Lessons for the New Lamb’s War from the First Lamb’s War
July 4, 2014 § 2 Comments
Early Friends heard the Word and then invaded public spaces with it, bringing to steeplehouses and marketplaces the prophetic announcement of a new age. My sense is that early Friends were less concerned with exactly where they were going with the Lamb’s War and whether they were “winning” than with being faithful to their call. In the short term, they certainly shook things up and made impressive gains in bringing about the transformation they believed in. But in the long term, of course, the Lamb’s War seemed to fail. The Restoration of the monarchy, the collapse of the Puritan experiment, the decades of persecution that followed, all meant that the Lamb’s War had been lost.
Or had it? On its own terms, yes. But . . .
Like all apocalypses, the Quaker apocalypse of the Word understood the problems of the time and their causes brilliantly, it flared brightly in its initial vision and passion, and it failed, ultimately, to understand the nature of its own fulfillment and the timelines involved.
Early Friends sought to usher in the new age as the second coming of Christ. They succeeded in building a vibrant and incredibly creative religious movement and they did in fact totally transform the world—but not by turning all souls toward Christ. They ended up jump-starting industrial capitalism instead, even as they declared a truce in the Lamb’s War and retreated from the battlefield.
Is this what Christ had had in mind all along? That’s hard to imagine, that he told his followers, the early Friends, one thing—that he was coming again, right then, through them, to remake the world spiritually—and then turned them toward science, industry, technology, and commerce, instead, giving them the genius to create an all-new kind of economic system and make them rich in the process.
Did early Friends abandon Christ when they abandoned the Lamb’s War? Did Christ abandon them? (Doug Gwyn raises these questions in his important book, The Covenant Crucified.) What did the Christ, the Consciousness that gathered this peculiar people into such a dynamic movement, actually have in mind for them? With thousands, and tens of thousands, of quiet murmurings to their souls, he led them to Darby’s railroad, and Cadbury’s chocolate, and Barclay’s bank, and Huntsman’s cast steel. Apparently.
I find stuff to ponder here.
From the history of the first Lamb’s War I take this lesson: listen for the call; answer the call with faithfulness; don’t be too attached to results, or fuss overmuch about the path you find yourself on. You cannot know what the divine purpose is. G*d is in charge, not us. Apparently.
Religious movements evolve according to dynamics of emergence that are invisible and even unknowable to those who start them. This is because human history is an evolving ecosystem, not an arrow with a target. Organisms in that ecosystem—individuals and especially, communities—play their roles and sometimes they play a dominant one, as the Religious Society of Friends did in 18th century Britain. But their actions immediately begin interacting with all the other organisms’ contributions, and those interactions are out of human control and often even out of human purview.
All movements waiver and then decay and ultimately dissolve or collapse. But something comes out of it.
Likewise, in my own personal experience, in the history of this individual. We each seem to be born with a certain spiritual “DNA”. However, as you mature and move through life, passion, right intention, and right action interact with the DNA of your soul as a kind of spiritual RNA, decoding and expressing the elements of your true self. Somehow, ultimately, you are likely to arrive at some fulfillment, but by a path you could never have predicted and in a form that you could never have imagined.
One example from my own life: From an early age, I wanted to be a minister and for a while in college, I was headed toward seminary. But I could not have been a Lutheran minister, or any other kind of minister I knew of at the time, and I dropped the idea. Now, here I am a Quaker with several ministries that have my full commitment and passion. G*d led me here after all.
And this is what I mean by “G*d led me here after all”: In this process of purposeful yet unpredictable spiritual evolution, the spiritual RNA—the factors inside us that help us decode and express our basic nature as we encounter forces outside ourselves and evolve and mature in the Spirit—this internal and external dynamic is what I call G*d.
This is my experience. This is what I know of G*d “experimentally”. I could ascribe all this to some utterly external and utterly spiritual entity and call that God—but that’s not how I experience it. My testimony is that there is something within me—let’s call it the Light—that works to turn me toward the good, toward creativity, toward love—and toward full expression of my true self. Furthermore, this principle within me is awake to possibility and opportunity in the world, and to sympathetic external forces, actors, and movements of the spirit in the world around me, in ways that my conscious consciousness is not.
But this—something—is not just inside me. There is “something” outside of me, as well. I experience the Light within me as my teacher and guide. But the Light is not confined within the boundaries of my individual soul. It seems to work upon me from the outside, also. For one thing, it’s inside of everyone else. But it’s also in the living world around me. In fact, I have at times experienced it quite profoundly within rock, climbing a talus formation in the Shawangunks of New York or walking through a boulder field in the Sourlands of New Jersey, laying my hand upon the bones of our Mother Earth. Communion is real, and it comes in many forms.
So, too, with religious community. Religious communities form in answer to some collective experience. Israel was formed in the Exodus. The Christian movement seems to have gelled in the Pentecost experience. Quakers were gathered at Firbank Fell. Receptors are built into the community’s collective consciousness that are capable of recognizing and responding to the galvanizing Spirit of its birth. The new religion is the community’s spiritual practice, the things it does to commune again with that Spirit, for which it yearns. This yearning for its Truth, for fulfillment in the full expression of its “DNA”, is the emotional drive behind the religion’s actions and its evolution.
When the community is aligned toward G*d; that is, when it is aligned toward the good, toward creativity, toward love, toward the unique gifts the community possesses—and above all, toward the collective consciousness that is its Source and its guide—extraordinary things happen. For Friends, the gifts are the core elements of our tradition, especially the faith and practice of Quaker ministry. Our Source Consciousness is the Christ, the consciousness in which Friends were first gathered and in which it has enjoyed continuing revelation. The mission is worship—waiting for the Holy Spirit to prompt us toward understanding and action—and then faithfully answering the call.
Thus, the Lamb’s War today depends on individual Quakers and Quaker meetings that know how to pass on our gifts, our tradition; that know how to listen for the call; and that know how to nurture, guide, and support those who hear and answer the call. It depends on Friends who are alive to the movement of the Spirit, who know humility—who are ready to submit—and who live in simplicity honest enough to free them for action.
Thus, for me, the lesson for the new Lamb’s War from the first Lamb’s War is to remain spiritually focused on the Light within me, as an individual; to remain focused on our collective Teacher and Guide, as a community; and to retain the faith that this religious practice actually works—that prayer, meditation, and worship deliver communion.
Theoretically, this faith is not some blind leap in the dark, but a confident walking in the Light, in the knowledge that it has happened before, not just to our forbears but also to ourselves—to you and me and our meetings. In the experience of personal moments of communion and collective moments of gathering, we expect that it will happen again. If we are faithful.