April 2020

It’s good to see
Spring doesn’t stop
When confronted by Man’s
Adversity.

It’s good to feel
The fullness of life
When reminded of our
Fragility.

It’s good to know
The goodness of God
When taken aback by
Necessity.

 

mud_season_snow-500x375

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Observations on Revelation 10:5-7

And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets (Rev. 10:5-7).

These verses from Revelation have a majesty about them. Something of gravity and magnificence is being revealed by this “mighty angel come down from heaven” (10:1). As such, his words are given the appropriate frame of reference: the earliest story we have in Scripture, the Creation story in Genesis. This passage from Revelation draws upon images and words that are recounted in the story of Creation. Thus we’re being told that the angel’s message is of highest importance – on par with Creation itself.

Not only do these verses from Revelation refer to the Creator and His first work, but they also develop particular elements found in the Creation story. For example in verse 5, the evangelist tells us that he sees the angel stand with one foot upon the sea and one foot on the earth. The statement alludes to the verse in Genesis where the land is divided from the sea:

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:9-10).

The angel bridges previously separated areas. Where there was division of land from sea, there is now connection through the angel’s stance: “his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth”(2). The act is of such portent that the words bear repeating, which the evangelist does in verse 5.

In Creation God differentiates one thing from another, such as land from water. (See other divisions in Genesis 1 in verses 4, 6, 7, 14, and 18.) Division separates; whereas “one” implies unity and resolution, “two” suggests movement, change, comparison, or activity: for example, up/down, lesser/greater, solid/fluid, left/right, etc. With the appearance of the angel, the division of two Earth surfaces—land and sea—is bridged: that is to say, figuratively they are made one. With his stance, the angel transcends the structure of Creation and presages unity and wholeness. When fulfillment is come, when “the mystery of God [is] finished”(10:7), there is unity; there is peace and rest.

Another item presented in the first chapter of Genesis and addressed in these few verses from Revelation is the element of time: (The angel swears “by him that liveth for ever and ever. . .that there should be time no longer”[6].) In Genesis, time is introduced through the numbering of days that follow each specific creative act. (See verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31.) For example, “And the evening and the morning were the first day”(5). Things are created in sequence, and time marks each change, activity, and division, like a poem’s refrain, anchoring and imbuing each stanza.

Verse 6 in the Revelation passage shows the power and authority the eternal God has over time: “that there should be time no longer.” The angel states God’s intent to eliminate that element of Creation which separates Him from His mortal creature. No longer is humanity to be a time-bound captive to death, and separated from life eternal. Fox wrote:

Ye coming out of that which was in time, ye come up to God, who was before time was. This is a mystery, he that can receive it let him (7:57).

Through his stance and words, the mighty angel tells us the coordinates of space and time, which have previously defined our life, set our bounds as creatures, these no longer hold sway. Where we have been formerly is not where we are now to be: outside of time and in unity with God.

A Precious State

In the following quotation, Fox identifies time as the element in which all “troubles, persecutions, and temptations” occur, and he presents the alternative: the safety of the everlasting power of the Lord. As one would expect, Fox’s understanding is in agreement with the angel’s message of moving beyond time into that power that is everlasting and over all.

All trials, troubles, persecutions and temptations, came up in time; but the Lord’s power, which is everlasting, is over all such things, in which is safety (Bi-centennial Edition of The Journal of George Fox, II, 418).

Upon awakening very early in the morning this past “time called Christmas,” I was surprised to receive a gift. It was an insight: All I had experienced in my life was to a single end, and that end was to know and be in unity with God. Taking this newly given, trustworthy certainty into my barely conscious mind led to a delightful first thought of the day: that all the calamities, tragedies, and effort, all the betrayals, injuries, and mistakes I had made and endured from others. . . all of it had been ultimately to good purpose. All the mini-narratives I had composed and accumulated—drawn from my earliest memory to those of yesterday—did not define my being but were instead a kind of school to bring me to everlasting life, where true being is known. Furthermore, whatever remaining trials were to come, I could accept with quiet assurance, lightly and gracefully, for all was in good order, and the end was, and would ever be, life in Christ.

He who feels the covenant in Christ and life streaming into his heart through the covenant, and the seal of eternal peace to his soul, and that he shall never be left nor forsaken by the fountain of mercy, but all that ever befalls him shall conduce towards the working out of the perfect redemption and salvation of his soul; this is a precious state indeed; and this is the state which the feeling of the faith, and the living obedience in the Spirit leads to (Works of Isaac Penington, II: 268).

