Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I'm feeling led to share my story somewhere on this site, but not sure where or how. But rather than do that here I would like to hear from others what they see as the essential difference it makes in our lives to follow the Light of CHRIST versus the Light. Having passed through a phase of my life as a liberal Quaker where I was told the Light is something all humans have and it is not necessarily connected to the historical Jesus I can begin by saying that when I was listening to the Light, I really didn't know what or who I was listening for! What does a Light sound like, anyway, aside from possibly your own conscience, and the nudging of a Presence that leads you to do good in the world? The Bible seemed completely unimportant and mystifying, unless I could somehow use the stories as sources of allegories about various aspects of human life, but it was up to my imagination to see how they could apply to me.
Then fast forward to many years later when God hits me over the head with Jesus, with Christ, with a personal presence that makes me tremble and gasp for breath at times! No more vague Light, but the holy name of Jesus, the sweetest name in the world! I was totally taken by surprise as I had never figured out the connection between Jesus and me, really. But there was no mistaking the message for me now, as every time I put on my new head covering the words "Merciful Jesus" unmistakably would come into my head! What! What does that have to do with a head covering?! Anyway, the game was up and I was shaken to the roots. It was as if God took me by the throat and shook me and turned me every which way but loose (sounds a bit violent for a Quaker, eh?).
The next few weeks were a rollercoaster of ecstatic highs and the depths of despair. I had no idea that the birth of the Light of Christ could be so much work and so painful. I thought it would lead to joy, and instead it is work, and pain, and agony, and ecstasy all mixed together, with God overseeing this new birth.What has helped me to get through it all has been to read the journals of the old Quakers and see over and over again their lives follow very closely what I have gone through.And above all the words "No Cross, No Crown" keep resonating in my head. This is what it is all about.
So, to answer my own question, I don't see the Cross in the Light. I don't see the pain and suffering and personal sacrifice that is involved in this sanctification process that I am going through in the Light. Maybe others will correct me here, but for me I could not get to the Life, to the Peace of God, without the cleansing fires that I have been going through, and only the Light of Christ requires that kind of sacrifice. I am dying and being resurrected for Christ, not for a nameless Light. And yes it matters terribly I think! Nothing matters more in the world than Jesus. To quote Mother Teresa "All for Jesus, all for Jesus".
Would love to hear from other Friends on this topic.
I appreciate this story because it is similar to some of my experience but not quite as dramatic. Having been raised a Friend with the presence of Jesus as Love very evident in my family, especially Mom and Dad, I "rejected" the name "Christian" for a while as I felt the burden of many fundamentalist and strongly antagonistic Friends and other "Christians." However, when I came to recognize, through a few experiences that "Christ" was not limited to "fundamentalists" and was teaching people through various human teachers I reclaimed the "Christ" of my experience. This was/is not the same Christ that brings tornados or hurricanes if we do not pray hard enough, nor one that hates those who love and commit to each other regardless of gender, nor one that requires that we must use the "name of Jesus."
However, my experience, reading, etc. has led me to understand that the gospels speak to my condition more than anything else and that Jesus remains the best "corporal" manifestation of the Light. I know others who have seen this manifestation of Light in other writings and individuals as strongly as almost anyone else that I have known. It is not in my wisdom to say that my experience is more accurate or "Truer" than theirs, but that does not diminish someone else's experience of Christ as experienced through Jesus.
There is nothing more beautiful than encountering the Living God through His son Jesus. The process of sanctification is what makes us more like Him. However, God loved us just as much before we came to know Him personally as He does now and we are no more worthy of His love now than we were before. As far as what we call the light, I don't think it matters to God. He watches our heart and when we seek Him with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind we will find Him. I find some fellow quakers use the word Light as a substitute for the word God. If that's what they want to do I have no problem with it. I know who's light I'm supposed to walk in and that's good enough for me. So long as they don't expect me to stop using the name of Jesus and to stop talking about what God has done for me, I have no problem with them finding Him in their own time and fashion.
