I planned to introduce here what I’ve been learning from early Friends about the Quaker spiritual journey. In the meantime, a local train accident has reminded me of a series of dreams about trains. I’ll share them with you, both to introduce something key about the beginning of Quakerism, and as a way to tell you about my own experience.
A couple of years ago, illness threw me from the course I was on, and I was not able to stay in my job. Shortly after becoming unemployed, struggling with fatigue and depression, I dreamed I had been thrown from a train and was lying in a ditch, covered with dirt and pebbles. I was given quiet assurance that healing–and restoration–would eventually come. More recently, I dreamed that I was lying in the grass very close to some tracks. I was startled when a huge train hurtled toward me. It was massive, and far wider than I had imagined it could be; quickly I rolled away from the tracks to avoid being hit. In the dream I sought to resume a certain kind of teaching, but was shown that I needed to rest some more and wait.
For almost thirty years I have been began paying attention to my dreams, and they have often helped me better understand my inner and outer life. Occasionally there are dreams that seem to be about something more than just my personal experience, dreams that provide insight about the larger culture and our world today. Some of them are luminous and offer spiritual guidance.
In a dream a few months ago, I was with a group of people on a bridge over a river gorge. It was a railroad bridge, and we were crowding the tracks as we slowly walked towards a hill visible in the distance. This was a group of individuals developing their spiritual practices. I sensed, however, that we would not make it to that distant hill through our own efforts. A train was available to take us there, if only we would clear the tracks.
Since having that dream, I’ve asked myself: what does that train represent? How do I clear the tracks for it to come through? As I’ve prayed about this, it seems that the train represents a transmission of divine spiritual power, which God wants to send collectively to humanity. To receive it, my heart needs to be cleared. My personal will needs to surrender to the intimate presence of Christ, moving through me. For many weeks now, during almost entirely silent mid-week meetings for worship with Clear Creek Friends, I have been experiencing Jesus working in me, with me, to “clear the track,” or in the words of Isaiah (40:3), to make straight in my heart “a highway for our God.”
Spiritual practices help us to prepare for and cooperate with the work of the Spirit. However, it is not personal efforts but only divine power that can transport an individual or group into another spiritual condition. In contrast to walking, a train represents a collective form of transport. It seems that God often works most powerfully when gathered groups collectively surrender to the divine will. Scriptures give us examples of this, including the band of prophets in 1 Samuel 10:5-10. Saul is given “another heart” by God, and when he comes among this prophetic group, he begins to prophesy, too. Even more notable is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples waiting in the Upper Room on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21). At the beginning of the Quaker movement, many of those who became the first Friends had awe-filled experiences of God’s Spirit powerfully active among them in their extended meetings for worship. Edward Burrough described such experiences as similar to Pentecost:
“While waiting upon the Lord in silence, as often we did for many hours together, with our minds and hearts toward him, being stayed in the Light of Christ within us, from all thoughts, fleshly motions, and desires, in our diligent waiting and fear of his name, and hearkening to his Word, we received often the pouring down of the Spirit upon us, and the gift of God’s holy, eternal Spirit, as in the days of old, and our hearts were made glad and our tongues loosed, and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues as the Lord gave us utterance, and as his Spirit led us.”
Burrough’s partner in the traveling ministry, Francis Howgill, wrote, “the Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net: and His heavenly Power at one time drew many hundreds to land.”
Early Quakers developed communal spiritual practices that served them well in opening to spiritual transformation and supporting faithfulness to divine leadings. Many of those practices still serve today. The key to the power in the early Quaker movement was not their practices, however, but how they made way for the Light of Christ to reign within and among them. In future posts l will describe ten elements of the spiritual journey of early Friends, a transformation they described as the new birth–being made into new creatures, and, through Christ, “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4).
I hope you will join me in collectively learning how to prepare the Way for everything God wants to do in us and in our world today!
(c) 2012 Marcelle Martin