Friday, September 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 4 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 4)

Ezra 5 – The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are in Judah and Jerusalem during this time. Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates (“Beyond the River”), came and asked them who gave them permission to rebuild the Temple and the names of the men working on it.

They send a letter to Darius telling him all that the workers told them—of the original building, of how because of their people’s unfaithfulness, they suffered its destruction and exile, but that Cyrus gave them permission to rebuild it in the first year of his reign. The upshot of the letter is to request that officials search the records of King Cyrus and see if what they say is correct.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day. 

Part 4
Early Friends did this [examine the scriptures with a sharp eye to the truths they illuminated regarding their own spiritual conditions], and they did it in beautifully creative ways.  I think, for example, of William Penn’s wonderful comparison of the overcrowded inn in Bethlehem with the state of the average person’s soul.  We are all like that inn, crowded with worldly guests, having no room for Christ to be born in us. Or Fox’s use of the Baptist’s proclamation (Matt 3:3) and its reference to Isaiah 40:4 as a description of our readiness to have Christ enter into our lives:

“And I saw the mountains burning up and the rubbish and the rough and crooked ways and places made smooth and plain that the Lord might come into his tabernacle.  These things are to be found in man’s heart.  But to speak of these things being within seemed strange to the rough and crooked and mountainous ones” (Fox’s Journal 16).

But while examples of this kind of biblical allusion are very common in Friends’ writing, what Friends ultimately came to see and describe was something far more profound.  They ultimately came to see that the whole story recapitulated itself in the spiritual lives of people who opened themselves to Christ and became joined to His life by faith. 

I think it is special about Friends that they saw “types” and “figures” not only of Christ’s narrative; most of the early Church fathers saw this – the fulfillment of all Old Testament characters and sayings. But Friends saw scripture filled with “types” and “figures” of everyone’s spiritual life.

But faith for Friends meant far more than simply assenting to prescribed formulas of doctrine or profession.  Faith meant the daily hearing and obeying of God’s living Word both in their personal depths and in the community of those gathered in His name.  If one came to a faith like this, one’s spiritual journey would actually parallel the story scripture told—or at least its key events.  The story was not Adam’s alone or the Jews’ alone.  It was the common spiritual heritage of all men and women.  We were the ones cast out of God’s presence, the ones who envied and killed our brothers, who wandered the world in alienation from God and strangers to one another.  We were the ones God called to come away from that fallen ancestral “state”, the ones called to claim God’s promise of salvation.  We too had to respond to God’s call; we too had to abandon our ancestral homes (the purely outward dimension of “tradition”) and learn to rely on the voice of God addressed to us.

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