The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 8 — Responding to the Call

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SALVATION

Recovering, Reframing, and Reclaiming
the Early Quaker Experience

Part 8

Responding to the Call

The arising of selfishness-challenging dissonance is, then, our “day of visitation,” our opportunity for a new beginning, our time for hearing and responding to the call of love. In psychological terms, it can be the beginning of the movement toward cognitive consistency through accommodation, through allowing the newly-appreciated truth of love’s possibility to modify one’s self-centered schematic bias. Nayler tells us that

if thou find that which breathes in thee towards God for life and strength against all these vanities and all other evils, that which would follow God out of all the world, if it had power [emphasis added; see below]; I say, if such a seed thou find in thee, though it be the least of all seeds in thee, yet that is the seed of the kingdom [of God],93 to which the promise is; and no further than that principle is raised to reign in thee above all that is contrary to it, no further art thou redeemed by Christ.94

Nayler’s “if it had power” was later deleted by his editor,95 but it is important for our understanding of salvific schematic change: that glimmer of light cannot grow bright in us unless we allow it to do so, unless we discern and stop whatever we are doing to keep it low. As we have seen, that is likely to be a difficult process, because it involves allowing our very sense of self to be changed. As Jeffrey Young, founder of Schema Therapy, wrote about what he calls Early Maladaptive Schemas, “It is disrupting to give up a schema. The whole world tilts.”96 When we talk about giving up a bias that feels essential to our identity, we might even say that the world turns upside down.97

But radical, thoroughgoing change is possible, despite the pervasiveness and tenacity of our self-centered bias: the first Friends testify to that. “And man’s spirit in the fall is polluted, and his body;” wrote George Fox, “but as the light is believed in, and the mind changed, his spirit and body are sanctified, and so he becomes a child of the light….”98 When our sense of disappointment and disillusionment with our present condition is profound, and when the vision of a new way of life based on love is seen as a real and inviting possibility, we can begin to change, to move toward accommodation of the Christic invitation. Transferring our belief and faith from normal, “worldly” wisdom to the light of love can be a wrenching, painful process — the first Friends, after all, followed Paul in referring to it as crucifixion,99 and the name “Quaker” may come from early Friends’ experience of being physically shaken by that process100 — and it may be even more difficult for us today because many Quaker communities lack the understanding of and mutual support for the process that the early Quaker movement provided. (We will address that concern briefly in our final section.) But the history of love in the world provides ample evidence that it is possible. How, then, do we move forward on the path?

One essential is that salvation not be seen simply as a matter of following our conscience. As the word itself implies (con–with, and science–knowledge: what we know together; our commonsense morality), conscience is what Friends would call “worldly wisdom”: it is not what redeems us, but is itself in need of redemption.101 Conscience is subtly but powerfully shaped by the schematic bias; thus, George Fox speaks in a letter of “the evil spirit or conscience, or false dead faith, that which is ungracious, out of truth, and not in the spirit of God….”102 To follow a conscience informed by explicit or implicit rules of worldly wisdom, even as mitigated by the more humane forms of religion and ethics, is to attempt to achieve salvation “by works”103 — an approach that cannot effect fundamental change and that serves to cover and strengthen our self-centered ways.

And so self-works and God’s works are manifest in the light. The one is that which men see, or hear, or imagine, and so set themselves to imitate the same in their own wills and ways, which they have conceived in their fallen wisdom and earthly minds, not in Spirit new born, but in the old letter, or tradition from men. But God’s works are those which are from everlasting, before the will of man or the world’s customs, and therefore must conform to neither; but everyone who into this work will come must deny the world and their own wills, and all that is in them must bow and conform to the motion of the Spirit and to its workings [within] (which is seen to such as in the light dwells)….104

Salvation requires, therefore, that we learn to discern and attend to something deeper than conscience, something that can properly orient and illumine the conscience; namely, the hidden light of love within us, which, as we have seen, Friends identified with the life and power of God. Only that can give us “a new heart” by leading us out of our self-centered schematic bias. For that reason, Friends spoke often of the saving power that lies hidden, and can act like the leaven of the Kingdom of God,105 within the conscience. All of the following phrases, for example, appear in a sample of a few pages in Fox’s journal: “the Spirit of God in thy conscience,” “that of God in thy conscience,” “the light in thy conscience,” “the witness of God in thy conscience.”106

Friends also referred to that hidden saving element in the conscience as a seed, “the heavenly seed … which leavens into a new lump, and bruises the head of the wicked seed….”107 That seed “to which the promise is,” is identical with Christ, the “image of the invisible God”108 who is love. In another essay, What the Possession of the Living Faith Is, Nayler says that when we find that tiny seed of the Christ-spirit, that “faithful and true witness, which is the beginning of the creation of God,”109 in our hearts, we should “set it up” in ourselves as judge of right and wrong.

