By Howard J. Vogel
Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
On March 19, 2018, while in Charleston, South Carolina, I was shaken by a surprising encounter with the Spirit that occurred while reading “Holy Obedience” and “The Blessed Community” by Thomas Kelly, both of which I had not read for many years. What hit me is that Truth comes not through the workings of the intellect of my mind but rather through the experience of my Heart and when followed by the practice it calls us to, leads to LIFE in the sense that I have come to understand as evident in the spiritual journey of Isaac Penington.
In that moment the decades of effort I have undertaken to understand and approach God through the activity of my mind simply fell away. Over the four days that followed I came to “see” that understanding follows experience rather than preceding it. No matter how hard we attempt to understand and approach God through the activity of the mind, the understanding we seek follows our experience of God rather than preceding it. Although there is a place for the use of reason and the intellect of the mind, they cannot open us to the path of Life in the Light.
In that moment I came to experience in my Heart the deep truth of early Friends’ experience, as explicated by the Quaker scholar Hilary Hinds in her 2011 book entitled George Fox and Early Quaker Culture, when she writes of how early Friends, following convincement, experienced the collapse of the boundaries between human and divine as they were understood in the 17th century, especially in Calvinist Puritan thought, and were led to see and live in a world of “seamless subjects” who experienced unity with God and each other. This experience was universally available to all, but it was only experienced by those who turned to the Light, relinquished their own will, and became open to the Grace of God that embraces the seamless world. Intellectually this leads to a complete reframing of God, Christ, agency and rhetoric — but I now see that such reframing is a product of the experience of dwelling in the Light rather than a path to it. Thus, what we are called to in our practice , in what I have come to understand as the “Exodus Within”, is a process of surrender — turning to the Light and sinking down to the seed of Life, sown by God in our hearts, in the silent waiting worship in the manner of Friends. When we are able to do that we live life in Light in a way that casts no shadows.