We started a Friendly Bible Study
at my local Meeting this morning. It’s designed as a series of six sessions but people who want to join in are very welcome. The next one will be 2009-10-04, and there is also a weekday evening group for folks who find that easier to fit in. We started about ten past nine due to an amount of shuffling around as we had too many people to fit into one group and had to decide how to split into two.
We started looking at the Gospel of Mark. The verses we read this week are chapter 1, verses 1-3. (One member had calculated it would take us 250 years to read the whole Bible at this rate.)
1-3The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I'm sending my preacher ahead of you;
He'll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
My “new light” from this reading this time had to do with confidence in God. I understand the prophets' words from Malachi 3 and Isaiah 40 as describing an experience we can all have as we come to our right relationship with God. As I am learning to live in relationship with God I am learning that I can speak the truth from where I am. God has sent a messenger ahead to prepare the road because there is a witness placed in each heart who responds to the truth and sincerity of what we speak. Another part of this relationship is preparing the way for God: making space in the centre of my life and heart, making room and expecting God. When I do that I am not let down! So I am carefully approaching an attitude of confidence in God.
Toddler daughter and I went into our main Meeting for worship after Bible study, and stayed about 12 minutes before she wanted to go out. We went to the childrens’ room downstairs and played with some toys, then she nursed to sleep by about 11:05. I carried her back upstairs and she slept through the rest of Meeting on my lap and just woke up when there was loud laughter during the notices after worship.
After Meeting another Friend and I cleared out the cupboard under the stairs at the Meeting House and another Friend put some wood preserver on the newest bench in the garden. This cupboard had stuff that was several decades old and we reckon it was about twenty years since it was turned out and re-inventoried. It had broken glass and all kinds. Anyway whilst we were doing this I heard a relatively new attender speaking about the Bible in a way that I reacted to very strongly so I took a break to have words with him.
There’s a way of speaking about a thing which is disrespectful because it is intellectually distanced from anything that touches the soul. What I was hearing seemed dismissive and disrespectful of scripture as the foundation of our faith. I think it’s too easy to get caught up in academic considerations about the bible as if they were essential to getting the message out of it. In some cases academic study helps a huge amount! Like the stuff I read by Walter Wink – that brought me to Jesus. I think I did shout a bit because I was trying to get some point across. The bible is precious to me but more than that, it is the scriptural basis of our faith. It's true that we Quakers tend to understand Christ Jesus as the Word of God, and scripture as words about God, and that our understanding might be different to other kinds in other places. I am willing to stand up and shout about the importance of approaching God with respect.
The attender was good enough to forgive me for shouting when I apologized. He said he could take it and he was glad to get the message. I know I am not always skilful in explaining about faith. It seems hard when my own religious education has been pretty patchy and not acquired at Meeting! But I am trying to stay with God as God breathes a new thing into life. I am not about the past, I am about the eternal truth of God and the future kingdom of peace and justice God is calling us to. It’s inevitable that I am not going to look or sound exactly like previous generations of Quakers.
It can be really hard to feel like I belong. I think that’s partly about some of “my stuff” that I am slowly dealing with. As this “stuff” manifests itself in Quaker Meeting, I rely on God more so it’s not all bad. God is my refuge, and the Christian/Quaker way is what gets me through so I know that I belong, even when I am feeling really out-of-fellowship with those other folks who have turned up! Sometimes it takes a certain amount of stubbornness to insist that I belong, especially if I have tumbled into a feeling of being unwelcome or not valued at Meeting but I have a sense that I am meant to stick with this Meeting at the moment, partly because I want to change the experience for new people who come along.
I have perceived God working in our Meeting, these past few years. I was recently reminded of how miserable I was about not having local Friends I could relate to when I went to the World Gathering of Young Friends in 2005. I have been working and praying, and I see change happening. We have been on retreat together. Nine of us went to Yearly Meeting Gathering together. Now we have three bible study groups started up. It is true that a person whose heart is hardened against God can cause a huge amount of damage to a community, maybe my Meeting had suffered that a few years back? Or maybe the life had gone out of it some other way.
I think faithfulness can help the miracles appear when there are tender hearts around – but ultimately God is medicine and we have to know we are sick and in need of God in order to ask for the medicine! Now I think as a Meeting we are turning out the cupboards in more ways than one and getting ourselves in shape to co-operate with God’s big plans.
How are you preparing the road for God to come to town?