The First Step of Peace

The following is a reflection developed from vocal ministry offered on July 26, 2020.


“There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” – A. J. Muste

“Therefore be still awhile from thy own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires, and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in thee … which hath been transgressed, [and] it will keep thee humble; and the humble God will teach his way, which is peace ….” – George Fox

“Who can understand their errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” – Psalm 19:12

Dingbat-sm

We are drawn outward not only by our quotidian concerns but also by urgent social problems: environmental destruction, pandemic illness, injustice, corruption, incompetence. Normally, the demands of worldly life keep our minds and hearts busy. But on Sunday mornings we come together in silence to allow that activity to still, to turn our gaze inward so that we might see our own condition. The inner peace and strength that come through that experience empower us to live peaceably and courageously amidst the difficulties and conflicts of our times.

There is a paradoxical saying of George Fox that describes the phenomenon succinctly:

The first step of peace is to stand still in the light (which discovers things contrary to it) for power and strength to stand against that nature which the light discovers: here grace grows, here is God alone glorified and exalted.1

The first step of peace is to stand still in the light which discovers things contrary to it. Peace begins in the recognition of repressed truth. If you are familiar with psychoanalytical work, you might see some affinity there. In the darkness beneath the normal flow of cognitive, emotional, and physical activity is a reality that we don’t want to see or own: hidden, unwholesome elements of ourselves that compromise, even drive, our intentions. The first working in us of the light of divine love is to illuminate that reality.

Standing still, acknowledging what the light is uncovering in us, we wait “for power and strength to stand against that nature which the light discovers.” We could not stand against what we could not (allow ourselves to) see, but trust in the light both weakens repression of and empowers resistance to the natural selfishness of our hearts. When we remain still — are “stayed” — in the light of truth, “grace grows,” because the truth is also the way and the life.2 “Then,” as Fox says elsewhere, “is the planting, watering, and increase from God.”3 The work is done by the light; we only stand and behold. “Here is God alone glorified and exalted.”

Quakerism is rightly called an experiential religion: one becomes a Friend in the experience of being illuminated, convicted, and empowered by the light. Unless we enter into that experience, however seemingly noble our values, words, and deeds, we are hypocrites: our lives are lies. And because we obscurely sense that fact, we are not at peace. On the contrary, we work incessantly to distract our gaze from the truth within, to demonstrate that there is no darkness in us, that our nature is good.4 And as in the inner world, so in the outer; there, too, the evil inherent in core structures is veiled by the dissimulation and agitation of normality. So George Fox teaches us what he had found in his own life: our first step in the way of peace is to stand still in that light which shines into our darkness. Our coming together in silent worship, worship “in spirit and in truth,” is an opportunity for that.

____________
NOTES

The epigraph from George Fox is from his letter to Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, “the lady Claypool (so called).” See his Journal, Vol. 1 of his Works, p. 375 (1831 ed.).

[1] George Fox, “To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom,” from Gospel Truth Demonstrated, Vol. IV of his Works, p. 17 (1831 ed.). The parenthetical material is original; some readers may have lacked context. Fox repeated the teaching a number of times; one example is found on page 148 of his Journal: “This I told them was their first step to peace, even to stand still in the light that showed them their sins and transgressions; by which they might come to see they were in the fall of old Adam, in darkness and death, strangers to the covenant of promise, and without God in the world ….”

[2] “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), an assertion of “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).

[3] “None are ploughed up but he who comes to the principle of God in him, which he hath transgressed. Then he doth service to God; then is the planting, watering, and increase from God.” From “An exhortation to Friends in the ministry.” George Fox’s Journal, Works Vol. 1, pp. 287-289 (1831 ed.).

[4] We see evidence of that in the modern liberal Quaker attempt to appropriate the divine light as a human essence: see “‘That of God,’ the Light, etc.: the Dynamism of Quaker Imagery.” My reference in the text above is to 1 Jn 1:5, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (KJV).

One thought on “The First Step of Peace

  1. Pingback: The First Step of Peace | Ecumenics and Quakers

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