He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)
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Liberal Quakerism sometimes defines itself as a “big tent” religion, a community that welcomes (please pardon the jargon) all sincere seekers, regardless of the spiritual path they follow, and does not require or expect them to walk a specific path even if they become members of our community. Behind that is the doctrine that there are many paths up the mountain, all of them meeting at the top. Behind that, of course, lie the beliefs that there is only one mountain and it has only one summit — and behind even those is an assumption that the spiritual life is like mountain-climbing, a matter of ascent to the heights.
Some three and a half centuries ago, George Fox responded quite negatively to an earlier form of the “big tent” doctrine. In this meditation, we will examine his response and the powerful alternative that it offers us, whether theists or not,1 to what we might call “mountain-climbing spirituality.” Along the way, we’ll briefly explore the Quaker concepts of perfection and measure.
The following excerpt is from Fox’s The Great Mystery.2 In this passage, “P” is a principle asserted by an opponent of Quakerism named Magnus Byne, author of The Scornful Quakers Answered; “A” is Fox’s response to that principle. Byne’s assertion is similar to that which some liberal Friends make today. Fox will have none of it.
P. [Byne] saith, ‘There are many ways to Sion.’
A. There is but one way to God, out of the fall, into the paradise, to the tree of life, out of the condemnation, and that is Christ the light, the covenant of God. Now with the light the way to the Father is seen. In the first Adam are many ways, fighting about their ways, and destroying one another about their ways; but Christ the light, the way to the Father, teacheth otherwise, ‘to love enemies and to do good to them, and to overcome evil with good,’ and ‘heap coals of fire upon their heads’; which way is but one, which you who deny the light are out of, in the many ways, and names, horns, and heads, and images, which is the beast’s number, ravened from the spirit of God, and from the one way, Christ the light, in which is unity.
“Sion” signifies Jerusalem: in the Christian context, it is the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, a re-created world graced and governed by God-who-is-love. But a just, peaceful, and even prosperous world in which righteousness reigns is but one possible human desideratum. There are many others, even for religious people. One such is seen in the perennial quest for “direct experience” of God. How is such a quest related to the Quaker way? Does Quaker spirituality subsist in our climbing a path to peak experience? Are we essentially seekers (as Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s proposed new Faith and Practice book implies3), our living the divine life deferred as we seek the summit? George Fox would answer those questions with an emphatic “No!”
“Every Mountain Shall Be Made Low”
In considering Fox’s perspective, we must distinguish his spiritual experience from what has come to be called “mystical experience.” George Fox was a righteous Quaker, not a mystical Carmelite: he would not produce a work such as John of the Cross’s The Ascent of Mount Carmel. Fox implicitly denies the very concept of climbing a mountain, or simply walking a path, to reach a destination; for him, path and destination are one. To set foot on the path to Sion is already to be in Sion, for the path itself is Christ, who is the Kingdom of God.
“There is but one way to God,” says Fox, for to go to God is to move “out of the fall, into the paradise, to the tree of life, out of the condemnation.” In other words, it is to reverse the fall from innocence that is symbolized in the myth of the loss of Paradise by Adam and Eve (i.e., man and woman). That reversal is accomplished simply in our turning from the tree of knowledge – whose fruit is our narrowly narcissistic4 ideas of right and wrong — and back to the tree of life. Christ, the spirit of justice and mercy, is that tree of life. Thus turned — converted — we are joined with Christ, becoming, as it were, branches of his spiritual body, living by the same life and power, the same spirit, by which Jesus lived.
To go to God is, then, to turn and begin to live in and as a “new creation,” having been “born again” into a new, divinely-ordered life.5 That new life in God is the authentic spiritual life of perfect love, for “God is spirit,” “God is love,” and God-who-is-love is seen to be perfect because he “makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.”6 For the Quaker tradition, spiritual life is that “universal love” (John Woolman) through which the basic needs of all are met because the spiritually-reborn, who are of one nature with God, love their neighbors as they love themselves.7 And we all, despite the self-loathing that some of us feel, love ourselves in the sense in which Jesus spoke of love: we all try to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves; to comfort ourselves when sick or confined; to bind up the wounds that a violent world inflicts upon us. To do the same for others is to be spiritual, to be godly, to be righteous. That is the condition which, historically, Friends have considered to be the one thing necessary. Righteousness — the living of justice, peace, and mercy — is the path we walk.
Thus Fox says, “There is but one way to” that divinely spiritual life, “and that is Christ the light, the covenant of God.” That is a remarkable assertion: the path or way to the life of Christ is Christ — not a journey to Christ, we should note, but Christ himself. Thus the Johannine Christ, who is the sign (eikon) of the Logos, the creating and right-ordering power of God, declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). And thus the apostle Peter avers that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) — which we understand in context of James Nayler’s assertion that “the name of Christ consists not of letters and syllables, but in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c.”8 In the Quaker tradition there is no duality between means and end. (Our business meeting process, in which loving each other takes precedence over efficiency, is a practical outcome of that unity.) Path and destination are one in the spiritual life and power we call Christ: that is of the essence of the Quaker experience.