 

Rev. 10

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Ubiquitous War of the Lamb

Man is the land where. . . two kings fight; and whatever is good and holy belongs to the one king, and whatever is evil and unclean belongs to the other; and there is no communion or peace between them. . . . And where the fight is once begun between these, there is no quietness in that land, till one of these be dispossessed: but then there is either the peace of Babylon, most commonly under a form of holiness; or the peace of Sion, in the spirit, life, and power. – Penington, Works, 1:141

A few years ago, I was regularly attending worship at a meeting in Philadelphia. For some years, I went to this particular meeting because it was the only one I knew that still had several members with old Quaker surnames, and thus, there was still in evidence something approximating old Quaker theology.

As is typical in meetings, week after week Friends would settle into worship, each on a particular bench that had unobtrusively gained acceptance by all as that person’s domain, their perch year after year, and for a family, generation after generation. I – having been a Quaker for but a few decades – shared a bench with a longtime Friend (or he shared his bench with me) for a couple of years, during which time he informed me that this bench had been his family’s for more than a century.

This Friend was a neuroscientist, and though he had the old Quaker surname (and the bench), he did not have the old Quaker understanding. He was a positivist; and one of the ways he showed his stripes was by evaluating all ministry given during the hour using the sole criterion of time: the ministry was either the right length or it was too long. At the close of each meeting, he would – according to this standard – offer me his evaluation of the ministry (the ministry of others or of myself, if I’d ministered). Seeing his constancy in this practice, I gently expressed my amusement and let him know that there could be other standards to consider when evaluating vocal ministry.

There were, however, other discrepancies in understanding between him and me. In the occasional post-meeting discussion on some spiritual topic, we each would find the other’s perspective in need of further consideration . . . further consideration by the other. Following a number of disagreements over the months, I began to sense there could be no common spiritual ground between a positivist and a Christian. This slow-footed clarity arrived one Sunday morning following a particularly rigorous discussion after meeting for worship.

The exchange culminated while we stood near an open door of the by then empty meetinghouse. Over six-feet tall, the man towered above. Lowering and wagging his finger inches from my nose, he yelled, “There is no God! You have to stop believing that!”

More problematic than the man’s stated atheism was his shouted command: “You have to stop believing that!”

Some might claim that George Fox and other early Friends—perhaps this fellow’s ancestors—could be equally vehement when speaking for their belief, but that would miss the point. It was this man’s manner of persuasion that was foreign to and had no place in early Friends’ practice. Convincement occurred when Friends preached the gospel. “That which may be known of God” (Rom. 1:19) was evoked, and often their hearers were inwardly transformed. A new sense of life, of dignity, power, and responsibility was known when the “life [that] was the light of men” appeared within. The soul at last knew its worth; the person was edified: he or she had become inwardly established.

In contrast, this positivist’s hope rested upon closing down another’s inward life: closing down the high human capacity for discernment and discovery, thus reducing a human being to something less than a person.  His sole “convincing” power was a fiat delivered with a tone and gesture of violence, a tactic of depersonalization.

Unbeknownst to him or to me that morning, we each embodied a force that in relation to the other, as Penington wrote, had “no communion or peace between them”; these forces contend (like the two kings referred to in the epigraph) for the soul of humanity: to edify or to destroy. Though this Sunday morning incident involved only two people in an empty meetinghouse, it was, nevertheless, the Lamb’s War: a skirmish in which the powers clashed, powers which when pitted against one another on a grander scale determine history.

In the following lengthy excerpt from his lecture series Christianity and Civilization (1946-48), Emil Brunner, a Reformed theologian of the mid-twentieth century, summarizes the slow devolution of a civilization that is based upon the Judeo-Christian understanding that man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The transformation of the civilization was slow, beginning during the Enlightenment and taking several centuries, during which, some Christian doctrine and values were retained, though not their ground. In time, even these vestiges of faith were lost, and with them, confidence in human dignity, an intrinsic part of the Christian worldview. Brunner attributes the rise of corrupt, destructive political systems to a growing unbelief and the slow erosion of faith’s influence that inevitably followed.

