I have been seeking a way to, gracefully if possible, bring to a close this consideration of activism and contemplation that has been so occupying me recently. Almost by chance, I stumbled across Quaker Faith & Practice 20.14, which led me to a blog post I wrote, and first posted here a couple of years ago. Here it is in its entirety:
Those of us known as ‘activists’ have sometimes been hurt by the written or spoken implication that we must be spending too little time on our spiritual contemplative lives. I do know many atheists who are active to improve the lot of humankind; but, for those of us who are Friends, our attendance at meeting for worship and our silent prayerful times are what make our outer activity viable and effective – if it is effective.
I have similarly seen quieter Friends hurt by the implication that they do not care enough, because they are not seen to be ‘politically active’. Some worry unnecessarily that they may be doing things of a ‘less important’ nature, as if to be seen doing things by the eyes of the world is the same thing as to be seen doing things by the eyes of God… I suggest that we refrain from judging each other, or belittling what each is doing; and that we should not feel belittled. We cannot know the prayers that others make or do not make in their own times of silent aloneness. We cannot know the letters others may be writing to governments, similarly… We were all made differently, in order to perform different tasks. Let us rejoice in our differences.
Margaret Glover, 1989, QFP 20.14
I find this a great comfort. I’m all too prone to judging myself for “doing things of a ‘less important’ nature, as if to be seen doing things by the eyes of the world is the same thing as to be seen doing things by the eyes of God…” and so imagining other people doing the same thing, even when they’re not.
Back in the very early years of the church, the apostle Paul wrote, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12.29-30) Evidently it was a problem even back then.
Really, it is not for us to choose or determine whether we are activists or contemplatives. Any choice we make ourselves is going to be partial and imperfect, and in any case I think we all of us are called at some time in our lives to be both of these things. All we can do is to bring what is truly on our hearts into the Light, and, in the waiting silence, to be true to our leading. But of one thing we can be sure:
Our strength or help is only in God; but then it is near us, it is in us – a force superior to all possible opposition – a force that never was, nor can be foiled. We are free to stand in this unconquerable ability, and defeat the powers of darkness; or to turn from it, and be foiled and overcome. When we stand, we know it is God alone upholds us; and when we fall, we feel that our fall or destruction is of ourselves.
Journal of Job Scott, 1751-1793, QFP 20.03