MEMBERS OF ONE BODY
Excerpts from the Quaker journal of George Amoss Jr.
Copyright 1995, George Amoss Jr.


Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner... then you will enter the Kingdom." -- The Gospel According to Thomas


CONTENTS

Please wait for the entire document to load before you select a chapter.

  1. Contemplation and Action
  2. To Be Christ
  3. Conflict, Faith, and Violence
  4. Contemplation and Freedom
  5. Worship and Unity
  6. "The Occasion of All Wars"
  7. Centering in Silence
  8. The Practice of a Quaker
  9. The Ground of Quaker Life
  10. A Quaker's Vow
  11. Encountering Christ
  12. Silence and Word

- Click here to return to the journal page. -


Contemplation and Action
4/27/86

Yesterday, I took my daughter Megan to a class at the Science Center on the Inner Harbor. Having two hours before her class finished, I wandered about the harbor area. Eventually, the familiar, rhythmic sound of "Krishna Consciousness" cymbals attracted me. Locating the three devotees, I took a seat on a bench behind them, near the area where a sailing vessel called the Lady Maryland was being built. Last week I had smelled the incense and heard the chanting from a distance, and those sensory stimuli had evoked almost wistful memories of the social and spiritual upheavals of the 1960's. That nostalgia was re-awakened yesterday by the sound of the cymbals and the sight of a bearded craftsman, long hair braided into a ponytail, planing timber for the Lady Maryland. I sat for a while on the bench, remembering those years of experimentation with a new way of life and lamenting their passing.

The "Krishnas" had a table, covered with a patterned Indian cloth, on which sat a sculpture of some sort. Walking around to the front of the table, I discovered that the sculpture depicted a child emerging from a tunnel, growing into maturity, aging, dying, passing through another tunnel, and being born again. The sculpture was well made, with each phase signified by a separate figure, yet with the connection preserved from each stage to the next. Upon seeing it, however, I felt a revulsion against the tyranny of this superstition which leads twentieth-century Americans to adopt the beliefs and ways of medieval India, giving up their rights to think critically and to make their own life decisions in the light of their own hearts.

I found a place where I could not see the devotees and sat in a half-lotus posture beneath a tree. Because I had recently been having difficulty with the traditional practice of watching the breath, I wondered how I should meditate, as if there were a way which is right for all situations. As I pondered that, my attention was drawn to the blades of grass dancing before me in the sea breeze. At that moment I experienced a sense of release, of freedom from the tyranny of spiritual forms and practices. I was drawn into relationship with the grass. There was no seeking for anything beyond the moment, no secret hope of attaining something through meditation, and therefore no anxiety about the proper way to meditate. The peace of that contemplative experience remained with me through the day.

During worship today, Joseph Kovner recalled a statement recently made by Kenneth Boulding. Boulding said that we live in an age of dying empires, that we who are alive now have seen the fall of more empires than existed in all of previous history. This is at least partly because, said Joseph, people no longer accept the tyranny of fate. Destiny, he said, is shaped by us, but fate is simply accepted. As an example, he mentioned the caste system in India. I realized a little later that people in India had accepted the caste system, along with the doctrines of karma and rebirth even now propounded by the Krishna devotees, as religious truth, just as those in the West had accepted the myths of heaven and hell and let themselves be controlled by priests and the mores they created. It occurred to me that religion has too often been a weapon in the hands of oppressors and power brokers, but sometimes it becomes -- through the work of a George Fox or a Father Boff -- a double-edged sword. Even with these thoughts, however, I remained in a quietist frame of mind, recalling a verse from the Zenrin:

While I sit quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Then a young Friend, who had recently been arrested in a demonstration and then jailed for two days because he refused to give his name, rose and spoke. He quoted Martin Luther King about the need for those who believe in good to make the present time the right time for positive action, not to "wait until the time is right," as King had been urged to do by some other ministers. Hearing this, I understood that the contemplative experience must lead to effective action for liberation. Contemplation teaches us the emptiness of external forms and ideals, allowing us to enter the freedom of love. And in that freedom of love, that openness to the dancing grass, we can discern and respond appropriately to the needs of our world.


Return to the table of contents.


To Be Christ
9/19/87

I recently saw a film that featured Dom Helder Camara, a Catholic archbishop from Brazil. At one point, Dom Helder said that after he says Mass he sees with the eyes of Christ. In the context of the film, which dealt with poverty that is often caused by exploitation, that was a powerful statement.

