Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Love Freely Received, Love Freely Given

I am back from my first residency at the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program. It was a wonderful experience, that seemed very daunting for the first day or so. My Koinonia group walked the labyrinth the day we first met together, and unlike previous experiences with a labyrinth, I found it very comfortable and it really allowed me to slow down and listen. I ended up spending about an hour every morning walking the labyrinth at a very slow pace.

Every so often on the labyrinth there were little stones with messages on them, one of which was "Love Freely Received, Love Freely Given". While I had seen this stone a number of times, something was opened in me on first day morning.

Usually when I see that phrase, I skip right to the "Love Freely Given" part, and I suspect many or most of us do. I think we want to picture ourselves in the place of giving. When we read about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, do we tend to see ourselves in Jesus' place, or in the disciples place?

It seems hard to put ourselves in a position to receive love freely, without any obligation. Is it even possibly to truly give love freely without the love being freely received? If I do something out of love for someone else who then feels an obligation to me, then the love wasn't really free for that person, even though I expect nothing in return (assuming I am truly giving love that way). I need to learn to accept love that is freely given, without any worry about what I need to do for that person, or whether I am deserving of it, or whether it somehow means I am a helpless person.

The act of receiving love freely is also an act of giving love freely - I am allowing someone else to express their love towards me with total openness. Likewise, truly giving love freely is also an act of freely receiving the other person's gift of acceptance of that love.

Since this past first day, some lyrics from the B. B. King song "I Like to Live the Love" have been going through my head:

Every man or woman
Enjoys going home
To a peaceful situation
To give love
And receive love
Without any complications

My prayer for us as a religious body is that we learn to give love and receive love without any complications.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I have been reading Incidents Illustrating the Doctrines and History of the Society of Friends and in the section on worldliness I found this story:

When John Churchman and John Browning were travelling in Talbot County, Md., an elderly man asked them if they saw some posts standing, pointing to them, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay was held in a tobacco-house there, which was then new, the posts that were standing were made of walnut; at which J. B. rode to them, and sat on his horse very still and quiet; then returning again with more speed than he went, J. C. asking him what he saw among those old posts, he answered:

I would not have missed of what I saw for five pounds; for I saw the root and grounds of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe to be a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George Fox was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the Fountain of living virtue.

I think there are a lot of things in addition to posts, earth, or curious pictures that we substitute for the power of God. Sometimes we substitute ideas, or particular practices, or a desire to be identified with a particular group of people. Lately I have found myself letting go of particular ideas when they are taken on their own, but holding onto them in relation to experiencing God. Perhaps they are like the old posts. They once stood and held up a building in which Friends met, but by themselves, they are just pieces of wood.

I have found myself wondering how much of Meeting for Worship has become an idol. Do we come to meeting because of the silence, or because of our encounter with God? Are we silent because we are giving control to God, or because "that is what we do in meeting"? Is it most important that a message is Spirit-led, or that it is not too long, doesn't use icky words, and comes from a speaker who doesn't speak every week?

Perhaps there are ways in which the testimonies have become idols, or even Quakerism itself. I think it is helpful for us to look at why things are important to us, and whether there is Life in those things.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Conversation from the Heartland

I will be starting the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program in less than two weeks. Before each residency we have a number of readings. My wife Ceal was in the previous class, so I am familiar with a number of these readings, and one in particular I was very happy to read again - Conversations from the Heartland from the 10/2006 Friends Journal.

Kat Griffith tells the story of her living room conversations with some other home-schooling moms, most of which would be considered members of the "Religious Right". In these conversations, Kat learned much about them, and about herself.

I find this article particularly appropriate right now with all the rancor about health care. Someone in California recently had part of his finger bitten off by a demonstrator. About once a week I go out for Indian food with some co-workers and over the past month we have spent much of the time discussing health care. We have an interesting mix of liberal, conservative, and libertarian viewpoints, and the conversation is remarkably civil - maybe a little animated, but we tend to talk about the issues and not so much about each others' attitudes. I occasionally try to inject a religious aspect into it, and that has been interesting. I have had difficulty making the leap from "whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me" to making it the government's job. It is not that I mind paying taxes to help others, but that I can't reconcile forcing others to do the same.

In her article, Kat Griffith found that while she had initially made assumptions about people on the "Religious Right", she found they had varying opinions on particular issues. How welcoming are we of different opinions?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Earnestly Desiring Gifts

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about various spiritual gifts - prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc., and at the end, he says "you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts." I have always read that passage in the context of an individual, that is, each of you should desire these gifts. But, what about the community as a whole? Do we earnestly desire that those among us will be given the gift of prophecy (that is, do we want God to speak through others to us), or that others will be gifted with discernment, or the ability to heal?