Being Swiss, Brunner saw close-hand the outcome of centuries of anti-spiritual forces at work, as countries encircling his own fell into totalitarianism in the 1930s. Those bastard political systems – Fascism and National Socialism – were born and bore the marks of their spiritual progenitor, whose countenance was eventually recognized and named: nihilism. Here Brunner gives a short history of the long travel from faith to fascism: [italics mine]

The mere fact that more than half a century ago a man [Jakob Burckhardt] thoroughly awake to the character of his time was able to foresee the catastrophe we have experienced indicates that the eruption of inhumanity, lawlessness, and depersonalization, which we have experienced during recent decades must have had its deep historical roots. True this eruption of anti-spiritual and anti-cultural forces as they appeared first in the Bolshevist, then in the Fascist, and finally in the National-Socialist revolution came to the rest of the Western world as a complete surprise and left it in utter bewilderment. Still looking back on these events, this feeling of complete surprise and horror is not altogether justified in view of the fact that the spiritual evolution during the last centuries was a slow and invisible but none the less indubitable preparation for this outbreak. If we ask, as certainly many during these years have asked, how all this inhumanity, this lawlessness, this collectivist depersonalization was possible, the answer cannot I think be in doubt. The last three centuries seen from the spiritual point of view represent a history in which step by step the central and fundamental idea of the whole Western civilization, the idea of the dignity of man, was undermined and weakened.

For more than a thousand years, Western culture had been based on the Christian idea that man is created in the image of God. This central biblical idea included both the eternal spiritual destiny of every individual and the destiny of mankind to form a free communion. With the Enlightenment, this idea on which the whole structure of Western life was rested began to be doubted.

At first, the alternative to the Christian idea was still a religious although no longer distinctly Christian theism. Then further from the Christian foundation, there came a transcendentalism or idealism, which still remained metaphysical although no longer explicitly theistic. In the middle of the last century this idealistic humanism was replaced by a positivist philosophy of freedom and civilization, which acknowledged no metaphysical but merely natural presuppositions. It is not surprising that this positivism, in its turn more and more, lost its humanistic contents and turned into a naturalistic philosophy for which man was no more than a highly developed animal, the cerebral animal, and this was a conception of man within which such things as the dignity of man, the rights of man, and personality no longer had any foundation.

Benjamin Constant, that noble Christian philosopher of freedom of the early nineteenth century, has comprehended the essence of this whole process of modern history in three words: “De la divinité par l’humanité à la bestialité” [from Divinity by humanity to bestiality]. The totalitarian revolutions with their practice of inhumanity, lawlessness, and depersonalizing collectivism were nothing but the executors of this so-called positivist philosophy, which as a matter of fact was a latent nihilism and which, towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century, had become the ruling philosophy of our universities and the dominating factor within the worldview of the educated and the leading strata of society. The postulatory atheism of Karl Marx and the passionate antitheism of Friedrich Nietzsche can be considered as an immediate spiritual presupposition of the totalitarian revolution in Bolshevism on the one hand and National-Socialism or Fascism on the other. That is to say, the prevalent philosophy of the Occident had become more or less nihilistic. No wonder that from this seed that harvest sprang up which our generation reaped with blood and tears, to use once more Mr. Churchill’s words.

In Brunner’s summary, which ties forms of political order to the Zeitgeist, or the spiritual condition of the age, we note that our own nation was begun at a propitious time. Our founders were eighteenth-century people of the Enlightenment, proponents of reason, who enjoyed the benefits that had accrued from a Christian civilization with its doctrine of man being made in God’s image, and therefore deserving of dignity. This worldview had so long prevailed that the idea of man’s inalienable rights could be “truths [held] to be self-evident,” and as such, individual rights were engrafted into our Constitution, and the rule of law upheld in recognizing that document’s authority.

Without the undergirding Christian worldview, civil rights are not self-evident. With the loss of Christianity and the Enlightenment’s residual cultural assumptions, our social order is threatened. Its continuity rests upon links thin and attenuated, ready to snap. Precedence, tradition, law, and the moral character of our government officials and citizenry are what now stand between us and brutal tyranny that commonly overtakes societies.

These past three years, our attention has been held by the drama of corruption, scandal, and deceit played out by the federal government’s chief executive, and now we hear tyranny growling in the wings awaiting his cue to pounce onto center stage. May the House managers succeed in ridding us of this bad actor who has undertaken an unprecedented assault upon our Constitution, our nation’s long-adhered to script of civic rights and order. We take heart in legislators’ determination to present evidence and argue soundly against the travesty of Trump remaining in office.

