There are no well-defined, easy steps to either God or love. There is not a “how-to manual” for learning to truly love. Love is a natural ability, an instinct of the human psyche. Yet, love may be more or less mature, and—according to Erich Fromm—there are certain preconditions for truly being able to love. In his book, The Art of Loving, Fromm calls these preconditions “approaches” to love, and they may indeed be cultivated or practiced.
There are general approaches necessary for the mastery of any art, and there are specific approaches necessary for the mastery of the art of loving. Fromm’s general approaches include discipline, concentration, and patience. So, to learn to play the violin, for example, one must have the discipline to practice regularly, to concentrate during practice, and to be patient when practice falls short of perfection.
So, also, with love. You must, for example, exercise discipline to interact daily and meaningfully with your spouse. You must concentrate on your partner’s words and emotions, being patient even if there is some moment of misunderstanding or irritation during the encounter. Of course, discipline, concentration, and patience will serve you well even if you’re relating to friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
Then there are the specific approaches to loving. Paramount is overcoming narcissism. Here, we’re not talking about a mature self-love but rather the tendency to view others wholly or partly in terms of one’s own ego. The complete narcissist experiences the world subjectively, rather than objectively.
If an infant is wet, hungry, or sleepy and cries as a result, the narcissistic adult experiences the child’s reaction purely as a personal inconvenience. The child is perhaps disturbing Dad’s NFL football game or Mom’s social media post. A loving, non-narcissistic parent suppresses any irritation and changes the diaper or warms the bottle, attending to the infant’s objective needs. The narcissist may well ignore the child or even lash out angrily at the interruption.
According to Fromm, the relative absence of narcissism depends, not only on objectivity, but also on humility and reason. I must be humble enough to see myself as one person among many. I must use my reason to understand egoistic distortions and see the world objectively.
Moreover, says Fromm, to truly love requires faith. Fromm explains, “Having faith in another person means to be certain of the reliability and unchangeability of his fundamental attitudes, of the core of his personality, of his love.” (If he were writing today, Fromm would have used their instead of his.)
And what of God? Isn’t faith necessary to love God? Of course! And how may we come by that faith? Through centering down into the Stillness where God dwells in Light!
But what of those Friends who do not see God revealed by the Inner Light? Well, it requires faith to believe in the efficacy of Reason. Reason active in the depths of one’s being may be the same as faith. Admittedly, there is a mystery here—one which, in all humility, I do not pretend to understand.
~ Richard Russell
I wanted to share this selection from Isaac Penington, which was presented by Brian Drayton at his recent Midweek Meditation. It’s an excerpt from a letter Penington wrote to John Mannock, who—according to one Beatrice Saxton—was “a humble Friend, whose duty was to look after the horses of Friends attending Monthly Meeting.”
Penington writes Mannock:
... be not careful after the flesh, but trust the Lord. What though
thou art weak, and little; though thou meet with those that are
wise and knowing; and almost every way able to reason thee
down; what though thou hast not wherewith to answer; yet thou
knowest and hast the feeling of God's pure Truth in spirit, with a
desire to have the life of it brought forth in thee, and so to witness
the change and renewings which are by his power. O dear heart!
herein thou art accepted of the Lord, and here his tender love and
care will be over thee, and his mercy will daily reach to thee; and
thou shalt have true satisfaction in thy heart, and hold the Truth
there, where all the reasonings of men, and all the devices of the
enemy of thy soul, shall not be able to reach; yea, thou shalt so
feel the Lord to help his babe against the strength of the mighty,
in the seasons of his good pleasure, as shall exceedingly turn to
his praise; and so thou shalt experience that whom God preserves,
all the gates of hell shall not be able to prevail against. Therefore
look not out at men, or at the words and wisdom of men; but keep
where thou hast felt the Lord visit thee, that he may visit thee yet
again and again every day, and be teaching thee further and
further the way to his dwelling-place, and be drawing thee thither,
where is righteousness, life, rest, and peace for ever.
I sometimes feel that there are two personae inside me—the humble Quaker and the wise, knowing skeptic. The Quaker part of me is ascendent but is continually challenged by the skeptical, modern rationalist. This produces a very real and uncomfortable tension in the depths of my being.
I’ve concluded that I must live with the tension, but I find Penington’s advice to John Mannock most comforting. When my rationalist persona raises its “rattlesnake head,” I need to let myself feel “God’s pure Truth in spirit.” I need to retire to the inward place where I’ve felt the Lord visit me. There, I can find a temporary relief from my spiritual tension. There I can find “life, rest, and peace.”
