By Pacho Lane
“The Presence In The Midst”
“And when all my hopes in… men were gone, so that I had
nothing outwardly to help me… then, oh then, I heard a voice
which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to
thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy”.
As I have come to understand it, everything about Quaker faith and practice follows from this one deep experience.
First of all, what Fox realized is that all human beings can have a direct, personal, and individual relationship with the divine. So although Quakers are part of the Christian tradition, and often use Christian terminology, from the beginning Friends recognized that it was that direct relationship that counts, not adherence to any particular creed or set of words, including Christianity.
As (almost the only) Quaker theologian Robert Barclay put it,
“this Church and its denomination comprehend all, regardless of
what nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be, who have
become obedient to the holy light and testimony of God in their
hearts…. There may be members of this catholic Church not only
among all the several sorts of Christians, but also among
pagans, Muslims, and Jews…”
Therefore, Friends recognized that neither scripture nor dogma can be the final source of authority. Rather, it is the Light – aka, the Spirit of Christ, the (Holy) Spirit, etc. – which is the source of authority, and which speaks directly to all human beings.
“And he [the minister] told the people that this was the Scriptures,
by which they were to try all doctrines, religions and opinions.
Now the Lord’s power was so mighty upon me, and so strong in me,
that I could not hold, but was made to cry out and say, “Oh no, it is
not the Scriptures!” and I told them what it was, namely, the Holy
Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the Scriptures,
whereby opinions, religions and judgments were to be tried;
for it led into all truth, and so gave the knowledge of all truth.”
– George Fox
Quaker practice follows from these recognitions: we learn to open ourselves to the Light, listen to what it is communicating to us, and then follow its “leadings” wherever we may be led. Quaker meetings are often mistaken for Buddhist or Yogic meditations, because they are mostly silent: no hymns, no sermon, no (outward) sacraments. But they are actually quite different, because the aim is not to be emptied, but to be filled – by the Spirit. When this happens, individuals may be inspired to speak from the Spirit – i.e., to deliver a message they have been given. Whether or not anyone speaks, there is often a strong sense of a “gathered”, or “covered” meeting, in which everyone feels the powerful presence of the Spirit.
Other “testimonies” also follow logically from this central recognition. If the Light shines on all of us, we must all be equal. Therefore, decisions are made by “sense of the meeting” – a consensus in which each person seeks not his own will, but the will of God for the particular problem at hand. Therefore, Friends were the first abolitionists, and the first to practice (and advocate) equal rights for women. Similarly, since all humans can have a direct relationship with the Spirit, we are called learn to live in that Spirit, and speak to “that of God” in others, by seeking peaceful dialogue, rather than war and violence.
“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations,
wherever you go, so that your carriage and life may preach among
all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully
over the world, answering that of God in every one.”
– George Fox
Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom”: William Penn signs a
treaty with the Indians to found the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.
(Click over the thumbnail for a larger image)
So Friends believe that “Christ continues to teach his followers himself.” But what does this actually mean, in practice? That is, what actually happens when Christ teaches you? Here is my own attempt at an answer:
I see silent Meeting for Worship as THE Quaker Discipline. The form of Meeting is “direct pointing”–i.e., it gives a structure in which to experience the Light–and that is the purpose of Meeting. There is a logic to it that teaches me how to focus, listen, hear, and obey the Light. Meeting is the place I learn how to be open to, listen to, and let the Light work through me. It is where I learn how to live the rest of the hours of the week, as if I were in Meeting.
I get “leadings.” What I mean by this is a sense–not specific words, but a sort of push or pressure that gradually becomes an articulate thought. Sometimes this may be in response to a question I ask (i.e., a “prayer”). More frequently it is because I am faced with a specific situation and must choose how to act in the moment. I then “turn inward” for a moment and look for guidance. I guess you could say I am still asking a question–“what do I do now?”–though I don’t formulate it as such. The proper response to the situation then sort of shows up in my mind.
But leadings can also come without my asking for them. In this case, it is a kind of growing sense that I need to do something. I may not recognize this for a few days, but it keeps on pushing at me, until I become conscious that I am being directed. Then I think about what the message is, sometimes for several days, and eventually I am clear about what I am being led to do. Then I do it.
There are also “openings”– flashes of revelation, where I suddenly “see” something whole–a whole new concept or idea or way of looking at things or a situation. Again, I see these openings as being given to me to say or do, not as coming from myself.
The best and deepest openings usually come in natural environments, when I am by myself, in the woods or on a mountain, for example. Sometimes on my mountaintop I feel a presence and a sense of power (not mine, but around me) that is overwhelming, and I just sink into “meditation.” Frequently, some new insight or revelation may come out of this sense of presence, but whether it does or not, I eventually return to my normal life filled, refreshed, and inspired.
The way the revelations work out the best, however, is in my film-making. I feel a strong pressure to make a particular film–or even more vaguely to go somewhere and make a film without knowing what the film will be about. I do so, constantly seeking guidance –i.e., looking in each situation for inspiration as I do in Meeting. I shoot the whole film this way, seeking direct inspiration for every shot. There comes a moment at which I “know” that I have shot everything I need for the film, and I stop.
Then I edit, also of course seeking inspiration for the editing. As I edit, I recognize what the film is about. That is, while I know what I shot, I don’t know what it means or how it fits together until I edit. There usually comes a blinding moment in which I see, for the first time, the message and the power of the film, and recognize that that was what I had been called to do at the beginning, even though I did not know it until that moment months later in the editing room.
Most of my films were made this way. If you check the films listed on this web site, all the Mexican films were “inspired”, as was The Black Tulip. Inside Afghanistan and the American films were less directly inspired. Since they were done jointly with others, I did not have as complete control. But I used the same method as much as I could, particularly in Stoney Knows How.
There is no question in my mind that I am being led by Something outside myself. I see the results not only in my films but (more importantly) in my life. A lot of times, just as in Meeting, I feel so much pressure that I almost have no choice–I have to obey what I am being given to do. In Meeting, this is when I speak.
When I am perfectly in tune with the Light, or the Spirit, or the Spirit of Christ, or G-d, or “the gods of Mexico”–all of which are my names for the experience I feel–I know just where to walk, and I don’t make any missteps. I can feel the Light working in and through me, and it appears that others can feel it in me, because they respond to it.
I have not yet learned to live entirely in the Light, every minute of the day. I don’t know whether I’ll make it before I die, but I hope so.
“When you realize who you are,
you will become the Q’uran.
You will become the Word of God,
and the people will come to read of you