From New York representative Jerrold Nadler comes this January 24 statement before the Senate:

President Trump is an outlier. He is the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable and to ignore subpoenas backed by the Constitution’s impeachment power. If he is not removed from office, if he is permitted to defy the Congress entirely, categorically, to say subpoenas from Congress in the impeachment inquiry are nonsense, then we will have lost (the House will have lost, and certainly the Senate will have lost) all power to hold any President accountable. This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful; he does not have to respect the Congress; he does not have to respect the representatives of the people; only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand. And this is another reason he must be removed from office.

Mystic lamb

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Questionnaire

In early November, I received an email from Sergio de Moura, an adjunct professor at a university named UNILAB, which is located in Redenção, Brazil. Sergio informed me that although Brazil has more than 200 million inhabitants, the country has no Friends meeting. Having long considered becoming a Quaker himself, he wanted to publish writing from a Quaker perspective for others in his country who were likewise interested in the faith, and so was requesting permission to translate my essays into Portuguese and to publish them. Though he was particularly interested in the Quaker way of worship, he also asked if I would answer some general questions about Friends faith and life in a questionnaire that he intended to send out to a number of Friends from different areas. The following is a copy of the completed questionnaire that I returned to him.

1. Who is Patricia Dallmann? How have the Quakers’ teachings influenced your life? When did this journey start?

I first became interested in spiritual matters in my early teens, and would discuss ideas with my grandfather and also with friends. I began to read about various world religions at this time, and a few years later, began reading philosophy and literature that addressed spiritual questions. I continued to follow this interest in college where I studied literature. Throughout this entire time, my heart was heavy because I had no certain understanding of truth that could provide a foundation for my life, and so I felt ungrounded and lacked confidence and hope. I identified as an agnostic and felt no interest in or drawing to religious practice or belief.  I became deeply depressed in my late 20s and remained near despair until age 32, when a specific, powerful revelation of eternal Being was given to me. Though inwardly changed from that time, I began to seek religious affiliation only a year and a half later. (I believe I needed time to accustom myself to this new way of being before taking any outward action.) I then found the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and began attending meetings each week, and began to read Isaac Penington and later George Fox, both 17th c. Friends. Both men’s writings powerfully expressed my experience and understanding, as revealed in that initial epiphany and thereafter in worship. I became very active in the spiritual work of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (the Quaker organization in this geographic area) at the local and regional levels, and continued this work for a decade and a half. During that time, I became convinced Liberal Quakers (whom the yearly meeting comprised by and large) had little understanding of or interest in the original Quaker mission and message, and I withdrew my membership. In the past decade, I’ve continued my work as an essay writer (see my blog Abiding Quaker at patradallmann.com), and take opportunities to share fellowship with those who fear God and are committed to the Truth. I have worked with New Foundation Fellowship (which promotes early Quaker understanding) since the early ‘90s; NFF’s website is nffquaker.org.

2. “To have a relationship with Jesus” is a notion so widespread by many Evangelicals, so much present in their religious culture and deeply rooted in their theology. As a Quaker, how do you see this idea? Does it work in a Quaker setting or how far do Friends agree or disagree with this conception?

My understanding of Evangelical Christianity is that it differs theologically from the faith of 17th c. Friends, the faith that I affirm. A shorthand distinction is this: Evangelicals identify their faith with the affirmation that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior: they choose to accept Jesus. The Friends of the 17th century did not choose to accept Jesus; Jesus chose to accept them (Jn. 15:16). In other words, faith is not an act of will but a gift from God (Rom. 9:16). Friends derived their name from the verse preceding the one aforementioned, i.e., Jn. 15:15:

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

This verse centers upon the choice of Jesus to make himself, the Word of God, known to us: that he does so is the “continuing revelation” that is the primary Quaker distinctive.

3. About “the light within” and “that of God in everyone,” how do these concepts work for Friends and specially for you?

The light within is experienced inwardly; it purifies and sanctifies my being. It is what I seek, expect, and hope for as I sit in silence; it informs my conscience, making me better able to live in a way that sees and thus glorifies God. Knowing its availability, I can act with strength and virtue, even when my natural inclination would have me do otherwise. It avails me of peace, order, joy, and every goodness I could want; it is the pearl of great price. As for the other phrase you’ve chosen (that of God in everyone), I caution you that this phrase has been taken by Liberal Friends from Fox’s writing and used in a way Fox did not intend nor would agree with: Liberal Friends use the phrase to mean that which is virtuous and of value to the first-birth nature. There is no room in Liberal understanding for the second birth, which Jesus tells Nicodemus (Jn. 3:3) must occur.

