Quaker Worship and Love

Well, and here is the crux of the matter: an excellent explanation for why non-theists can worship with Quaker theists.  The bit that stands out is this:

Before letting George Fox speak to us about silent waiting, I want to help nontheists as well as theists to hear him — and to hear each other. Because, as 1 John 4 asserts, God is love and love is God, and because, as Paul asserts, Christ is “the image [in whom we are made; see Gen. 1:27] of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), we can define worship in a way that speaks to theists and nontheists by simply substituting the word “love” for “God” and “Christ” in the source texts. That substitution has been made (except when the meaning would not be clear, or when mythological agency is attributed) in the following passages from Fox.*

And this is to all that would learn silent waiting upon [love] and silent meeting; for none shall ever come to [love] … but as they do come to that of [love] in them, the light which [love] hath enlightened them withal; and that is it which must guide everyone’s mind up to [love], and to wait upon [love] to receive the spirit from [love], and the spirit leads to wait upon [love] in silence, and to receive from [love].

Other than waiting patiently and trustingly for the working of love in our hearts, then, we perform no action in Quaker worship. Our worship is essentially passive. Therefore there is no object toward which our worship is directed, toward which we proffer reverence. We’re simply waiting to feel the motions of love directing our lives. Thus do we avoid the error of attempting to objectify, to reify, God. And thus do we, if we are theists, avoid the error of secretly thinking that we are pleasing God by the work of worship.

Now that makes perfect sense to me. God/Goddess/Spirit is Love.  No scriptures required. No action. Just receive and live. Period.  End of story. Refreshing.


Interface and Outerface

I like the new Interface WordPress has got on their login page. Much more Twitterish and social site-ish. Makes it far more inviting to click on the top stories and blog posts for the day or week.

Re-reading old posts, I’ve realized that my “outerface” has changed quite a bit as well. I suppose it’s no secret any longer that I also blog over at Gorgon Resurfaces and at first glance this blog and that one seem juxtaposed in a weird way. But, then again, I guess we all have our public and private faces.  I’ve learned much in the last couple of years and while I take issue with over-the-top politics and over-hyped social issues or even issues that I think are touted at alarming levels when there’s not much people can do to alleviate them, I do realize that moderation in all things is the key.  Writing from both sides has curiously allowed me to meet myself in the middle.

Over here I rant. Over there, perhaps I reason and am more introspective. Here is my pop culture, political impatience persona and there is my Goddess-y, be at one with the planet persona. Here, I contemplate Christianity and even entertain it once in a while. There, not so much except in the sense that I want to leave it behind once and for all. However, I don’t give up on the idea of a Divine power in the universe, hence the Goddess emphasis.  I have always felt bifurcated in some way spiritually and politically and I feel that more and more both extremes of my personality are coming together and that perhaps… perhaps I can finally become the integrated spiritual, political, and pop cultural loving kind of person that I want to be. But I’m still working on it. Slowly and surely.

Advices, Queries, and Defining the Divine

I’ve made much in my blog about my spiritual path. I’ve wrestled with angels and wrestled with institutions. I’ve even fancied my de-conversion from Christianity, specifically the fundamentalist variety. All of these experiences has informed and defined my path in significant ways. On another blog, I’ve explored my Goddess-y self and I’ve tried to come to grips with what engaging with the Divine means to me.  All of these parts of me seemed like disparate bits trying to meld into a specific whole and not quite managing it. I felt that I had to keep my explorations secret, as if exploring the Divine was frowned upon, especially in today’s climate of religious and political extremism.

I did not like the God of fundamentalist Christianity much and have since turned my back on that chapter of my life. I found this male Father/God officious and meddling and reflective of the narrow mindset so inherent in such extremist faiths based on male power and control. I knew that I had to keep a distance from that God, just for my own mental health and spiritual integrity. Following that God brought out the worst elements in me and, I felt, in society. On the opposite pole, I explored the Goddess within and found much more peace and harmony with the Divine than I previously had before. I ascribe this mainly to my trading one gendered imagination for another, but it did help me mend the damaged views of the Divine that I had swirling in my soul due to my earlier experiences with the gendered Divine in religion. However, I found that in the Goddess realm there is also some extremism, but only in the political wing of this spiritual heritage. If one does not set all one’s store in political movements or invest oneself totally in one political figure, the spiritual call becomes clearer and the Divine can be heard through the clamorous politics. But attachment to such things in public life and culture left me feeling frustrated and angry most of the time. I knew this politicized path wasn’t the path for me either. I also found that one can so focus on the gender of the Divine that the essence of what the Divine means in real life gets completely subsumed. Pretty soon all we have is what particular groups and individual human beings want irrespective of what the total genderless Divine Spirit of the world may reflect.