Of course, there are Friends who see the Inward Light as the Light of Reason, and I envy their oneness of spirit. It’s probable that Spirit (God in my idiom) moves different people to different conclusions about Ultimate Reality.
So long as our Inward Light brings us a life of peace and “good will toward men,” it must be respected—however we define that Light. May we all experience the rest and peace of our Quaker convictions, however they may differ from the leadings of other Quakers!
~ Richard Russell
For about a year and a half I’ve participated in the Morning Communion online discussion/worship sharing group led by Mary Linda McKinney and Mark Wutka. It has been incredibly important in my spiritual development, but Mary Linda and Mark have announced that they are laying down Morning Communion to free up time and energy for other pursuits. While it’s not accurate to say that I was devastated by their decision, I was saddened.
The only group that I can think of that’s comparable to Morning Communion is our own Worship Sharing group at Old Chatham, which has reliably continued through the years, probably because it doesn’t depend on the leadership of one or two people. That’s not to say that I begrudge Mary Linda and Mark’s new direction. I feel confident that God is calling them to other tasks.
But the end of Morning Communion brings up the topic of “end” in other contexts. Are we, for example, seeing the end of liberal Quakerism in our very own time? More and more monthly meetings are being laid down as membership declines to five, three, and no people. Our large Old Chatham Meeting seems to be immune to this trend, but many of us at Old Chatham—myself included—are of the “baby boomer” generation. We’re old; and when we die, will there be enough young Friends to replace us? Reluctantly, I predict a precipitous drop in OCMM membership as we boomers pass away.
Of course, the decline of Old Chatham is not inevitable. Some meetings are growing and flourishing despite the general trend. Their common denominator seems to be “outreach” or what would traditionally be called evangelization. I particularly like our Meeting address cards that Bob Elmendorf and others pass out to prospective attenders.
I have considerable hope that Old Chatham’s embrace of technology and hybrid meetings is an effective outreach technique, but other possibilities include an even stronger youth program as well as changing the format of our silent meeting. I can imagine the silence being preceded by a hymn or two. I can imagine children gathering in the meeting to hear a short, inspirational story before leaving for their school room. I can imagine our meeting taking out billboard or newspaper ads with content like, “We’re not Amish. We’re the Quakers! Come visit us and see how we’re honoring tradition while embracing the modern world!”
Here, from the February 1, 2018, Friends Journal is Donald W. McCormick’s vision of what a flourishing Quakerism might look like:
You can walk into any monthly meeting and see strong First-day school and youth programs. There are people of all ages sitting down for worship. Some newcomers are there because members and attenders invited them. Others are there because of the meeting’s outreach programs. People explain to newcomers what to do in meeting for worship before it starts, and they have a meaningful first experience of worship. The meetinghouse has the look of a spiritual home that is vibrant and growing. People new to meeting are greeted warmly during fellowship. A lot of newcomers are staying because they’re finding a spiritual friendship and intimacy in the small groups. People in meetings are focusing their lives on the Spirit more and more—discerning leadings and acting on them. This has led to inspiring, influential peace and justice programs.
The opposing vision is simply that Quakerism (at least in its liberal form) continues to die, attracting only older folk, mainly upper-class, intellectual whites. My own friend, Mary Linda McKinney, has written a provocative Friends Journal article about how working-class people are “turned off” by what they find in our meetings, which—perhaps—are not as welcoming as we imagine. And, on this opposing view, our Quaker demise is not the greatest tragedy in the world as it fails to meet basic human needs.
Not only liberal Quakerism, but also liberal Christianity seems to be precipitously declining. For example, Dr. David Goodhew in this article surmises that by 2050 (thirty years from now!) Episcopalians will be only a minuscule minority incapable of impacting the larger society. Perhaps Quakers (at least of the unprogrammed variety) will have declined to isolated individuals or a few scattered groups that are mere historical remnants of George Fox’s once vibrant faith.
Ironically, more fundamentalist Christian groups may have a longer survival time as they posit a world that contrasts sharply with modern rationalist secularism. People are looking for something different from our spirit-less modern materialism! It is apparent that religion or at least spirituality is an outgrowth of something innate in human nature. Perhaps the so-called “emergent church”—fundamentalist but also adaptable to modernity—will meet this basic human need and exist longer than other sects. Notably, I haven’t considered Eastern religions or New Age Faiths. Maybe humankind’s religious impulse will take future forms that we can hardly now imagine.