I've been through what you're going through now, and I just rejoice to hear your story. For us the words - light, spirit, seed, divine - are mostly just words, words, words - maybe the words of the gospel were similarly too carelessly and superficially used by 17th century Christians too, arguing over what the structure of the church should be, what the necessary tenets were, so that they didn't connect with the power either. I don't know what makes the spark ignite. For me, while the early Quakers and their "interiorization" of the salvation narrative that culminated in Christ's coming, His life, His death and resurrection, ignited the spark in me a little over thirty years ago, I came to feel that Quakers had also gotten some things wrong. Maybe nobody can get it ALL right. I am the Catholic Quaker around here. The two together make it whole for me. God bless your journey.
It's hard for me to sort this out intellectually, because I see that God, as introduced by Jesus, is the only God there is, hence the only God available for people to find through any religion.
I just ran into a couple William Stringfellow quotes that may help clarify the puzzle: Why it is that dismissing and ignoring Jesus has led to such spiritual impoverishment-- Why so many people can regularly sit in worship and remain unchanged so very long:
"The meaning of Jesus Christ is God's concern for and presence in this world. The Christian faith is not about some god who is an abstract presence somewhere else, but about the living presence of God here and now, in this world, in exactly this world, as people know it, and see it, and touch it, and smell it, and live and work in it."
"Jesus Christ is the assurance that all of life, the life of every human and of the rest of creation, originates in and ends in the life of God. Your life, or mine, or that of anybody, issues from the word of God. This is and remains the essential truth about you or me or anybody, no matter whatever else may seem to be true."
When I came to our Religious Society, the only Quakers I had known and about whom I had read were those in the books in my middle school library. I read of 17th through 19th century Friends who I imagined were prophetic ministers who were led to charity. They lived the Gospel. I was shocked to learn about pastoral Quakers (somehow I had missed those books) and was even more appalled to learn of Quakers who not only didn't accept Jesus as the central figure of their spirituality, but who were openly hostile to those for whom Jesus was their friend. I loved Jesus, and I loved how Friends saw the Light, the Logos, the Word. JEsus was the Light. The Light was Jesus. Jesus was the High Priest of our meetings. In many, many ways, the Eastern Orthodox teachings about Jesus and salvation were similar to Friends' understanding, I'm now learning. I came to the society because they were a response to the liturgical churches insistence that works (the sacraments) were the way to salvation and to the protestants' assertations that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. They were in so many ways, a prophetic witness of how Christ can speak to people directly, and that the key to CHristianity was convincement of one's imperfect state, CHrist's ability to make us perfect, and the unity that can be found when a community is faithful and yields to him. It was a religion based in LOVE. LOVE LOVE LOVE. And it was to that I was drawn.
The first time I spoke in worship, my mouth was speaking before I knew what I was saying and I was pouring sweat and my heart was beating so loudly. You see, I refused to speak, because I was afraid. I was 16. It was my second meeting for worship. So, there went the ol' mouth. God USED me. I would speak in meeting as a teen and not know that the very words I spoke came from the Bible, from some part I had never read or didn't know existed, according to my First Day school teacher.
It would take the death of my beloved to be brought to such a low and desperate state where I would doubt my Christian understanding and move back to neo-pagan and then non-theism. There I would doubt the very existence of God , though I would struggle with the memory of the very real charismatic experiences I had in my teens and 20s. Jesus had spoken to me directly when I was all but despairing over the spiritual warfare in which I was engaged at ESR. I don't know who it was, I think it was Jesus, but it could have been an angel... but I think it was Jesus who .. well appeared to me. I was sobbing and tormented over internal struggles. I was weary of trying so hard to be the good boy, the good Quaker, who was rejected by the liberals for being Christian and the Christians for being gay. I felt out of place. I had not dealt with some serious emotional scars from my youth, and I was wanting it all to just... end. I was crying and then ... I saw feet. And a voice said "Look at my face." I think my eyes were closed during all of this. It's been 16 years, now. I remember sobbing even harder knowing that I was being visited. I knew I wasn't crazy. Well I knew that experience wasn't part of being crazy anyway (ha ha ha). The Visitor coaxed me and asked me to look at his face until I finally did look up. I saw no face, only blinding light. I knew I was loved. I was looking at the face of Love. I sobbed even harder but this time I knew that I was ok. Jesus was faithful to me through my life, and even though I would dabble in liturgy and neo- paganism, and honestly found much meaning in liturgical and pagan practices, Jesus would not abandon me regardless of where my will took me.