[B]ut if you know a just, a holy, a righteous principle of spirit in you that is of Christ, set it up, and you set up Christ, bow to the holy ghost, and you worship in spirit, and thereby you shall say that Jesus is Lord,110 set up his light in your hearts, and his day will arise in you … honor God in your hearts, set him up in your hearts, let him be judge in your hearts….111

To “set up” that principle, then, as the light which judges the thoughts and feelings of our hearts, is our next step on the path of salvation. In practice, to set up that principle as judge means to begin consciously to examine our ways of thinking and feeling in light of our desire to be more loving, and in trust — in faith — that our schemas can be changed and that our aspiration to be a more loving person can be attained.

Such examination is possible only when we can begin to detach ourselves from our biased schemas. In the early Quaker parlance, we practice that detachment by “standing still,” focusing on love and allowing it, and consequently our faith in it, to grow in us. “[B]ut as many as repents of their following this way of self-wisdom and knowledge, and come to stand still,” wrote Nayler, “to such he shows his salvation.”112 George Fox speaks of the concept of stopping and standing still in a number of his writings. His Epistle X elaborates the idea in useful terms:

Friends,–Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, &c., then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you. David fretted himself, when he looked out; but when he was still, no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out, abroad, then troubles move you. But come to stay your minds upon that spirit which was before the letter; here ye learn to read the scriptures aright. If ye do any thing in your own wills, then ye tempt God; but stand still in that power which brings peace.113

“Do not think, but submit.” Our thinking is contaminated by our controlling self-centered bias and is, therefore, not reliable: it seeks assimilation through rationalization and other defenses. But after we have become aware of that bias and the damage it does to ourselves and others, “after ye see yourselves,” the best thing for us to do is to “stand still in that which is pure,” to keep our focus on the love we have felt within us, using the allure and inherent power of that love to help us resist the strong pull of automatic bias, standing above114 habitual patterns of thought and feeling and subjecting them to the critique of the love that we want to be. In that way, we “submit” to love’s leading even as Jesus did, “submitting to the moving of the Spirit of the Father that dwelt in him, by which alone he was guided and furnished to every good work.”115

That intensely introspective process of searching, discerning, “standing still,” and “submitting” requires profound silence, which is why Quaker worship traditionally has been defined as silent waiting. “So that the way to be well-pleasing to the Father,” wrote Nayler, “is to wait in the light till you see something of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus moving in you, and then to that join ….”116 In the freedom from thought that is silence, we find the love in our hearts and then join with it, feel it as the center of our identity, and allow it to become increasingly dominant in us. In another epistle, George Fox spells out the process in terms that take us back to the story of the fall in Genesis.

Dear hearts … wait to feed on the immortal food,117 and walk in the truth, and God Almighty be among you! And in it you will see him; stand all naked, bare, and uncovered before the Lord. And take heed of your [own will], for that (as Herod) slayeth the just, and shipwrecks the faith, and runs you into the flesh. Return back, and stay yourselves upon the Lord [in] every particular, to have your minds guided by his spirit; growing up in that which is precious and immortal, there is no feigned love.118

We recall that Adam and Woman were unashamed of their nakedness until they had fallen into the delusion of self-centeredness. Nakedness implies innocence: when we are willing to be inwardly “naked,” to expose and acknowledge our selfish bias in the divine light of love, we pass through the converting sword, the “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart to whom all things are naked,”119 and “return back” to Paradise. To be honest with ourselves about our situation and to desire a new “heart of flesh” is already to have recovered a measure of innocence, to have begun to center ourselves in the perfection of love: “In the lowest shining of this light there is the judgment, and there is the king himself, who is not severed from the least degree or measure of his own light.”120 To identify increasingly with love, to fix our inward gaze upon the love within us and to “return back” as often as we find that the old habitual bias threatens to “slay” the newborn Christ-spirit within us, is to be “growing up in that which is precious and immortal”; that is, it is to be engaged in the process of maturing out of a self-centered bias into the bias of the other-directed, “unfeigned” love121 that Jesus described in the sayings we have quoted. The culmination of that process was described by Paul in a passage often quoted by early Friends:

… till we may all come to the unity of the faith and of the recognition of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to a measure of stature of the fulness of the Christ, that we may no more be babes, tossed and borne about by every wind of the teaching, in the sleight of men, in craftiness, unto the artifice of leading astray, and, being true in love, we may increase to Him in all things, who is the head — the Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15, YLT).

The process of conversion and salvation, then, takes us through the steps of (1) being moved by cognitive dissonance to see and acknowledge our pervasive self-centered schematic bias; (2) “stopping,” or detaching ourselves from that bias sufficiently to discover and “set up” love in our hearts as the new principal criterion by which we judge our thoughts and feelings; (3) “standing still,” being “stayed” in that new orientation, resisting the continuing pull of the old schematic bias and focusing on the light of love in our hearts; and (4) maturing, continuing in the ongoing conversion and stilling process as we grow increasingly out of our original self-centered bias into the new orientation of universal love. It is, for many of us, a continuing process that may not be quite linear. Nayler describes that continuing process in exalted language:

