This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following are the 9th and 10th parts of “The Life of the Spirit.”
9. Personal, Family, and Community Life
Oh! that [people] were awakened to consider of things as indeed they are! For religion is not such an outward form of doctrine, or worship of any sort, as [people] generally … are too apt and willing to apprehend; but it consists in Spirit, in power, in virtue, in life: not in the oldness of any form that passeth away; but in the newness of the Spirit, which abideth for ever; in being born of the Spirit, in abiding in the Spirit, in living, walking, and worshipping in the Spirit; yea, in becoming and growing into Spirit, and into eternal life: for “that which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit” [Jn 3:6]. Oh! that [people] would hearken, that they might taste of the sweetness and riches of the goodness which the Father in his free love hath opened in the spirits of many, and hath let the spirits of many into! Oh! that [people] would suffer the wearing out of [the] earthly spirit and wisdom, that they might become like God, be formed into and live in his image! (Isaac Penington, 1660)
All aspects of Quaker life are subsumed under one rubric: continual submission to the life and power of the divine love, agapē, dwelling in one’s heart. Such submission leads us into “becoming and growing into Spirit”; that is, it changes our hearts in a fundamental way, re-orienting us from self to agapē, “until we all come,” as Paul wrote, “… unto a mature person, unto a measure of stature of the fullness of the Christ” (Eph 4:13). The Quaker’s vocation is nothing less than to be the body of Christ, the human form of God-who-is-love, in this world.
To live into that vocation is to learn increasingly to be faithful to the measure of divine love in one’s heart. One develops the habit of turning to the Spirit of agapē within, especially at times of difficulty, and allowing oneself to be guided by that Spirit rather than acting on a “natural” impulse that may be motivated, if unconsciously, by self-centeredness. That habit carries over into all areas of life, shaping our interactions with others, from family members to neighbors to people whom we will never meet but whose needs become known to us – and shaping even our relationship to ourselves. All of life is “redeemed,” made holy, in the Spirit of agapē.
God is righteous, and he would have his people to be righteous, and to do righteously. God is holy, and he would have his people holy, and to do holily. God is just, and he would have his people to be just, and to do justly to all. God is light, and his children must walk in his light. God is an eternal, infinite spirit, and his children must walk in the spirit. God is merciful, and he would have his people to be merciful. God’s sun shines upon the good and the bad, and he causes the rain to fall upon the evil and the good; so should his people do good unto all. God is love, and they that dwell in love dwell in God. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore, “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. xiii. 10). The apostle saith, “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal. v. 14). “As the Father hath loved me, so I have loved you; continue ye in my love” (John xv. 9). This should be the practice of all God’s people. (George Fox, 1687)
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10. Meditative Prayer
Pray without ceasing. (1Thess 5:17)
Likewise, the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself pleads for our sake with inarticulate groanings. (Rom 8:26)
Friends know from experience that an hour of group worship once a week is not sufficient for a deep and mature spiritual life. In order to live consistently in the Spirit of agapē, we need to develop the habit of openness to the revelation of that Spirit within the heart. As we do that, we become more and more attuned to the promptings of universal love — to, in traditional terms, the will of God. A principal means of cultivating that habit is regular practice of meditative prayer.
Quaker meditative prayer is characterized by radical receptivity to the inward working of the Spirit. It is, therefore, a form of worship “in spirit and in truth.” (See Section II-4, “Meeting for Worship.”) Like group worship, solitary prayer is grounded in the intention to be silent and open to inspiration, to attend in stillness of body and mind to the calling and answering of Spirit within us. Such prayer deepens our capacity for inspiration, increases our measure of divine virtue, and shows us where love would have us go. The more we engage in its practice, the more united we are with the motions of agapē in our hearts — and the more sensitive and generous, therefore, to family and community.
God, by the breath of his Spirit, begets a [person] out of the spirit and likeness of this world into [God’s] own image and likeness. … [M]any are the daily wants of that which is [thus] begotten by the breath of God, in its state of weakness, until it be drawn up into the unity of the body, where the full communion with the life is felt, the heart satisfied, and the wants drowned.
Now the breathing of this child to the Father from the sense of these wants … is prayer; nay, though it be but a groan, or sigh, which cannot be uttered, or expressed; yet that is prayer, true prayer, which hath an acceptance with the Lord, and receiveth a gracious answer from him. And [God] that begetteth the child teacheth him to pray, even by the same Spirit which begat him. In watching daily to the Spirit, the child is kept sensible of the will of the Father, and in his light he sees the way wherein he is to walk ….. And thus watching to the Spirit, the life of a Christian is a continual course of prayer: [one] prays continually. This is the living prayer of the living child, which consists not in a form of words, either read out of a book or conceived in the mind; but in feeling the breath of its nature issuing out from the principle of life in it to the living spring, which is the Father of it; who by causing his virtues to spring up in it, nourisheth it to everlasting life. (Isaac Penington, 1660)