Refreshed and renewed**, now back home from New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM). A wonderful experience this year—year by year, YM wildly veers from incredibly great to incredibly horrible for me—especially the Bible Half-Hours. Michael Birkel gave a rich, accessible, often hilarious series of talks linking the writings of early Quakers with passages those early Friends basically lifted, often verbatim, from the Bible. That these Biblical passages referenced relevant Biblical events, i.e. George Fox writing a letter to imprisoned Quakers employing Bible passages written to Old Testament exiles, made clear that, yes, those early Quakers knew their Bible in a way I can greatly appreciate. And their writings were, I now see, layered. “Echoes,” Michael kept saying. Those early Friends echoed the voices of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, of John et al; those yearning to express their experience of The Divine—or the Kingdom of God—in words. (How do you “explain” the inexpressible/beyond words in language?)
Words are my tools so am intrigued by the possibility of more fully embracing the beauty and the poetry of the Bible—judiciously. (Like many former UUs/current feminists, the Bible infuriates me, too.) “Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.” (Michael teased that “The Song of Solomon” is the only book of the Bible Quakers take literally!)
Among New England Quakers this year there was much talk of our shrinking numbers; several sobering conversations re our fading from existence, how we are, perhaps, fated to become extinct. And, indeed, if you look at numbers, there is cause for alarm.
BUT: Check this out: When Quaker environmental activist Jay O’Hara talked about his witness against a coal-poison-spewing power plant near Fall River, Massachusetts (“Walking Cheerfully into the Arms of the Police”) at YM this year, I felt that tingly, goose-bumpy Connecting-The-Dots Thing between Michael’s ‘echoes” and what I was hearing: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” (Isaiah 61) Jay didn’t say that! I heard it. I experienced it.
Quakerism is dying out? If I’m to believe that I’m asked to believe that the powerful, prophetic “echoes” of the Bible and Rumi and Margaret Fell and . . . no longer speak.
And I can’t.
*A Quaker expression shared by Michael Birkel meaning an inner awareness gifted during a meeting for worship NOT spoken aloud but meant “to be brought home,” so to speak.
**In the spirit of this year’s Bible Half-Hours, am footnoting this quote from NEYM’s Faith and Practice queries: “Are your recreations consistent with Quaker values; do they refresh your spirit and renew your body and mind?