I enjoy finding pithy or great summary statements. I just found one in my favorite Quaker book. Thomas Kelly wrote the popular Quaker book, A Testament of Devotion, which actually is a series of lectures. Some of these come out of his experience of WWII. Kelly spent some time in Germany watching Hitler come to power. He returned to this country. One of the chapters is entitled, “The Eternal Now and Social Concern.” The core ideas were originally a lecture delivered to a gathering of German Quakers.
The summary statement embodies so much of what I have been taught when growing up as a Quaker. Kelly writes that the central Quaker message affirms “The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, as a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life…” If I can unpack this amazing sentence and understand it, I will have my own central message. And more importantly, if I can embody this message and live it out, then I truly will be engaged in the spiritual life.
The key focus in the sentence is the experience of God. I like better how Kelly puts it: “experience of the Divine Presence.” All too often, the word, God, does not help much. It is an overused word for so many people. Frequently it is a word without meaning, a sound without content. People use it in swear words and typically mean nothing by it. When someone says, “God damn,” I do not think that person remotely expects God to intervene in some situation and damn something or someone! I prefer Kelly’s naming of God as “Divine Presence.”
Kelly wants us to know we all have the possibility of this experience of the Divine Presence. That is a careful way of putting it. The experience is possible. However, it is not guaranteed. The possibility of this experience may actually ask something of me, too. I can seek this Presence. I can be open to It. Or I can totally ignore it and go about my own egocentric business. For me personally that Divine Presence becomes the Divine Absence!
In a vintage Quaker way, Kelly asserts this possibility is repeatedly realized. That is great news. Experiencing God is not a one-shot deal. It can become a deal for you or me each and every day. Notice how repeatedly realizing the experience actualizes the possibility that is there for each of us. It is repeatedly realized as a present fact. An implication of this means not only can I “have” an experience, I can come to “live” in and from this experience. To live such means I come to be theocentric (God-centered) instead of egocentric. I don’t cease to be me; but I become me-in-God---a much truer and richer version of the “real me.”
The experience of Divine Presence has a powerful effect on my life. As Kelly says, I experience “its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life…” This means I should not be open to this experience of Divine Presence if I want to stay exactly as I am. If I open and experience this Presence, I will be transformed. I will commence the process of losing my egocentric focus and begin to become God-centered. This is probably what Jesus had in mind when he taught us how to pray: not my will, but your will.
To pray such is to give the divine green light to the transformational process. As transformation happens, I will become more than a spiritual dabbler in religious things. I quit toying with spirituality and really take it on. It begins to transfigure me. Of course, this is not some spiritual facelift! My face will look the same in the mirror. On the face of it---on the surface---it may not look much different in my life. But deep down---in the center where I am being transformed---I am becoming a different person. Kelly has another sentence that wonderfully implicates the full meaning of what is happening.
He says, “Once discover this glorious secret, this new dimension of life, and we no longer live merely in time but we live also in the Eternal.” That is exactly what the spiritual journey aspires to become: a new dimension of life. Experiencing the Divine Presence does not take us out of time and does not deliver us from the ordinariness of life. We still eat, sleep, go to work, have disappointments and sadness. But all of our ordinariness is framed by the Eternal.
To be theocentric---rooted and grounded in that Divine Presence---means we are liberated. We are free to become more loving---indeed, compassionate---because we are not worried about losing anything. Generosity becomes our perspective. Love is a compounding experience. This is great news in a world and culture with a scarcity perspective. Fear of losing gives way to delight in sharing.
In the spirit of experiencing the Divine Presence we no long ask why? We ask, why not? And then we care, share, and bear the burdens of any and all who need us.