I am a mystic. I have some misgivings about owning that label, since the word "mystic" is over-honored in some quarters and dismissed in others. Also, I've spent most of my adult life upholding denominational structures--what kind of a mystical calling is that?
Another misgiving--I don't have the gift of discernment. But others close to me have that gift, so I don't feel too vulnerable. It just means I can't be under delusions of self-sufficiency.
Yet another misgiving--according to those wiser than me, we're not supposed to desire extraordinary experiences. Fine if they come, but the important thing is the fruits. As Marge Abbott properly summarizes in her Woodbrooke paper, "For Friends, the importance of numinous spiritual experience is in its power to strengthen faith, to transform our lives, or to provide clear leadings for service when properly discerned by the individual, or in conjunction with the larger group."
I totally agree that the fruits are the important emphasis, and that the consolations of spiritual ecstasy and immediate intimations of the Holy Spirit are not to be pursued (or faked!) for their own sake. Furthermore, when I'm in teaching mode, I would want to be extra sensitive to the diversity of temperaments in the room with me. As William James points out, some of us simply are not wired for those kind of experiences, and that's not a defect. That's just a difference.
Yet another caveat: in a world that has not yet learned the practical imperatives of reconciliation, my individual gratification is simply not an adequate focus for life. It's like admiring a fine painting while the politicians cut all arts education funding from the school budget (and the vegetables from the school lunches).
In other words, I'm just as opposed to pious gluttony, at least in theory, as anyone else. In theory. But the truth is that the mystical hunger in me doesn't want to pretend it doesn't exist. I admit I not only want to keep experiencing the joy of inner confirmation of God's power, but I also love to hear about it from others. But this conversation just doesn't happen very often. Is this because we Friends have a healthy understanding of the difference between hunger and addiction, or is it another dimension of our corporate timidity? In the North American and European context, have we given too much weight to caution and moderation? Are we quiet about our experiences of God's power because we don't want to honor an excess, because we don't want to be mistaken for Pentecostals (in whose historical stream we at least partly fit), because we have a rationalistic glaze over our eyes, or because we dismiss things we can't explain? (Forgive me if all my alternatives seem tendentious!)
My own experiences of confirmation are not dramatic--I've never seen Jesus and I have never heard an audible voice, though I'm close to people who've experienced these things. To cross into the risky field of supernatural awareness, I've only once had a completely unexplainable burst of knowledge. My experiences of the well of living water are frequent but almost the opposite of spectacular. I wouldn't think that they were even worth mentioning, but what makes me think that I should is this: I want to know what your experience is, and how can I ask you if I'm not willing to tell you mine?
Most Friends I know and deeply respect are in one of two camps. One group says little or nothing about spiritual experience; rightly or wrongly, I get the sense that for them it's not quite a proper subject. Friends in the other group take spiritual power, even to the point of healing or extraordinary insight, almost for granted. I find relatively few people who are aware of spiritual power but also acutely aware of how incongruous their beliefs or experiences may be to others.
To sharpen the discussion one notch further, I had a long talk with one weighty Friend about a week and a half ago on the subject of evil and spiritual warfare. This Friend convincingly recounted a number of experiences of what I would gingerly label "embodied evil." Later last week, I was speaking to another Friend who completely dismissed these sorts of experiences as, at best, superstitious misinterpretations. These mysterious things really do happen--I know they do--but I also intensely mistrust the political agendas of some of the celebrities in the spiritual warfare industry.
I was already pondering these themes when I read yesterday's posting from Burundi by Peggy Parsons. My mind went back to an incident almost twenty years ago, where another person far away had an equally accurate impression of a dangerous situation I was in, walking in a deep snowfall in the dark through downed power lines.
Inordinate fascination with these sorts of phenomena is not recommended. I know that, and I have my share of caution. But in a climate of pervasive skepticism, I also don't want to pretend indifference to evidence of God's power in our lives. Is it possible that this pervasive skepticism stifles the testimonies of some among us, and tempts others to seek spiritual thrills in cults that really do pander to a more addictive fascination? As in most other controversies, I believe that the best balance is not one arrived at through theoretical moderation and institutional cautions, but through dialogue.
Here are some blog postings I re-read as I considered this theme of evidences of spiritual power. I cite them not as argumentative support but simply as fertile thinking that I found helpful.
The Quaker Philosopher, "Uninspired" and "Solid Center"
The Good Raised Up, "Spiritual Intimacy," "Dualities and Paradoxes," and "Come to the Banquet"
Friday PS: Also see The Quaking Harlot, "Cranky"
Melody Simmons wrote an article in the New York Times that was movingly understated: "After shooting, Amish school embodies effort to heal."
Reedwood Friends Church is one of the meetings that have responded to Northwest Yearly Meeting's call to tranform Valentine's Day 2007 into a Peace Sabbath. After our usual $5 simple meal at 5:30 p.m., we'll gather for worship at 6:45 p.m. for a special meeting for worship. Come if you can! The regular Wednesday schedule returns the following week; we're extending the Center for Christian Studies program another week so we won't lose a session.
On his blog, Jon Kershner gives some of the background for this initiative and tells what Tacoma's Olympic View Friends Church is planning for February 14.
Quaker Life provides coverage of the Seventh Friends Ministers Conference in San Antonio, Texas, last fall. Trish Edwards-Konic summarizes Leonard Sweet's call to contextualize the Quaker understanding of the Good News for a postmodern culture; the issue also includes her interview with Leonard Sweet.
Goodbye to one of the USA's most distinctive voices for humane politics, Molly Ivins.
So many wonderful blues clips to choose from, but this week I'm presenting something a bit different. People have been posting clips to Youtube from Pete Seeger's old television program, Rainbow Quest. On this clip, Pete plays music and talks about Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) with his guests, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.