Today is the World’s Birthday!

Yesterday was cold and cloudy; today is windy but warm.  Spring’s first maple leaves have opened their tiny fingers and now catch the wind with full hands.  I have come through a long sad winter of navigating icy sidewalks in wind chills as low as negative thirty-five degrees.  Occasionally warmed by friendly companionship, I never completely lost awareness of God’s nearness, but it has been a dark night’s journey, inwardly as well as outwardly.

Since waking this morning, a phrase comes repeatedly into my mind: “Today is the World’s Birthday.”

This morning I eat brunch with seven Earlham College students, all of them musicians or actors as well as scholars.  We celebrate working together to facilitate the weekly semi-programmed College Meeting for Worship.  I am grateful for how these busy students showed up faithfully all year, and for their creativity, energy, and thoughtfulness.  Over bagels and tea, they tell me that learning about disasters in the past (Bhopal, Chernobyl) makes them feel greater compassion for those who suffer, along with a desire to bring change in how we live on the planet.  We consider the alienation that is at the root of destructive living.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Walking home afterwards, I stop on a bridge high over the Whitewater Gorge, pressing against the metal railing and leaning into the open sky.  I am mesmerized by the tall swaying trees below, and by the purple blossoms of the redbud trees against the clusters of new green leaves.  The flowing river sparkles.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

I am preparing to facilitate a “short course” at Pendle Hill retreat center soon, a course entitled, “In the Life and Power of God.”  Over four days we will consider each of the ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey that I have been describing on this blog, looking at how early Friends experienced the process of spiritual transformation, and how we experience it today.  These elements are all facets of the work of the Light within us, different aspects of the one transformation that brings us into fuller and fuller unity with God and into harmony with one another and this planet.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

In his twenties George Fox went through a long dark night’s journey.  He was shown much within himself and within his culture that resisted God.  He saw, “that there was an ocean of darkness and death.”  It became clear that people who deny the divine presence within themselves and block out the guidance of the Inward Teacher create a society of dead rituals, inequality, and injustice.  It was painful to him to see how human beings are in captivity, without knowing it.  He suffered, too, when he discovered the seeds of sin in himself. As he came through his dark night’s journey, however, he saw that there is “an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”

Today is the World’s Birthday!

As I prepare to facilitate the Pendle Hill course, I feel more clearly that there is great value in understanding each of the ten elements of the spiritual journey experienced by early Quakers.  Some of these elements are quite familiar to Friends today.  We talk often of leadings and encourage each other to be faithful when prompted by God to particular tasks.  We listen and expect to receive divine guidance and insights, which early Friends often described as openings.  We know something of how God shapes us through the challenges and blessings of community.  We speak much more rarely, however, of other equally essential elements of the Quaker way described by early Friends, particularly the Refiners Fire and Living in the Cross.  Most of us are aware of the fear and injustice which grips humanity, but we are not practiced at allowing the Light to show us clearly the roots of spiritual resistance and oppression within ourselves. Nor do we often encourage each other to stay present to the painful insights and feelings that are necessary in order to become free of the inner bondage that separates us from awareness of God at every moment.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

In the midst of this difficult winter, I have been aware that my suffering is related to God’s loving and merciful action to free me of old baggage, baggage that hinders my clarity and faithfulness.  Remembering that God is at work in this “thick night of darkness” helps me to accept feeling the pain I carry from the past, helps me to allow myself to stay present when shown the negative beliefs, fears, and behavior patterns I have internalized from my upbringing and culture.  After I allow the Light to reveal such things, after I feel in my body how something in me has been blocked or repressed, then it becomes unstuck, or scrubbed or melted away.  I become more free, better able to give over control to God.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

As I arrive home today after brunch, my housemate, Tracy, invites me to go kayaking on the local reservoir.  Today’s wind makes it harder to steer and requires more vigorous paddling.  Once in a sheltered cove, however, we relax.  I expand toward a wide sky scattered with bright clouds.  A Great Blue Heron glides swiftly overhead; its long pointed bill and tail make him look like an arrow shot from a cosmic bow.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