4. Do you think of Friends as an “exclusive group” or as taking part in a “selective club”? I ask this considering that: When compared to other Christian or not Christian groups, Quakers represent a very little spark of the religious culture. I mean, they are a reduced small group.

Did Jesus see those who understood his teaching to be an “exclusive group” or “selective club”? No, he did not; however, he did say:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Mt.7:14).

(a) A lot of people out and faraway of the Quaker mainstream centers are eager for that kind of comprehension about the light within, while Quakers seem to have decided “to hide themselves” from the world.

It is the concern of like-minded Friends that people who are far from Quaker centers are not likely to hear of the Quaker faith. We are hopeful that the technical advances in communication that have taken place in recent decades will enable more of these people to discover the existence of this precious faith that is being practiced among us, and they will get in touch.

(b) It seems that a culture of secularization reached many religious settings, including Quakers. It implies perhaps that there has been a loss of interest for spirituality and it has reduced the numbers of adherents in Christian meetings.

I have found secularization to have taken place in Liberal meetings, and for this reason I withdrew. The Liberals’ culture is secular in that social justice issues are given attention, and Christ is not known or heard. In any religious group, the members often make an idol of the community and their acceptance within it. This has always been a problem, as can be seen in Jesus’s dealings with those in his religious community: religious culture usurps the primacy of inward life, and this can be seen among Christian groups as well as among the Liberals.

5. For some people, suffering and pain are proof that there is no God, once a good God shouldn’t permit their creatures to suffer. How far the “light within” can help someone to deal with this assumption? What’s your opinion about this affirmation?

The book of Job examines and responds to the question of suffering by having God assert his wisdom in having ordered creation the way in which He did. The light within does give us understanding (wisdom) and acceptance of (and gratitude for!) the way creation is ordered, and we can glorify God for so ordering it, even though there is suffering. It is through holding to the truth while enduring suffering that we become prepared to receive the light of Christ within. We have Jesus’s work on the Cross as an outward example of the inward work that we ourselves must undergo. This is the Quaker understanding of the cross: it is suffering for the Truth’s sake.  George Fox wrote:

[T]he eternal God knows and his son Christ Jesus, IT IS FOR HIM ALONE AND HIS TRUTH’S SAKE THAT WE SUFFER. . . . And so the Lord hath given us “not only to believe but also to suffer for his name and truth’s sake” (The Works of George Fox, 8:251).

The truth is we humans are limited, finite, mortal beings, and we do not have the power to prevent ourselves from undergoing loss of all kinds throughout our lives; to accept inwardly this truth is to die to any false notion of self.

6. What is the Bible and the four Gospels for Quakers? Are they a light or do they just introduce the light to us? Would there have been a Quaker movement unless George Fox had had the insight of “the light within” right from the gospel of John?

Barclay’s third proposition identifies the Scriptures as

esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty; for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that guide by which the saints are led into all Truth: therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader (Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity).

Fox found that the Scriptures confirmed his inward experience of the light within:

Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth, and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable to them (Journal of George Fox, Nickalls, 34).

7. About Jesus:

(a) Did He die on the cross for our sins? Is He our savior?

(b) Is He God, the Son of God or just a prophet?

The following quotation from Fox emphasizes the coming into unity with Christ, which is the one true atonement. Although Quakers held that Jesus “taste[d] death for every man” (Heb. 2:9) on the Cross, they asserted none was redeemed but through the inward knowledge of and unity with Christ. Here’s the quotation:

Christ saith. . . “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him” (Jn. 6:44). Now what is the means by which God doth draw people to his Son, but by the Holy Spirit. . . God doth draw people from their unrighteousness and unholiness, to Christ, the righteous and holy One, the great Prophet, in his New Covenant and New Testament, whom Moses in the Old Covenant and Old Testament said, God would raise up, like unto him, and whom people should hear in all things. . . . They that do not hear the Son of God, the great Prophet, do not mind the drawing of the Father by his Holy Spirit to his Son; but to them that mind the drawings of the good spirit of the Father to his son, the Spirit giveth understanding to know God and Jesus Christ. . .Then they know that Jesus Christ is the way. . . and that none can come unto God but by and through his Son. . . they know that Christ is their Mediator and. . . their High Priest. . . and is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him (The Journal of George Fox, Bi-centennial Edition, II: 458).

