Post from Steve–January 18, 2016 :
As I prepare for the upcoming conference, I reflect back to the World Conference in Kenya in 2012. What bound us all together there—we who had come from such different cultures, languages, traditions and theologies?
Certainly there was our common Quaker heritage. Looking back to the time of George Fox and the early Quakers, one sees the roots of our common Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, and community. There we can also find the roots of the various Quaker traditions—for example, the Christ-centred and Bible-centred approach of Evangelical Quakers, and the Universalist strain with its focus on ongoing revelation and an openness to learn from the Light in the many forms it comes to us.
However, on a deeper level still, the essential bond that held us to together was Divine love, and a commitment to express this in our lives. Above all else, this was the fire that fuelled everything good that came out of the conference in Kenya and helped us to transcend our differences and celebrate our diversity.
In our own ways, we all strive to comprehend the mystery of our lives here on Earth. And the product of our collective striving is a spectrum of beliefs about our relationships with the Divine, our fellow human beings, and the rest of creation. As important as these beliefs are in helping us negotiate our way, our beliefs can easily become barriers that separate us from each other.
How did Jesus summarize all the sacred teachings? “Love God with everything you have. And love your neighbour as yourself.” So one of the core teachings of Jesus is that it is not primarily through our minds that we will find salvation, but through our hearts. This is not referring to the heart in the popular meaning of the heart as the seat of sentimental feelings, but rather the heart as the window that the soul uses to see and be with what really is, not what we would like it to be.
And how did Jesus describe this God he entreated us to love? The best image he could think of to describe his experience of the Divine was as a Father who welcomes his wayward child home no matter how often or how badly he has failed. In other words, at the heart of creation lies a well of goodness. We are not adrift in a capricious, dangerous universe. The ocean of light covers the ocean of darkness.
And how did Jesus explain who our neighbour is? He used the story of the Good Samaritan, a member of a cultural group mistrusted and hated by the Jews, who helped the Jewish man who lay beside the road beaten by robbers and ignored by his fellow Jews. In other words, he spoke of a love that transcended all barriers.
As long as we can keep our hearts open to the Divine and to each other, there is some possibility that we can heal the separations that are the source of hatred and violence. When our hearts close down in the face of fear, anger or pain, so does the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. Maybe that is the message of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which one sees so often here in Latin America, with Jesus revealing a heart burning with both love and pain.
So as we approach the World Plenary here in Pisac, I pray that all of us attending can maintain open hearts, for sometimes the most confusing and annoying differences are those we feel among the members of our own family.
I have tried to express this image of opened hearts in the attached painting. It’s called “Dharma Pentecost.” In the New Testament Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended from above to rest in the form of flames above the heads of the disciples. This painting is a visual prayer for an ongoing Second Coming, with the Holy Spirit breaking through not from above, but from within each heart as it opens out towards reconciliation with the Other.
You can see the painting in more detail at this link. Dharma Pentecost (Click on the image, once it appears on the new page, to enlarge it.)