Some among us have a clear sense of what is right and wrong – for themselves personally if not for everyone else. They have a reassuring certitude and steadiness which can serve as a reference point by which others may navigate. There are others who live in a state of uncertainty, constantly re-thinking their responses to changing circumstances, trying to hold onto what seems fundamental but impelled to reinterpret, often even unsure where lies the boundary between the fundamental and the interpretation…
Please be patient, those of you who have found a rock to stand on, with those of us who haven’t and with those of us who are not even looking for one. We live on the wave’s edge, where sea, sand and sky are all mixed up together: we are tossed head over heels in the surf, catching only occasional glimpses of any fixed horizon. Some of us stay there from choice because it is exciting and it feels like the right place to be.
Philip Rack, 1979 (Quaker Faith & Practice 20.06)
In these odd days of social media and online news reporting, when communications are so rapid, and conflicting opinions so easily, and so forcefully, expressed, I often find myself “in a state of uncertainty, constantly re-thinking [my] responses to changing circumstances, trying to hold onto what seems fundamental but impelled to reinterpret, often even unsure where lies the boundary between the fundamental and the interpretation…”
What the activist does not comprehend about the mystic is that, for the mystic, interior prayer, gathered silence, is the leading, is the purpose, and is sufficient unto itself. The mystic does not view these engagements as tools, or add-ons, for a political purpose.
From the activist perspective, this is inadequate. As Howard Brinton wrote in his ‘Introduction’ to the book ‘A Guide to True Peace’, “This solution [of interior prayer] will seem too simple to intellectuals and too inadequate to activists, the two groups that dominate our age.” This is because the activist is always outward oriented and wants to see results ‘in the real world’. In contrast, the mystic finds the realm of interior silence to be as real, or more real, than what is found by focusing outward. In the inward turning the mystic finds a true home.
For the activist this is to ignore the suffering and injustices in the world. But for the mystic there is the experience, which grows over time, that the silence and stillness found by turning inward is a blessing to the whole world, a blessing which does not give rise to strife and contention. Because this blessing is not palpable or measurable in material terms, the activist tends to dismiss this. Personally, though, I have come to comprehend that the turning inward of the mystic is the most that I can do for other people. Not that I have that particular motivation for turning inward. Rather, that blessing is a consequence of the grace that such turning opens to.
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert…
We cannot tell what may come of our worship, whether action or contemplation, hard truth or true blessing. We must sit down in a holy unknowing; if we are faithful in that, then the Spirit is faithful too, always, “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5.5)