Tag Archives: Kayla McClurg

A difficult life?

Occasionally Friends, especially those who have had little contact with the mystical tradition in Christianity, but have mostly encountered the shallower waters of that deep stream, may believe that Quakers are unique in basing their worship and their community on the direct experience of God; but in some of the writings of Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest and scholar, for example, we can see how seamlessly we fit into a long, if sometimes hidden, current…

Rohr writes,

Most of organized religion has actually discouraged us from taking the mystical path by telling us almost exclusively to trust outer authority (Scripture, Tradition, or various kinds of experts) instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience itself. In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves. Roman Catholics were told to trust the church hierarchy first and last, while Protestants were often warned that inner experience was dangerous, unscriptural, or even unnecessary. Some Evangelicals actually call any non-noisy prayer “diabolical.” Talk about fear of the soul!

These were ways of discouraging actual experience of God and created passive (and often passive aggressive) people. Sadly, many people concluded there was no God to be experienced. We were taught to mistrust our own souls—and thus the Holy Spirit…

Of course, if we rely on tradition – any tradition, even of sitting in silence – rather than on opening our hearts to the God whose presence is revealed in silence, then we are tempted to use being part of the right group, and following its customs and practices, as a substitute for an experimental encounter with the Divine. However personally or impersonally we conceive of God, the actual encounter is always far more than we had bargained for: and there is that in each of us that would avoid that which we cannot comprehend, let alone control.

This seems to me to be getting close to the heart of our lives as Friends, or of any followers of the way. Once we recognise in ourselves that we share in the world’s determination to avoid anything that may bring us pain, may make us grieve for the long emptinesses, then it becomes clear that we need something more than thought to open us to the truth.

Kayla McClurg writes,

Life is not difficult now so that we will more greatly appreciate being rewarded someday in heaven. Life is difficult now simply because it is difficult now. And the reward is to see it, to feel it, to let it in. When we refuse to accept that life is not to be continually altered, continually tweaked for our pleasure, we miss a simple truth: Life is what it is, and what it is, is Life. A mixed up muddle of sorrow and peace and joy and poverty and longing. We miss it if we spend all our time trying to shut the doors, bar the windows, before Life can get to us, before God can show us how good the awful parts can be. When we let the difficulties be what they are, then we can be who we are—cherished and able to live through whatever comes.

If we can but surrender, let go of trying to know, let go of trying to work out beforehand how it’s going to be, let go of the barricades, then we begin to find that all sorts of odd things begin to make sense again, or for the first time. There are hints of this in all the spiritual traditions; they glitter here and there in the Old Testament, but cluster thickly in the New, from Jesus’ own words in, say, Matthew 5 – the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn, the meek, the merciful…” to those paradoxical remarks in the letters, such as Paul’s to the Romans,”[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

Sometimes religion appears to be presented as offering easy cures for pain: have faith and God will mend your hurts; reach out to God and your woundedness will be healed. The Beatitude ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted’ can be interpreted this way too, but the Latin root of the word ‘comfort’ means ‘with strength’ rather than ‘at ease’. The Beatitude is not promising to take away our pain; indeed the inference is that the pain will remain with us. It does promise that God will cherish us and our wound, and help us draw a blessing from our distressed state.

QFP 21.66

Life is deeper and stranger than we think, and we are only tiny seeds in the great restless beauty of a universe at which the most able minds can only wonder. (It was one of our leading astrophysicists, Susan Jocelyn Burnell, discoverer of radio pulsars, who wrote the above passage from Quaker Faith & Practice.) That we can consciously be touched in the silence by that from which we arise, and in which we are sustained, is what makes sense of it all to me…

To sit quietly is enough

Once again, I find myself apologising for a long gap in posts here. We have moved house – again, and I hope for the last time – and the usual flood of practicalities, some tedious, some delightful, has kept me away from the keyboard. Things are settling down, though, and I have been thinking about faith and simplicity, and how complicated we humans make things around religion, with our criteria, our creeds and our shibboleths.

Kayla McClurg writes:

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…,” today’s passage [John 3:14-21] says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is one of those small bites of scripture we are apt to glide right past in our hurry to get to the meat of the message. How odd to find in John’s gospel this reference to a peculiar story in the book of Numbers in which God punishes the people with an onslaught of poisonous snakes. The remedy God gives Moses is rather odd, too. He is told to make a bronze replica of a serpent and put it on a pole. When it is lifted up, anyone who has been bitten by a poisonous snake simply looks at the replica to be saved.