Brazilian Christ statue

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Rose That Bare Gesù

There is no rose of such virtue

As is the rose that bare Gesù.

For in this rose contained was

Heaven and earth in little space;

Res miranda. [a wonderful thing]

The angels sungen the shepherds to:
Gloria in excelsis Deo:
Gaudeamus. [Let us rejoice.]

Leave we all this worldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth;
Transeamus. [Let us go across.]

The iconography of the Nativity story is rich with meaning, and the lyrics of this medieval carol touch upon some of that meaning in the opening verse: “There is no rose of such virtue / As is the rose that bare Gesù.”

Virtue is the quality that identifies the mother of Jesus; virtue carries and nurtures the seed, and to it gives birth. The incarnate God, Christ Within, is brought into being through spiritual gestation in virtue.

Our tradition doesn’t rely on a single story to communicate the reality of our condition and the transformation that is our fulfillment, our new birth. The richness of its figuration offers many opportunities to imaginatively grasp and thereby learn what we’re called to.

“The Mediate Role of Virtue” is an essay on a different story in Scripture (found in Luke 16) that harbors the same theme of the necessity of virtue for the coming of the Lord. This essay, first posted in December 2016, can be found here.

Rose That Bare Gesu

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Observations on John’s Second Epistle

For many deceivers have come forth into the world, who do not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, so as not to lose what we have done but receive your full reward. Whoever breaks forward and does not abide by the teaching of the Christ does not have God; the one who abides by his teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not take him into your house, and do not give him any greeting; for anyone who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds (2 Jn. 1:7-11).

Recently a friend and I were discussing the second epistle of John. She had brought up the above passage and was specifically interested in the seventh verse:

For many deceivers have come forth into the world, who do not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such is the deceiver and the antichrist (7).

And within that verse, the phrase “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” stood out for her. “Do you have an idea of what this means”? she asked.

Just a few days before, I’d read this epistle and had thought about the very verse she’d pointed out. I suggested that the words “in the flesh” did not refer to Jesus’s earthly life of a few decades. Rather, it seemed to me, the apostle was alluding to the presence of Christ Within; it was our flesh—the believers’ flesh—to which the Light of Christ is come. And “acknowledg[ment]” that Christ is come in the flesh is predicated upon that inward encounter with him, with his Presence.

A week or so later, my thought was confirmed when I read one of Fox’s tracts titled “A Word,” from which the following excerpt is taken:

Who loves the light that he hath given them, witness Jesus Christ come in the flesh. . . and you that hold up the figures, deny Christ come in the flesh (The Works of George Fox, IV: 33).

Loving the light Jesus Christ has given us (having first received it!) is inherent in any authentic witness that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. And conversely, to “hold up the figures” (“figures” being concepts provided by bygone prophets) is to “deny Christ come in the flesh.”

Those not having known this encounter-cum-revelation can only posture an attitude of faith, and thus deserve the designation the apostle gives them: deceivers. John sought to distinguish between those who’d experienced the arrival of Christ Within and those “deceivers” or “antichrists” (signifying enemies of Christ) who had not. In short, John was telling us that the essential defect of “the deceiver and the antichrist” is profession without possession.

Whoever breaks forward and does not abide by the teaching of the Christ does not have God; the one who abides by his teaching has the Father and the Son (9).

To “abide by the teaching of the Christ” is to learn from the one who “is come to teach his people himself,” Christ who inwardly reveals himself that we may learn the Father’s will and do it.  And “whoever breaks forward,” and distances him- or herself from this condition of hearing obedience, “does not have God” but are instead “presumptuous talkers of God, who see him not” (Works, IV:30).

“Do not take him [the deceiver] into your house”(10) is a warning to  readers to keep some distance between themselves and deceivers, but the warning can also be interpreted figuratively. One must not allow a  conceptual approach to faith to enter and occupy the living space where only an experience of faith should reside.

The apostle knows the danger of losing “what we have done”(8) and cautions rigorous care when dealing with conceptual faith and those who harbor it: to refuse to offer even a greeting. For to greet is to acknowledge, and thus, in a minor way, to sanction. And to sanction deceit even in a minor way is to participate in and promote it: “for anyone who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds”(11).

