Our Life is Love
The Quaker Spiritual Journey
So you think you are a Quaker, and a pretty good one too? I used to think I was also. Just a couple of weeks ago if you asked me about my practice of our mutual journey if I had my best pharisaical hat on I would have happily thanked God for all the great things I do, think, feel and am.
Then I read Marcelle Martin, Our Life is Love. I am a piker! You may be too. I encourage you to read the book. The truth will set you free. For me maybe that will happen next week. Right now I feel not “free” but “challenged.”
I bought the book despite my discomfort with people who are described as mystics. Since visions are usually private experiences I wonder how does everyone know.
In the end, her mysticism is about the only thing I am comfortable with. Well into the book she speaks of extraordinary experiences in her own journey, but they are experiences I have heard before from many people, some in books but also across the breakfast table, in the coffee shop, or in one case over scotch and water with a panicked fellow business man who despite being an atheist had just experienced God while in the shower. (It was he who named the experience: “God.”) I was able to assure him that I had heard this before; that like excrement, God also happens, although not as often.
For Marcelle, God happens a lot, but while more often than for most mortals, these are not ascents to the seventh heaven, or mini-transfigurations either, and not out of the ordinary, if I may use the word ”ordinary” for revelations. She is a Quaker mystic, not much interested in anything that is given her, unless it is something that she will then give others. (I wonder if love is like electricity, it enters only to go out again and if there is no way out, it will not enter.)
Marcelle has laid out some elements in the journey to becoming a Quaker. I will give you the ten elements, categories numbered and the elements in parentheses to give you a quick overview of most of the book: 1) Awakening (Longing, Seeking, Turning Within) 2) Convincement (Openings, The Refiner’s Fire, Community) 3) Faithfulness (Leadings, The Cross, Abiding, Perfection)
I suspect that you, my Quaker Friend, already have a pretty good idea what she would be saying under each of these headings. So you might ask, “Why is John disturbed by this?”
Because: Under each heading she tells the stories of Friends who have lived these elements out, a huge number of them from the Seventeenth Century and even more painful for people like me who discount the Seventeenth Century as that was then and this is now, a huge number from the last few decades. What would I do if God ever called me to something like these people endured after their surrender? Worse, maybe God has called me and I have already missed the cue. Maybe this is what it means to be a Quaker and what I am doing is a poor imitation?
Should I be more like Tom Fox, who died peacemaking in Iraq? Or like Tom Kelly the man of the quietly powerful prose? Or like Eva Hermann who was not afraid of the Nazi’s because she could feel the prayers of people praying for her? Or like Linda Caldwell Lee who while recovering from illness felt the doors of her heart opening with love? Or like Barbara Blagdown who barely felt the blows so secure was she in her confidence in the One who called her. (I am not searching the book for these stories, just randomly flipping pages, stopping somewhere and spotting the nearest story on that page or the next one.)
So I suggest you buy and read Our Life is Love.
Maybe I will never rise to the exemplars’ heights but at least I will distribute Meals on Wheels with a better grace than I have in the past. Compared to being beaten, or impoverished, or shunned, or imprisoned, or killed, it is not all that bad. I am a little suspicious of how easy it is. Perhaps you will be too.