As Friends, it matters to us that we try to listen. Those times when we are forced to admit that, in fact, we actually have not been paying attention . . . well, we want to fix it. The impulse to repair misunderstandings is commonplace. But the ability to follow through on such repair often takes more patience and humility than a person can muster on a given day.
To this end, Friends’ peculiar manner of worship can be helpful. The mere physical exercise of sitting quietly among other people can help strengthen our ability to hear. And the deeper spiritual exercise of merging into an unnamable Truth – this can improve the odds that, in fact, we actually will hear. The more a person experiences worship, that state of receptive awe, filled with longing for guidance, the more a person can empathize with the general condition of human longing. Elias Hicks described this in terms of allowing God to rule one’s soul, which in turn, can allow for universal harmony:
And as the invisible God . . . who is alone creator and first cause of all things, becomes the sole ruler and governor in any [soul] . . . and the creature becomes wholly passive, here the Divine Will becomes all in all, and . . . this constitutes heaven in the soul. And although there may be ten thousand, or any other number of souls, yet if all are passive . . . there will be but [God’s] will that rules and governs all. And this state . . . constitutes heaven, where there is perpetual and universal harmony. (1821)
The God that pours the lamp oil into the Sun, and into every sun, and into the lamp of every life, this is the One that Friends listen for. And our Sun boils and roils and spews out electrified fountains of sparks by the ton. And during each hour, our guts enfold multiple transfers of power from one generation of microbes to the next – trillions upon trillions within each of us – continuously reproducing, scavenging DNA from dead neighbors, and dying after twenty minutes of living. Universal harmony grooves to a very strange beat.
And Elias Hicks, that strange man, is not generally remembered as a harmonizer. Rather, he was relentless in scolding Friends away from worldly diversions – be they clearly profane or dressed up in Biblical language – and then redirecting Friends toward the Inward Light. In response to a friend’s letter advising him that he should learn to express himself more tactfully, Hicks wrote:
As to . . . my using smoother instruments in order to render my work more pleasing, and still as useful and enduring . . . [The] servant [of God] has no right to reason from consequences nor use any management, but when he is commanded to smite the rock, [he should] do so, and when to speak calmly to do so. Let the consequence be as it may. And I believe many precious gifts have been greatly marred and some lost by endeavoring to please. (1823)
We cannot help but live in this world. Even so, we have some choice about where to look for guidance. Like microbes, as living creatures, we can seek to satisfy our hunger for stuff and for position. Feeding those hungers can help to keep us alive for a time. But as Friends, we also feel a heart song, a blend of strange rhythms we might decide to follow, or we might decide we are too busy or too embarrassed to try. Hicks said that people’s “unbelief” in the Inward Light “more generally arises from the [lack] of a willingness to believe plain truths than from the [lack] of knowing what they ought to believe . . . For they find if they yield to plain truth, it will take them from what they want to retain or gain . . .” (1821)
Today, as always, we are called to be patterns and examples in this world – to demonstrate with our lives that humans are capable of hearing and honoring Life and Truth wherever they appear. In the “weird turn” he took in his recent New York Times editorial about Twitter, Ezra Klein contrasted commercial social media with “how Quakers deliberate.”(12/11/2022) He concluded by confessing he is “hungry for” methods of communication that are based on people paying honest attention. So, here we have a fresh reminder that our world needs “peculiar people” to pay attention – not just to the world, but also to the World behind the world, and the Life behind each life. ~~~