Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A leap of faith

I am a naturally anxious and fearful person and, as my children say, I can worry for England. I have been thinking about the courage that I need to follow my leadings and how I have often gained strength from reading about the experience of others. While still at school the first spiritual autobiography I ever read was John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and I was much struck by it. One passage in particular spoke to me then and has continued to be an inspiration even if I don't always manage to act on it.

Bunyan was also a fearful person, continually anxious that God might forsake him. Imprisoned for preaching his faith he thought that he might be hanged and imagined himself on the gallows, standing 'on the ladder, with the Rope about my neck'. He asked God for comfort but none came. Then Bunyan realised that he had to trust in the love of God without asking for any assurance in return -
'Wherefore thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the Ladder even blindfold into Eternitie, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell; Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy Name.'

I wrote that passage down in my commonplace book and many years later I added another passage which seems to be giving the same message about trust. Sonia Johnson's autobiography includes the story of a dream which a woman in Missouri told to her. The woman dreamed that she was standing on the top of a high building and that in order to get home she would have to jump off. Her longing for home was so great that she leapt. Sonia Johnson continues -
'As she began to fall, a rope appeared before her; she reached out, grabbed it, and swung way out over the street. At the end of its arc, she knew that if she didn't let go, she would swing back to where she had been before and not be any closer to home. So she let go. As she began to fall again, another rope appeared. Grabbing it she swung out to the end of its arc and let go again. Trusting herself, letting go, reaching out, swinging out over the abyss, trusting, letting go, reaching out, she found her way home.'

I haven't always managed to trust God and let go of fear but I am still trying and these two passages have helped me.

4 comments:

Simon said...

Dear Gil,

I am relatively new to Quakerism and have only recently discovered quakers on the web. I am so glad I have stumbled across your blog (and the blogs of other quakers) because I get the real sense of a small on-line community where we can share our journeys in an inclusive and supportive environment. For me so much of what is said speaks directly to my condition and gives me new directions to explore that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered – its really exciting!

I find it almost a ‘leap of faith’ in itself putting my reflections into words, because as you say, we are exposing perhaps our most precious thoughts, and in a sense it is a risky thing to do – will what I say strike a chord with others, or will it fall on deaf ears? Like yourself, I am a terrible one for drafting and continually polishing what I write when I know others may be reading it, rather than relying on immediacy and spontaneity!

Your blog has made me aware of the term ‘Spiritual Autobiography’ for the first time and I find it an approach that is particularly useful because it has enabled me put a handle on realising that everyone has a unique and fascinating story to tell, and that it is the diverse experiences of others that can give the deepest insights into spirituality. Linking thoughts and experiences to make some form of narrative is something I can aspire to, but I don’t know whether I will ever be successful!

Years ago I did try to keep a diary but unfortunately only felt compelled to complete entries when I was feeling particularly negative about things! I remember over a year ago, just before I embarked on my explorations into quakerism I bought a small notebook specifically so I could write my thoughts down. Sad to say the notebook remains unused, but it is there, in my bureau, an inanimate object ‘waiting in expectancy’ for it to be filled with writing! Perhaps it is because it can be a big step committing to writing what you feel, because the writing process challenges you to coherently articulate things, and what you write may not come out the way as you intended (a bit like what I’m writing now – all to do with ‘process’, and little of ‘substance’!). This may be where the quaker process of discernment could be helpful. Therefore, more often than not I find others can speak so wonderfully on my behalf, such as the passages from John Bunyan and Sonia Johnson from your previous post. I do have a number of little phrases and anecdotes that I quote to myself mainly from music and poetry, and would like to share in the future!

When I started attending meeting for worship in August last year I kept a short record of what I thought about, and if there was any ministry, briefly what it related to, but that fizzled out a couple of months ago. I do however, write down musings and reflections, often in the form of questions, generally scribbled illegibly on scraps of paper, or in the midst of other work, with whatever pen/ pencil/ crayon is handy! I find these pieces of paper now and again and if I can decipher my inconsistent made-up shorthand I occasionally find some little gems, and I think – ‘did I really write that?’

Something that I am struggling a little with at the moment is the balance between quakerism as a personal/ individual and communal form of spirituality – I am sure that the blogging community can help me connect the two!

Thank you for sharing your journey.

Take care and all the best.

In friendship,

Simon

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