That mind, which doth speak of God, but lives not, dwells not, nor abides in the fear of God, that mind must suffer, and pass under the judgment of God, for the curse of God is upon that mind. . . . And that mind may talk of God, and speak of God, but not in union with God, nor from enjoyment of God in the spirit, nor from having purchased the knowledge of him through death and sufferings; but from hear-say of him, and from custom and tradition (Works, VII:32).

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Thus far this essay has considered the second half of John’s epistle, which, with its warning about deceivers and antichrists stands in contrast to the epistle’s first half, concerned as it is with truth and love. See how frequently the word “truth” appears in the epistle’s first sentence (italics mine):

The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever (1-2).

Love is the outgoing expression of truth, which resides within, and thus not only does the apostle express his own love for the “elect lady” but is confident that “all they that have known the truth” will also love her: not because she elicits his or their affection but because the truth dwells within them, and is the living source and impetus of love.

And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another (5). And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it (5-6).

In verse 5, we read that love for one another is commanded, and has been so “from the beginning”: “the beginning” referring to that glorious, singular event when one is “born. . . of God” (Jn. 1:13). And so to love is to bring forth, to express, the Life that began and is continuing in Christ, the Truth.

In verse six, a significant distinction is made between 1) the inward hearing of the Source and 2) its conveyance outward into the world. This distinction is made by the use of one letter: the letter “s” added to the word “commandment,” making the word either singular or plural. The Source is one, and to attend to that Source is the one commandment (no “s” added). The expression of that Source will vary according to whatever teaching or guidance He gives at particular times and places: that is, there will be various, specific commandments (and so an “s” is added). These commandments (with an “s”) are what we Quakers call “continuing revelation.” So verses 5 and 6 diagram the economy of parousaic revelation: the Source being God, the Father, and the various, particular expressions of His person being love brought into the world through His Son, His substance and body: the elect people of God.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God (1 Jn. 4:7).

martha-mary - Copy

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

On Redemption in John 11

He who expects to arrive at . . . the union of the soul with God, by means of consolation and comfort, will find himself mistaken. For, having sinned, we must expect to suffer, and be in some measure purified, before we can be in any degree fitted for a union with God, or permitted to taste the joy of his presence. Be ye patient, therefore, under all the sufferings which your Father is pleased to send you. If your love to him be pure, you will not seek him less in suffering than in consolation.  A Guide to True Peace – Jeanne-Marie Guyon

This essay is about the final stage in the process of redemption: when we have observed and embodied the demands of the Law; when we have heeded faithfully the requirements of conscience; when we have watched and waited expectantly, and yet have come up empty, and not known why. I will examine crucial verses in John 11 that point to the condition that immediately precedes the inward resurrection to life eternal. This chapter in John is about Lazarus being raised from the dead, but the verses I will focus on replicate the conditions of inward death and inward resurrection that are to be visited upon all.

The Meaning of Embrimáomai

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (Jn. 11:33 KJV).

Because the King James Version doesn’t translate verse 33 well (“he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled”[33b]), I’ll be using instead a literal translation of the New Testament by Richard Lattimore, titled The New Testament ([New York: North Point Press, 1996]). In his preface, Lattimore describes his technique:

I have held throughout to the principle of keeping as close to the Greek as possible, not only for sense and for individual words, but in the belief that fidelity to the original word order and syntax may yield an English prose that to some extent reflects the style of the original (vii). . . . [M]y aim has been to let all of my texts translate themselves with as little interference as possible (ix).

Lattimore’s translation of verses 32 and 33 reads (the relevant sentence italicized):

When Mary came to where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. When Jesus saw her weeping, and saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he raged at his own spirit, and harrowed himself.

The Greek word in question is “embrimáomai.” Whereas the KJV translates this word as a gentle groan (“he groaned in the spirit”), Lattimore translates it as an intense, explosive anger: “he raged at his own spirit.” Lattimore’s choice is supported by New Testament scholar Rudolf Schnackenburg, who wrote:

The word [embrimáomai] indicates an outburst of anger, and any attempt to interpret it in terms of an internal emotional upset caused by grief, pain, or sympathy is illegitimate (The Gospel According to St. John, 3 vols. [London: Burns and Oates, 1968-82], 2:335.

