“Sometimes when the Christ-light within wants fruit from us, it’s just not a good time ….”
A meditation inspired by the first lighting of the rebuilt Church of St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center.
In the era before vaccination, John Woolman declined inoculation against smallpox and practiced such isolation as he could manage. His reasoning, despite its basis in religious belief, can help us think critically about our behavior in this time of COVID-19.
I intend the term “postmodern” to point to … an unreadiness, born of experience, to assent to any totalizing, teleological, grand story. As a child of both the Catholic Church and the 20th century, I am deeply suspicious of such stories.
Over 45 years ago, I was invited into a peculiar way of life, a way of unity in diversity, authentic relationship, respect for conscience and the work of love’s light within, fidelity to one’s measure of that light, and moral freedom.
The notion of neurotic repression may offer a helpful perspective on a central doctrine of the early Quakers; namely, that all human beings are naturally and fundamentally flawed, but most, if not all, can be significantly changed for the better.
“Quakerism is rightly called an experiential religion: one becomes a Friend in the experience of being illuminated, convicted, and empowered by the light within.”
To frame our religious experience in psychological terms is not to deny a place to those who believe in God, but to return to the very early Quaker insight that, as contemporary thinker John D. Caputo put it, “[T]he event that stirs within the name of God can take place under other names, which complicates the distinction between theism and atheism.”
Our thesis is that, in psychological terms, the biblically-shaped experience of the first Friends implies, first, that the characteristic of commonsense, “normal” self-centeredness constitutes a pervasive schematic bias in the psyches of most human beings, and, second, that Quaker conversion/salvation is a process of detaching from that self-centered bias and adopting a new, love-centered orientation.
To be saved is to be one whose basic bias is toward universal love, which is the opposite of “the world’s” orientation to self. To begin to turn to that new orientation is to enter the process of metanoia.