Thursday, February 15, 2007

That of God

It will become quickly apparent to the reader that I’m struggling with a concept here, attempting a reconciliation which may or may not be reconcilable. I hope that you bear with me, and if you are one of my Lutheran readers, I ask that you be gentle.
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I spend most of my waking hours in a Quaker environment, a Pre-K through 12 school. Never mind that there are relatively few birthright – or even card-carrying – Quakers among the students, the faculty, the administration. There appear to be more Jewish than Christian students, with a smattering of Islam and other faiths here and there. Doesn’t matter. We subscribe to Quaker tenets and testimonies, faith and practice. The students and faculty attend Meeting for Worship weekly, and Meeting for Business is the model for faculty and student meetings; we speak of bad behavior as being “unQuakerly.” Consensus is striven for, and generally reached.
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Two years ago for our winter Inservice Day, the Quakerism and Community Committee brought to the campus three or four individuals who explained how Quakerism impacts on their own non-Quaker faiths. I can’t remember what all of those faiths were, but I remember that one was a Quaker with Buddhist tendencies and the Roman Catholic with elements of Friendliness has now become our Head of School.
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I wondered then, and have continued to wonder, how Quakerism might inform my own Lutheranism. I promised myself then that I’d learn more about Quakerism in the attempt to work that out. As with most promises to self, I have made little progress. Until very recently.
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The ubiquitous Moment of Silence has found its way into my adult education class at St. Paul’s, and it has been a useful transition for my learners to sit for a brief period letting go of the concerns they had before class, and focusing on why we have gathered. Quakerism, creeping into my Lutheran Sunday School class.
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Friends never say, “I’ll pray for you,” a term which often seems hollow – I am well aware of how many times I have made that promise, and lost track of it. Instead, in times of trouble, they “hold” one another “in the Light.” It is never said, but I have come to understand that the complete thought is to “hold in the Light of Christ.” Another way of praying, but somehow much more. In the past eight months our little school community has had one of our faculty become ill, ill unto death; and too soon after her passing, another member came down with a serious and mysterious malady. Rosy and her family truly were held in the Light from the time of her diagnosis until her passing: she was visited, written to, telephoned, cooked for by the members of the school community. When she died, her family asked if the memorial service could be held at the Meeting House; she was Jewish, not Quaker, but it seemed the most natural thing in the world. The other teacher, I’m relieved to report, has at last received a diagnosis and treatment, and there is hope for a full recovery, over time. Meanwhile, the members of the community hold her in the Light, each in the way that she or he is called.
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"Quakers do not make a division between religion and everyday life, no place is more - or less - holy than another. God may be experienced both in the Sunday meeting for worship and in the midst of everyday life and relationships." If that doesn't sound like the Martin Luther that Tim Wengert taught me about, I don't know what does. It seems awfully similar to Luther's thoughts on the changing of diapers as a ministry.
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There’s a Quaker concept that seems to raise the hackles of some other Lutherans who have heard it, but has seemed to me to be fraught with possibility: “There is that of God in every one,” is the statement we hear over and over in a Friends School. Often the principle is invoked when considering a thoughtless offense committed by an Upper School boy and someone seeks a mitigating circumstance. It struck me as another way of saying that we are made in God’s image. But I saw frowns when I would mention this during my years at seminary. So I had set it aside for a time. But recently I have begun to think I understand it in a better way.
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One of the most meaningful Lutheran ideas for me comes from the Smalcald Articles where Luther lists the means of grace. He begins with the obvious: the spoken word, the sacraments, absolution; then he comes to the surprise: “the mutual conversation and consolation of sisters and brothers.”
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This, then, is where I think that my Lutheranism may be informed by Quakerism. For is it not in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of the sick and the imprisoned – is it not in these things that “that of God” is active in us? Is it not in the silent bearing of another’s burden, the ministry of presence, the selfless listening that “Christ within” us reaches out to the neighbor? And aren’t all of these things somehow holding our brother, our sister, in the Light?
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I believe I'm no less a Lutheran for having explored a bit of Quakerism and seeing what is meaningful in that tradition. To the contrary, I am thinking that my Lutheranism, informed by Quakerism, has become richer, deeper, and somewhat more practical.

9 comments:

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Nancy, I completely agree with your closing paragraph... you are no less Lutheran for exploring Quakerism, or anything else for that matter, if you can draw from that one thing that reinforces your own daily living, breathing faith; the faith that we profess. I think the concept of 'holding in the light of Christ' is inspiring myself! Great, thoughtful, post!

P.S. an after-thought said...

God Bless any attempt to understand God and our life in Him!

Pink Shoes said...

Blogger ate my comment -- suffice it to say that I find this post lovely, inspirational and a wonderful witness to the journey of faith. Thank you for sharing.

tumbleweed said...

As a Baptist (progressive, mind you), I have long admired Quaker ideas, especially the Quaker works in regards to peace and their practice of silence. In my current faith community, we practice silence at the start of every Sunday morning worship service. That is not a practice I have grown up with as a Baptist, but I find myself wanting it and needing it!

We become richer through our experience in diversity.

Greg
http://blog.greggriffey.net

Frank said...

"Be still and know that I am God". I think you are embarking on a wonderful journey. God didn't make denominations, we did. Being people of the book, we sometimes forget the indwelling of God in our lives.

Ancestor Collector said...

Nancy, I have been reading your blog because you and I both post comments on Mrs. Goodneedle's blog. I'm also a Massachusetts Lutheran, and I've read this post with great interest. It is so well written and really captures the essence of the journey we are all on, no matter what our denomination.

I have a dear friend who grew up Quaker and married a Lutheran man. In her own words, their wedding ceremony "had to have enough talking for the Lutherans and enough silence for the Quakers". She was baptized and became Lutheran long several years after their marriage, but she still practices her moments of silence, now as part of her Lutheran faith.

I also believe that God is in each and every one of us. For reasons way too long to write here, I have such an affection for the musical, "Les Miserable". There is a line in the musical that never fails to bring me to tears. Jean Valjean and Fantine sing, "To love another person is to see the face of God". We are God's love made manifest. How many times have we felt that someone was sent into our lives to do God's work for/with us?

I, too, believe I hold people in Christ's Light. My prayers are not always deliberate, thoughtful prayers, but quick petitions, short snipits of chat with God. Those I pray for are in the my thoughts throughout the day, not just when I sit to say my prayers. I believe that's holding them in the Light.

Thanks, Nancy, for a lovely post that touched my heart.

Shelina said...

Nancy, thank you for this thoughtful post. I too used to wonder what it meant when someone said they would pray for you. I found myself saying it too, and then forgetting to follow through on the promise. Now I still say it, but I do the praying right then and there.

I had to write a paper in my theology class about how my study of other religions (that they taught in class) affected my own religion. Since I have been around great many religions - I think my views are formed much more globally. I tend to pick and choose to like what I like about different religions and call them my own.

Susan said...

Good thoughts, Nancy. If we are children of God, is God not in us? Are we not his hands, oftentimes doing the things he has prompted us toward?

"What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am."

jangola65 said...

Nancy, I also affirm your notion that "that of God in everyone" activates out God within and helps us reach out. However, that is not what the Quakers are getting at. What they mean is that God is in everyone, Hitler or whomever, and changes th toward classifying other people as "other" than us. It is a tough standard.