The text itself supports these scholars’ findings: The Jews interpret Jesus’s weeping as arising from grief (“Then the Jews said: See how he loved him” [36]), but as the Jews in this story always come to the wrong conclusion, we can assume that here their reasoning about Jesus’s weeping is also wrong. Finally, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, informs us that “embrimáomai” “suggests indignation and fault-finding.”

Universality of Blaming

Indignation and fault-finding is what Mary does: finding Jesus along the road, she greets him with an accusation: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”(32). Blame follows loss and suffering, a pattern of behavior not unique to Mary. Her sister Martha speaks the same words when she confronts Jesus. The repetition implies both react to loss and suffering in the same way: with resentment and blame (21). That resorting to blame be seen as a universal and not solely a family characteristic, we’re told that the Jews also suffer (33) and blame Jesus. (“Could not he, who opened the eyes of the blind man, make it so that this man also might not die”? [37]) We cannot miss the idea that loss, suffering, and resentment universally fuel blame. (It’s the property of the first Adam—the one who blamed Eve—the one who blamed the Serpent.) Given all the examples in this 11th chapter, we find the question of whether or not one dies to the self depends upon whether, having suffered loss, one chooses or refuses to cast blame elsewhere.

Another Way

Verse 33 presents Jesus modeling a new and different way to handle loss: “he [Jesus] raged at his own spirit, and harrowed himself.” Like the rest of humankind (“by nature children of wrath” [Eph. 2:3]), Jesus rages at life’s limits, rage that is typically redirected outward. (“If thou hadst been here my brother had not died” say each of Lazarus’s sisters.) Always quick to blame another for one’s suffering, one assumes if only others changed—or were manipulated, controlled, or somehow gotten rid of—one would not have to suffer.

Jesus upends this fallacy by instead choosing to embody the human frailty and limitation without casting responsibility for it elsewhere: he feels the weakness that comes with loss; acknowledges the finitude that leads to suffering; and endures the rage of resentment that follows. Instead of looking outward to blame another, however, he holds the awareness of his finitude and endures; that is the meaning of “he . . . harrowed himself”: he subjected himself to the distress and torment incumbent upon his being mortal, and refused to obscure or deny it by looking for externalities to hold accountable. In short, he refused to blame. This is what it means to take on the sins of the world—whether grand or small—and absorb their effect, which will be loss to the self, its fleshly image and temporal equilibrium in the world. Absorbing the effects of sin is nicely described in this verse from 1st Peter:

He committed no sin, he was convicted of no falsehood; when he was abused he did not retort with abuse, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but committed his cause to the One who judges justly (2:23 NEB).

Returning to the passage in John, we are told: “Jesus once more was inwardly raging, and went to the tomb”(38). The rage accompanies one all the way to the tomb, wherein lies death to the self. God raises a person up from there. . . and from there only. The risen Christ abiding within restores abundant well-being (life eternal), and thereby, is the sin of the world borne and overcome.

The Inward Resurrection: Jn. 11:42

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: Father, I thank you for hearing me, and I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd which surrounds me, I said it so that they should believe that you sent me (41-42a).

Jesus knows the Father hears him, even when he doesn’t speak aloud. Their communication is in the inward parts; he speaks aloud only that the crowd might hear. His spirit spoken (the apex of words!) manifests the unity of God and man, and enables others to sense and believe in God’s power to send His Word to us. Such is prophetic ministry—as understood by Friends. It is the manifestation of the inward resurrection to life in Christ; that is to say, it is faith heard (Rom. 10:17).

Shall he find faith on the earth? (Lk. 18:8b)

Some have the form of godliness, acknowledging the need to undergo the cross within, yet in their hearts reject it, seeing no more than a stumbling block or foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). This is hypocrisy: dwelling in form without substance. Others go on with their worldly lives, having no sense of what they’ve forfeited, and one feels their loss, their emptiness, with compassion. Some from an early age have so felt truth’s pervasive demand that the cross has been with them, a constant companion, though for a time unnamed. And there are some worthy folks who begin to feel truth’s insistence after long years spent captivated by other concerns: social position; empty, intellectual notions; worship of power, or other idols. These folks mend, as they find the peace that comes with living authentically. Other conditions and paths could be listed, but whatever the variation, there is one universal constant that is observed in every soul that enters its rightful place in unity with God: suffering in and for the truth.

Christ with Mary and Martha

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments