Kelly died in 1948 at a relatively young age. He had aspirations to be a world-class scholar. In some ways he was on the path to achieve some of that dream. And in other ways, he failed and suffered depression and other maladies because of that. He taught at a couple Quaker colleges and wanted more. He struggled to get a Harvard degree, but that did not bring him the success he sought. He also was spending time in pre-war Germany in the 1930s. There he saw the rise of Nazism and the horrors that would become WWII.
Finally toward the end of the 1930s, Kelly seemed to turn a spiritual corner. His priorities began to realign and a spiritual wisdom and depth appeared in his thinking and writing. He delivered some lectures at Germantown Friends Meeting (Church) which were to become the published book, A Testament of Devotion, which went on to be a best-seller in the 20th century. It is a book I have read a number of times and it still continues to shape my own spirituality.
In one of his chapters entitled, “The Eternal Now and Social Concerns,” Kelly has this sentence. “For the Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort, that is, self-originated effort, and let the Eternal by the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.” This is such a pregnant sentence, let’s take time to unpack it and reflect on it.
I like Kelly’s many ways to talk about God. In this case he calls God the “Eternal Now.” This suggests to me a Divinity Who is always present and available. I might or might not be aware of that Divinity, but It is here---eternally now. And Kelly’s first phrase talks about the activity of that Eternal Now. The Eternal Now is breaking into time. Since you and I live in time---we are creatures of the temporal---that is where God breaks in to meet us.
But there is more. Pay attention to Kelly’s adverbs. The Eternal Now is “urgently” and “actively” breaking into time. That excites me. God is not a ho-hum Divinity. God is coming into our presence right now! There is urgency and activity. You think God does not care? Think again!
Kelly is quite clear why God is urgently and actively breaking into time. That God wants to work through those of us who are willing to be touched, taught, and teamed with each other in an important ministry. Let’s detail that process.
God seeks out those of us willing to co-operate. But there are some ground rules. We need to be willing to be laid upon. That is an odd phrase, to be sure. But the key piece is the idea of our “willingness.” God is not a coercive God. God is urgent and active, but also waits for each of us to be willing. It reminds me of that passage from one of the prophets who responds, “Here I am Lord.” We have to be willing to have God grab hold of us. This obviously has implications which Kelly points out.
Essentially, Kelly tells us that God who breaks into time asks us to surrender. Now that is not a popular word in American culture. But it is what spiritually growing women and men are called to do. We need to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort. In other words, we have to give up our own agendas---our own egotistical aspirations---in order to will what God wills. And all this is to one point.
We give up our egotistical agendas in order to allow God to recreate us and through us to recreate our world. I do think this is Kelly’s version of “thy kingdom come.” I am confident Kelly thinks God breaks into time and touches as many of us as are willing to begin to be co-creators with that Genesis-God the coming kingdom. That kingdom will not be Eden restored. It will be more real, more magnificent than Eden.
I find that a compelling call. I sense a mission beyond my wildest dreams. Whatever role I imagine for myself cannot compare to this Divine Opportunity. It literally is a chance to turn the world upside down and inside out. It is a mission that goes beyond creative or innovative. It goes to the transformative. In that transformative mission God urgently and actively needs many of us to say, “Yes.”
“Here am I Lord.” Lay hold of me. I surrender and sign on. Not my will, but Thy Will.” I am going to work now---the Divine Work of re-creation.