"You are the electrodes of the world. But if the electrodes are not plugged in, what are they good for?"... so to speak.
[Well, this site seems do be doing exactly what I was hoping 'QuakerWaterHole' (aka acitycanbemoved.blogspot.com) might accomplish; and it's been happening without me, yay! I'm not sure when it was I signed up here, but offline events distracted me soon after, so that I'd entirely forgotten about it until today, when I returned seeking comment on a blogpiece which I've now reposted here. Aside from that...]
"Juice" was one of Stephen Gaskin's favorite metaphors for the palpable power of the Spirit in & between people. That juice, he said, is what churches and religions are meant to convey. People substitute a lot of ideas and show biz (things they can predict and control) for that live, wild spiritual power, but the more a religious organization comes to depend on such things, the deader it gets.
Rebecca Mays, a favorite teacher/editor at Pendle Hill, was trying to get her classes to think in terms of 'sacraments' when I was there. This was because of her feeling that we would someday need this concept to communicate with the large majority of more traditionally-oriented Christians in the world (not a goal I saw much point in at the time...) But leaving aside the traditional Christian examples, concentrating on the essence: A sacrament is an action that plugs us into the Juice.
How can a physical act--a dip in the pool, a cookie with grape juice... a tab of LSD... connect a human being with the Spirit? How do we know it works? What kind of things can work?
[Taking a detour here] I've been highly impressed with Erich Schiffmann's book: Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness. This is a yoga book with a Quakerish flavor, because what he was writing about was how to use Hatha Yoga (and meditative practices) as a sacrament! If you wrap yourself up in some dozens of impossible positions, it shouldn't be for your health or your ego alone; he says you can do it as an occasion for seeking divine guidance. He also suggests a daily practice of asking God for guidance in making small, unimportant decisions, like "Which cucumber should I buy?" It isn't that the decision matters; asking matters. The guidance is available, but you won't get much use of it unless you're alert to it, and practice helps. (Now if I can just remember to do that--instead of automatically trying to 'figure out' which cucumber ought to be best!...)
Dorothy Day (and at least one friend of mine) found spiritual power in the Catholic Church's ceremonies. This was not because she found the Church of her time admirable--although she'd found precedents for her work in Church traditions of hospitality, etc. My friend is utterly repelled by the hierarchy & authoritarian politics of the Church, but he tells me that their services inspire him in a way that Quaker meetings do not. I don't know if there's any religious tradition on Earth, no matter how strange its doctrines, that has not, at some point, worked to put some human being into contact with the Truth beyond all that.
A sacrament can also fail. Even that tab of LSD can fail... in the sense of not connecting a person to the Spirit. It's a matter of intention and expectation (not that these are ever simple matters!) A cookie may be only a cookie, if you don't see that it's food from God.
Sarah Miles...Take This Bread... She was an atheist; she didn't think she had any particular intention or expectation in attending an offbeat Episcopalian communion service with someone's new experimental liturgy... and all of a sudden, she says, she Knew that the bread was full of Jesus! She spent weeks wondering what it meant, but she utterly knew it!
I knew a very sedate Unitarian student at Pendle Hill who was similarly overwhelmed by attending a Sabbath service at P'nai Or Synagogue in Philadelphia, with very similar results. My wife and I were weeping, and there were others in our group entirely unaffected, wondering 'How much longer does this go on?'
At some level, not necessarily conscious, I imagine that a person needs to be seeking, to have reached some level of 'ripeness,' for a sacrament to take hold.
The basic Quaker sacrament--sitting silently with a likeminded group for one clock-hour--has the same potential for success or failure. I am guessing that most of the time, for most modern friends, it has precisely the same effect as cookies in church. Is this true? I can only go by what people say and do afterwards, which shows little or no difference from there usual state.
Going to yearly meetings, I'd meet people who were definitely connected, and between us all we built up quite a charge! Coming home again, I'd slowly sizzle back to 'normal.' In deciding to go to Pendle Hill, I hoped I could get into that Juice for a longer period of time... and it was truly that kind of experience. We didn't achieve perfection; but having others around who wanted to feel the Spirit at work, we had an intense time of it. It's taken me some years, afterwards, to fully feel the obvious truth that it is, after all, as much God's world here as that was!
So. How to reignite that old fire, in a much damper spiritual environment? What is it, in the conventional Quaker Meeting, that can make such good people so utterly deadening to self & others? Help?