Listening in the Spirit
The traditional Quaker approach to the Bible is that we read it in the same Spirit in which it was written. George Fox, for example, said:
That the holy scriptures were given forth by the Spirit of God; and all people must come to the Spirit of God in themselves, by which they might know God and Christ, of whom the prophets and the apostles learnt; and by the same Spirit know the holy scriptures; for as the Spirit of God was in them that gave forth the scriptures, so the same Spirit of God must be in all them that come to understand the scriptures; by which Spirit they might have fellowship with the Father, with the Son, with the scriptures, and with one another
This idea goes back to the Bible, where Jesus says in John:
but the advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have told you. (John 14:26 REB)
This way of looking at the Bible is difficult for many Christians to accept, since it isn't simply reading the Bible with your intellect and trying to interpret it literally. Instead, it requires faith -- trust -- in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as well as a willingness to be taught. I often hear Friends speak of reading only specific sections of the Bible -- a Friend this weekend said that he sticks to the Gospels. Having done this myself for several years, I understand some of the motivation, but I also found that I learned much more, and became changed, when I let loose my grasp of what I knew and wanted to believe, and allowed myself be led into uncomfortable areas.
This came to mind during worship this weekend when a number of Friends spoke about listening to each other. What I don't often hear people talk about (at least not explicitly), but I think is crucial for Quakers, is to listen to each other by that same Spirit that guides us when reading the Bible, and should be guiding our everyday lives. As with reading the Bible, listening to each other can mean a willingness to let go of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs -- for me it often means trying to ignore that internal commentary that puts immediate spin on what someone else says. It also means keeping one ear on the person speaking, and one on that voice of Christ within.