The process of spiritual transformation to which God invites us is not just for the sake of individual salvation.  It is for the sake of restoring the world to the Shalom–God’s peace and harmony–for which it was created.  Rocking in my kayak, surrounded by the circle of saplings on shore, I remember words from Romans 8, a chapter of scripture important for early Friends.  It speaks of how all of creation is subjected to futility.  Human beings are not meant to remain stuck in the ocean of darkness, however.  God invites us to a higher form of life and consciousness.  The suffering we go through when we respond to the call is compared in Romans 8 to the pains of childbirth.  Those who respond are in the process of being born again as sons and daughters of God.  As we become liberated from fear, resistance, and alienated ways of living, spiritual gifts are released that touch all things.  [T]he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation …itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

A turtle sunning itself on a log drops quickly into the water as I paddle near.  Another one, head erect, remains exposed in the warm sun.  I paddle into a shallow little side creek.  A goose that was peacefully floating there stands up and its wet webbed feet grip the muddy edge of the shore.  He honks at me with fury, his open mouth menacing.  I see that another goose lies in the grass nearby, no doubt incubating her eggs.  In the tight space of the shallow water, Papa Goose circles me so that the only way to get out of the creek is for me to move closer to him and  her.   As I maneuver in the shallow water, I try to show that I am going away, that I am not a threat.  He remains standing guard for quite a while after I leave. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Early Friends believed that the End Times which are predicted and described in various places in the Bible are not just in the future.  The Kingdom of Heaven is within.  For those who respond to God’s call, the glorious transformation that God is bringing about becomes visible in the present.  The promised Second Coming of Christ is already happening, within. Even while alive here in a world that is still suffering the “bondage to decay” and going through labor pains, it is possible to enter the “new heaven and new earth.”

Today is the World’s Birthday!

Tonight, on the eve of Finals Week, the Earlham College students put on their second performance of Dance Alloy, featuring twenty high-energy dances all choreographed by students.  Some choreographers share dance styles from home–including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and New York City.  There are two powerful duets, but most dances feature ten dancers or more.  The beat is strong.  The theater is packed, and the audience is loudly enthusiastic.  One of the dances is rated four chili peppers.  Seventeenth-century Friends would have been scandalized.  I remember the joy I discovered when I started dancing in college, and well as my own efforts at choreography when I was twenty-two and living in Paris.  These brainy students are showing that they have not only minds, but also bodies. I consider that Creation is liberated through the marriage of Spirit and matter.  Afterwards, outside, the air is cool.  A bright crescent moon is visible beneath the evening star.  In the dark sky, the Milky Way shimmers like a river of Light.

Today is the World’s Birthday.

Today is the World’s Birthday:  How have you experienced the ocean of darkness and death, and the ocean of light and love?  What can you tell us about the labor pains of being born into the life to which God calls us?  Can you share anything from your experience of becoming freed from inner bondage?

* * * * * This post is part of a series about Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey.

A four-day opportunity to explore the Quaker spiritual journey will take place at Pendle Hill Retreat Center, Wallingford, PA, May 11-15th, 2014.  In the Life and Power of God: on the Spiritual Journey with Early Friends

A Whole Heart has a page on Bibliography.

swan rising

© 2014 Marcelle Martin

About friendmarcelle

I am a Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director.
This entry was posted in Learning from Early Friends, Quaker Faith Today and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Today is the World’s Birthday!

  1. elizaga says:

    Yay another one! What a Birthday! Thank you. Saving to read over.

    Elizabeth

    On Sat, May 3, 2014 at 11:18 PM, A Whole Heart

  2. Pat thomas says:

    I especially resonated to the line, “we are not practiced in…
    We are not a patient people. We live in an instant world.
    Practice takes time and focus and often lots of it. I have
    always found the expenditure of time and energy in waiting
    to be fruitful. It’s like seeing the river while in a kayak as opposed
    to a motor boat.
    Thank you for your insightful writing. May we become a more practiced people.
    Pat

  3. Ken Tapp says:

    Your Whole Heart postings are so beautiful, Marcelle.   And yes, today IS the World’s birthday….. every day is.   Ken  

  4. Peter Blood-Patterson says:

    I especially appreciated the words you have written about the “End Times” (the inbreaking of the Kingdom) being NOW, within us and among us. This recognition reworks the whole concept of a Messiah or Saviour. It also is a whole different way of interpreting 1 Cor chapter 15 (on the resurrection of the body) which doesn’t make much sense (to me) if viewed in terms of bodies rising out of graves – but makes a great deal of sense in terms of a present-time transformation, experienced within our faith community.

  5. Homer Wood says:

    Others, here, have written more profoundly what I felt as I read your blog. Thanks, Marcelle

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