Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 14 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 19)

Isaiah 14 – The “Lord will have mercy on the descendants of Jacob. He will choose Israel as his special people once again. He will bring them back to settle one again in the own land” (14:1).

The prophet offers a satire on the king of Babylon: In Sheol, the “kings” of the earth will greet the Babylonians, saying “So you too have been brought to nothing” (14:10). 

They used to think they would “climb up to the heavens” (14:13) but no – they cannot rival God. People of the world will look and see them no longer. God will wipe out every memory and remnant. Assyria too will be brought to nothing, and the Philistines are warned too.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 19
This early Quaker message wasn’t a message they had invented, but it was one they were clearer about than any other Christians I had ever come in contact with. The Scriptures told us of this Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes these words: “Examine your selves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test Yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” (13:5)

And John—John knew this Christ:

He [John the Baptist]. . . was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming
into the world (John 1:8-9).

God’s light enlightens every person according to John, and this light came into the world in the person of Jesus. “Abide in me as I abide in you,” Christ says to his disciples (John 15:4). The indwelling Christ was the “light” in us that permitted us to see God and Christ (see 1 Cor.2: 10-12), to hear God’s voice and feel the encouragement of God’s love: “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (1 John 3:24).

These are all familiar passages to people who read the Bible or attend church with any regularity. I had heard and read these passages earlier in my life too, but I had never realized that they meant what they said in any kind of practical way—poetical flourish or mystical sentiments maybe--but nothing I could relate to my day-to-day-life.

No one I had ever met as a practicing Episcopalian or Catholic had ever spoken of these things in a way that related them to my experience. But it stood to reason that if Christ’s Spirit is really in the human spirit, it must be something you can experience and be in contact with. How does one sense that presence? How does one discern it from all the other things that are present in the human mind and heart? How does it connect with the gospel the apostles preached or the church they established? These were the things Friends spoke of in their preaching and writing. These were the things they focused on in their worship and in the living of their lives.

They talked about “motions” that drew them to God and made them feel his presence and “openings” that helped them comprehend his will. They experienced “pressings” that revealed to them God’ s displeasure with things that they said or did, and “callings” from him to challenge worldly customs or preach his gospel to the world. These were the things Friends wrote about. I knew what it was to have such “motions,” “pressings,” and “openings.” I had had them one way or another all my life. I had just not been able to see them in the context of the Christ spoken of in Scripture. A few of the “openings” I had had over the course of my life had even survived my atheism. I still believed there was order and design in the universe, and I still felt there was something in human nature that tapped into some transcendent something somewhere.

Now I began to open myself to the idea that it was not just weakness or neediness in me that was at the root of these experiences and intuitions, but something real and necessary and solid—even God himself:

 . . .this is he whom I have waited for and sought after from my
childhood, who was always near me, and had often begotten life in
my heart, but I knew him not distinctly, nor how to receive him or
dwell with him (Isaac Penington, Early Quaker Writings, Barbour and Roberts, eds., 233).

I had tried to convince myself that he had been an illusion, but now I could see that he simply needed to be accepted in faith. Friends’ way of applying the Christ event to my interior life permitted me to see a validity in it that was so helpful and so powerful spiritually that the intellectual difficulties I had had seemed to pale by comparison. A profound and powerful sense of meaning came from accepting it. Again there were words in the Eliot poem that seemed perfectly to capture what was happening:

         [I had] had the experience but missed the meaning,
         And approach to the meaning restores the experience
         In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness (Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”, Four Quartets, II. 93-96).

No comments:

Post a Comment