Finding Words

Recently it has been difficult to find words. The silence remains, and in its nourishing space all the grace and presence of God, as always, and yet I have been dumb.

Part of this, I feel, is due to something that has happened increasingly as I have trodden this way with Friends, and has to do with the absence of liturgy in unprogrammed worship, and with the absence of any systematic reading of Scripture. And yet, as John Punshon writes:

…I need to stress that silent contemplation by itself would have done nothing for me. My struggle was not to make sense of my own interior life – I was striving to discern the will of God, and without belief and faith I would have come to grief, I am sure. The belief I relied on was the central doctrine of Quakerism – that the light of Christ is a sure guide to life, and that in the gathered meeting, Christ is present to teach his people (including me) himself. In the stillness of meeting I heard the voice of the shepherd because I had the sheep’s ear…

This was an intimation of the Way of the Cross, a spiritual purgation that tested me to see whether my religious commitment was only on the surface. I think that this is a neglected aspect of worship in unprogrammed Friends’ meetings, but I am sure it was an important part of the tradition. Jesus said that those who are willing to lose their lives will find them. It is easy to say that one is so willing, but another thing to prove it. There is no way out of the occasional, but necessary agony of silent worship unless it be the power of resurrection. When I had been through this period I was another sort of person, and I think I now know why the Testimonies are ultimately inconceivable without the formative experience of traditional Quaker worship.

For me, though, the opposite is also true. The formative experience of Quaker worship is hard to receive without words, without some kind of poetics of experience, for without that the lived hermeneutic – in me at least – fails to materialise. It is hard to remember, let alone interiorise, even though something has changed. One falls asleep, and awakens to find it has snowed in the night…

On her blog, Catholic-Quaker, Rene Lape has an essay, Early Friends and the Scriptures, where she writes:

If the most important thing I got from early Friends [Quakers] was a quickening of my faith in Christ, the second was a sense of the importance of scriptural words, images, and contexts in helping me to see the spiritual dimension of my own life. As I’ve said, the words and contexts of Scripture seemed to me a kind of spiritual “alphabet” that was able to give people access to a world we were naturally blind to—as the tactile alphabet Helen Keller used had given her access to the world she lived in but could not see. From the moment my faith was revived, the Scriptures took on great importance to me, and the approach early Friends took to the Scriptures became one of my chief interests…

This comes close to my own experience. At heart, I have always been something of a universalist. I have found it hard to believe in the exclusive correctness of any experience of faith over another, and yet the language of Buddhism, or of the Hindu Scriptures, is not my language. When I read Romans 8, or the farewell discourses in John’s Gospel, something in my heart breaks open, and I know myself known.

Noah Baker Merrill has experienced this. He writes:

The gathered people felt living water flowing around them. They were opened to the Truth Who holds us all, the true Liberation and Love always available to each of us. They stood together in the power of an endless Life. Their hearts knew that God is Real…

Brokenness is not the end of God’s Story – and it’s not the end of ours. But it is our moment to fall to our knees under that solitary tree in the desert, to meet with the angel, and to be given the bread and water we need to survive the journey into the Wilderness.

I am looking for a language. Not immediately in order to inform others, or even to talk with others, but in order to know. But I know already that there is something profoundly necessary in brokenness. Jesus took bread, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. The wine must be poured out before it can be drunk. Contained within ourselves, we cannot give, nor grow. The seed must fall into the ground…

Jocelyn Burnell wrote:

We want to heal brokenness, where ever we see it. It is uncomfortable for us, as well as being uncomfortable for the person or thing that hurts. If somebody is grieving, for example, we ask kindly how they are, hoping that they will say they are fine, so we can go our way unperturbed.

We encourage people to get over their problem and get back to normal.

We are bad at sitting with pain.

Are we too keen to mend things, to have it all smooth again?

But the repair of brokenness does not come quickly – for some it comes never…

I believe that those of us who are wounded have a special ministry, because we are wounded, because we are hurt. I cannot tell you what your ministry is, only you can find that, but I am sure that there are amongst us people who can speak to needs in this world because they know about hurt…

Just as there is a ministry for the wounded in our communities, is there a role for a wounded community? Is the Religious Society of Friends a broken community?

Are we a broken community, a broken people, a broken society? Do we, through our brokenness have a role in God’s plan?

To know myself as wounded, and useful not despite, but because of that? To rejoice? To become what I have come to be?

One thought on “Finding Words

  1. William F Rushby

    …this is My body, which is broken for you…” I Corinthians 11: 24

    “Finding Words” is a profound meditation. It speaks with clarity of the importance of language in finding faith and giving it meaningful expression. It also highlights the place of brokenness in the Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage, and its crucial role in empowering sanctified ministry. As Howard Brinton once wrote, “ordained by the pierced hands,” Thank you for sharing this message with us.

    Reply

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