Of course, the end of Quakerism or Christianity or even of institutional religion does not mean the end of God—or, if you prefer, the end of Spirit. For reflection, I leave the reader with two quotes from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “In my beginning is my end.” Also, “We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
~ Richard Russell
Well, strictly speaking, love is indivisible. You can’t truly love somebody without potentially loving everybody, including yourself. I’m reminded of Jesus’ comment when he was told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him outside a crowded room:
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out
his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother
and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who
is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother. (WEB)
Nevertheless, love is expressed in different contexts; i.e., love can have different objects. So, it’s possible to speak of types of love. There are many typologies of love, but a particularly perceptive classification has been done by Erich Fromm in his book, The Art of Loving. Fromm distinguishes five basic types of love: brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love, self-love, and love of God.
Fromm says that brotherly love is fundamental love, underlying all other types. He continues:
By… (brotherly love) …I mean the sense of responsibility, care
respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further
his life. This is the kind of love the Bible speaks of when it says:
love thy neighbor as thyself. Brotherly love is love for all human
beings; it is characterized by its very lack of exclusiveness.
Then there is motherly love—unconditional love.
Mother loves the newborn infant because it is her child, not
because the child has fulfilled any specific condition or lived
up to any specific expectation. …Unconditional love corresponds
to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every
human being ….
A third type of love is erotic love.
In contrast to … (brotherly and motherly love) …is erotic love;
it is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other
person. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal; it
is also perhaps the most deceptive form of love there is.
Then there is self-love.
It is (often) assumed that to the degree to which I love myself
I do not love others, that self-love is the same as selfishness. …
(but) If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it
must be a virtue—and not a vice—to love myself, since I am a
human being too.
Fromm’s last type of love is the love of God.
…the basis for our need to love lies in the experience
of separateness and the resulting need to overcome the
anxiety of separateness by the experience of union. The
religious form of love, that which is called the love of
God, is, psychologically speaking, not different.
Love of God is more complex than other forms of love. That’s because there are so many conceptions of God. In patriarchal societies where God is thought of as Father, people are taught that they must meet God’s expectations and demands. They must obey God’s rules—for example, the Ten Commandments. Someone who doesn’t obey Him may expect divine punishment. So, when the Israelites at Mt. Sinai fashioned an idol to worship—the Golden Calf—God condemned them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Fundamentalist Christians even believe that God sends unrepentant sinners to Hell for all eternity.
Other, more mature Christians, attribute the qualities of motherly love to God. God as mother loves human beings unconditionally, forgives sinners without reservation, and accepts human beings as beloved children. Of course, it’s possible to call God “Father” while unconsciously thinking of “Him” as Mother. (That’s me.) In practice—even though it’s paradoxical—most Christians conceive of God as some combination of Motherly and Fatherly love. (Fromm does not consider paternal love to be one of the basic types of love, perhaps because fatherly love is conditional; and Fromm’s five basic types of love are—at least potentially—unconditional.)
Speaking of paradox brings us to non-theistic religions like early Buddhism or Taoism. In these traditions, Ultimate Reality (“God”) is simultaneously conceived of as Being and Non-Being. This paradox is believed to be the result of the limitations of thought. Thought or rationality is incapable of comprehending Ultimate Reality. That being so, these religions recommend “right action” or good deeds as the alternative to paradoxical thought. Another possibility is to seek a mystical union with the Ultimate through meditation, thereby avoiding thought and rationality altogether.
Well, I haven’t done justice to Erich Fromm and his typology of love. My summary of Fromm leaves out the historical details and examples—as well as the perversions of love—that Fromm uses to support and clarify his types. Nor have I included Fromm’s argument that love is not a sentiment or emotion. Rather, it is a commitment or intention that expresses itself in loving actions. To fully understand Erich Fromm’s ideas, why not read The Art of Loving? It’s available both in print and as an eBook.
~ Richard Russell
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul says that he has been “…in prisons more abundantly (than ‘super-apostles’), in stripes above measure, and in deaths often. Five times I received forty stripes minus one …. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.” (WEB)
Clement of Rome claims that Paul was imprisoned seven times. Why was Paul jailed so often? And why was he flogged or beaten so many times? Yes, Paul was witnessing to the Gospel, but he may have been seen by local Roman magistrates simply as an undesirable itinerant who could be punished casually and with impunity. After all, the apostle was homeless, poor, and a native of a despised, captive race—the same underlying reasons for so many people being in American prisons today.
The U.S. leads the whole world in number of people incarcerated, spending 80 billion dollars per year to keep people in jail or prison. During the last 40 years our American prison population has increased 500%, with no evidence of a corresponding decrease in the crime rate or improvement in public safety.