As a Friend, I don't look to a sacrament for the divine presence. For me, every moment in which I am truly aware is a Eucharist, for all authentic experience is spiritual experience. Consequently, Dom Helder's words said to me that all my seeing can be done with the eyes of Christ. These eyes can be Christ's eyes, seeing everything in the light of the "Kingdom" of peace and justice for the oppressed.

Here is an offer of meaning, and here is a challenge to stop thinking and talking about spirituality, to stop cultivating the "religious" self which is, after all, the same empty self in another guise, and to become Christ -- not for myself alone, but for the world.

What does it mean to be Christ for the world? It means to find one's genuine identity in solidarity "with mankind and with God's cause as the cause of mankind" (E. Schillebeeckx, God Among Us ). It means recognizing social, economic, religious, and other structures for what they are, and judging them in the light of the dignity of human beings, especially of the oppressed: "the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It means seeing through the eyes of him whose love was not obstructed by selfish concerns. It means putting aside theological questioning, which often serves to postpone real change, for a simple, childlike trust. It means being reborn in Christ -- not by accepting an ideology or even "having a mystical experience," but by really dying to the false self and being reborn as a member of the one Body, bound to everyone in love.


Return to the table of contents.


Conflict, Faith, and Violence
12/11/87

The God we meet in Jesus is a God who is merciful and forgiving, who loves the just as well as the unjust, and who cares equally for all his creatures. This God values peace and justice not as ends in themselves, but because he loves human beings. Jesus made the presence of this God a reality in the world by healing and forgiving others, by humanizing the law, by proclaiming liberation to the poor, by reversing accepted ideas of leadership and rejecting the power that comes through domination, and by giving his life in suffering love rather than allowing fear, hatred, or revenge to guide his behavior. He taught us to return love for hatred, good for evil, justice for injustice. And he taught us that in doing so, we are acting in accordance with the will and nature of God -- and, therefore, in accordance with our own true nature.

There are, then, effective ways of meeting conflict without using violence. But we must first of all recognize that conflict is not evil in itself and is certainly unavoidable in this world. If our faith is strong, we can approach conflict in the trust that love must triumph over violence. Acting from that trust, we can learn to recognize hatred and injustice, meet them with active love, and be willing to suffer, not for the sake of peace or justice, but for the sake of both oppressed and oppressor, whom we love.


Return to the table of contents.


Contemplation and Freedom
2/16/88

It has been said that the worst delusion is the belief that one has lost all delusions. We are not called, however, to have lost all delusions, but to be always in the process of losing them. We are called to a mindfulness which becomes aware of delusion, even that of thinking that we have none, and ultimately transcends both delusion and enlightenment. We are called to be enlightened before we are enlightened, as I believe Shunryu Suzuki put it. I lost many years thinking that authentic living begins only with deep satori (enlightenment experience). But I see now that satori is as useless for spirituality as a papal blessing. The mindful application of love is the only worthwhile spiritual discipline, because it is the only one in which technique and goal, means and end, are one.

To be a contemplative in the midst of the world is to be one who is detached from delusion and yet passionately attached to the real human beings and the real world which are one's neighbor and one's self. I am convinced that those mystical philosophies which see "created beings" as an obstacle to the soul's union with God are simply wrong. We know the living God only in the living creation. Nor may we attach ourselves to the God "within" the other, as if the other has value not in himself but only as a sort of tabernacle (a danger with the modern Quaker concept of "that of God in everyone"). Christ is not present in or with the human being; rather, Christ is  the human being. "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me." Borrowing poetic imagery from the Bible and Roman theology, we might say that Christ the high priest has transubstantiated all of humanity into his body and blood. Each individual remains unique, yet each is Christ.

Therefore, I affirm that my relationship with God is my relationship with human beings and with all of creation, good and evil. I affirm that the love of God means nothing unless it is the love of human beings, especially the poor, the sick, the oppressed. And I acknowledge that I affirm these things on my own authority, not that of Jesus or anyone else. What matters is not that we worship, follow, imitate, or believe in Christ, but that we are Christ for ourselves and for each other. If we seek to destroy our delusions for the sake of our self image, we shall never be free. But if we give them up for the sake of love, we become the Christ that we really are. Only then, I believe, is freedom possible.


Return to the table of contents.


