Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

I attended Rob's experiment in semi-programmed worship yesterday evening. As we waited for everyone to gather, some of us discussed how we had spent our morning. Few of us had attended meeting for worship. When I mentioned I had gone to brunch with my heathen friends, everyone laughed.

During the service, Rob read the 4th query from Britain Yearly Meeting:
The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus. How do you interpret your faith in the light of this heritage? How does Jesus speak to you today? Are you following Jesus' example of love in action? Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God? How does this relationship with God challenge and inspire you?

I cannot calculate the cost of my obedience to God. I cannot fathom what I might have gained or lost by following my own desires above His. I know that the greatest treasure I possess is the intimate knowledge of His Redemptive Grace, which I discovered through utter submission to His will.

One of the ways in which He guides me occasionally is through the selection of my friends. Amongst my dearest friends are the prostitutes and the tax-collectors (Matthew 21:32). Those of us who live in the dirt are most in need of Love. When I console and council my dearest and their friends as one who has struggled and does struggle with the depravity of the human spirit, I am doing His work.

While I value the friendships I have with Quakers and relative ease with which I can discuss spirituality, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are religious and many appear on the surface to have very minimal spiritual lives. It's not my intention to bring anyone to Christ. It is my intention to be obedient to Christ and to feed His lambs and care for His sheep (John 21:15-16), for we are all children of God, whether we are aware of it or not. If we insulate ourselves with like-minded folks who look like we do, we are not living in the world. There is much work to be done inside the Society of Friends, but far more to be done outside of it. We are called to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven and all are welcome.

I will continue to minister from the ugliness of my own life to the sick, the troubled and the weary regardless of their genetic make-up, belief structure, and station in life because despair is a universal condition. Knowing that one is not alone in the dark can be more comforting than being told of a light.

This is how I am called to express Love in action. This is the cross Christ has asked me to bear.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Richard NCYM-conservative said...

"Despair is the universal condition." I don't think this is true but it is certainly provocative.

Despair is universal only in the sense that from time to time everyone comes face to face with the twistedness of reality as we experience it. (I like "twisted" instead of the tradition theological language of "fallenness")

Some people glance at the fact and quickly turn aside and go back to pretending it isn't there. This is an old story and everyone knows how this one goes.

But, in my not nearly humble enough opinion, hope and not despair arises from looking through--not around--the twistedness of this world to the New Creation (a term I like better than "kingdom of God).

"Be ye perfect" we are told. We are not commanded to do what is impossible, on the contrary, the burden is light. The perfection commanded is not that we have the power to end war, oppression, disease, etc. it is simply the perfection of having a right ordered heart.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est...and I hasten to add that is the gate to the New Creation/kingdom of heaven.

What prevents so many people from having faith in the reality of the New creation? Many reasons to be sure, but today one is the misguided impression that we just "know" that nothing exists except matter and the void and that Spirit is at best a metaphor for our good intentions. This leads many a modern person to reject the authenticity of their own experience of the Spirit and this is a pathway to despair.

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

First, I said that despair is a universal condition, which isn't especially provocative in my far more humble opinion.

What I meant was that virtually everyone could at one point find themselves in dispair and many people find themselves there with some regularity. I didn't intend to imply that everyone has some sort of baseline of dispair.

I definitely agree that one has to move through the ugliness (which I prefer to "twisted" or "fallen") in order to experience the New Creation. All I'm saying is that the ugliness can be overwhelming and it helps to have someone at your side who's not ranting on and on about an unimaginable destination and telling you to suck it up and get there already.

Sixth and Lastly, Happy Birthday, old man. Welcome to the Blogosphere.

Richard NCYM- conservative said...

I'm sure I'd set myself up for the charge of pedantry if I took up the challenge of discussing the difference between "a" universal condition and "the" universal condition. So I won't. Instead I will focus my trivial pedantic mind on the word "despair."

"Despair" implies far more than a recognition of a deep ugliness in the world. It even goes farther than recognizing that one can't even fix it. Despair goes beyond that into a feeling that there is nothing positive to be done. Despair is the absence of hope. And it is indeed a dark condition that afflicts many people from time to time and some carry it like a cross for months, years and decades.

Hope does indeed require some sense of an unimaginable destination. But "unimaginable" also requires some unpacking. What we can think or imagine is pretty much limited by the extent of our experience to date. Imagining is manipulating the stock of ideas in our head and the stock enlarges with new experiences. So imagining the New Creation is in some sense beyond us since we haven't been there yet.

But in a sense we have been there tentatively at least. We have intimations of immortality even if we see now as in a glass darkly. (Perhaps Paul's metaphor would work better for modern readers if we rendered it as "through a darkened glass." Mirrors these days are too good for Paul's metaphor to work as written but we moderns do have the experience of looking through dark glass which obscures our vision.)

We experience the New Creation in those moments when we are being perfectly faithful to a leading. Such experiences don't last long--the ego reasserts itself pretty rapidly. But being perfect even for a moment gives a glimpse of the unimaginable perfection of the New Creation.

Being perfect--even for an instant--is easy and a "light yoke." Precisely because it does not require an effort of willpower. It requires the opposite: an abandonment of the self. Paul, type A personality supreme, learned that using his very considerable willpower as a Pharisee to follow every detail of the Jewish Law did not work. He learned that letting go and trusting the Inner Guide to lead was an experience of a different order entirely.

The people who sustain us spiritually are not those who nag us to use our willpower but rather those who confirm our positive experiences of the Spirit.

A message that Louise Wilson delivered years ago has stayed with me. She said something like "Pay attention to the Light, don't be distracted by the shadows."