My daughter is married to an ex-con, white as it happens, who served ten years in prison for an offense that didn’t merit—in my opinion—more than six months. Now a good husband and the manager of a Dallas-area restaurant, “Chris” had the misfortune of being relatively poor, having inferior legal representation, and drawing a notoriously punitive judge for his case.
How many people of color are similarly imprisoned today because they were caught with small quantities of illegal drugs? Perhaps these victims of our justice system had prior convictions for public intoxication or petty theft—perhaps not. In any case, many years of prison are inappropriate as a sentence for “victimless” crimes, no matter if a person’s skin color is black, brown, or white. And, of course, there are very few wealthy people in prison. I’ll bet there are no CEO’s in the picture heading this article.
What can Friends do about the mass incarceration that is a blight upon our society? Of course, we should lobby for fairer laws and sentencing guidelines, but we could also follow the lead of the Church at Philippi during one of Paul’s imprisonments.* The Philippians sent Epaphroditus to visit Paul and make sure he had the necessities of life. They also wrote him letters of encouragement and prepared a guest room where Paul could stay after being released. Following the example of the Philippians, Quakers can visit those in prison and write them letters. Moreover, we should welcome ex-convicts into our private homes and meeting houses to aid their reintegration into society.
Finally, we could follow Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (NIV) If there is joy in our lives, we will want to share it with those who have been incarcerated.
* The times, places, and details of Paul’s imprisonments are very unclear.
(This post was based on an article in the Christian Century reviewing Ryan Schellenberg’s book, Abject Joy.)
~ Richard Russell
In the spirit of Bob Elmendorf’s poem March, I offer these lines from Carlos Santana’s song, Primavera—first in the original Spanish, then in my English translation:
Como la semilla
Lleva nueva vida
Hay en esta primavera
Una nueva era
Lluvia de sol
Como una bendición
La vida renace a plena luz
La primavera ya llegó
Todo es así
Regreso a la raíz
Tiempo de inquieta juventud
En primavera ya
La tierra negra
Se vuelve verde
Y las montañas
Y el desierto
Un bello jardín…
En el aire
De este nuevo universo
Hoy se respira libertad
En primavera ya…
Like the seed
Bearing new life
In this Spring there’s
A new age.
The sun rains down
Like a blessing
Life is reborn in its radiant light
Now it’s Spring
Always it’s like that
I return to my roots
To the time of restless youth
Now it’s Spring.
The black earth
And the mountains
And the desert
Become a lovely garden
In the air
Of this new universe
Now freedom breathes forth
Now it’s Spring.
In these last days of March, I hope Old Chatham folks are feeling the first stirrings of Spring and the end (we hope) of a deadly Pandemic. Of course, Friends know that even in the winter of our personal discontents, God (or Nature) brings us life and hope. And—speaking of a return—I expect to briefly visit OCMM in May. I’ll see the trees leafed out and squirrels scampering here and there. Maybe I’ll even see a bear in Bob Elmendorf or Bev Thompson’s yard!
BTW, if you want to hear Santana sing Primavera, click HERE.
~ Richard Russell
From Jonathan Lockwood Huie I recently received the following meditation:
The monsters are in your own head.
- Paula Cole
Beware the Rattlesnake of the Mind
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
"Rattlesnake of the Mind" is a metaphor inspired by the Zen term, "Monkey Mind," which refers to the mind's tendency to invent an unending sequence of creative stories about everything we see and hear.
Life does not consist mainly,
or even largely, of facts or happenings.
It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts
that is forever flowing through one's head.
- Mark Twain
If you want peace, stop fighting.
If you want peace of mind,
stop fighting with your thoughts.
- Peter McWilliams
You are not your mind. You, a Spiritual BEing,
are neither your mind nor your body.
Mind and body are your tools - to use as you choose.
Sometimes your body appears to have a will of its own,
as when it twitches or pains.
Likewise, your mind often appears to have its own will.
That incessant chattering of regret, disappointment, guilt,
shame, foreboding, worry, and fear
is your Rattlesnake Mind striking off on its own.
Know that your mind can be a vicious rattlesnake, and be cautious.
The mind can be tamed, but only with conscious effort and patience.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Huie advises “conscious effort and patience” to tame the Rattlesnake Mind. That conscious effort—in my opinion—can be “centering down” either in or outside of meeting for worship. As other Friends have reminded me, when we center down successfully, we encounter a still, quiet place where we see the Inner Light and feel the action of the Holy Spirit. I believe that Stillness is what I personally need to quiet the incessant chatter of my rationalist, secular mind. What will be left to speak to me is nothing less than the God imaged by Jesus as he ministered to the people of Judaea.
I am reminded of a prayer from my Catholic Church days:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
~ Richard Russell
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