"That of God":
This brief paper offers some background, on the 1st of 4 religious education sessions, offered by the Worship and Ministry Committee, at the rise of meeting for worship in the fall of 2012. These sessions are based on the Third Haven "Essence of Our Quaker Faith and Practice," approved by the meeting for business on 4.11.10. The "Essence" addresses That of God in each person, the core belief of our faith, from which follow our principal practices—silent worship, testimonies, and community.
That of God is central to the faith and practice of Quakers. Without designated clergy, religious doctrine or much an authorizing hierarchy, Quakers turn to their own version of Faith and Practice (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1997 and 2002). We also turn to one another in our Third Haven faith community for opportunities to learn. This brief paper and discussion comes out of my own Spiritual journey in a little over 20 years as a Quaker and a member of Third Haven Friends Meeting. I have had many Quaker teachers and mentors, many inspiring examples to learn from and follow. I am grateful.
This presentation relies heavily on our Faith and Practice, and my experience at Third Haven and in other settings in the Religious Society of Friends. It is not authoritative; it my own, for now, for what it may be worth. There are many quotations and references in what follows. I have borrowed extensively from Faith and Practice and other readings that have inspired me. This is my offering to Third Haven Friends, companions along the way on our Spiritual journeys. Our faith is a continuing journey, with opportunities for continuous revelation.
"That of God":
Quakers believe that there is That of God in each and every person. Quakers refer to That of God in different ways—the Inward Light, Christ Within, Seed, Spirit of Truth, Divine, God and Spirit. That of God is the part of the Divine or Spirit that resides within each of us and in all others. While we may sometimes be tempted think that there may not be enough of God in some others at some times, we believe that there is always a spark of the divine, That of God in all.
That of God comes to us from George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends.
"George Fox in his Journal refers to 'that inward Light, Spirit and Grace by which all might know their salvation' and to 'that Divine Spirit which would lead them to all Truth'." (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Faith and Practice, p 16).
"The Light Within is the fundamental and immediate experience for Friends. It is that which guides each of us in our everyday lives and brings us together as a community of faith. It is, most importantly, our direct and unmediated experience of the Divine." (p 16).
For Quakers, every person has That of God within and the capability to have a direct unmediated relationship with God, "a holy communion with God." Although there have been many diverse mystical traditions over the last several centuries, the ideas of That of God within and an unmediated direct relationship with God, were revolutionary in 17th England.
In perhaps his best-known statement of the foundation of our faith and practice, George Fox urged Friends
"...to walk cheerfully over the world, answering That of God in every one." (p 16).
With all the problems in the world and our earnest efforts to address them, it is important to remember that Fox tells to go about cheerfully. Fox's statement not only affirms that there is That of God in everyone, but directs us to answer That of God in everyone. Accordingly, we need to not only understand and appreciate That of God in others, but we must also respect and respond to That of God in others. This answer idea powerfully directs and defines how we respond to and treat people, even when they might mistreat others or anger us.
This Quaker answer or response is in accord with the Golden Rule—
"But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you."—Matthew 5:44; and "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them: for this is the law and the prophets."—Matthew 7:12.
Views of God
It sometimes seems that many contemporary Christians think of God above us, in heaven, monarchical, as King, Lord, Master, Almighty Father. While the elements of such views of God are familiar to Friends, most Quakers see and experience God within ourselves, in others and all around us. Thus God is often experienced an ineffable presence.
In the 2010 Spiritual Formation course, and before for some of us, Third Haven Friends found inspiration in "A Burning Oneness Binding Everything" (Bruce Birchard, "A Burning Oneness Binding Everything" Pendle Hill Pamphlet, PHP 332, 1997). Sallie McFeague, a contemporary theologian, who influenced Birchard, sees:
"... models of God as mother, lover, friend of the world and with the image of the world as God's body." (Models of God, 1987, p xi), and "the world or Universe as God's body. .... We, as members of the body, are radically dependent on the life-giving breath of the spirit..." (The Body of God, 1993, p 140). "Everything that is in God and God is in all things.' (p 149).
Quaker faith and practice provides for a direct and unmediated relationship with God. That of God in everyone entails essentially no doctrine, and little church hierarchy or institutional authority. Worship and prayer does not need to be led by designated or authorized clergy. Quaker faith and practice allows and requires substantial individual responsibility for one's faith, religious practice and spiritual journey.
"It is a vision of the Christian life as a journey of transformation, exemplified by the story of discipleship .... It leads from life under the Lordship of culture to the life of companionship with God. It is an image of the Christian life not primarily as believing or being good but as a relationship with God. That relationship does not leave us unchanged but transforms us into more and more compassionate beings, 'into the likeness of Christ'." (Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus again for the First Time, 1994, p 136).
George Fox wrote
"There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition." (Faith and Practice, p 16).
