30 January 2006

Religious behavior: Monday PS

My reply to Nancy's comment under last Thursday's "Religious behavior" commentary didn't post normally (although it appears in the popup comment window if you decide to add your own comment). Since my purpose was to let George Fox have a word, I'm copying my reply here.

Before I get to that, a couple of other subjects:
  • I've been glad to see the wide coverage among Friends of the recent updates concerning the kidnapped Christian Peacemaker Teams members in Iraq. The secular press, on the other hand, went nearly quiet again after a one-day renewed spike in attentiveness.
  • We attended Freedom Friends Church's meeting for worship yesterday morning in Salem, Oregon. It was the real thing. Just in terms of structuring the meeting for worship (and structure was the least of it!), I've never seen a more successfully balanced semi-programmed meeting for worship. Among other unexpected blessings, it was great to see Derek Lamson among the visitors, and to hear from Derek that he and his musical colleagues are working on a new CD.

Nancy A.'s reflection about the phenomenon of mass hysteria ended with these words: "So I guess what I'm saying is that nun ecstasy has to be taken with a grain of salt."

Ron Hansen's novel—and many other sources, fictional, and nonfictional—document how much built-in skepticism toward extravagant behavior there is in monastic communities.

The dangers include auto-suggestion, hysteria, and religion addiction. At a more mundane level, people sometimes just want to create an impression of holiness to enhance their own reputations. (That happens even in vocal ministry among Friends.)

Every good thing has its shadow dimension. Excitement can be wonderful--and addictive. Spiritual goosebumps can be genuine the first time, and then sought after to an unhealthy degree, especially under the influence of writers and celebrities who imply that their own experiences (real or exaggerated) should be normative. Clearly, part of Patton Dodd's struggle in his book is trying to understand where the line is.

However, Friends have not erred on the side of extravagance, in my experience! In fact, we have repressed ourselves so long that, when someone does pry the cap off, I would not be surprised if the fizz didn't get into some of our faces more than we might prefer.

I love this extract from George Fox:

"All Friends every where, in the living spirit, and living power, and in the heavenly light dwell, and quench not the motions of it in yourselves, nor the movings of it in others; though many have run out, and gone beyond their measures, yet many more have quenched the measure of the spirit of God, and after became dead and dull, and questioned through a false fear: and so there hath been hurt both ways. And therefore be obedient to the power of the Lord, and his spirit, and his spiritual weapons; war with that Philistine that would stop up your wells and springs. Jacob's well was in the mountain, (read that within,) he was the second birth. And the belief in the power keeps the spring open. And none to despise prophecy, neither to quench the spirit; so that all may be kept open to the spring, that every one's cup may run over.

"For you may all prophesy one by one, and the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. ‘Would all the Lord's people were prophets,’ said Moses in his time, when some found fault; but the last time is the christian's time, who enjoys the substance, Christ Jesus; and his church is called a royal priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices; and his church are his believers in his light. And so in the light every one should have something to offer; and to offer an offering in righteousness to the living God, else they are not priests; and such as quench the spirit cannot offer, but become dull. ‘I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, in the last time,’ saith the Lord, which is the true christian's time, God's sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and old men shall dream dreams; ‘and on my servants and handmaids I will pour out of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.’ Now friends, if this be fulfilled, servants, handmaids, sons, daughters, old men, young men, every one to feel the spirit of God, by which you may see the things of God, and declare them to his praise; for with the heart man doth believe, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; first, he has it in his heart, before it comes out of his mouth: and this is beyond that brain-beaten-heady stuff, which man has long studied, about the saints' words, which the holy men of God spake forth as they were moved by the holy ghost: so the holy ghost moved them, before they came forth and spake them. And therefore, as I said before, do not resist the holy ghost..."

from epistle CCLXXV, 1669

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