“They were changed men themselves before they went about to change others.” – William Penn
I love watching a potter work with clay. I suppose one reason I enjoy it so much is my complete inability to do it myself. It looks easy -- all you have to do is get the wheel turning, throw a lump of clay on it, wet your hands, and then form a perfect pot or cup or dish or whatever.
Whenever I try it, though, the result is something less than aesthetically pleasing. My attempts end up as a misshapen lump of gook that’s not good for anything.
So, instead of feeling bad about how I can’t do it, I enjoy watching those who can. The glory of the wheel spinning just right, the hands and clay with the perfect amount of moisture, and up rises something beautiful. The piece is formed from the inside out – drawn up and outward. If it’s not quite right, the potter takes it back down and starts all over. Nothing is wasted.
One of my favorite Biblical verses (Isaiah 64:8) portrays God as a potter and us humans as clay. I think this image is true to the Quaker experience: We Friends believe that the Inner Christ is at work molding us via every experience that comes our way. The Divine potter's hands are ever busy, spinning the wheel, correcting the moisture, adjusting the shape, sometimes working under less than ideal conditions.
Part of the process of being under the potter’s hands is change. The same is true of being under the tutelage of Christ our Inward Teacher. The William Penn quote above reminds us that spiritual transformation was the norm for the early Friends. They found the Light leading them out of spiritual darkness and seeking, into a new way of life and light.
That same Inner Christ who came to teach his people himself shows us, like Friends through the ages, a fresh and deeper way to live a Spirit-directed life – a life that eschews simple spiritual solutions and takes us to the deepest, most soulful parts of our being. The Inner Christ works in ways that are unique to each person. The way the Inner Christ works with us is not the same for each one of us. After all, a good potter knows that different clays perform in different ways.
The Inner Teacher leads us into a way of moving through life with purpose and promise, even in those times when we may not sense with certainty what that purpose and promise are. In a grace-filled way, the Holy Discovery is that we are invited into a life of continuous experiences of God and of transformation of ourselves and the world.
The Inner Christ at work within us – changing us – is a central tenet of the Quaker way. It is one, sadly, that we too often forget. We imagine we are growing through our own efforts. Indeed, Thomas Kelly says:
“In this humanistic age we suppose man is the initiator and God is the responder. But the living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders. God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. ’Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us. The basic response of the soul to the Light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening.”
We need to bring this "secret presence" into our consciousness. We need to recognize that Spirit is at work in us, and that by cooperating with that work we can begin to live as we know we ought to live. As we pay attention to the Inner Christ, we hear our own hearts and souls calling us to be more like the people we know Spirit meant us to be.
The Inner Christ works within us, often in very subtle ways. While the occasional ecstatic experiences occur – Fox's having his vision on Pendle Hill, for example -- Spirit is at work primarily in the everyday ventures of life. Spirit works within us so that we can live faithfully in life’s common ventures: youth, adulthood, marriage, work, family, illness, and death. These are all things that each of us shares, in some degree, with the rest of God’s people. They are the normal stuff of life. God is present in them. As English Friend William Littleboy wrote:
“God is above all the God of the normal. In the common facts and circumstances of life He draws near to us, quietly. He teaches us in the routine of life’s trifles, gently, and unnoticed. His guidance comes to us through the channels of ‘reason [and] judgment’… we have been taught by Him when we least suspected it; we have been guided … though the guiding hand rested upon us so lightly that we were unaware of its touch.”
It is as we engage with the work of the Inner Christ that we find ourselves refreshed and renewed. We see the fruits of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22 & 23 -- "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" -- coming to bud, to flower, and then to be fully realized fruit. The fruits of the Spirit have a better chance of growing in our soul soil when we allow the Inward Christ to cultivate it and water it with Divine Love.
June Ellis is quoted in the current Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting as asking: “What happens to those who are part of our meetings? Are their lives changed? Do they care more? Love more? What do we know of one another’s lives outside of the meeting? Of one another’s spiritual journeys? Do we seek to share joys and humour as well as sorrows…?”
If we are open to The Light, Seed, Christ Working in Us, then the answer will be "Yes" to each of these questions – and more!
Image credit: pixabay