Quaker Definition

Quaker Definition

Throughout this entire spiritual journey I’ve questioned my own participation in this world of faith and the Divine and what it is that I actually do believe. Not only that, where does it fit into my world? Some would say that that’s the wrong focus. I should find out where I fit into “it” whatever “it” is not the reverse. I don’t think that’s the answer for me. More and more I believe the Divine to be the best and highest of human love, potential, and will as expressed in the spirit of human beings committed to the good rather than those committed to narrow self interests and political movements. Now I’m sure some will disagree with me about the politics, but for me spirituality is about changing myself for the better and becoming a better person to live in this world whether that involves politics or not. Politics don’t change anything. Individuals do. I’ve come to realize that the old saw “people are the only hands God has” is really saying that there is no God/dess apart from human beings. It is really saying that the Divine is impotent without us. There would be no point to the Divine otherwise. The Divine is contingent on the human then. Would speculating that a Divine being exists otherwise be delving into an area that has no purpose and no relevance to human life? Where do humans end and the Divine begin?  If one wants to posit a god without reference to humans, my question would be; “to what purpose?”

Recently, in my own journey, the Quakers, or Friends as they are commonly called, have come to my attention. Far from being just another ecclesiastical movement, this group embodies all that the Divine and spirituality has come to mean for me precisely because it it undefined and open. I was skeptical at first, as I am always wont to be when it comes to being introduced to a religion. But the more I learned, the more intrigued I became, until finally, last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit a Quaker Meeting House and experienced their worship for the first time. There were no hymns, no pastors, no sermon. There was a congenial time of visiting and friendly conversation before the time set for worship and then there was a quiet trek into the meeting house proper, where we all sat in a circle and quieted ourselves for an hour to listen to the Divine within us.

I thought I would have a tough time of it, considering that other attempts at meditation on my own never worked for me. My “monkey mind” as Buddhists call it could never quiet enough to reach a state of meditative silence. However, I found that immediately upon being seated and situated, I entered a quiet zone unlike I had before. I honestly felt my mind go blank (for anyone who knows me, this is quite a feat!) and a heavy, heavy peacefulness descended upon me. I almost fell asleep, but didn’t and found that no thoughts good or ill drifted through my brain. The meeting room had windows near the ceiling and one could see through glass doors to the outside. It was a windy and rainy day and I watched, mesmerized, as the branches of the leafless tree outside swayed and danced in the wind. Again, there were no thoughts. Someone stood to speak and quietly addressed the group for a couple minutes about the day being recognized in the Christian calendar as the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Some ten minutes or so later, another person did the same with another similar message about “conversion” and what that meant for the Friends. Then after a larger gap, one woman, who exuded a spirit of calm and gentleness spoke of a friend she had met at a Quaker meeting over 40 years ago and how that impacted her life. Another two or three spoke as the Spirit moved them. Then after an hour, someone signaled the end of the meeting and we all went out into the foyer for coffee and conversation. While inside I had not thought of anything that normally occupied my mind and it was the most refreshing time of worship I’ve had in a long, long time. I don’t claim to know if I communed with anything, but a communal spirit of Love and humanity was strong.

All I can say is that after reading and studying and after the Friends worship experience, I’ve come to a refining point in my thoughts of the Divine. Rather than the Divine being the collective unconscious of humanity in all its best aspect, which indeed it very well could be, the Divine has come to mean something far less individually anthropomorphic and far more cosmically expansive and inclusive and all encompassing than the previous definitions of the Divine. This Divine Spirit exists in its own right and feeds on the spirits of all and processes and reflects back the best and most loving of all to us to use with and for each other. The Divine lives so in tune with humanity that, like water it can be stepped into and out of at any given moment, until finally, one begins to realize that we are already in the water of Spirit; it is we who unconsciously step in and out, not realizing that we just need to quiet down enough to realize where we are. We come back to ourselves in the silence. We come back to the Divine within the silence.

The experience has left me wondering more and more how to relate to this, how to incorporate this new type of experience into the many and varied ones that I’ve already had, or how this all fits into my beliefs about the Divine, but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about discovering this later. I’m still very much a work in progress. For now, I will leave you with a small tidbit of truth in the Advices and Queries of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain:

Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it…listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you… (point 17)


Why Arguments Proving or Disproving God Will Never Convince

I came across a most excellent article at Science and Religion Today that is the best explanation I know of about why atheists and theists arguments will never convince the other side of its perceived truths. In a nutshell here’s the money quote:

To convince atheists, theologians have erected arguments after arguments. So have come about various proofs for the existence of God, some even mathematical. Such proofs have done little to convert unbelievers, and are not likely to do so.