“The Light, the Covenant of God”
Fox spoke of Christ not only as the light but also as “the covenant of God.”9 What might that signify for Friends? A bit of post-modern analysis may be helpful here. According to Robert Magliola in his Derrida on the Mend,10
the beginning of “history” is the “rupture” within God whereby God chooses not to continue His “speech,” but to write (to write the Tables of the Law). …[T]he writing of the Tablets by Yahweh is already a departure from the “conventionally formulated” unity of God, whose Being and Voice are one. Writing is God “at a remove.” … It is precisely the remove, the “silence” of God’s voice, this interval, this difference … which constitutes the writing whereby we know Him, but this writing is not God. This writing is a trace ….
The tablets of the law signify the “old covenant,” the mythic postlapsarian contract which is but a written trace of God’s Logos, of the divine “Voice” by which God created and ordered the world.11 A religion based on that trace is a religion of law, at a remove from the divine life; such a religion Friends would contrast with that of the spirit, of immersion in the divine life — a contrast of bondage to freedom and of alienation to the unity of love.12 Magliola, continuing his explication of Derrida’s thought, will go on to say that “God [is] infinitely postponed by graphic signs” (emphasis original). But the world-changing experience of the first Friends, an experience encoded succinctly in Fox’s “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” is that the trace is no longer all that we have: God is fully present to us by his indwelling Logos, the new and living covenant, which we recognize as Christ, the voice and light of righteousness that guides us to itself and shares its nature, its “Being,” with us.
“Now with the light, the way to the Father is seen.”
We should remind ourselves here that the light, which is the love we call “Christ,” is the way: it does not illuminate a path that is other than itself. And because “I and my Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), “the way to the Father” is itself unity with the Father who is love. Thus Fox tells us that
Christ the light, the way to the Father, teacheth [us] ‘to love enemies and to do good to them, and to overcome evil with good,’ and ‘heap coals of fire upon their heads’; which way is but one ….
We are being called not to walk a path that will lead us into unity with divine love but to walk the path that is divine love here and now. To walk that path is to actively care for our neighbors as we care for ourselves. Thus we say that to set foot on the path is to arrive at the destination: to love is already to walk with God in Paradise. For there is no path that can lead us into Paradise, the gate to which is blocked by an angel with a fiery sword. Responding to the invitation of love, dying to the delusion of self-centrism, we are reborn there, and from that time forward we dwell there (although we may sometimes forget where we are); there is no question of following a path to a spiritual summit. When we make ready the way of the Lord, when we submit to the baptism of accepting the truth of ourselves and our spiritual ambitions for love’s sake, then our turning to love levels the mountains and plows up the paths. To allow ourselves to love as Jesus taught, to act in accord with the self-sacrificing (kenotic) love already present in our hearts as Christ the “seed,”13 is to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), which is by definition perfect love. That is the Quaker doctrine of perfection.
“Our Conversation Is in Heaven”
According to the first Friends, then, it is quite possible to live “in the Paradise of God” (Fox),14 the divine perfection that is righteousness, here and now. Yet there is no summit to be sought. This is where the doctrine of the measure becomes important. Each of us, it teaches, has at this moment a certain measure of divine life, of “universal” love, a measure that we trust will increase as “we all come into the unity of the faith and of the realization of the Son of God, into a perfect man, into a measure of stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). To be reborn in spirit is simply to turn and be re-centered in that measure of self-giving love. To the extent that our selves and lives are shaped and led by that love, we are living in perfection. We need climb no mountain nor travel any path in search of that perfection: it already abides in the human heart, if only as an obscure and fragile seed. Nor, however, need we attempt to nurture that seed.
In the book of Luke, Jesus tells a parable of the Logos-seed. It goes like this:
“A sower comes out to sow his seed, and some that he sows falls by the path and is trampled, and the flying creatures of heaven devour it. And other seed falls upon the rock, and, after sprouting, is withered because it has no moisture. And other seed falls in the midst of the thorns and, sprouting together with the thorns, is choked by them. And other seed falls on the good earth and, sprouting, produces fruit a hundredfold.” Saying these things, Jesus cried out, “The ones having ears to be hearing, let them hear!”
Walking our precious spiritual paths, climbing our mountains of mystical experience, we risk trampling the seed (a favorite metaphor of early Quaker writers): we prize our path and our apparent progress over the tiny germ of God’s righteousness that lies ready to grow and blossom in our hearts. But if we remain still, our hearts, prepared by the work of love’s light, will permit the seed to mature and bear fruit. To borrow a Buddhist verse:
Sitting quietly, doing nothing.
