Monthly Archives: February 2015

Living in a Time of Crisis

Marcelle Martin, appearing on QuakerSpeak, tells us that

Today we live in a time of crisis, and a nearness really to catastrophe on the planet that threatens the survival of the human race and all of the other species on the planet. It’s a time of great crisis — more than we know, I believe. And also a time when God is calling us to great change…

I think that everything we need in order to face the challenges and the crisis in our time are within us, and we need to bring it out because every person on the planet has a piece of that, can do God’s work in helping to restore the planet and to make this a place where love and peace prevail. But we have to change our ways. It’s a time where great, great change is needed and needed quickly, and will draw forth from us potentials that really haven’t been seen except for in extraordinary people in the past, and these are potentials that are part of everyone.

…and she goes on to say that it is only in the surrender of our own self-will, in learning to let God direct us in becoming a new kind of people, that we shall be able to realise these potentials, and incarnate God’s purposes in the world.

It is – I know too well from personal experience – all too easy to panic in the face of the extraordinary challenges we face as a planet, and to fall either into despair and apathy, or into an “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” kind of mind-set. How can one little person make any difference in so great an issue, and in any case, how can anyone, individually or collectively, know what might make a difference?

The answer seems to me to be found in the silence that lies at the heart of all we do as Friends – that lies at the heart, in fact, of all experiential faith of whatever era or persuasion. John Bellows, the Victorian Quaker printer and lexicographer, put his finger more than a hundred years ago not only on the way to truth in these dangers, but on the underlying nature of the dangers themselves:

I know of no other way, in these deeper depths, of trusting in the name of the Lord, and staying upon God, than sinking into silence and nothingness before Him… So long as the enemy can keep us reasoning he can buffet us to and fro; but into the true solemn silence of the soul before God he cannot follow us.

Quaker Faith & Practice, 2.15

Trust, surrender, silence and nothingness – we are back to the centre of our practice, of prayer itself – to the “place of inward retirement and waiting on God” that Elfrida Vipont Foulds wrote of; to the centre that is the nearness of God in Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Prayer changes everything?

It seems to me that prayer is a word that still gives pause to Friends, as it does sometimes to those who have no religious background, or any! Prayer appears to imply – etymologically if in no other way (the word is derived from the Latin precari “ask earnestly, beg, entreat”) – asking of some authority that our desires might be granted, our pain eased, our fears assuaged.

But Quakers don’t believe in that kind of a God. Stephen Fry says he doesn’t, and many Christians would agree with him. So where does that leave prayer, or those of us for whom prayer is as deep and irresistible an impulse as breathing?

If prayer as presenting our requests to God is problematic, how much more might be contemplative prayer, a practice which amounts to – again doing a bit of etymological unpacking – spending “time with” God?

Michael Ramsey once wrote, “Mystical experience is given to some, but contemplation is for all Christians… [It] means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart.”

If God is love, and it seems there is no other way to understand this God word anyhow, then God knows what will heal our broken hearts, and the wounds of those for whom we ourselves feel love. Spending time with God is then somehow indivisible from a kind of helpless love that arises when we look at the suffering of the innocent, human and other, no less than at the hearts of those who cause suffering, through cruelty, greed or ignorance.

But in its helplessness, this love is anything but helpless. This comes very close to a vision of the Cross. If ever there was a helpless man, it was Jesus crucified; yet Paul was able to write, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

That prayer changes us is undeniable. That prayer changes everything is the mercy of Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…