On Being Led

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On being Led

Paul Lacey's pamphlet Leading and Being Led was published by Pendle Hill in 1985.

The leading, Paul Lacey says, is directed inwardly. After describing the disrupting effect a leading has on our souls and relations, he continues: "Through all this turmoil we become aware of a great longing to know what can be depended on, and we recognize that our desire to know what is true is greater even than our desire to be comforted. We learn in some detail about our own condition-both what it is and what it might become. As a consequence we learn that we can persevere.

"Perseverance requires patience -and courage, which are essential for clearing away false solutions to our needs. During his time of searching, various advisers urged George Fox to get married, join the army, sing hymns, use tobacco and have his blood let. Many of us have received similar advice, if indeed we haven't offered it to others. Such advice is based on the assumption that we are merely going through a phase which will work itself out if we do not take ourselves too seriously. And such advice misses the point entirely, for we know that, even if what we are going through can be charted on some developmental scheme as adolescence or mid-life crisis, that does not account for it. For us it is an ultimate test of meaning, a test whether we can live with integrity and find a human fellowship rooted in what lasts.

"A second hallmark of a leading is that we recognize that our endurance comes as a gift, an opening. The waiting is still painful, but our capacity to resist false answers gives us some assurance a true one will come. A third hallmark is that we learn about people. As we come to know our own condition, we come also to know the condition of others. We see that others experience the same kinds of temptations, the same sufferings, the same longings. We receive another opening then, that we are part of suffering humanity, so whatever may comfort us will have to be for all humankind. We cannot come to the ocean of light except through the ocean of darkness.

"A fourth hallmark of a leading is that we feel ourselves increasingly under obedience. A gathering power of conviction within us sustains our courage and patience and then points us to first steps in a re-ordering of our lives. And we persevere in obedience, we may find that the steps we feel drawn to take become bigger, more defined. We feel more clearly led.

"At the moment of greatest emptiness or greatest need, God begins to turn all those separate openings to good account. One learns, directly or through the mediation of others, that there is an answering to the human condition, if only one will trust it, and, in this leading to the truth, one may find one's greatest gifts enhanced and focused.

"A leading does not come to us simply so we may have one. Eventually its inwardness takes outward form and affects the rest of the human community.

"When we are led to the truth it is so we may live by it and do something with it. But as the examples of seasoned Friends often show, the struggles over leadings do not cease, nor do the possibilities of outrunning one's lead. The private leading must be tested against the experience and collective leading of the worshipping community, not only to check the excesses of the wilful or the mistaken, but also to give the support and strength of the religious community to what might otherwise be a lonely, ineffective witness. At its best, such testing strengthens the testimony of both the individual and the group. Very early in Quaker history, therefore, the community of faith had to find means to discern the true from the false leading and help the individual test the validity of his or her inward experience."

Submitted by Worship and Ministry Committee. Note: We hope to offer additional excerpts dealing with the subject of testing our leadings in the next issue of the meeting's newsletter.