Friday, December 6, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 10 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 17)

Isaiah 10 – Those who make terrible laws and issue tyrannical decrees, refusing justice to the unfortunate will be punished. Then what will they do? Assyria is the rod of Yahweh’s anger, but the insolence of Assyria will also be dealt with. The king of Assyria claims that all he has accomplished has come from his own intelligence and strength (10:13), but he is just the “ax,” not really the power who has used the ax (10:15).

To teach them, Yahweh will send “a wasting sickness” (10:16) on “Assyria’s proud troops” (10:16). On that day “the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the House of Jacob. . .will truly rely on Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel” (10:20). Out of the terrible destruction wrought will come “inexhaustible integrity” (10:22). It will only be a little longer and then God’s fury will end. “He will break the yoke of slavery and lift it from their shoulders” (10:27).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 17
Early Quakers said that “Christ’s light” was the light that illumined the way, and Christ was telling him, the man who would later become my second husband, that he was just “not free” right now to do what he wanted. I didn’t understand it entirely, but I did understand that I had to be patient, that I couldn’t hope for things to work out with him unless he felt inwardly ready to move on. The thing we wanted, the freedom we sought, had to be given—not seized.

It is not surprising that one of the first things I shared with him was the poem I had loved for so many years. It seemed to speak to our condition too. I must have shared it with him because he wrote to me thanking me for introducing him to these words:

                  I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
                  For hope would he hope for the wrong thing; wait without
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the
Waiting. (T.S.Eliot, “East Coker” Four Quartets, III.                                 123-126)

This was what we had to do, because this was exactly the situation we were in. We didn’t know what it was we should be hoping for or waiting for. We had to be patient; we had to lay down our wills, or at least try to. Early Quakers had written a lot on the subject of patience:

“. . .stand still in quietness and meekness, that the
still voice you may hear, which till you come down within, you cannot hear. . . .So be low and still, if you will hear his voice. . . . This gift is free, and offered freely to all who will receive it; and yet you cannot receive the gift in your own wills, but through the denial of your own will. For the light is contrary to the will. . . . As you receive the will of God, you deny your own wills . . . .” (Francis Howgill, Early Quaker Writings: 1650-1700, 176-177)

So we struggled with feelings we could not avoid yet somehow felt we had to set aside if we ever wanted to feel the kind of inner clarity and “rightness” these passages point to. My friend reminded me that the central message of Christ’s life was that crucifixion was not the real end of faithfulness—resurrection was. He encouraged me to see the self-denial we were engaged in as a kind of cross we had been given to bear, a crucifixion of our wills and desires that we had to endure if we wanted to come to any kind of real resurrection in our lives, a resurrection that was life not seized but bestowed. Friends had taught him that. The impatient and willful self, what Friends simply called “the flesh,” had to be restrained:

         “. . . that which could not abide in the patience nor endure
the fire, in the Light I found to be the groans of the flesh (that could not give up to the will of God), which had veiled me, and that could not be patient in all trials, troubles and anguishes and perplexities, and could not give up self to die by the Cross, the power of God, that the living and quickened might follow him” (George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, 14-15).

Somewhere in the midst of everything we were going through—the breakup of our marriages, the abduction of my son, the neediness and desire we felt in wanting to grab on to one another, I began to see something. It had never occurred to me to think of Christ’s crucifixion as something I could connect with in this way. Could it be that this was the way in which it was true—or at least a way? My friend thought it was. Early Friends had seen it that way. I tried to take this view of it. Even if things never worked out for us in a worldly or fleshly way, the death of that impatience in us would surely lead to some good, some kind of resurrected life that would be better than anything we could fashion in our own wills.

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