Sunday, February 18, 2007

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.

4 Comments:

At 5:39 AM, Blogger RichardM said...

Mark, It's good to remind people that in order to grow you have to be willing to listen. And that willingness to listen means being open to hearing messages that contradict what we believe. If I read the Bible just to find passages that agree with what I already believe, or if I listen to people and selectively tune out anything they say that I disagree with then I am ensuring that I will learn nothing new from them.

This connects up with the excessive individualism that is so harmful to modern Friends. This problem of selective hearing is made all the worse by a cafeteria approach to the world's religions. I can imagine myself being very open-minded indeed by picking up snippets from here and there but if I am just selecting pieces that sound agreeable to my mind then my mind is serving as a filter preventing me from actually being challenged by anything in either Christianity or in any of those other traditions.

Immersing yourself in one tradition makes it more likely that you will run up against challenging ideas that will create tension-producing spiritual growth. Skimming over the surface of many traditions encourages shallowness.

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Quietpaths said...

Listening is such an awesome talent and gift, just as being able to articulate one's heart and thoughts coherently to someone else is a gift. So right, your thoughts on listening - truly hearing - while attempting to quiet one's own internal dialogue during the very act of listening. That is a challenge for us, each and every one, and I'm not sure we can ever achieve that lovely communion completely; at least not in this life. Thanks for this post.

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger okiemute said...

It's changing me. My inner being is becoming whole not just day by day but moment by moment as I listen from inside me. it is awesome. I desire to be taken more and more into the depths of God and of life as I listen. glory to God.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger okiemute said...

It's changing me. My inner being is becoming whole not just day by day but moment by moment as I listen from inside me. it is awesome. I desire to be taken more and more into the depths of God and of life as I listen. glory to God.

 

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