Worship and Unity
2/26/88

Sometimes we may prefer that no one speaks during meeting for worship, because we are enjoying the silence and feel that we are deriving some benefit from it. If a Friend does rise and deliver a message, we may even feel irritated, and have no interest in the content of the message. But we gain nothing from meeting if we are seeking benefit only for ourselves. If we participate fully in worship, we discover that we have no self apart from others, and that our true benefit is inextricably bound up with theirs.

Our Quaker form of worship depends on the same group process we practice in our business meetings. Our task as individuals in worship is to uncover and lay aside our beliefs and agendas so that nothing separates us from our sisters and brothers -- because in fact nothing does. Acknowledging this simple truth is a matter of sincerity, and of making peace possible. To the extent that each of us is willing to perform this task, unity becomes apparent. The "gathered meeting" for worship is the equivalent of consensus in meeting for business.

Each of us is Christ. We Friends removed the crucifix from the wall in our recognition that Christ is not "out there." When we forget that truth, we begin to seek Christ as someone or something other than our true self. Whether we look inward or outward makes no difference; we will not find the living among the dead. But if we all are members of Christ, then unity is already accomplished in our deepest nature. We experience that unity by ceasing to seek the experience of its opposite. When our individuality is consciously grounded in that unity, we live from that love which is the source of all, and in meeting together truly become the body of Christ.


Return to the table of contents.


"The Occasion of All Wars"
6/6/88

"I told them...that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars." -- George Fox

In the past I had focused on the first part of Fox's statement, about living "in that life and power." I wanted to understand what he meant by that phrase, and I believed that the second part of the statement took its meaning from the first. If I could understand what it means to live in that life and power, in that spirit, then I would be peaceful. But this was a dangerous approach for me, because it allowed me to form an ideal -- living in that spirit -- to which I then tried to conform myself. But living up to "that life and power" is not at all the same as actually living in it.

Having failed to understand Fox's saying by analyzing its first part, I began to look more closely at the second part -- "that takes away the occasion of all wars." Immediately I was struck by Fox's use of singular and plural, which is just the opposite of the way I would have used them. For Fox, there is but one cause that is responsible for all wars. I had thought in terms of many causes for war, not of one occasion for all wars. War, I had assumed, results from such things as greed, anger, hatred, lust for power, even lust for violence. But Fox implies that all these "lusts" stem from one root. What could that be?

I began to search for an underlying principle that could comprehend all the various causes of war. And it came to me that such things as greed and hatred can only exist in the hearts of persons whose fundamental way of experiencing life is one which sees in terms of us and them, me and you. In other words, the apparent causes of war cannot exist without a prior divisiveness in our very way of experiencing our being-in-the-world.

We learn to focus on the figure, not the ground. For all too many of us, this partial way of seeing remains the basis for our interpretation of experience throughout our lives. We see our separateness very well, but we must ignore our unity with all others in order to do so. Hence, we become cut off from our ground and alienated from others as well as from our deeper self, which remains in unity.

To live in "that life and power," then, must be to live in our  life and power, as opposed to my  life and power. It must be to live consciously in the reality of the life we all share, not in the illusion of a life separate from all else. If we live in that authentic life, that love, then the occasion of all wars has been taken away, for we no longer experience ourselves as isolated from, "over against," our brothers and sisters and our world. If we can learn to perceive both figure and ground, we can live as individuals -- that is, those who cannot be divided from each other -- whose very identity embraces the realization of our unity with all that is.

So the second part of Fox's statement has illumined the first part for me. The "life and power" is not an ideal to be attained or imitated, but the reality of who we are. The "occasion of all wars" is the illusion of separateness, and the cure is simply to be awake to our ontological reality. We need to learn to see figure and ground together, simultaneously. For this we need a new way of seeing, one that doesn't operate only by narrowing its focus. Again I'm taken back to the contemplative practice of awareness, of expressing our true nature through an accepting awareness of each moment -- not as object, but as it is in itself, as living relationship.


Return to the table of contents.


Centering in Silence
9/18/88

Silence is the unnoticed background against which everything takes place, on and within which all things exist. Silence is the universal matrix, the emptiness that makes fullness possible. When we enter the silence, we enter that emptiness wherein the distinction between self and other, while not obliterated, is transcended. We enter a new mode of experience, one which does not divide subject from object and is therefore open to authentic love, to our sharing in each other's subjectivity. Silence opens us to love.

Love, finding way open in us, draws us ever deeper into itself, until we are centered in love. But to be centered in love is to be centered in God, and to be centered in God is to become Christ. Becoming Christ, we are concerned no longer with our own spiritual welfare or progress, but with the praxis of the Kingdom of God, the active expression of perfect love.