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.15
The God who makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall doesn’t need our help in nurturing the Christ-seed: the seed grows of itself when we stop stepping on it. Perhaps our new life begins, then, with the simple realization that walking a spiritual path gets us nowhere, that what we need to do is, as Fox tells us, to “be still awhile from thy own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires, and imaginations,” to “stand still in the light.”16 Our standing still is our saving act of faith, for it takes faith to stop our seed-trampling travel toward a goal, to accept that we are citizens of the Promised Land here and now if only we have ears to hear the voice of love in our hearts.
There are many paths, Fox tells us — perhaps 666 of them!17 — but they are not the one way of truth and life. But to walk the way of righteousness is to walk anywhere, even in the valley of the shadow of death, with and in God-who-is-love. “Christ,” the image and likeness of God,18 is that way’s name, the only name that is salvation from the dark delusion of self-absorption, for “the name of Christ consists … in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c.” To walk the path of righteousness is to walk in Paradise, even when the walking is painful. For there is no way to Paradise: Paradise is the way.
NOTES for I Am the Way
 Nontheists are asked, as always, to read my God-talk as referring to inner possibilities and conditions, not to any kind of metaphysical entity. That would be to read the text in the spirit in which it was written.
 George Fox, The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded; and Antichrist’s Kingdom Revealed unto Destruction, Vol. 3 of the 1831 edition of his Works, page 157.
 See, for example, the historically inaccurate “Today we are still a community of Seekers” in the draft Faith and Practice, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, 2012. The draft also promulgates the “many paths” doctrine: one example is, “The passion of Friends is not in limiting or directing Seekers [sic] to a particular Truth, a common path….” Both statements are from page 20 of the 2012 draft.
“There is not narcissism and non-narcissism. There are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming and hospitable narcissism. One that is much more open to the experience of the other as other. I believe that without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutely destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance. The relation to the Other, even if it remains asymmetrical, open, without possible reappropriation, must trace a movement of reappropriation in the image of one’s self for love to be possible. Love is narcissistic.” — Jacques Derrida, Points (Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 199.
 See 2 Cor. 5:17 — “If anyone is in Christ: new creation! Old things are passed away; behold, all things are new.” See also Jn. 3:3 — “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 Jn 4:24 — “God is spirit.” “God is love”: see 1 Jn. 4. Mt. 5:44-48 — “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
 “Partakers of the divine nature”: see 2 Peter 1:4. “Love your neighbor as yourself”: Mk. 12:31 and par.
 James Nayler, Weakness above Wickedness and Truth above Subtlety (originally published in 1656). From The Works of James Nayler, Vol. 3 (Glenside, Pennsylvania: Quaker Heritage Press, 2007), p. 458.
 See Isaiah 42:6 — “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.”
 Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend (Perdue University Press, 1984), p. 30. An intriguing aspect of the passage, not mentioned in the body of this essay, is the image of history’s beginning in a split that silenced the Logos, for first Quakers believed that they were living at the end of history, that the new world had already dawned as the Logos had become incarnate in them. (Interestingly, Magliola is a Third Order Carmelite.)
 “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God” (Jn. 1:1).
 Paul speaks of a “new covenant, not of words [gramma: the letter; the written word; the scripture], for words kill, but of spirit, for spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
 The image of the seed goes back to the Genesis story of God’s promise to Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would bruise the tempter’s head. God later promised Abraham that his seed would be innumerable as the stars: “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18). That seed, Paul taught, is Christ, who is one and yet whose members, those who share his nature of love, are innumerable, a great people who are a blessing to others. See also Fox, Works, Vol. 1, page 365: “So that all might come up into this seed, Christ Jesus, walk in it, and sit down together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus ….”
 Fox used the phrase “in the paradise of God” a number of times; see, for example, his Journal, p. 84 (1831 edition of Works).
 Zenrin-kushū. See Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen (1957), p. 134.
 See Fox’s letter to “the lady Claypool (so called).” Fox often advised people to “stand still in the light”: see, for example, his beautiful Epistle X.
 In referring to “the beast’s number,” which is 666, Fox has of course identified all paths except Christ himself as Antichrist. In more contemporary terms, Fox’s idea of “antichrist” signifies anything that presents — and probably believes — itself to be spiritual when in effect it denies or leads people away from the life and power of the Christ-spirit that is already present and available in their hearts.
 According to Genesis as read in light of the gospel book of John, human beings are created in the “image and likeness” of God through the Logos who is Christ. Paul reminds us that Christ is the image of God (Col. 1:15). In the Christian myth, then, human beings were created in Christ, which is why they dwelt in the Paradise of innocence. It was when they lost that image, by turning from it to seek nourishment elsewhere, that they lost righteousness, which is regained through rebirth into Christ’s spiritual body.