On Puzzles

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Organelles, cells, organs, organisms, families, cultures, planets – these bodies nest within each other in irregular concentricity, one within the next, each encased by its own semi-permeable boundary. In the jigsaw puzzle of incarnation, all the pieces slip and slide, expand and contract, ignite and extinguish, push, pull, infiltrate, and emerge. There, but for the grace of God, go I. Wondrous beings abound all around, in places where I am not.

Only in fleeting glimpses can the human mind experience these realities directly: that space and time are illusions, that The Life is infinite and eternal and one. We can each explain, to differing degrees, the ways we understand the physics of it all; we can each expound, to differing degrees, the etymology, archeology, epistemology, symbolism, and motifs of religious canon (and Apocrypha); but as Isaac Penington taught us, “. . . some true life, some true light, some true discerning . . . [that not] by thoughtfulness, and wise searching, and deep considering with our own wisdom and reason have we obtained it; but in the still, meek, and humble waiting , we found . . . the mysteries of God’s kingdom; and that which is to live . . . and increase in life.” (1667) 

Flocks of birds, schools of fish, swarms of ravaging insects, these swoop and swirl together like unified organisms over currents and ground, then split around obstacles (seen and unseen), then redirect and recombine. We humans, too, can move together as one. And we can split around obstacles. When those splits are up-close and personal, they are painful.

In 1827, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting split around the fixing of certain days and certain passages for Bible-reading (among other issues). While some Friends had grown to love the invigorating effects of scheduled Bible-reading (the Orthodox), others had developed a deep sense of aversion to the “superstition” behind the practice (the Hicksites). Friends on both sides of the split had found, through meek and humble waiting, “that which is to live . . . and increase in life.” And both sides of the split did continue to live, though separately, until they reunited in 1955. Friends’ history holds scores of similar incidents, painful splits over heartfelt commitments to faithfulness.

Elias Hicks was a radical believer in continuing revelation: “I have no doubt but when the apostle [Paul], under the influence of Divine Love, addressed an epistle to the Corinthians, that he was rightly directed therein. . . But I don’t apprehend that he had the most distant idea that he was writing to nations yet unborn . . . Epistles may be written suited to the present time in which they are written. Nevertheless, if the right improvement was made by every generation, new things would be opened in every generation . . . old things would be left behind and new things in the wisdom of Truth would be opened. . .” (1823)

The world needs Friends to open ourselves fully to the multifaceted grace of Truth. Although we might view the differences among us as great, Friends actually travel a narrow road together. The wide-open wastelands of fear, deception, and hatred lure many towards oblivion (us, too). But in still, meek, and humble waiting, Friends can glimpse a guide star – justice and kindness for all creation. Our assignment is each to walk humbly with our God. Some may be sent to run out ahead, fan out wide, and find which routes are problematic and which are promising. Some may be sent to the back of the line, to care for stragglers; still others are assigned to countless roles along the way. “And unity in the life is the ground of true brotherly love and fellowship. Not that another man walks just as I do; but . . . he walks by the same principle of light, and is felt in the same spirit of life, which guideth both the weak and the strong, in their several ranks, order, proper way, and place of subjection . . .” (Penington, circa 1660)

During a radio interview this last New Year’s Eve, musician Jon Batiste reflected: “You can only be what you are.” Of course, in jazz, as in waiting worship, (as in reality), “what you are” is continuously evolving and transforming. Life is always right here, right now, but by grace it is always moving. Let us loosen our grips on our fears and encourage each other to play our own parts well.