I used to irritate people by sending far too many email messages about things I was concerned about. Three years ago I started writing on this blog which is better because people choose whether they want to come here to read something or not. (Aside from those who sign up to follow the blog, which means they get an email message of each blog post.) The other thing I like about using a blog is being able to share photographs, since photography is my main recreation and I’ve developed (pun) into a photojournalist, trying to capture stories in pictures, especially of social justice actions.
I still get in trouble for sharing too many of these blog posts with various Facebook groups, and am trying to reduce that.
The reason I share so much is because I try to put the spiritual leadings I receive into words, which is a daunting task. We don’t have the vocabulary to translate spiritual messages. I think of this as similar to the expression that a photograph is worth a thousand words. What that means is a photograph is a different medium of expression. That is the main reason I love photography, because some photographs are a better expression of my spirituality.
Difficult and inaccurate as it is to write and talk about spiritual things, I think it is important to try, because this is one of the main ways humans communicate with each other. Just as Eskimos have many words to describe snow, I hope the more we try to express the Spirit, the better we might become at doing so. We might create better words and terms. So far, as they say, not so much.
What attempting to write about what the Inner Light (one term Quakers use to refer to spiritual messages) has done is improve how often and, I think well, I hear “that still small voice”–another spiritual phrase. I know I don’t receive more messages than anyone else, but it takes practice and attention to hear these messages, especially perhaps in our increasingly busy and noisy culture.
The other part of this is people know it is not what you say, but what you do that matters. Many therefore just don’t try to put these things into words, concentrating on living lives that exemplify what they believe, instead. This is a fundamental concept in Quakerism (and I imagine every other religion).
I found (Quaker) Callie Marsh’s discussion of implicit education in her book about the yearly meeting we both belong to, A Lively Faith, Reflections on Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative), helpful. Quaker children primarily learn about Quaker beliefs by observing how Friends (another name for Quakers) live their daily lives, as well as what they say to each other. She also talked about the dangers of primarily relying on implicit education, that being that newcomers don’t have the benefit of years of implicit education, and that we need to be more explicit then.
That is the reason I feel led to write so much, to try to be more explicit about our spirituality. Led is the key word here. The spiritual messages I have received over the years indicate that I need to try to express my spiritual messages in words and photographs as best I can. I was especially hesitant to do this at first, because another of the main principles of Quakerism warns about calling too much attention to ourselves. That was one of the largest barriers for me when I first began to write, and something I continue to be aware of.
The influence of, and participation in organized religions has diminished significantly in recent times in our culture. It is my sense that means there are huge numbers of people looking for alternatives for their spiritual needs. I believe that is one of the main reason I, and many others, are being led to try to express spirituality in places outside organized religion. Blogs and various social media platforms are where many look for such answers.
As I learned to listen more often and more closely to the Inner Light, I became aware that each morning I awoke asking the Spirit, “what are we going to do today?” Often one of those things was to write yet another blog post. That is why I write so much.
(Quaker) Noah Baker Merrill expresses these things better than I have in a lecture he gave called Prophets, Midwives and Thieves: Reclaiming the Ministry of the Whole:
“In a world experiencing unprecedented climatic, ecological, and societal change, many in the Religious Society of Friends are coming to know our own need for newness. We thirst to find and share a clearer sense of the relevance of our beloved tradition to the challenges we face. We yearn to come more fully alive together, to speak and serve today in the Life and Power that generations of our spiritual ancestors knew. Across North America and beyond, Friends are recognizing a shared calling to rediscover and reclaim traditional understandings of who we are and how we are as Friends that will help us continue to travel this Way of Love.
We must first encounter the eternal Truth that is unchanging and ever-present. This Truth is far beyond our own limited perspective. It’s impossible to articulate fully, and so we’re left with the hope of being able to know it only incompletely. Even that incomplete knowledge can be enough to guide our lives when we’re willing to pay attention.
Once we’ve touched it, our work is to hold up our present circumstance to this Truth, and to ask how this Truth could be put into practice in the present situation.
We live in a 21st century at the threshold of transformations unknown in human history until now. So what does Love require of us, today? What does Love desire for us, today? Helping re-articulate the eternal Truth we encounter in worship in light of the present situation—by word and action—is the work of prophets.
Finally, the work of prophets is to make spirit available. This has to do with inspiration, with helping people to be freed from all that keeps us from fully living. Often we do this more with the shape of our lives than with the values we articulate—since the clearest messages we send are the messages we live. Working prophetically means helping people find reasons for hope in places where hope seems absent, nursing trust that even in the dead and dying moments in our lives, precious newness might be waiting.
It’s not enough for us to preach that the world is broken. Too often, what we call ‘prophetic witness’ goes this far and no further. The real work of prophets criticizes and then inspires us to participate in the way all things are made new.”