Head over heels in the surf…

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…”

As I wrote in my last post, understanding myself as a Quaker and as a contemplative is proving a continual challenge. I quoted, some time ago, Jim Wilson writing on QuakerQuaker:

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.

Entering into Meeting for Worship, or into one’s own time of prayer, cannot be seen as a way to gain strength for campaigning for one’s own pre-existing convictions. To come into the Light “with the needs of the world on our heart” (Michael Ramsey) is all that is needed. We cannot, must not, pre-judge the result. The Holy Spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3.8) is like a wind that “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Coming into the Light consciously, deliberately, is always a risky journey: we may be led where we had not dreamed of going, The prophet heard the Lord say (Isaiah 43.18-19),
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)

6 thoughts on “Head over heels in the surf…

  1. Gail

    Hello Mike, I have just returned from our weekly church prayer meeting. As I sit here now thinking on what you have written, I realise that that is what we do each week. We pray, praise and often just quietly listen for what The Lord would show us. This is a good reminder to me, for so often I pray and then my mind rushes ahead with thoughts or even directions on how my prayers might be answered.( I actually don’t like to even admit that )
    And now I can hear Him say! “Be still and know that I am God”.
    Your posts alway give me something to think on.
    Blessings Gail.

  2. Raymond Lamb

    Dear Mike, Thank you for a brilliant piece today; the quotes from Philip Rack, Michael Ramsey, Binton, Isaiah and Romans just hang together so beautifully and reinforce your focus on uncertainty and the need to trust; the need to look forward with hope and trust.
    God bless

  3. johnny tucholski


  4. Pingback: Living Retired Lives – More from Quaker Faith & Practice | Silent Assemblies

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