society of Friends to be a Christian religious movement. Which is not the same as feeling free to answer unequivocally that Quakers are Christians. The majority of us are Christians, by far. We have been so for most of our history, by far. 

And even those Quaker communities in which some members are deeply uncomfortable identifying as Christian—none of these meetings have, to my knowledge, ever tested their identity in a meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting and then declared, by a sense of the meeting gathered under the guidance of the Spirit, that they are no longer Christian. Technically, then, according to “Quaker process”, those meetings retain their ancient historical testimony as Christians until they discover themselves otherwise in a gathered meeting.

Meanwhile, I would describe many meetings in my experience in the liberal branch as post-Christian. They may not have formally declared themselves post-Christian, but most of the members don’t identify as Christian and their testimony—their vocal ministry, their witness, and culture—do not express a Christian worldview, however you might define that. Post-Christians have moved into the master bedroom and Christ has been thrown out onto the living room couch—or out of the house altogether. 

I don’t feel that way, and I can’t act that way anymore. I feel grateful to be included in the Quaker fold as a lamb who has been invited in, and I gladly sleep on the couch in Christ’s gracious big-tent tabernacle. This means two things, a negative and a positive: I do not (any longer) persecute those who testify to their Teacher, and I actively welcome, desire, pray for, Christian and biblical vocal ministry and the other ways in which my Christian Friends testify to their Guide. They are at home in the house he built—or should be.

It is quite weird to be a member of a Christian movement and not be a Christian myself. This paradox has defined my religious life ever since I became a Friend. The only thing that mutes the dissonance this creates is the fact that the meetings I have belonged to and participated in have all been (non-declared) post-Christian in their culture. Which means that they are comfortable with my non-Christian-ness (though they sometimes act surprised when I sound like a Christian).

On the other hand, however, I will not countenance anti-Christian behavior in any meeting I am a part of. Someone should have eldered me when I did that, and Friends who act that way can expect me to ask some questions.

Quakers and Insurrection

January 9, 2021 § 1 Comment

Barry Crossno, General Secretary of Friends General Conference, and FGC’s clerk Marvin Barnes have recently issued an epistle to Friends addressing our stance with respect to the recent insurrection at the nation’s capitol. (You can read it here.)

I very much appreciate their recognition of the racist roots of that insurrection, their commitment to interfaith action toward de-escalation, and their appeal to Friends to reflect in our actions our belief in a “seed of God” existing in each of us. I would have put that last part differently: I would hope our actions would reflect our grounding in and experience of the seed of God that exists within ourselves, rather than in a belief in its existence in others.

Reading this epistle, I could not help but be reminded of the important role political insurrection played in the history of the Quaker movement.

In 1661, Fifth Monarchist insurrectionists seized control of England’s parliament building. Hundreds of Quakers, including most of the movement’s leaders, were swept up by England’s state security forces after the insurrection and put in jail. The state feared dissenters of all stripes and falsely suspected Quaker involvement in the insurrection. This was the beginning of a generation of state-sponsored persecution of Friends and it began a process of radical change in Quakerism.

It annealed the red-hot fervency of the movement, binding Quakers together in a turn toward the spirit of Christ and his teaching and example of love for one’s enemies. This may have been the most important factor in our survival and subsequent direction as a people of God. It also found expression in the extraordinary statement we now call the 1660 Declaration. (The Fifth Monarchist insurrection occurred in January 1661 according to our current calendar, following the calendar reforms made in the 18th century, but it took place in the tenth month of 1660 according to the calendar of the time; hence the Declaration of 1660.)

In response to the persecution, George Fox and a number of other Quakers wrote “A Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers” to newly crowned King Charles II defending Quakers from the accusations of participation in insurrection and violence. This document is often cited as the first articulation of our peace testimony. (You can read the text here and a great article in Friends Journal about it here.)

I invite Friends to reread the Declaration as a centering exercise in this weird and troubled time.

Membership, Part 9: Membership and the life of the Spirit

January 3, 2021 § 1 Comment

In an earlier post in this membership series, I ended by posing three basic questions about membership in the Religious Society of Friends, which should form the context for considering alternatives to our current faith and practice regarding membership, especially for young adult Friends. But there should have been four questions:

  • What is membership for?
  • What is religious community for?
  • What holds a religious community together?
  • And, as the foundation for these three concerns, What do we mean by the life of the Spirit in the first place?

Let’s start with the foundation: What do we mean by the life of the Spirit? This is the question that anybody seeking an alternative to regular membership in a monthly meeting should be asking themselves. Well, people seeking monthly meeting membership should ask these questions, too. And for that matter, so should meetings.

We can put the question another way that elicits a different kind of answer: What is the spiritual life for? What do we hope to get out of it?

My own opinion is that the life of the Spirit flows from a temperament. It’s not a choice, but rather more of a drive, something one feels impelled to pursue. For me this impulse expresses itself as a yearning for the transcendental, for experience that transcends the usual directions and boundaries of our everyday lives. It has a lot in common with the artistic temperament, the drive to create.

Furthermore, as their art is for many artists, spirituality is integral to the spiritual person’s identity. It is essential to one’s sense of self and one’s relation to the world and to one’s experience.

And what do we hope to create with the life of the Spirit? My answer: I do not just seek transcendental experience; I seek to transcend my self. I seek my true self, my whole self, my higher self. I seek inner transformation for the better.

And I feel instinctively that this transformation is to be found in the transcendental, in God, in that Spirit, that Mystery Reality that I sense lies within me at the center of my little-“s” self and that I experience in the gathered meeting.

My true self is free of ego investments in my behavior. My true self is free of habitual behavior, programmed and conditioned behavior. The true self is who I am at the center of all that armor.

My whole self includes the broken parts of my self, the parts that are healing and the parts that aren’t healing yet, and even the parts that will never heal. My whole self includes the scars and the burden of the things my un-healed self has done. But my whole self is aspirational, also: it is who I would be if I could wholly heal and become whole.

That is, the life of the spirit draws me into my higher self. It is the path of making the world a better place by being a better me.

Thus the purpose of the spiritual life is to illuminate that path, to project an image of the destination, and to be a walking stick and compass—to provide inward and outward aids for the journey.

The destination is within us; it is to stand within the Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world. And the destination is among us; it is to stand together in the embrace of that Spirit that gathers us as a people of God.

The walking takes place within us, turning ever toward that Light that guides us. And the walking takes place together, not alone, but as members one of another.

For the individual, this means that Quaker membership is a declaration of unity with the way this community defines the path and an embrace of the tools Quakerism provides for the journey. For the meeting, this means that you clearly define that path and you provide the community and the tools that bring support and joy to the journey. You help make members whole.

Now, while Quaker meetings do have a collective spirit and consciousness, it is individuals who actually do the work of supporting members in these ways. This is the genius of the Quaker way, that we minister to each other. So membership means responsibility, not primarily for financial support or committee service or attendance at meetings for business, but for turning ourselves toward the Light, for fostering the gathered meeting, for caring for each other, and for employing our own gifts of the Spirit in the service of each other’s journeys.