Quaker-pocalypse: Quaker Spirituality & Renewal—Light & Seed

March 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

I have said a number of times in this blog that I believe the faith and practice of Quaker ministry is the heart or soul of Quaker spirituality—

the faith that we all are called to a direct relationship with G*d, that each one of us can be, and will be, called to serve divine purpose; and

the practice of always listening for that call in holy expectation and submission, seeking always to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to live a life unencumbered enough to faithfully answer the call when it comes, and then to live our lives as testimony to the truth we have been given.

After reading Doug Gwyn’s A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation (a terrific book I highly recommend), I have discovered that I have been only half right. There really are two vectors, two directions of transformation, in Quaker spirituality, and I have only been focused on the one that begins within and reaches out into the world. I had not paid attention to the one that begins “without”, so to speak, that begins at the surface of our lives and our selves and pierces down into the darkness within us to transform us inwardly, to make of us a new creation. I have always been skittish about salvation.

In A Sustainable Life, Doug Gwyn gives us the two central metaphors for these processes in the writings of Fox and other early Friends: Light and Seed. Each has a classic injunction in early Quaker writings:

Stand still in the Light.

Sink down in the Seed.

Now, I would say that to stand still in the Light is the soul of Quaker spirituality, the path to the transformation—the salvation—of our identity before G*d—our soul. That is, it is the path to our true self as transformed and led by the Holy Spirit.

Now, I would say that to sink down in the Seed is the heart of Quaker spirituality, the path to living rightly (righteously) in the world—of walking cheerfully over the world (that is, so as to uplift it) answering that of God in those around us and in the whole creation. That is, living so as to bring into the world the transformation, the salvation, we have found for ourselves, working to build the kingdom (reign, if you will—this is gender neutral) of G*d on earth.

As Gwyn puts it:

Seed and light are two aspects of the same reality. Seed language is more about being and willing, light is more about knowing and doing. Both light and seed are words for God’s presence with us – in Hebrew, Emmanuelnot only for our own redemption into wholeness/holiness, but also in order that we may become agents of healing wholeness to others, in society and throughout the creation. (p. xxv)

Just as physical light has the qualities of both a particle and a wave, so “that of God” in each of us manifests in these two ways. Quaker faith and practice is lived in the dynamic relationship between light and seed, between knowing and being, between insight and action. What the light reveals to us changes the quality of our being. The seed of a new creation is “raised up” in us. We feel compelled to act differently. Likewise, as we begin to act differently, the light reveals more truth to us. We continue to grow in this dynamic interaction. Meanwhile, this new creation is grounded in the old creation. We embody it in our natural bodies. Coming into the light in a focused way replays the dawn of creation. Light and darkness are separated (Gen. 1:3-4), and the true path forward becomes clear. Likewise, as we live into that truth, a new life with a new will grows in us. (p. 2-3)

Stand still in the light.

So first, in the crucible of Quaker spirituality, one seeks redemption. One stands still in the light.

To “stand still” means not to run. To surrender to its penetrating revelation of your shadow self and its desires, even though your soul wants to hide, to scuttle back into the darkness. This is hard. It is a kind of crucifixion, what Friends used to call a “cross to the will”.

Fox explains how this spirituality works:

Whatever ye are addicted to, the Tempter will come in that thing and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves, and then mercy comes in. After thou sees thy thoughts, and the temptation, do not think, but submit, and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers, and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content[ment] comes. . . . And earthly reason will tell you what ye shall lose. Hearken not to that, but stand still in the Light, that shows them to you and then strength comes from the Lord, and help, contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you. (Gwyn, p. 6; Fox, Works, vol. 7, pp.20-21)

This is the Quaker spirituality of individual transformation, of salvation, of “perfection”, becoming the person we were meant to be. And it comes with a promise: that it works, that with our submission comes the transformation we seek and the strength to see it through.

This is a unique and powerful message that we can offer the world. This is good news indeed. Quaker renewal rests in boldly and prophetically proclaiming this good news.

Of course, we must do it ourselves. And most of us are. Maybe we haven’t articulated it for ourselves in this way. But many Friends instinctively turn toward the light within when troubled. Fox and Gwyn, and now I, have only passed on a vocabulary for this central aspect of Quaker spirituality.

Sink down in the Seed.

As Gwyn points out, the great theologian of the Seed was not Fox but Isaac Penington:

Be no more than God hath made thee. Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing, and sink down in the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion. And as thou takest up the cross to thyself, and sufferest that to overspread and become a yoke over thee, thou shalt become renewed, and enjoy life, and the everlasting inheritance in that. (Gwyn, p. 8; Penington, “Some Directions to the Panting Soul” in Works, vol. 2, pa. 205)

As Gwyn comments, “. . . language like “cross to thyself” and “a yoke over thee” may make some want to draw back. But it is only the true life within that we are submitting to. It is a cross in that we must abandon our sense of control and self-possession. It is a yoke in that we learn to will and to serve a love that is greater than our own.” (Gwyn, p. 8)

If we do submit, we are bound to receive a call. There is work to do, and Quakerism is, properly practiced, a prophetic religion. That is, it names the wrongs and the evils that Truth has revealed, it speaks truth to power (“and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”), and the motion of love impels us into the world to mend it.

Individual ministers will be called. But so will the community be called. As Doug Gwyn puts it:

“. . . to be drawn into Quaker faith and practice today is to respond at some deep level to a calling into peoplehood. [emphasis is Gwyn’s] Of course, participation in a Friends meeting should satisfy personal needs and desires. But that is not the real goal or meaning of faith and practice. It is the far greater venture of placing one’s own gifts, insights, and worth at the disposal of a group, which in turn places itself at the disposal of divine imponderable purposes in the world. . . . Worship is literally “worth-ship.” . . . Thus, each person’s unique worthiness finds its greatest worth through the group and its consecration to God. (Gwyn, p. 24)

But to be a gathered people under the leadership of the Holy Spirit is to enter into a covenant of Light. Just as the individual must stand still in the Light to be renewed, so the meeting must stand still in the Light to be rightly guided by the Guide. The light will reveal our shadows as a community just as it does for us a individuals. And when it does, we likewise must stand still in that light to be renewed. That is, we must worship. We must let the Light worth-shape us, reshape us in divine purpose.

This is the Quaker spirituality of collective transformation and prophetic action, of becoming the gathered people we were meant to be.

This is a unique and powerful message that we can offer the world. This is good news indeed. Quaker renewal rests in boldly and prophetically proclaiming this good news.

Of course, we must do it ourselves. Our meetings must enter truly into worship and into divine fellowship. We must listen for the call, which will come from our members as they feel called by their own Teacher. And we must be ready to take up the yoke collectively when asked.


Do we as individuals practice the spirituality of standing still in the Light? Are we ready to be transformed into children of the Light?

Do we as meetings stand still in the Light, seeking divine communion in the gathered meeting?

Do we as individuals practice the spirituality of sinking down in the Seed? Are we ready to be broken open to reveal a new self, one called, equipped, and excited to help heal the world’s wounds?

Do we as meetings stand ready to give our ministers the help with discernment, support, and oversight that they will need in their healing work? Are we in unity as a community about our prophetic calling as Friends?


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