On Power

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Dear Friends: We marvel at incarnation, at the way that Life walks the earth in carne, in these bags of flesh we call bodies. By some mysterious grace we are given the power to live and to think and to act. Then gravity holds us down. Biochemistry drives us. History and community constrain us. Information limits our imagination. A tangle of powers confronts us with a chaos of demands. It’s enough to drive you to drink. It’s enough to drive whole civilizations mad.

But gravity, biochemistry, history, community, information – this crazy quilt of powers sustains the miracle of our lives. As Friends, we search for “that of God” in all creation, in every particular and in all the unfathomable infinitude, and we implore the power of an Inner Light to guide us in this search.  We know “that of God” is always at hand, beneath every surface, ready to reveal itself if only we will notice.

In the Central Valley of California this spring, on property currently held in trust by Quaker Oaks Farm, Wachumni elders guided an intergenerational multi-cultural gathering of seekers through the ancient ceremonies of their tribe’s New Year’s celebration. The Grandfather taught us to “pay attention” and “be grateful.” The Grandmother taught us to act “in a good way.” The whole enduring Wachumni tradition of ritual acts gave us the experience of being dependent upon creation and of sharing in responsibility for it. “All my relations” were at hand – family, friends, animals, plants, earth, air, fire, water – and all were there to contribute their different powers to sustaining the sphere of mutual relations that make our life on Earth possible.

In his 1923 essay, I and Thou, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber describes the ephemeral yet durable quality of our human encounters with divine Presence. “It comes, and comes to bring you out; if it does not reach you, meet you, it vanishes; but it comes back in another form. It is not outside you, it stirs in the depth of you; if you say “Soul of my soul” you have not said too much. . . . You cannot make yourself understood with others concerning it; you are alone with it. But it teaches you to meet others, and to hold your ground when you meet them.”  Buber goes on to clarify that private encounters with the eternal Thou refresh a person’s commitment to fully engage in the business of life. “Then there is no more tension between the world and God, but only one reality. The man is not freed from responsibility . . . [He] has got the mighty responsibility of love for the whole untraceable world-event, for the profound belonging to the world before the Face of God.”

So as we go about our daily lives, feeling ourselves moved by powers that make us feel cautious or cynical or suspicious – unfamiliar religions, unfamiliar art forms, strong new convictions in once-familiar people, our own guilt, our own anger – we need not work great miracles to regain our bearings.  We need only to say, “yes” to the Inner Guide. As Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly says in elaborating the words of Jesus, “God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to his secret presence and working within us.”  ♦

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