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.