Conversation with Christ
Quaker Meditations on the Gospel of John
by Douglas Gwyn
There are thirteen “conversations.” Each begins with the explanation of a section of the Gospel of John, then “reflections from the Quaker tradition” and then a “guided conversation.”
As to the explanations of John:
The choice of John instead of one of the synoptic Gospels, (Mathew, Mark or Luke,) for a conversation with Christ means that instead of some traces of the historical Jesus as attested by recent scholarship emerging from a somewhat larger background of sayings and acts attributed to him by the community from which the traces emerge, we have instead the Christ as heard by a community far down the path (four generations in their time, three in our time) from the historical Jesus with perhaps no echoes from the Master himself.
If this were to be a conversation with Jesus the absence of the historical Jesus would be an unbridgeable chasm. However this is a conversation with the Christ which I read as the Spirit which inflamed Jesus and the same Spirit which inflames his followers. This Spirit’s voice has its own validity. If Gwyn makes this argument, I missed it, so I make it for him.
He is well aware that he is not teaching Jesus and often, perhaps not often enough for my liking, but often refers to the stories of Jesus as just that, “stories” told by a community of Jesus followers. Gwyn’s scripture scholarship I found solid and in spots he taught me things I do not know. While not a scholar myself, I have read them for six decades, so I know one when I see one.
As to the reflections from the Quaker tradition:
Gwyn is a recognized scholar in the Quaker tradition. I have read mightily in the tradition for a decade and a little more, enough to say that he is solidly within the tradition as I have heard it and instructive. The reflections from the tradition solidly link it to John and are in themselves a useful package of knowledge about Quakerism and specific Quaker saints and heroes.
The guided conversations:
For those used to sitting in silence for an hour awaiting the promptings of the Spirit the guided conversations are quite busy. Following Rex Ambler, Gwyn has picked up on the techniques of the psychologist Eugene T. Gendlin. I was reading in order to be able to write this review, with no intention of reading for my own growth. Nevertheless time after time I would be trapped into a new discovery of my own needs to be more, even as I casually worked my way through the text.
This brings me to the flaw in the book:
The guided conversations have a slim connection to the Gospel of John. For instance, in the Gospel Jesus declares himself a friend and then I and you are asked a series of in depth questions about our relationship with a friend. What does that have to do with Jesus? How is it that I am conversing with Christ?
Or we are asked to reflect on, re-experience in our bodies our physical hunger, and then jump to our spiritual hunger, all this because Jesus fed a hungry crowd and talked about feeding us. How does Christ speak to me in this process?
Gwyn could saved a lot of trouble and just packaged the guided conversations in a pamphlet for discussion groups entitled Insightful Questions by Douglas Gwyn in the Manner of Eugene T. Gendlin but then I would have missed some excellent, if only dimly related, scholarship on both the Christ and Quaker tradition.
Is this a fatal flaw? I really do not know. I admit when all is said and done I am happy to have read the book and may take more time and go back over the guided conversations and let them soak a little longer. Or even restudy the Gospel exegesis and the expositions of Quaker tradition. There is indeed gold there to be mined.
The book is for sale at www.quaker books.org. Avoid Amazon on this one. I took that route and it cost me an arm and a leg. More fool I.