And as the mind is stayed to wait for the kingdom of God in Spirit, the god of the world comes to be denied and resisted; and as the mind is stayed in the light from hearkening to the earthly [i.e., the Adamic], so that seed which lies in death [i.e., the crucified image of God in us] comes to hear the voice of the Son of God, and to receive life and strength from the [W]ord, whereby it is raised out of the grave and appears above the earth, to receive from the Father the dew of heaven, whereby it is nourished and refreshed. And as man beholds the seed growing, so he comes to see the new creation, & what he lost in the fall, and so is restored by the power of the word in the Son of God, into his dominion, power and purity, made able to resist the devil, to choose the thing that is good and delight in it, as before he delighted in the contrary: so come man to be reconciled to his maker in the eternal unity beyond what is to be expressed. The wisdom and power received from above, whereby the heart is set free from corruption and made able to escape the pollutions of the world, and to run the pure ways with delight, which is the glorious liberty of the sons of God, the resurrection from the dead, and the entrance into the everlasting rest.122

To experience the “resurrection from the dead” here and now, to be reborn from the darkness and death of selfishness into the light and life of love, is the joy of salvation.

[Previous: The Call of Salvation] [Next: The Quaker Meeting as Therapeutic Milieu]

NOTES for Part 8
[93] The Kingdom of God is succinctly defined by Jesus, in words borrowed from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because He did anoint me; To proclaim good news to the poor, Sent me to heal the broken of heart, To proclaim to captives deliverance, And to blind receiving of sight, To send away the bruised with deliverance, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19, Young’s Literal Translation)
[94] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 114.
[95] See Quaker Heritage Press.
[96] Jeffrey E. Young, Janet S, Klosko, Marjorie E. Weishaar, Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide. (New York, The Guilford Press, 2003), p. 32.
[97] See Psalm 146:9, Isaiah 24:1, Acts 17:6. An excellent source for information about early Quakerism is Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London, Penguin Books, 1975).
[98] George Fox, The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded, Vol. 3 of Works, p. 362.
[99] Early Quakers often referred to passages such as Romans 6:6: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
[100] A good discussion of the relationship of Friends’ quaking and preaching is in Richard Bauman, Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers (Prospect Heights, IL, Waveland Press, Inc., 1983, reissued 1990), pp. 80-83. For a very different approach, the hypothesis that the Friends’ quaking was caused by ergot poisoning, see Mary K. Matossian, “Why the Quakers Quaked: The Influence of Climatic Change on Quaker Health, 1647–1659” in Quaker History, 96.1 (2007).
[101] Similarly, the word “morality” is from the Latin mos, the plural of which has come directly into English as the word “mores”; namely, “customs,” conventions that express a group’s values. Morality is customarily accepted behavior; therefore, it, too, must be redeemed through illumination by the light of love.
[102] George Fox, Journal, from Vol. 2 of Works, p. 229.
[103] “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
[104] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 93.
[105] “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened”: 1 Corinthians 5:7. See also Luke 13:21.
[106] George Fox, Journal, from Vol. 1 of Works, pp. 170, 164, 169, 164 respectively.
[107] George Fox, Journal, from Vol. 2 of Works, p. 226. Recall that the “wicked seed” whose head will be bruised is the serpent, the personification of worldly, self-centered wisdom, who seduced Adam and Woman in Paradise.
[108] Colossians 1:15.
[109] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 69.
[110] Typically, Nayler defines the biblical phrase “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11) in terms not of believing and “professing” in words but of changing one’s heart.
[111] James Nayler, What the Possession of the Living Faith Is, from A Collection of Sundry Books, Epistles, and Papers, Written by James Nayler (Cincinnati: B.C. Stanton, 1829), p. 459. Unfortunately, Quaker Heritage Press has not yet released a critical version of the essay.
[112] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 52.
[113] George Fox, Epistle X, from Vol. 7 of Works, pp. 20-21.
[114] Fox frequently used the words “above” and “over” in that sense. Recall, for example, his famous statement, “In this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” George Fox, Journal, Vol. 1 of Works, p. 80.
[115] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 88.
[116] Nayler, Love to the Lost, p. 64. We find a very similar exhortation in Penington’s “The Scattered Sheep Sought After”, p. 110: “…wait first for the rising of the Judge of Israel in your hearts, and in the next place wait for the joining of your hearts to him; both which are to be done by his eternal light, which manifests and gives his life.”
[117] “The immortal food” recalls God’s statement in Genesis, “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and live for ever….” Adam and Woman were barred from eternal life because they had sinned by usurping God’s place as judge of good and evil. Christ, the Light and judge within, is both the remedy for sin and the food of eternal life: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me… (John 6:53-58). Deuteronomy 12:23 says, “Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.” But it is precisely the life of Christ that redeems by changing the “nature” of those who receive it.
[118] George Fox, Epistle XI, from Vol. 7 of Works, p. 21.
[119] Hebrews 4:12-13. See note 84, above.
[120] Isaac Penington, “The Scattered Sheep Sought After,” p. 110.
[121] The phrase “unfeigned love” may remind us of Nayler’s famous “last testimony”: see note 7, above.
[122] Nayler, Love to the Lost, pp. 52-53.

One thought on “The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 8 — Responding to the Call

  1. Pingback: The Psychology of Salvation, Pt. 8 — Responding to the Call | Ecumenics and Quakers

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