What is perfect love? It is love which "sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike." Love which can make distinctions without making divisions. Love which cannot be obeyed as a law or put on like a garment, but which grows naturally within us in the unifying silence of the mind and heart. Centered in the silence, becoming Christ, we begin to love perfectly, because we love with God's own love.

To be centered in the silence, then, is to be centered in perfect love. But this centering in love is not something we can accomplish by willing it, by applying a technique, or by conforming ourselves to an ideal or model, even if that model be Jesus Christ. Centering happens in us as if by grace. We can only open ourselves to the silence and wait patiently, waiting upon the Light, seeking nothing, yet trusting that way will open for us in good time. As the silence teaches us not to interfere, the love which is already at work in our hearts -- and which has led us into the silence and set us upon this path and process of centering -- will continue to grow and perfect itself in us until it is all in all.

Silence is the still, small voice of God. It is the voice of the inward teacher, wordlessly inviting us to open ourselves, to be centered in that oneness of mind and heart, self and other, in which we live, no longer we, but love lives in and through us.


Return to the table of contents.


The Practice of a Quaker
8/6/89

This universe unfolds upon a background of living silence. To enter that sustaining silence is to go behind the appearance of things, to discover the secret of the divine artistry, to be invited to join in the work of creation. It is to dwell in interstitial space, in the emptiness between. To dwell in emptiness is to be, like God, everywhere and nowhere. But to be like God is simply to be myself, a child of God whose image I am. I am most truly myself when I remain in the emptiness that connects all things. And the silence of worship is the entry into emptiness. Therefore I seek to remain in that silence, not only during meetings but at all times, through an inner disposition and awareness. This is my practice; from it flows praxis, the flowering of emptiness in a ministry of service. In the union of practice and praxis I am made whole, "like a wound newly healed."


Return to the table of contents.


The Ground of Quaker Life
3/7/90

The Quaker way of life evolves from our experience of living in the spirit of love, of finding our individual and corporate identity in being conscious members of the one Body of Christ. Being members of that Body, we live -- as Jesus lived -- in the dawning glow of the Kingdom of God. As the College Park Association of Friends said in describing worship, Friends meet together to "realize the Kingdom of God within the soul through the act of worship" and "to realize the Kingdom outwardly in the world."

It is this experience of living in the Kingdom -- in that state in which justice, liberation, mercy, and peace are of ultimate importance -- that has distinguished us from those groups of Christians who prefer to "plead for sin" and to defer living the ethic of Jesus until "Kingdom come" -- that is, until that ethic no longer leads us along the via crucis  because it is no longer needed. Friends have testified for over three hundred years that the Kingdom is now.  All who are gathered in the one, universal Light have become conscious members of the Body of Christ, bearers of the Kingdom. It is our privilege to join thus with many others, Christian and non-Christian, in accomplishing the work of Christ, the work of suffering love, in this anguished world.


Return to the table of contents.


A Quaker's Vow
10/21/90

I am, I am told, one of an infinite number of points on a line that runs from somewhere to some other where. But I know that the geometer, drawing the line, must imagine the points. The non-points and the line are one, and the termini are simply other non-points like me. No one is here; here is only the miracle of line and points in the mind of the geometer. Here is only Mind.

A line seems to have an origin and an end, but I come from nowhere and go nowhere. I am an imaginary series of points between two deaths. Each point is drawn on the plane of emptiness; each point of life is a point of death. In perfect stillness I pass through them all. If I could enter that stillness, I would know peace. I would know death in life and life in death; I would no longer want to deny what I am. I would live, at last, as a free man.

I am the emptiness in the geometer's forms; I am the forms that shape the emptiness. I am the Buddha, serene in the heart of all beings; I am the Christ, crucified in each creature's pain. Universes live and die in me, and I in them. Yet I am nothing, less than a whiff of air, an infinitesimal point without value of any kind.

Life is miracle; death is miracle. Why do we seek? We lack nothing. But the seeking, too, is miracle. Peace to those who seek; release to those who suffer. I, nothing that I am, make this prayer and vow.


Return to the table of contents.


Encountering Christ
11/24/91

We seem to make a consumer commodity of spirituality. We read and write books, build retreat centers, hold conferences and workshops, consult experts, maintain mental charts and graphs of our progress. We seem not to notice that it is not written that Jesus did any of these things. Can it be that we have substituted a diversion for Christ?

