Prophetic Witness: Using What I've Learned
“I’m going to give a little introduction, then we’re going to share our complaints with God. We’ll do a body prayer for re-creation and we will literally groan in solidarity with the world. We will read a few passages from John Woolman, Isaac Penington, Marge Abbott, and the Bible. At the end, you’ll have some time for silent reflection and to write some notes for yourself before we move into worship sharing and then a brief period of closing worship. Interspersed will be a few songs I find inspirational. This not going to be like last week’s workshop, it may not be like any other Quaker thing you’ve been to before. Some of this will feel uncomfortable, or just uncool, or too vulnerable. I invite you to try it anyway. If you need to stop and just hold the rest of us in the Light for a while, that’s okay too.”I think this all turned out to be true. It was uncomfortable for some people. Not everybody liked all the songs I played. But my lasting impression is that it was what it needed to be. I tried out some of the exercises I’ve done with emerging church groups in a Quaker context and they worked. I think there was a good balance between me talking, individuals reading aloud, the group reading together, and some experiential learning.
I’m really, really glad I did this before my FGC workshop this summer. That won’t be exactly the same, but I will be much better prepared, and much more confident about my material, because of this experiment at home.
So what do I mean by prophetic? I think prophetic has elements of clear-seeing and clear-listening and elements of God’s Truth-telling.
What do I mean by witness? My six year old asked me that question last week. I said it’s “the things we do that show what we believe.”
Does that work for you as a definition?
One of the things that was said by and about early Friends is that they were changed men before they set out to change the world. An important part of prophetic witness is removing the beams from our own eyes, of removing the seeds of war from our own possessions, of identifying the traces of hypocrisy in our own lives. However, if we only aim to improve ourselves without sharing our time, energy and gifts with the suffering world, our efforts are certainly incomplete and maybe ultimately wasted.
At what point does that right living, that righteousness, becomes a beacon? When does it become a search light shining on the world, including the uncomfortable places in other people’s lives? How do we witness to our beliefs and hopes for the world in a way that invites people to change too, neither shrinking from the hard things nor abusing the privileged relationships we have?
In the course of the evening, we read some complaints from the Psalms and added our own questions for God that start with “Why…?” and “How long…?” I pointed out that sometimes we don’t even know the words for our prayers. We took turns reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, about how the whole world is experiencing the pangs of labor and delivery. I invited the participants to, “Join me in vocalizing our pain, our longing, our fear and hope. Reach down into your gut and literally groan, as if you are the voice of our suffering world.”
These exercises were based on a series developed by the folks at Re-Imagine for a workshop I went to with them last fall, called “Entering the Story.” They said it was okay to borrow them, and I want to give them credit for the really helpful way that they framed and opened these themes.
In between, we did another exercise, from a book called “Body Prayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God” by Doug Pagitt and Kathryn Prill. In part, it went like this:
Let’s all stand up if you can. Feel your feet connecting you to the ground. Take another deep breath.This felt good. Good to stand up and stretch. Good to not sink into just complaining and groaning, but also asking for help and healing. Like the Psalmist, we can also trust in God’s unfailing love.
"God is never finished with creation, and God is never finished with us. We are constantly being re-created, and we are invited to join God as co-re-creators of the world. This re-creation happens in our attitudes and spirits as much as in the physical world. We re-create when we replace hate with love, hurt with healing, despair with hope. Our prayers beckon re-creation. We join this re-creation as we ask God to do anew in us what God has done throughout time. We pray for sight returned, babies born, lives revived. We seek mercy unmasked, love unimpeded, and faith remade. We join with all creation in seeking re-creation. For we know that all creation groans in anticipation of being remade. And we join in the groaning, to be released from pain and suffering. We wait for God to give us our full life as children, including renewed bodies; we eagerly look forward to this freedom.
Lift your arms out and up in a V position. Drop your shoulders, stiffen your fingers, and stretch by pushing up through your elbows and forearms. Reach toward God, the One who remakes and re-creates all of creation. Reflect on God’s ongoing work of recreation in your life and in the lives of those around you."
Towards the end, we considered where we each are feeling God’s nudges. Where are we called to bring God’s love and healing to the world?
It’s true that some of the things we are called to do seem really small and trivial.
It came to me in worship one day when I was thinking about the question “how can I be of service?” that it’s really unlikely that God is going to say, “Hey Robin, lead my people out of slavery,” or “Hey you, stop the Iraq War.” It’s probably gonna be more like “Robin, stand there and hold that door for all these people.” Or “Robin, sit down and listen to your grandmother tell that story AGAIN.”
But it is in the process of discernment and obedience in these small things that we develop the habits and the spiritual muscles to be able to do larger, more difficult things.
A personal example is how difficult it is for me to stick to my resolution to eat only fair trade chocolate. I mean well; it seems small; it seems obvious, but it’s harder than I thought.
A larger question these days is about war tax resistance. That is definitely going to be a heavier trial. Lots of Friends today have been to jail for shorter or longer times. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal. My real question is whether I am called to re-live the days when being a Quaker meant the government could seize all your property? What would that mean for our prophetic witness?
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