But in 2004 my beloved died, one year after our marriage at Homewood Friends, 6.5 years after meeting him, having finally opened up to allow someone to love me and I love them back, and he's gone. Oh, he called a Friend from his sleep, shook my father awake even though he was in a hospital bed and my father was in Tennessee, appeared in my cousins review mirror while he was driving somewhere. Then one day, I was dreaming of him, and his voice said to me, interrupting the plot of the dream "KEvin wake up my parents are in town." I remember waking up from the dream, regretfully being pulled out of his imaginary presence in teh dream, to a second, more fervent "Kevin, wake up my parents are in town!" Now I was aware of being asleep but also of someone near me, next to me. Then the loud shout "Kevin wake up my parents are in town!" I bolted up expecting to see Russell there beside me. "Whew," I thought, " I need to see a grief counselor. The experience was too much, and about noon that day, I left work early and came home. I logged onto hotmail.com to see two emails from Center Stage where Russ used to work. Both of them sent at 7:30 a.m. The time I woke up from the dream. "Kevin, you'll never guess who was waiting outside when we arrived to work this morning. Russell's parents are in town!" both of them read in so many words.
I sat there stunned. I was advised to write down my experience because I may rationalize away the experience, much as I had tried to do with the experiences I had at ESR and before. It could have been the Buddha who appeared to me. An angel. A demon as an angel of light. I could have been nuts. It good be the One Spirit that appeared to me as I wanted to see it. Who knows? So perhaps this wasn't Russell. Perhaps ... perhaps...
But Russell shook my father awake in bed and called R awake from his sleep the night before he died. My cousin didn't even have a relationship with Russ. My family doesn't even HAVE these things happen. We don't believe in that. And yet .... SO, I took the advice and journaled the experience. And then I had an opening: the writers of the Gospels did much the same thing as me. If Russell, great as he is and was, could come through to me, certainly so could a man as great as Jesus. If Russell could appear to two people at roughly the same time of night BEFORE he died, so could Jesus appear to people before he ascended to Heaven.
But I still struggled with God. So I was stuck in this Spritualist understanding of Jesus.
There was one other experience after that. I was miserable and walking around lost near Lexington Market on a misty grey day. Some white blond-haired dude who was clearly a drug addict came up to me and asked me for money. I handed him a $20 and said "I hope this isn't for drugs, go eat something, and please, take care of yourself." He just gawked at me. I kept walking and ended up in St Jude's Shrine. I saw the crucifix which often has one effect on me: i end up on my knees in tears. There I prayed to a God I didn't believe in, and said "I have no idea why or to whom I'm praying, but I am so lost. I don't know what to do." Piped music of monks chanting filled the church. Candles were lit everywhere. Others were also praying for healing, for a miracle. I sat back on the pew and entered into silence. "Be a Christian" came the .... idea? words.... wasn't a voice." I just cried harder "HOW?! What does THAT mean?" More silence.... "Read the gospels. Only the gospels. Read them. BE a Christian."
