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Readings for Reflection: October 2009
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

This month’s reading is the concluding paragraphs of Margery Post Abbott’s recent Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Christianity and the Inner Life: Twenty-First Century Reflections on the Words of Early Friends, Pamphlet no. 402 (2009). In the author’s own words, her essay “points to some of the ways we may learn from tradition, whether or not we name our faith today as ‘Christian.’”


Early Friends and “True Christianity”

Above all, the Light is visible in each person who is open to it. It is visible in people’s passion for justice as well as in their relationships with all around them. It is made manifest in the odd mix of fierceness and gentleness of heart they demonstrate as they go about their day. Those attentive to a guidance beyond their own desires have about them a humility of spirit which allows them to hear the movement of the still small voice in others and to know that even their certainty can be open to correction. Such guidance is not dependent on mystical experience but arises from a gentle motion in the soul. Grace is a wonder which opens the heart and carries us across the chasms in our own understanding as well as in the rough places of the world.

Thus, what [Isaac] Penington called “true Christianity” still lives. I respect and welcome the teachings of my spiritual ancestors, be they ones I meet in the Bible or in Quaker journals, as well as mentors among the Friends I interact with today. I find many cousins in other faith traditions, where I experience resonances of my own spiritual journey, and I learn much from all of them about discernment and about possibilities outside my ken. All of these spiritual companions help point to the truth, but are not the truth themselves. All is tested against an Inward Authority, which I believe is the same as that which the early Friends call the Inward Light of Christ. But I rarely use Christian language in my normal conversation, or even in my prayers. Other sacred texts and practices inform my soul. I do not see the Christian way as the unique way to know God or to come to enlightenment, but the more I spend time with the Bible the more I see new layers of meaning in the practices and the faith which we have inherited and which informs, tests, and expands my inner knowledge.

Intellectual belief and creeds are not the groundwork of our practice or our faith – transformation is central, both of the heart and of behavior. So I find myself asking: why are unprogrammed Friends so often embarrassed by our heritage and reluctant to claim that our faith is an outgrowth of a particular understanding of Christianity? If we want to speak in positive ways about who we are, we may say that we are shaped by a specific reading of the Gospel and an understanding of Jesus’s teaching, but that in our unprogrammed branch of Friends we recognize and affirm that the core truth of Jesus’s message is not confined to Christianity and we welcome other expressions of this truth among us.

We concur that the ultimate test is in how we live and in the vision we hold of the peaceable kingdom, an ideal that can be expressed in what we describe as the testimonies to simplicity, integrity, peace, equality, and community, and in our attitude of listening worship even as we go about the business of the world. Remembering that these testimonies grow out of Jesus’s teachings can open our hearts to those in the Christian world whom we sometimes find quite difficult and can help us to engage them in the challenge to live out the Sermon on the Mount. May we also come to welcome and appreciate different languages of faith within our meeting communities as we find similar connections with people of all persuasions around the globe.

I close with a few words from Isaac Penington:
     But he that knows God comes into the immediate presence; and he that daily
     lives in God, lives in the immediate life; and the true faith leads to this, giving
     the soul such a touch and taste of it at first, as makes unsatisfiable without it.

Reprinted with permission of Pendle Hill Publications, 338 Plush Mill Road, Wallingford, PA 19086. To order this pamphlet,write to this address or visit http://www.pendlehill.org/bookstore/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=1539&osCsid=bbb07c2e64a926ac77da04cbc428c1c5.

All Readings for Reflection
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