I was just reading a brief, possibly unfair account of a charismatic Anglican clergyman of the 1840's. 'Men were quaking; women were fainting' during his sermons. His bishop clamped down, and soon this man had gone off to start a church of his own, where his ceremonial public attempt to render a female disciple immortal unexpectedly (to him!) rendered her pregnant.
Okay... So we need more 'enthusiasm,' in the root sense of God being more manifestly 'in us'--but 'enthusiasm' in the emotional, psychic-energy sense may be neither necessary nor sufficient. Physical evidence can enlighten or mislead; emotional power may enlighten or mislead; intellectual evidence may be conclusive or utterly mistaken. And 'spiritual' effects?
The spiritual eye-opener of my day was the prevalent use of 'hallucinogenic' (or 'psychedelic', take your pick!) drugs. People raised in a culture that had utterly lost faith in the spiritual realm... were suddenly given a means to blast their minds out of Kansas! The outcomes ranged from sublime to tragic, with a few people pushed into psychiatric diagnoses, many people temporarily enlightened, a few people finding themselves on a path to more stable spirituality. The crystalline certainty of a marijuana realization--could point to real insight or pure delusion.
We've got Quaker structures and practices that are supposed to insure us against being mistaken. But 100 people aren't necessarily 100 times more right than one; they may be 100 times crazier! Checking with others is some protection against truly 'insane' leadings--the "I'm special and you ain't!" sort of delusion--but what about passing intellectual fashions, and what about ingrained cultural assumptions? One man's eye may find a knothole in a fence than most people can't see over!
There were children playing outside the meeting. We meet on the grounds of another meeting, and these were church-goers' children, temporarily without supervision, peaceful and friendly but loud, utterly self-absorbed, entirely unimpressed by the authority of unfamiliar adults. Several people tried to quiet them, get them to play closer to the other group's service... and they did eventually quiet a little. But I wondered what message their presence carried.
True, Jesus said: "Unless you become as a little child, you can't enter the kingdom of Heaven?" But I couldn't see this particular behavior-mode as being quite what he had in mind. It seemed more to me that these children were a mirror. It was our own heedlessness we were hearing and objecting to! Did this apply to me? I hoped it didn't, but that didn't seem likely!
Adults saying we "had to" work for the sort of medical insurance-subsidization scheme "that we could get passed"! Not the single-payer system we need, that wasn't going to happen. No, not if we got the insurance kleptocracy even further entrenched, and set up another system to discredit the whole idea of government healthcare programs! The Testimony of Worldly Wisdom! Oh well, ow well.
People waiting for our financially-invested Meeting funds to "go back up in value."
People who've confused an improvement in political personnel with the Second Coming!
And I'd been thinking, quite recently, that the institutions and customs we've adopted so that we can more effectively, more... decorously follow the Spirit--have become obstacles, that we should turn to a more free-form form of worship, a grounding in silence interspersed with sharing of anything that anyone in the group has found inspiring, enlightening, from music to readings to art works--but not this fixed period of constrictive silence, followed by a chattery return to the "real" world.
But even we Quakers have a hard time listening attentively through a talking-meeting! We get physically tired, emotionally upset, intellectually carried away! If we removed the customary restraints, would we remember to keep returning to the spiritual foundation? Would it be freedom or flailing?
What light can the rest of you bring to all this?