Naming for Spiritual Freedom and Greater Service

In the initial post in this series, I offered that the first step toward “naming the spiritual condition of the world” is to name our own spiritual condition. I argued that our spiritual condition is important as it affects our ability to help accomplish God’s purposes. In the second post, I used physical fitness as an analogy for spiritual condition and concluded the post suggesting that our “body composition” is the element that most affects the other aspects of our spiritual condition. In this post, I discuss naming as a tool for improving one’s spiritual condition, as it changes our “body composition.”

When I started writing these posts, I thought that we needed to be able to describe our spiritual condition. Now, I believe that what we need to do is discover a means rather than accomplish a particular end. I believe that we are being called to name our own spiritual condition so that we might continue to deepen our relationship with God and be further enabled to help accomplish God’s Divine purposes.

There are different types of naming. The first type that comes to mind is naming babies. When new people enter the world, we give them a name. We associate a special word with them as a way of recognizing their being and including them in our families. While the name connects them with us, the name is also unique. We name our babies with trepidation and care, as we hope that the name fits them and is one they will be happy with.

I also think about the naming of animals in the Bible. God made birds and animals and then showed them to Adam to see what he would call them (Genesis 2:19-20a). When I read that story, I get a sense of God’s delight. I imagine God enjoying the human response to God’s creations. The first cow, the first giraffe, then the platypus and shark…! What fun they must have had sharing with each other!

My focus here is a more difficult kind of naming, the type of naming required for improvement of our spiritual condition. Like the other two, this type of naming involves associating words with something that is new. But the difference in this case is that what we are naming is new to us only because it has been hidden. It was hidden so deeply that when we see it, it’s like seeing it for the first time. In this type of naming, we’re naming that which was previously too difficult to accept. We name it now so as to validate our experience, to accept it as our own, and move beyond it.

Through my experience, I have come to believe that a person’s spiritual body is very delicate. Many actions, events, situations and conditions, particularly those that are scary, can harm the spiritual body. When a person is scared beyond comprehension, the ego, as protector of this body, hides parts or all aspects of the experience from the person. The experience is pushed out of consciousness into unconscious reality through the creation of false but comforting beliefs. By keeping these experiences out of mind, the person is able to continue to function in the situations and relationships in which they find themselves.

As we mature, we become better able to process others’ actions and the events, situations and conditions around us, so the ego has less need to hide events and their meaning from us. However, the ego still keeps hidden from us what we could not understand or did not want to know when we were younger. While this keeps us comfortable, the harm is still there. The weight of this harm hinders us to greater and lesser extents, usually affecting our ability to manage the stresses of life and the challenges of relationship.

I believe that the weight of this harm also hinders our ability to be aware of, in communion with, and able to act in accordance with God’s desires for us. These false but comforting beliefs weigh us down spiritually. They are the fat in our spiritual body.

That’s where naming comes in. Through prayer, reflection and sharing with others, we can pull up then name the harm that has been hidden from us. Through this process, we reveal the truth to ourselves and become more free to act in God’s service!

For me, naming has been part of a difficult psycho-spiritual process. This process, while scary, painful and sometimes disorienting, has also been liberating. Early Friends called this process “the Refiner’s Fire.” Early Friends would have known fire, likely much more intimately than ourselves. Being close to a large fire causes fear, being touched by it causes intense pain, and, if its effects are devastating, disorientation. Through this metaphor, I believe early Friends were describing what it’s like for a person who contains unrealized harm to be touched by Spirit.

The metaphor also contains hope. Early Friends would have understood the refinement process – the process through which coarser material is separated from fine metals such as gold. This metaphor would have helped them endure the Spirit-driven process of becoming aware of the harm that had been hidden from them so that they could become free.

To some extent, we already know the refinement process that helps the harm to come to the surface. It’s what we do in Meeting for Worship. We sit in silence turning ourselves over to God, again and again, coming to rest in that Center of Peace.

Outside of group worship, many people find they need more structure to find their Center. This structure can be found through a variety of spiritual practices. I will name a couple that I’ve found helpful. Centering Prayer, a contemplative prayer practice that comes out of the Catholic Church’s mystical tradition, encourages letting go. Experiment with Light, recently developed by Rex Ambler based on the George Fox’s journal, is a more direct process for hearing or seeing what one needs to know. Dream interpretation and journaling are helpful complementary tools. While some of us can grow spiritually on our own, I’ve found other people, professional and otherwise, to be important aides as well.