There are at least three reasons for this. First, every vision of God is deeply anchored to a religion and is therefore related to a historical and cultural framework. Absolute truths about the world have to transcend local creeds and comforts. Secondly, God is invariably linked to the presence and propensities of human beings here below. Science has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings are but one of myriad creatures and that earthlings have no more importance in the vast expanse than dolphins in the deep blue sea. Finally, and most importantly, God is not so much an entity hiding somewhere like an Easter egg, to be uncovered by an eager searcher, but rather a deeply felt experience that humans are capable of. God, like music, is to be experienced, and no analysis of musical notes can prove or disprove the joy and ecstasy that comes from listening. Like the colors of the rainbow, God is a resonance in the conscious soul to an aspect of the world that instruments and theorems, syllogisms and scrutiny, can never unravel.

So, in debates on the existence of God, the atheist will always win, for belief in God is not subject to logical categories, just as no amount of reasoning can dissuade a lover away from the beloved.

Intuitively, everyone knows that faith lies beyond logic, but invariably the logicians refuse to acknowledge that such faith is just as powerful to the faithful as any fact. Their refusal to allow for faith as an informant to an individual’s reality is in itself a form of denial of the person; a denial of the free agency or “soul freedom” that every person is born with and which should be respected no matter how ridiculous it seems to some. I am not going into an argument here about whether this extends beyond the individual into politics or whose faith is more valuable than another’s. That’s not for me to say. I’m not sure either I buy the feminist argument that the personal is always the political. Some things are for individual consumption alone. But I will say that faith is not the final answer to anything and that science can better explain the actual world of our senses far better than faith can, so trying to make societal rules from such an experiential medium is not a good idea. If I had to choose between doctors and faith; I would choose the doctor every time.

However the music analogy is an excellent one and one that I’ve come across many times on others’ blogs. I too no longer believe in a God or Goddess that is an entity over and above the music of the spheres. This Divinity is within the universe and within every human being, animal, and plant; all that is called life. Therefore there will always be a multiplicity of god/desses as many and varied as there are living things. Faith is merely our response to that individual call of the soul.

Sunday Morning, “Death Proof,” and Making My Own Space

I swear to Goddess I’m two people. One week I wake up desiring church, ritual, and the whole patriarchal nine yards. Another morning, today, I wake up and the thought of church makes me slightly bilious. I find that I’ve successfully bifurcated myself into one half that respects societal norms and another half that follows passion and my true self at any cost. I realize this dissociative nature stems from my childhood where there were always the “secret” and the “public” spaces in which I moved. No one was supposed to find out about the “secret” outside of the extremely carnival horror household I grew up in. The public self was an extension of that self that acted without any holds barred, one freed from the “birdcage” so to speak. More often than not this led me into more dangerous situations as I grew older, but they were situations of my own choosing and I was, fortunately, enterprising enough, or god damn lucky enough to extricate myself from them before I got hurt.

Today, I woke up resenting religion’s tight reign on society with its frozen death grip of rules and regulations. Existentialist philosophers have always written that human beings must learn to live authentically; that we should re-center our lives around our most authentic selves and not to be afraid of it. Education, they say, empowers us to look back on our lives and see the courses we’ve taken and the paths we’ve probably not chosen with full knowledge. They advise living “in the moment” not looking to much into the past and not expecting too much of the future. I recall living that way as a teenager. The future was not to be looked at and the past was an impetus for current action. Now, that I’m grown, I see that we can make wiser choices living in the moment. No matter what brought us here, we can always choose right?

On another subject, or maybe not completely another subject, I have a predilection for horror films. I also like a lot of action films and while romantic comedies will always suck me in, films that are traditionally “guy” flicks always get my blood going. I loved Fight Club when every other woman I knew hated it (except for my wonderfully mind-linked uber-friend, Alyce) I loved Sin City and horror films do not make me flinch too awfully much. You see, I find the precarious situations in these films far less horrifying than real life has been. I’d say that having a face-off with one’s 220 pound, 6 foot tall step-father with a ripped in half cupboard door in one hand and a murderous gleam in his eye will do far more to make one nervous than any mere celluloid situation. Lately, Quentin Tarantino has become my new directorial hero. Since I saw Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill I and II, I wait for what he will make next with much expectation. While some see exploitation (or sexploitaton), I see exploitation turned on its sexist head, and a keen insight into the female and male minds. Last week my hubby and I watched Tarantino’s Grindhouse movie, Death Proof, (click the link for Erich Kuersten’s transgressive review) starring Kurt Russell and a whole host of other famous/obscure actors. We had just watched Tarantino’s Grindhouse zombie flick Planet Terror with our 21 year old daughter and we wanted her to see the second one, which was much better. So she came over and we watched it again. Watching a movie multiple times is always a fruitful thing to do. It made so much more sense to me the second time. Besides, watching Kurt Russell in his creepiest, slimiest, love him/hate him role ever didn’t hurt either.

