Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 5 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 2)

2 Maccabees 5 - The author tells us that during an expedition against Egypt by Antiochus, a series of apparitions hits Jerusalem. During this time, on a false report that Antiochus had died, Jason leads an unexpected attack on Jerusalem. He slaughters many and causes Menelaus to take refuge in the Citadel, but he does not succeed and finally flees and dies abroad.

The king thinks Judaea is in revolt, so he comes and “storms the city” massacring 40,000 and selling 40,000 into slavery. On top of this, he enters the sanctuary, guided by Menelaus and seizes sacred vessels. The author explains his ability to do this without God’s immediate intervention by saying that the people had been forsaken temporarily for their offenses.

Antiochus leaves some high commissioners “to plague the nation” – Philip in Jerusalem, Andronicus on Mt. Gerizim and Menelaus as well. Judas Maccabaeus at this point along with nine others, withdrew into the wilderness and lived like wild animals but avoiding all defilement.

The next bit of my own writing I am going to post as New Testament related is part of the book I published called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. This will likely continue until the end of the year, when the Daily Bible Reading will officially be ended. Then I’ll have to think of something new and different.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 2 – Staying in Touch
Early Friends starred from the premise that the outward forms of religion were powerless to bring believers into the real “enjoyments” of Christ’s resurrected life—his peace, his holiness, and his victory over the world. But if professing creeds, participating in the sacraments, and obeying church ordinances could not bring believers into the promise, then what could? Only devotion to the inward Christ could do that—learning to hear and obey his voice in all things.

Doing this required that Friends stay in constant and dynamic “touch” with his presence in them, so that the law he had come to write on our hearts might be discerned and obeyed. Like Michelangelo’s great painting of the creator-God holding out his hand to the man he had created in his likeness, human life in its fullness consists in keeping in touch with that hand, cultivating a sensitivity to that light and word, and becoming ever more rooted in that God’s redeeming power.

But this place in us where God dwells is a place easily buried under the distracting clutter of worldly concerns, both material and immaterial. To see Christ in our hearts and minds and to draw from his presence the power to be obedient to his word requires a very special kind of spiritual discipline, a discipline that involves stillness, humility, attentiveness, and lots of patience. It also requires community and a connection with Scripture.

Christ’s Spirit is always in us, but our openness and readiness to receive it is very variable. There are times when his touch is easy to perceive and powerful in its operation on our wills, as well as times when he seems distant and dreadfully silent. Our task is not necessarily to assume we’re in touch but to try to be open to that touch when it is there and patient in waiting for it when it isn’t:

“. . . the very sum of . . . true religion . . . [is] either to worship in the Spirit, or to wait for the Spirit. He who hath not received the Spirit, he is to wait for the Spirit. He who hath received the Spirit, he is to wait in the Spirit for the movings and outgoings thereof, and to be obedient thereto. And Christians are to take heed, not only of a wrong spirit, but also of quenching the movings of the true Spirit in themselves or others” (Penington, Works 1:367).

Worship “in spirit and in truth” for early Friends was dedicated to the development of this discipline. If there was ever an “outward sacrament” instituted by Friends, it was the expectant silence of the Meeting for Worship. Here the concrete silencing of self and the shutting out of the world is achieved so that the inward grace they knew was available to all who came to the inner spring of eternal life could be received. There was no liturgy, no singing, no Scripture reading, no corporate prayer, no communion—nothing to distract the mind from the Teacher within. Still, Meeting for Worship was not an empty space but one rich in spiritual context. Meeting for Worship was the place where Friends came to know Christ in all his “offices”, all those modes of his presence, all those “figures” of divinity that were gathered into his person:

“It is a glorious pasture, to be fed a-top of all the mountains in the Life . . . by the living Shepherd, to be overseen by the living Bishop and to be sanctified and . . . presented to God by the living Priest . .  by an everlasting Priest, that sanctifies and offers you to God without spot or wrinkle, a perfect offering. . . .

Now you have an everlasting Preacher, whom God has anointed to preach, an everlasting Minister, that ministers Grace, Life, Salvation and Truth to you, an everlasting Prophet that God has raised up, who is to be heard; all the living hear him . . . So, none can silence or stop the mouth of them, whom he opens, or take away your Shepherd, your Bishop, your Minister, your Preacher, your Prophet, your Counsellor, etc. . . . Therefore, let him have your ears. Hearken to him. Let him be set up in your hearts . . .” (Fox, Letters, 273-274).

Friends sat quietly together to await the inward ministry of this Christ. If one tried to do anything in Meeting, it was to lay aside the “world” and the self and everything that flowed from them—worries, plans, notions, schemes, desires, grudges—everything that kept you from being attentive to the heavenly will that was not your own. But worship was not just silence; it was a silence in which everything Christ was could be sought after and savored. It was an expectant silence for anyone might be “chose” as a vehicle for Christ’s ministry to the group. If you were “favored”, the Spirit might give you something to offer those assembled, something to inspire or strengthen them, or something that simply assured them God was present among them. This kind of ministry was called vocal ministry and was thought to be really from Christ, not from the person who was the vehicle. A 1656 advice from Quaker elders in England reads,

“Ministers to speak the word of the Lord from the mouth of the Lord, without adding or diminishing. If anything is spoken out of the light so that “the seed of God” comes to be burdened, it is to be dealt with in private and not in the public meetings, “except there be a special moving to do so” (Faith and Practice: The Book of Discipline of the New York Yearly Meeting).

No comments:

Post a Comment