Feb. 13 marked the first of the 40 days before Easter. And as modern Friends, we understand why our spiritual ancestors, early Friends, had small regard for the liturgical calendar: each and every day is indeed just as Holy as the next. Early Friends resisted letting their lives be prescribed by the liturgical year because that calendar was enforced not by the Power of God but by the power of the church. It was the power of the church that dictated how one could or could not worship, and it was the civil power of the church that Friends resisted.
But, I wonder what they would say today, now that our society has become almost completely secular? Since the power of the church that George Fox protested is now gone, I wonder what he might say about our bending a bit toward the liturgical year?
So, right now it’s Lent, the 40 days before Easter and what might that mean for us as Friends today?
I think that because in theory, at least, we do recognize that every day IS Holy, but in practice most of our lives are so full, so full to overflowing with commitments that even George Fox might approve the potential turning inward, the spiritual preparation that Lent may offer.
He might like it that we take time to hold in our intention the Holiness of these days: Taking time to focus our attention on the spiritual, taking time to open to the deeper wisdom of our biblical tradition.
For instance, when Moses encountered God for the first time at the burning bush, he asks, “What shall I call you?” The answer he gets is “Yahweh” meaning “I will be.” What kind of a name is that? It’s not exactly a name at all. Maybe we can imagine it with three dots following it: “I will be …” many things to many people. “I will be …” understood and experienced in lots of different ways. “I will be …” the power within all possibility.
In the Old Testament God’s name could not really be spoken, it was understood that the ultimate power behind all that is and all that will be is really beyond definition. We cannot really name God, for to do so turns the verb “I will be …” into a noun, a known entity. You might notice that some translations of the Bible try to do this by subtly translating “I will be” as “I am.”
In the New Testament, Jesus reveals to us what knowing this Living Dynamic Presence, this “I will be,” intimately looks like. He models a new way of being in relationship with Yahweh, the Living Presence, verb to Be. He models a new way of living, relating, and Being with each other, and living lives centered in the potential of God’s active Living Presence. He asks that his followers step off the path that must reduce and define the Living Presence.
And, to do this experimentally, because it is our own firsthand experience of this Living indefinable, Yahweh, this verb to be, it is out of knowing God this way, that our own confusion about who we are, about our own real identity is born. And Jesus hoped, I imagine, that we too could learn to live lives engaged as he did with the Living Dynamic Presence.
This way of knowing the Living Presence of God, Yahweh, was something that George Fox really understood. It was “this” he knew “experimentally.” When early Friends found unique metaphors for sharing their faith, for describing their relationship with Yahweh, with this verb to Be, they used words like the “Motion,” “the Principal,” the “pure and Living seed,” the “Inward Teacher.” Do you see how all of these words, these names for God have vitality and more Power than any noun. When we are asked to “sink down into the Living seed” this suggestion is more dynamic and alive than any static definition that has mostly been used throughout history to speak about God. Early Friends borrowed from the Old Testament understanding of the “Light” and used this image of Light to express their first-hand experience of the Living Christ.
Faith for early Friends was a powerful first hand way of knowing God, Yahweh. They did not confuse verbs for nouns, in the way that can reduce and take the life of the Living Presence out of our human spiritual experience. When they used words like “silence,” as in expectant waiting in silence, they did not mean “the silence,” the kind of silence that is a noun, the kind of silence that is just empty. They meant waiting in Living Silence, the Living Being of God, Yahweh, as a Way to meet with and interact with the “Motion,” the action of the Living verb, to BE, Yahweh.
So, during this 40 days, let us take the practice of waking up to the Living Presence, as a dynamic real relationship, let us during this 40 days begin to ponder the difference between what the Church has called “the resurrection,” clearly a noun, and let us, instead, during this Lent, wonder.