I haven't been very faithful in that, but I did begin to read them. I followed a leading to begin a worship group that was Christ-centered. It grew, we became a weekly worship group though no established meeting would care for us. We lost our most grounded members, and the older friends who helped us get started left back to their home meetings leaving a small group of us who were not emotionally or healthy enough to be a worship group. The worship group exists in name only at this point. (another posting on that maybe another time). But during that time, I came to understand something that evaded me. I gave up what I thought I knew and let the past experiences stay in the past. I began to read the scriptures and allow the Spirit to speak to me through them. I sat in the silence and sought any movement of love that I could feel within. When I would read the scripture I came to recognize that motion of love in my heart affirming Jesus in the Scriptures. As I came back to Jesus, the I AM began to make more sense. I came to realize the Holy Spirit, the Light of God, send to us by God, was bringing me closer to Jesus, who was in turn, revealing God to me in a way that I had never known before.
I have been to an established Quaker meeting only a half a dozen times since 2009. Old Town was my home for several years. Perhaps God will lead Friends back there, I still go there, usually alone. I'm not prepared for ministry, but I am called to be there for whatever reason. It's lonely. But God still speaks to me. I've attended Orthodox liturgy, high mass at an Anglo-Catholic church nearby, and Eucharist at an Episcopal Church. I'm studying Luke with an Russian Orthodox study guide. And yet, when I attended STony RUn last week, God spoke through the simple worship, affirming the new path of seeking Love, seeking Grace so that I can learn for once to love myself, love others, and love God.
I wish that there was a Quaker meeting here devoted to the Gospel, who loved Jesus without apology, who judged no one, but sought transformation of the soul, who sought salvation for God's sake, and who understood that through faithfulness and yielding to the Son, we become one with him. When we are one with the Son, we are vessels of love, and that love is medicine for an unjust, warring world. Transform hearts, and we transform the world. We don't need to make exclusive claims about our religion or others. We should focus on our relationship with CHrist, and speak what we know to be true. If our lives don't speak, then we're professors only. So I'm trying to keep quiet, because I am just now learning how to yield, to repent, to taste and see that God is good.
Thank you for this testimony, and for the testimony of others in the comments. One thing this shows is that the born again experience is not a formula. Christ works with each of us as the unique beings we are. Praise God!
I was raised in a Christian home. But I drifted into some of the nondescript liberalism described here. It seemed to work for a time, but ultimately failed. I kept feeling some pull from Christ, and eventually began exploring it more. I began to identify more closely with Christ, but still was somewhat back and forth.
Then at the 1987 FUM Triennial, I was a delegate from my liberal YM. The Triennial was torn by theological debate. I, too, was torn having wanted to come to connect with a Christian stream of Friends but representing a YM where the name of Jesus was often viewed with suspicion. Finally, the tension of this got to me so much that I was in despair and didn't even want to live any more. I went out on the lawn at Guilford and sat under a tree, weeping. There Christ came to me, and comforted me, and taught me that he really was the Way, the Truth and the Light. My tears turned to joy, and I knew from then on that I had to be boldly for Jesus, no matter how those around me reacted. I now had the clarity I needed, although of course this did find me in conflict with the Quakers in my YM. (Whom I eventually left.)
I was active in informal groups of Christian Friends. For Lent in 1993, we used the Upper Room resource A Lenten Journey, which had daily exercises for participants and then we had weekly meetings. One Sunday morning, when I was at Quaker Hill for an FUM Board meeting, the exercise was to imagine Jesus in the room with us. I entered that exercise wondering what great message Jesus would have for me; what plans would he lay out for me? But as I felt Jesus presence there in the room and looked to him, he said only 3 words, "I love you." Tears still flow when I remember this precious moment. This is the heart of what we need to know. We are loved totally and fully by a God who came down in human flesh in order to be with us and share our pain and joy, and was willing to go to the cross out of his great love for us. When you truly experience this reality, it is life changing.