The movie focuses on two sets of girlfriends. Each group has a familial tightness about them that makes one envious. Guys will watch the film for the wonderful lap dance Vanessa Ferlito gives Russell,

but it’s the women that make the movie here. It’s all about female friendships and the way they look out for each other, that is, those who are within their circle of friends and who “get” the girl culture. This movie isn’t for the squeamish as there is a horrific and graphic car crash that bifurcates (no pun intended) the first half of the movie from the second half. Tarantino is brilliant in that he portrays the 70s in a dazzling anachronistic way so that we are always left a little unsettled about the line between past and present. He is making clear the comparisons between the sets of girlfriends and the messages they convey to each other and to us; the audience. The ending was one of the best in film history, in my humble opinion. Go Rosario Dawson! The message I got is that we women have come a LONG LONG way and learned much since the 70s. There is never a sense that these women need rescued by anyone even though Tarantino suggests that the audience will think this and then some. These women’s strength is in their awareness and in their personal friendships. Sure, bad things happen to all of us, but it doesn’t always have to. The second half of the movie shows us that tables can turn and we don’t always have to accept our roles society places on us. We make good choices and we make bad choices. But overall, we have the CHOICE. We don’t “allow” men to give it to us. We take and make the choices ourselves. For good or for ill, it still remains our choice.

Godde, movies are great, aren’t they?

Sundays are becoming very fruitful when I remember that I can have faith and still refuse to enable the male institutions that have traditionally oppressed me. Taking a stand against being lured into an all-male ritual space again and again is the choice I have to make over and over in order to further the strength I’ve earned in the past. No one “rescued me” either when I was 15 years old. I rescued myself. There’s always the point where we have to say “enough is enough.” Unfortunately, I don’t seem to learn my lessons as well as I get older. Existentialism is great for now, but eventually looking back helps us to quit making the same mistakes, but nostalgia blurs the sharpness of that time. I find that I’m constantly looking back; always making sure I don’t fall for the same lures and tricks that I always fell for before. Keeping balance in an increasingly unbalanced, male-privileged world is the lot of women. Fortunately, the teeter is beginning to totter our way and will continue to do so whenever we refuse to participate in those “ties that bind.” I’d rather live with my hands unbound, thank you very much.

Liberal Women Are a “Cancer” in Evangelicalism

Every once in a while I need a good, swift kick in the pants for giving evangelicalism the benefit of the doubt. Granted there are exceptions to every rule, but come ON! Call me obtuse, but no sooner do I get all mushy and nostalgic about church and think that I’ve got my ire under control when I’m reminded of how truly evil and virulently misogynist fundamentalist evangelical churches really are. I mean, who ARE these women who listen to these men? Who are they who allow their husbands to rule their lives from birth to death? It’s sickening to me. And I understand the dynamics of abuse, believe me, but there comes a time in every woman’s life when it’s either you and your sanity, your children’s safety or your husband’s anger. For women today, defiance gets us killed, beaten, or raped more often than not, so there’s no easy solution. But this ownership attitude that some men have is born precisely here; in fundamentalist evangelical churches like these.

Thank Godde for men who value and respect women, not as walking uteruses or glorified babysitters of their offspring, but as full-fledged human beings with minds and hearts of their own.

Usurping The Mother at Every Turn

God/dess forbid we should have people “born again” under the auspices of the feminine (even though everyone is born of woman, including “god“). The sexist implications of this pronouncements is staggering. I know it’s nothing new since Christianity has been doing it for centuries, but anyone with a feminist mindset can see that usurping the mother is the only way to establish control of the entire world through the unnatural “headship” of the father. Severing blood ties that maternity brings, as in the feudal days of agnatic primogeniture, is the only way to assure a stranglehold over life and property. Therefore, severing spiritual ties to The Great Mother Goddess also serves the same purpose. Thanks Wren’s Nest for the link.