Everyday Prophets: Backhouse Lectures, Volume 16
Written by Margery Post Abbott
Reviewed by Stanford J. Searl, Jr.
Recently, I read the wonderful 2016 Backhouse Lecture, Everyday Prophets by Margery Post Abbott. I identified with Abbott’s description of everyday prophets as “. . . people who listen to the voice of all that it Holy and follow its guidance” (p. 3). Yet these everyday prophets face challenges, too. “It takes practice to develop the skill of listening with an inward ear and coming to recognize the taste and color of all that it holy . . . Above all, such a person is one who listens inwardly and has learned to distinguish the voice of the Spirit, the presence of Christ, from their own desires or self-will, the pressures of the surrounding culture and the need to win approval from those around them” (pp. 5-6).
I have one illustration about how this sort of everyday prophecy can work in a Quaker meeting. For the past year, our Santa Monica Meeting has sponsored a monthly Adult Education reading group. We have read wonderful devotional works such as Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, George Fox’s Journal, Howard Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years, a 1992 Swarthmore Lecture by Brenda Heals and Chris Cook, a play about the martyred Mary Dyer called “The Joy,” and much more. We have guidelines for our group; namely, that we will approach these passages in a modified worship-sharing manner, praying to be open to the Spirit’s guidance as we reflect on the passages. We try to speak from our own experience, and to share responses that integrate head, heart, and spirit.
These sessions illustrate one aspect of everyday prophecy described in Abbott’s lecture: “Part of our challenge is to feel the presence of God and the movement of Truth and Love. This is not ‘feeling’ as in the modern usage, but a deep inward knowing that is more than intellect and emotion. It allows no space for manipulation of others or falsity. When we feel the inward motion that comes from God rise up in us, then we are rightly led to speak, be it in worship or in daily life” (p. 27). This is what the members of our reading group are called to do. We work together intuitively, feeling our way by listening for the guidance of the Spirit, of the Inner Light, the Christ within, the Inner Teacher. We engage in a layered, complex, spiritually informed dialog, a version of Buber’s I-Thou connection with one another and the Divine. We create a holy place.
In our Quaker reading group, participants construct an alternative reality to the dominant politics of self-interest, narcissism, and power over others. It’s simply not about who’s right or wrong; it’s not about competition or the ego. We create community together in this reading group. We love being there; we love each other.
We have no experts among us, even though a couple of people might qualify for this role. It’s about how it’s possible to invite the Inner Teacher or Guide or Spirit or Jesus to enter into the conversation, filtered through the individuals in the group, and to hold the group in prayer. Our practice is dynamic and potentially transformative.
As Abbott reflects at the end of her lecture: “Everyday prophets are already part of our communities. We all might be such people. Everyday prophets are at once ordinary and radical, both humble and bold. They act out of a weave of mercy and justice, valuing each being on this earth. Might we cherish those among us who are faithful” (p. 42). ~~~
Stan Searl is a member of Santa Monica Monthly Meeting (PYM). He is the author of several books of poetry, including Homage to the Lady with the Dirty Feet and Other Vermont Poems and Quaker Poems. He is currently working on a new book of poems about early Quaker martyrs.
This review was excerpted from a longer article, posted at: westernfriend.org/media/everyday-prophets-clearness-light