Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - O for Obedience

St Martin of Tours, Chelsfield, Kent
Going to a family wedding last week reminded me of my own, almost 44 years ago. Chris and I were married in the Church of England parish church near my home and what a trial we must have been to the vicar! To begin with, although we knew that we wanted (and our families expected) a religious ceremony, our relationship to the church was ambivalent. I had been baptised into the Church of England but had refused to be confirmed as I didn't see why I needed any priestly intermediary between myself and God - you can see why I was so happy to find Quakers later on! Chris had not even been baptised as at the time of his birth his father was a Baptist, later becoming a URC minister. The vicar accepted my position but Chris had to produce a letter from his old college chaplain (at that time conveniently a bishop) to prove his qualifications.

On top of this we had the certainty of youth (we were 22 and 23) that we did not want to use the 'modern' marriage service but insisted instead on the traditional 1662 version, the language of which we both preferred. We swept aside the vicar's objections, assuring him that that we understood what we would be saying, even though it meant that I would promise to 'obey' my husband. After all it was a safe promise to make, as Chris would never ask me to do anything unreasonable!

Lucretia Mott
Looking back, a wife's obedience to her husband has indeed hardly figured in our marriage. I hope that we have so far managed to live up to the aphorism favoured by the American Quaker (and feminist) Lucretia Mott. 'In the true marriage relationship the interdependence of the husband and wife is equal, their dependence mutual and their obligations reciprocal'.

But perhaps the importance of the possibility of obedience was always there and it has always been an important part of my commitment to Quakerism. Our worship and testimonies are based on a willingness to be led by the Light, by our Inward Guide, into action and behaviour that, individually and corporately, we might not choose for ourselves. I know that when I have felt led into a new path on my spiritual journey at first it often seems impossible. The leading is not demanding, but it is insistent. It may recede from the forefront of my consciousness for a while but it does not go away. In the end, with the help of my friends, my family and my community, I have found a way forward in faith - I have obeyed. Corporately too Quakers have been led to positions which are often uncomfortable, which are sometimes too difficult for some individuals, but which are still spirit-led.

Obedience is not something to be entered into blindly but it is an important part of the Quaker way. As Isaac Penington put it in 1661, 'Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee'.

1 comment:

Susan Robson said...

Great blog, Gil. Not only an illuminating comment on marriage, but a very illuminating addition to Ben's Swarthmore Lecture about the experience of being led. Thankyou.