The people do not have to figure out how it works. They do not need to come to consensus about its meaning, or strive to love it with their whole hearts. They simply look at it if they want to be healed. This, John says, is how it is with Jesus.

We tend to make Jesus quite a bit more complicated. Is it possible that faith might be as childlike and simple as just looking at Jesus? Not arguing over who he was and is, what one should believe about him, how to express that belief, who is right and who is wrong. “For God so loved the world…”—we barely get this far in one of the best known and most hopeful verses in scripture before we leap out into the perils and pitfalls of varying belief systems, who is in and who is out and who gets to decide. We stand condemned, or ready to condemn, despite the very next words: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world….”

Moses lifted up the serpent, not to condemn, but to heal. And the people only needed to take a new look at its healing potential. That’s all. Maybe taking another look at Jesus will bring us more gifts than we know. If we start to see him in a new light, without knowing for sure what is right or wrong and who is on his team, we might be surprised by what we end up believing, what old wounds get healed.

(With thanks to Inward/Outward)

The Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr remarks,

It is theologically and formally incorrect to simply say, as most Christians do, “Jesus is God.” The Trinity is God, and the Eternal Christ is God. But Jesus is a third something—a god-man—which offers humanity an utterly new possibility and dignity from God’s side. If you can’t imagine it in Jesus, it is very unlikely you will be able to imagine it within yourself. That is why I personally need to believe in Jesus’ divinity. This does not to make Christianity the “only true religion,” but it does make Christianity, in its mature forms, into a code-breaker, a short cut, a simplification about what is happening within reality. Without Jesus putting it together for us, I doubt if we could even imagine that divine and human could be united into one person…

I do believe that the Jesus mystery holds, manifests, affirms, and enjoys the entire pattern, process, and privilege of what it means to be a human person. Believe it first in him, and then you can perhaps dare to believe it in yourself.

Rohr, again, is speaking of looking at Jesus as the way of healing, of change, of homecoming. He is, of course, not the only way – but certainly for those of us whose cultural, even linguistic, heritage is bound up in the Christian story, he is a, possibly the, most direct and powerful way to integration, at least if we can get over the preconceptions too many of us inhaled with the dusty air of the schoolroom and the church Bible study.

It isn’t complicated. All we need is to contemplate – literally, spend time with – Christ; to really look at him. We don’t need to have the right, or any, answers. We don’t need creedal formulations. To sit quietly is enough, and to realise the Presence that is always with us. And then, as Thomas Kelly wrote,

An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady, after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple an art as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we achieve any steadiness in the process. Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to Him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake. And in time you will find, as did Brother Lawrence, that ‘those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep’.

Even in darkness…

…I am not the light, but I am called to testify to the light. To testify is to tell my truth, the whole truth, to be held accountable for what I know and see. I am a witness to the light. I have watched it shine in my very own darkness.

Light, of course, always shows up best in darkness. As it turns out in God’s wise economy, I serve the light best not by trying to be light, not by trying to create an illusion of light, but by being simply myself. A wondering, a waiting, a longing, a doubting, a sometimes lost and tired traveller. My unique darkness becomes my unique gift. It is how I testify to the light. The very parts of me that I think about trying to hide reveal the light most clearly. Because even in darkness—especially in darkness—the true light, oh how it loves to shine.

Kayla McClurg, on Inward/Outward

It is harder and harder, especially as the physical darkness of the shortening days draws the year in to its ending, to see the way ahead. We are not given to see the view from the hill, and the pattern makes no sense from here. Shadows lengthen, the sun appears only briefly between low bands of cloud, across a thin and watery sky. There is nothing to see outside the rooms of winter, no promise of a better tomorrow.

Darkness is all that is left as a testimony to the light. My own darkness, the light that fades in so many eyes each day as its life passes – where? There are no conclusions, and all the signposts are fading now.

Advent. Waiting. Below the horizon there is a rising, yet the darkness extends its borders across these bare fields. What is it? No answer. How could there be? There are no words for this, and we have not the senses for these wavelengths. “When I say ‘darkness’, I mean a privation of knowing, just as whatever you do not know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it with your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.” (The Cloud of Unknowing, Ch. 4)

But the light shines in the darkness. It does. The dark has not overcome it, despite the closing down of day to that faint fading glimmer along the horizon. It is only love, and love has no need of daytime, or even summer. Love holds all that is, could be. Contains the worlds, and the aching interstellar voids; it is the ground of being itself, and is always. There is nothing to fear…