If we engage in a spiritual practice, we encourage and support our healing and growth. Routinely and continually returning to our Center allows the ego to let go of its hold on our painful memories and helps us to connect with God. Feelings associated with the harm begin to rise up. If one is able to stand still in (to stay with) those feelings, memories may also rise.

I believe that our task to find the truth embedded in those memories and then name it. What could we not face or know in the past that we can handle now? What do we need to know now about those people and situations that harmed us? When we find, recognize and name the truth about our beliefs, the people and the associated situations, we become free to move beyond our fear.

Alone and together, through the One, the Lord of All, let’s name our spiritual condition so that we may become more free to be who we are meant to be and to be of service to our neighbor.

Wafers Made with Honey

Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will rule over all. (Gospel of Thomas 2:1-4, SV)

This post is the fourth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (To read the full series, start with Becoming a Wilderness People.)

Once we cross the river beyond worldly life and those temptations that would bring us back, we must learn to trust in that which compelled us to leave. But we cannot see God, so how can we, who have learned to orient via our senses and intellect, find our way forward?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” (Exodus 16: 4 NRSV)

During this time of traveling in the wilderness, we inch forward, learning to live by that which God provides daily, trusting that the little we get is sufficient.

…Those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. (Exodus 16:18b-20a)

When we gather too much, wanting to believe that we can provide for ourselves, believing that now we have found the way, we will realize that we’re lost—our manna moldy and full of worms. This is our discipline, to live by daily bread. To believe that what God provides each day is enough. Through this practice alone we are shaped into instruments for the Divine.

Paul, like the Israelites, left behind a way of life to spread the Word of God. He turned his back on the Roman Empire and his prior understanding of God. Through an encounter with Christ, he was able to see beyond the reality created by the Roman Empire and the religious practices of his day. After some time in the wilderness, he became fully open to and trusted in God’s provision. He, like the story of the Exodus, persuades us to trust God fully so that we might live a truly meaningful life. Paul says,

“Don’t allow the seductive power of corruption to reign over your earthly life inducing you to submit to worldly desires. Don’t put any part of your body at the disposal of that power as an instrument for doing wrong, but put yourselves at God’s disposal as people who have been brought to life from the dead and present your bodies to God as instruments for doing right.” (Romans 6:12-13, SV)

and…

So, I appeal to you, friends, as recipients of the wondrous mercy of God, to dedicate every fiber of your being to a life that is consecrated and pleasing to God, which is what enlightened worship ought to be. Don’t accept the life of this age as your model, but let yourselves be remodeled by the recovery of your true mind, so that you can discern what is consistent with God’s purposes –what is good, worthwhile, and completely genuine. (Romans 12:1-2, SV)

While the way toward the Promised Land is dark, every morning God provides fresh bread.

And the family of Israel called the name of it manna; which was like coriander seed, but white, and the taste of it like wafers with honey. (Exodus 16:31, QB)

Let us gather and share it. Through the transformation of our hearts and minds, we will come to trust the God of Israel who frees the captives. May we come to receive the grace we need to become a Church filled with lives empowered and sustained by manna.

God’s Love

Baklava.
Surrounding us,
Shining like morning dew.

But don’t get fat.
Take only what you need;
Trusting that One is All.

Join us.
Just beyond the river;
Lilies swaying in a field.

Water in the Wilderness

This post is part of a series. The first post is Becoming a Wilderness People. The second is The God of Our Fathers.

I believe God is calling Friends to name the spiritual condition of the world. This is not new. This is our mandate. For centuries, Friends have been called to and have named the spiritual condition of the world. The challenge for us is to rediscover how to do that in this day and time.

We live in the American Empire, a country which has more completely centralized wealth and power than any other. As a superpower, we have come to believe that we can ‘take what we want’ from every other country in the world. We have and we do, via coercive or violent means.

Ostensibly, Christianity is the religion of this Empire. But Jesus showed us what everlasting, even cosmic, influence looks like: friendship with the least of these. Therefore, to live with integrity in this Empire, we need to more fully come to be like Jesus. Our spiritual wholeness, our salvation, is bound together with the wholeness of those who have been taken from.

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