Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quaker Texts Online

You may have already heard of Google Books before, but in case you haven't, it is a great resource. Google is digitizing out-of-copyright works from libraries all over the world and making them available. Earlham's Digital Quaker Collection has a remarkable number of Quaker works available as well. Although Google Books offers a search capability, the books typically display as scanned text, so you can't search from within the browser. On the plus side, however, Google Books can typically be downloaded as a PDF, which is a huge advantage over the rather clunky interface of the DQC. Also, some digital archives can be a little funny about the use of their texts even though they are public domain, Google is more open, only asking that you not use them for commercial purposes or do automated queries, and that you retain their watermark.

Some of the works that I have found on Google Books are:
Samuel Bownas' "A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister"

George Fox's Journal (If you have a recent Rufus Jones edition, you may find that a lot has been edited out, the ones on Google are more complete)

A Doctrinal Epistle written by Elias Hicks (Purporting to be an exposition of Christian Doctrine respecting the nature and office of Jesus Christ)

Caroline Stephen's "Quaker Strongholds"

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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Committment to Quaker Faith & Values - In 250 Words or Less

RobinM at What Canst Thou Say presented a task she has been working on - "In 250 words or less, give a brief statement of your commitment to the Quaker faith and values as you understand them. I thought I would try this exercise as well.

This is actually my second version. The one I wrote last night spoke more about what I do, and didn't really talk much about values. Perhaps I have gone too far in the other direction, but I ran out of words.

"My understanding of Quaker faith is that we listen to, and follow, the will of God, corporately and individually. I try to make it to Meeting for Worship wherever I am, and to faithfully attend Meeting for Business. I try to both hold the Meeting in prayer, and listen for God's voice. Although I have dry periods, I try deepen my relationship with God in my everyday life, through prayer, meditation, and reading.

Our values spring forth from the working of Christ on our hearts. Although we consider the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit to have priority, the Bible also holds a special place as further description of Christ's teaching and the working of God on others throughout history. I try to spend time reading the Bible and various inspirational writings.

We also speak of testimonies (currently Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality) which are outward signs of the working on the Holy Spirit upon our souls. The testimonies are not an end or a goal, but an indicator of the health of our relationship with God. I try to seek God's guidance in how I should use my time.

In practicing our faith, we are led by God to minister to each other during Worship, and at other times. We may also be led to give encouragement or reproach in a loving and truthful manner. We use queries individually and corporately as a means for self-examination and improvement. I am trying to use them more often.”

Saying Grace Without Words

Although I am not very good at remembering it for other meals, I try to say grace when I sit down for breakfast in the morning. It is a short prayer, similar to the kind I grew up with: "Dear Lord, thank you for this food, and for your many blessings. In Jesus name, Amen." On so many mornings, I just rush through it, barely even considering what I am saying. This morning I caught myself doing just that, so I started over, and tried to pay attention to the words. To my surprise, nothing came. I just felt a calm, wordless, "being with God" moment that seemed to stretch for a while.

Looking back on that moment now, I think about my use of that short prayer. While I didn't need those words this morning, are they what made this morning possible? Quakers have historically looked down on empty rituals and sacraments, but I have to wonder how we can really judge if a ritual is empty. When I rush through grace without thinking about the words, is that empty? I did remember to take a moment to thank God, even if I may not have been too conscious of it. I think a lot of it is your attitude in why you are doing the thing, and not totally how you are doing it. That is, if you are doing it because you think it is something you have to do in order to go to heaven, then perhaps whatever you are doing really is an empty ritual. If you are doing something in order to deepen your relationship with God, however, I believe there is some value, even if you aren't "fully there". Perhaps these unconscious rituals, done for the right reason, are like little drops of water that eventually wear away stone. You may not perceive any wear, until one day, maybe over breakfast, a huge chunk falls away.