Quakers value the "life and teachings of Jesus" as a primary source of our understanding and expression of how to love God and live in the world. There is a great deal of diversity in the faith and practice of Quakers today. There is probably more diversity in the Religious Society of Friends per 10,000 members than in most other contemporary religions. Nevertheless, the Religious Society of Friends was founded as a Christian faith and remains very much so for most Quakers. There is a range of Quaker faith and practice along a Christocentric-Universalist continuum in the contemporary Religious Society of Friends.
The understanding of the centrality and importance of Jesus varies a good deal among Quakers today. I expect this is so here at Third Haven. Marcus Borg, like many Quakers today, sees Jesus as a "spirit person, wisdom teacher, social prophet" and "movement founder." (Borg, Meeting Jesus, 1994, p 30). Borg writes—
"Speaking broadly, the deist way conceives of God as a supernatural being 'out there'.... The image of God that goes with the understanding of Jesus as a spirit person is very different. Rather than being an article of belief, God becomes an experiential reality." (p 38). This "Shifts the focus of Christian life from believing in Jesus or believing in God to being in the relationship to the same spirit that Jesus knew." (p 39).
Similarly, Fox's understanding of the Scriptures was redefined by the Light, by the Spirit that existed before the Scripture and gave forth the Scriptures—
"This I saw in the pure openings of the Light, without the help of any man: neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures, though afterwards, searching the Scriptures I found it. For I saw in that Light and Spirit which was before Scripture was given forth, that all must come to that Spirit, if they would know God or Christ or Scriptures aright." (George Fox, 1648, Faith and Practice, pp 87-88).
This suggests how many Quakers approach the Holy Bible. Few Quakers subscribe to a strict or literal interpretation of the texts in the Holy Bible. Quakers usually focus on the New Testament and the life and teachings of Jesus, especially the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Fruits of the Spirit
Almost 20 years ago, when I first came to Third Haven, in a Worship and Ministry Committee meeting Jim Rouse read a passage from Paul's letters that has remained important to me since then.
"The fruits of the Spirit are love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self control."—Galatians 5:22-23.
These fruits of the Spirit, of a relationship with God, are the benefits of a life lived in seeking a closer and more lasting (than brief or intermittent) relationship with God.
James Naylor, an important contemporary of Fox, put it well—
"There is a spirit that I feel delights to do no evil, nor to avenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty or whatever of a nature is contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. It bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other." (James Naylor, 1660, Faith and Practice, p 90).
Relationship with God is best achieved though Spiritual practice. The Spirit is available to those who earnestly seek it in prayer, meditation or silent reflection.
"The Spirit is always available, conferring strength and courage on those who seek it in their hours of need." (Birchard, 1997, p 25).
"Spirituality combines awareness, intention and practice. I define it as becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 2003, p 120).
William Penn advises us—
"The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world, and so a light to you that tells you the truth of your condition, leads all to take heed unto it out of darkness into God's marvelous light; for light grows upon the obedient." (William Penn, 1694, Faith and Practice, p 88).
Unity in Mystical Experience
The Quaker way is very clearly not the only path to the Divine. Friends recognize variations in Quaker faith and practice across the Religious Society of Friends and yearly meetings. In spite of this diversity in practice, there is a fundamental unity in our faith.
"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, that proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity." (John Woolman, 1774, Faith and Practice, p 90).
Friends acknowledge the value of a variety of religious and spiritual forms, expression and experience.
"Some of us place special emphasis on the historical Jesus as our personal savior; others on the Light within everyone, which in interpreted by some of us as the Holy Spirit, and by some as the Christ principle; while others emphasize the universal spirit of God. We see these as three aspects of the one God and rejoice in our unity." ( Mable Lugalya, 1991, Faith and Practice, p 99).
"Our experiences of God's Spirit indeed differ, but any true experience of God includes a convincement of the unity of all in that Spirit." (Birchard, p 6)
This more universalistic approach, of Friends like Birchard and Dan Seeger, is familiar and comfortable to many Third Haven Friends.
"The mystical experience of God has certain characteristics that are common to all faiths. It is a subjective experience that involves an interior journey, not a perception of an objective fact that outside the self; .... It is something that the mystic creates in himself deliberately; certain physical or mental exercises yield the final vision: it does not always come upon them unawares." (Karen Armstrong, A History of God, 1993, p 219).
"The emphasis on unity harks back to the Koranic idea of tawhid: by drawing together his dissipated self, the mystic would experience the divine presence in personal integration." (p 228).
As Third Haven Friends, we seek a relationship with God; we try answer That of God in everyone; we proceed on our Spiritual journeys; we practice our Quaker faith in a community. Third Haven Friends Meeting has a long rich Quaker tradition and a vital nurturing faith community to assist us. We are blessed with Friends and Spiritual companions along the way, as we seek God and answer That of God in everyone.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM), Faith and Practice, 1997, pp 16-18, 86-99 and 129-144.
—Third Haven Friends Meeting
Worship and Ministry Committee, Quaker Religious Education
9th month, 2nd, 2012