Monthly Archives: April 2015

The darkness of God’s infinite Light…

Early spring is turning into the approach of summer. The days are palpably longer, now, and the trees outside my window are nearly fully leafed. The little cat watches the young birds learning to fly, quiet in her pool of sunlight on the windowsill.

Returning from Woodbrooke this last time has been interesting. So much was packed into a few days that I have been struggling to make sense of what has happened in me. A great deal has begun to make sense, though, and my sense that the work of eldership is at least as much prayer, and upholding the meeting and its ministries in prayer, as about anything else, has been deepened, confirmed and clarified.

My own uncertain steps on the path to the Light are coming to seem to me to be part of living within the Quaker community, rather than being a handicap or a symptom of error. I am coming to see that it is necessary to spend much of one’s life in a silence which covers over thought, and the acquisition of knowledge, and merely opens the heart to God as pure isness, without particulars or definition.

William Blake wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” We cannot understand God as one being among many. God is in all, and through all, and the underpinning and source of all that is or has been. To pray is to join God in the darkness of God’s infinite Light – the darkness of our own senses, which cannot perceive that which is beyond attributes. The mercy of God is God’s presence in love, that only silence and stillness beyond words and thinking can know as limitless light, and life.

Led into the dark?

In an article in The Friend (3 April 2015) Laurie Michaelis, the magazine’s environment editor, writes, among painfully honest and powerful words on shame and humility:

Advices & Queries 1, with its words about ‘the leadings of God whose light shows us our darkness’, speaks powerfully to me… ‘Darkness’ is not badness. It is normal and inevitable that we have areas of partial or distorted awareness. My most shadowy areas are to do with instinct – those gut feelings that got me and others around me into trouble. My learning path was, and still is, partly about discernment. That means listening to my gut as well as to my head and heart, and to other people. It means heeding the signs, especially when they warn against action; waiting for the Way to open.

This put me in mind of yesterday’s post, where I wrote of the way seeming dark, and steep and slippery underfoot, and my own realisation that all that is needful is to sit still under that darkness, and “wait… for the Way to open.”

It was Gordon Matthews, back in the 1980s, who wrote, “We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led. We need to be willing to be led into the dark as well as through green pastures and by still waters. We do not need to be afraid of the dark, because God is there.”

In these days, when the world seems so full of foolishness and injustice, and Friends around so full of activity and certainty, so full of plans, and yes, notions, It is hard to learn to keep still, and cease from our own working; but in these times of shadow it may be the only course that will not lead to our own and others’ undoing, as Laurie admits so poignantly in his article.

It is hard to do nothing, even when “the signs… warn against action.” And yet sometimes to do nothing is the most faithful, the most obedient thing. We do not know always, or often, what we are to do, until we are shown the way – and it may be long days, even weeks or years, till the Way opens, even if we know where it seems to lead. It is that patient obedience and endurance, which, as James Nayler said, will “outlive all wrath and contention, and… weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself”, and allow us to “slowly learn… to dwell in the place where leadings come from. That is a place of love and joy and peace, even in the midst of pain.” (Matthews, as cited)

Mapless places

There are times when the way is dark, and seems steep and slippery underfoot. Worse than that are the voices that hint that one has taken a wrong turning altogether, strayed, and wandered from the path into mapless places.

Sitting in Meeting this Sunday, it came to me that this was nothing strange, and not even to be feared. To sit down, before these shadows, and wait, was all that was needful. Sitting still under that leaden sky I realised I was sitting – where else? – under the presence of God. I remembered William Leddra’s words, “Stand still, and cease from thine own working, and in due time thou shalt enter into the rest, and thy eyes shall behold his salvation, whose testimonies are sure, and righteous altogether.”

And the way opened, though softly…