To me, the Incarnation is very important. The intimacy of our God is awesome. Here, I wonder if early Friends somewhat over-reacted to the ritualism from which the meaning was often absent. There was a tendency to spiritualize everything. But God saw that something more was needed - flesh and bone to eat with us and share our lives. Communion with the bread and cup has become very meaningful to me because of the way it reminds me of that. I think it is a false dichotomy to put that in opposition to the communion of waiting on the Lord in worship. To me, they are complementary.
And Friends, don't worship Quakerism and its peculiar ways. Worship the one true God. The extent to which it is done among the group called Friends should depend on how the Lord is working with you, and the circumstances in which you find yourself. But whether they are Friends or not, find others who are truly seeking to follow Christ and spend time with them - praying, worshipping, sharing lives. The journey is not meant to be walked alone, although each of our journeys is unique, but in fellowship with other believers. Paul properly cautioned believers not to neglect meeting together. And regardless of what meetings you may have with a community in which Christ is not shared as the basis, you need to meet with others in the name of Christ.
I am so glad you chose to share your experience with us, thank you.
After spending 30 years "In the desert" of my own spiritual experience, I am so very happy for you, that you are open to the transformation that deeply divine love can bring to a person.
It also appears that you are experiencing the powerful desire to share the Light of Christ with others. The strength of Quaker faith comes from our to call to live according to our faith. I am sure you are, and will continue to be a beacon of the Light of Christ to others you meet. I can feel the warm glow of your loving heart all the way from here.
Barbara: Thanks for your good testimony! I believe that Jesus Christ is a living person and the Son of God, not just words or abstract concepts.
You should consider proposing a "meet up" with other Christian Friends in your area. This could lead to good contacts and more frequent get togethers, if this is the Lord's will.
Contact the Christian Friends' organization for NY and New England, and ask for help with networking.
I have found this to be an inspiring thread. I'd like to add my own experience as I think it differs somewhat. I grew up in a secular household. I was fortunate to have two loving, kind, and wise parents. But religion was not a part of their world. They came from different faith backgrounds and I think the way they resolved this was simply to not have it be a part of their lives. My parents were not hostile to religion, but it was not of interest to them.
So when I became interested in pursuing a religious life I turned to Buddhism. Not because I had rejected Christianity, which I knew almost nothing about. Rather it was because I connected with some excellent teachers and I found the practices rewarding. This continued for over 30 years.
The shift for me came when one day I perceived the light within; but this light was shown to me in a prison I worked at, a prison for the criminally insane. My first experience of the inner light was perceiving it others, not in my self. It was not something I was seeking. It startled me. It still does. One reason it was so startling was that this light was not an emptiness which Buddhism asserts as the highest reality; it was a positive presence. I have come to call it 'the heart at the void of the world'. This was something Buddhism had not prepared me for. And from this experience began my journey into Christianity. I am still in awe of how God gently showed me this presence, this glowing grace.
In my journey the light of Christ is part of the journey from a kind of mere abstraction to a more concrete realization of the source of this light. The light is a living presence and it is the presence of Christ which makes it alive, eternally alive. Other configurations of the inward divine presence are too cerebral. Ideas like 'Buddha Nature' or 'Being' or 'True Self' lack a means of connecting with this light; they are not intimate and they tend towards the aloof rather than tending towards love.
I am still on this journey, still exploring this new landscape.
Thy Friend Jim
Something NT Wright said about resurrection: If God had raised one of the two 'bandits' crucified with Jesus, it would have had a whole different meaning. It would have been seen as a definite oddity, but people probably wouldn't have read it as: 'This guy really must be the Messiah.'
When people interact with any living person, they none the less interact with their concept of him. In the case of Jesus, a man whose 'abstract ideas' about Jesus are sufficiently out of whack can even start wars "in his name."
So it isn't as though Jesus were an arbitrarily chosen living person; people identify a being they see today as a man with an earthly life 2000 years ago-- because the things he did and said then expressed what God was doing now and what God is doing today.
Jesus could discuss Torah with a scholar, or heal a little girl without discussing anything at all. But he insisted that people needed to digest the meanings of his words...