During worship this morning, I was struck by the simplicity of the word "Christian." To be Christian is to be radically Christocentric -- centered in Christ, not on one's self. To be Christian is simply to love Christ such that one is of one spirit with him. But many versions of "Christ" compete for my soul. How do I find the real Christ, the one who alone is worthy of my love?

This is where, perhaps surprisingly, the Quaker tradition points to scripture as guarantor of inward experience. For what is within me is too often an echo, even if it has the timbre of my personality and thereby seems unique, of what is without. From the earliest times, Friends have acknowledged that individual experience cannot be relied upon unless it be tested against the experience of others, especially as recorded in scripture. If I seek Christ, I must know who it is that I seek, how to recognize him. It is the scriptures that offer me the clearest outward portrait of him.

I find in scripture that Christ is the Logos, the divine Word through whom and in whom all things have their being. I find, then, a name for that secret life which encounters me at every turn. I find in scripture that whatever I do to the least of God's children, I do to Christ. I find, then, a name for my experience of solidarity with the creation and especially with those who suffer. I find through scripture a conjunction of my deepest experience and the name of Christ. But if my experience is thus validated, then I must surrender myself to its imperative.

It would seem that to encounter Christ would be a joyful experience. And it can be. But it can also be deeply painful, because often I meet him as he hangs bleeding on the cross, and I can't find a way to take him down. The imperative, then, is clear: do as love leads to ease his pain, never averting my eyes from his, never allowing a desire for diversion to turn me away from him. But can I do this? Dare I look suffering humanity full in the face? Dare I climb onto the cross and bloody myself in an attempt that may prove futile -- or fatal?

Words are easy to write, but what of daily life? What am I to do? In what ways can I change? How can I employ my time and talents in response to his agony? His joy? How can I live in his Light? I can't answer these questions now, except to say that I must open myself to the guidance of that Light as it speaks to me in the silence of my heart and in the faces of other human beings.


Return to the table of contents.


Silence and Word
3/15/95

In Mark's gospel, Jesus dies abandoned by God and humanity, crying out the words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As a Friend pointed out recently, the silence of God in the face of Jesus' solitary anguish is a challenge to faith.

It seems that some early Christians found the challenge too much: John's gospel, for example, places family and friends at the foot of the cross and presents the crucified Jesus as a confident and "divine" figure. While it is clear from critical analysis that John's gospel is not a historical account, there is no proof that Mark's version, although more realistically presented, is more historically accurate than John's. However, it seems reasonable to assume that Mark's story is closer to the truth: the disciples of a man publicly killed for political reasons were not likely to make a show of support for their leader during the execution of his sentence. I think it likely that Mark is correct in believing that Jesus died alone, forsaken by family and friends and very possibly feeling abandoned by God as well.

At the hour of his death, Jesus may well have experienced the darkness of the silence of God. But if God seemed silent to Jesus, was it not because Jesus himself was God's speech, God's Logos, at that time? Lifted up on the cross that unites heaven and earth, Jesus gave himself in suffering love for God's "kingdom" of justice, mercy, peace, and well-being. His self-sacrifice was a revelation of God to the world. The image of the crucified, forsaken, yet divine human being giving up his life for love is the ultimate revelation.

But Jesus has died, and now we are his Body. Now we, if we are faithful to our nature and calling, are lifted up in abandonment and suffering love that we, too, may be blessed with being vehicles of revelation to the world. Now we are God's Logos, the living Word of divine love in and through whom heaven and earth are renewed and made one. The desire to "be as gods" was the downfall of "Adamic" humanity; however, that same divinely-implanted desire, now purified through the revelation of love in Jesus the Christ, finds fulfillment in our theosis, our divinization as members of "his beautiful body" (Hildegard Von Bingen).

In loving, sacrificial solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the sorrowful, we find our unity with the Spirit of Christ, and we find our true identity, as Paul would say, "in Christ." When we have tasted this reality, theories, writings, seasons, and celebrations are but dust blown away by the Spirit. How much deeper is living truth! How much deeper is the suffering of God in humankind! How much deeper is the realization of one's true self in the crucified yet exalted Christ! Just a glimpse of those depths is enough to begin our re-creation in the image of him who lived and died for love -- and who still lives among us in those who are of one Spirit with him.

May the suffering of God open our eyes and hearts and lead us into new life in the Spirit of the crucified Christ.


Return to the table of contents.


Click here to return to the journal page.