Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Mysticism and Activism

I rarely repost the writings of others, but this one speaks powerfully to me this morning. My activist readers, especially the feminist ones, might find much here that speaks to them.

My take on this is that contemporary activism is a part of the largely political and activist focus that contemporary American religion is gripped by at this time. In other words, I see Quaker activism as the same as evangelical activism, or the activism of many Catholics, for various causes, for various legislative platforms, and for various candidates. For example, evangelicals and Catholics will urge participation in various anti-abortion demonstrations, and support of legislation and court action to further this agenda.

In the same way Quaker activists urge participation in demonstrations for their causes and concerns, and support of legislation and court action to further their particular agenda. I don’t see Quaker activism as being distinctive; I think of it as simply a part of what is happening in American religion in general at this time. Both sides see activism as the ultimate goal of their religious expression; they just disagree about the particulars of the activist focus.

The greatest difficulty I have with the prior post is that your view is that mysticism is an adjunct to effective activism rather than an end in itself. For example, you wrote;

“To experience the Spirit is to experience a call to action and to act with the faith that the Light will be revealed—through deep listening—after each step is taken.”

You see, that is not how I experience the Spirit. I don’t experience the Spirit as a ‘call to action’. And this is the divide between the mystic and the activist. The activist views contemplation, gathered silence, dwelling in the light, as tools for a more effective activism. In this way these prayerful engagements are hijacked by the activist and are transformed into means rather than ends; they become tools for the activist in the same way that making a poster, or putting up a web-page are tools for effective activism.

What the activist does not comprehend about the mystic is that, for the mystic, interior prayer, gathered silence, is the leading, is the purpose, and is sufficient unto itself. The mystic does not view these engagements as tools, or add-ons, for a political purpose.

From the activist perspective, this is inadequate. As Howard Brinton wrote in his ‘Introduction’ to the book ‘A Guide to True Peace’, “This solution [of interior prayer] will seem too simple to intellectuals and too inadequate to activists, the two groups that dominate our age.” This is because the activist is always outward oriented and wants to see results ‘in the real world’. In contrast, the mystic finds the realm of interior silence to be as real, or more real, than what is found by focusing outward. In the inward turning the mystic finds a true home.

For the activist this is to ignore the suffering and injustices in the world. But for the mystic there is the experience, which grows over time, that the silence and stillness found by turning inward is a blessing to the whole world, a blessing which does not give rise to strife and contention. Because this blessing is not palpable or measurable in material terms, the activist tends to dismiss this.


Daniel Francis said...

The question I have is this: Is the mystical content which Jim Wilson emphasises all that is needed? Or is he suggesting that it is all he feels called by the Spirit to participate in.

Each of us has particular gifts. We each have particular leadings and calls, and we all experience God in different ways. So if his response was to merely clarify his own perspective as distinct from Activists and intellectuals, so be it. But if the implication is that one is superior to the other or more in accordance with God's will or more proper for those who call themselves Quaker, than I would strongly disagree.

Jesus was a mystic, but he wasn't ONLY a mystic, nor did he only call or speak to mystics. The same goes for activists and intellectuals. ALL are needed, ALL are called, and ALL are necessary. We should be trying to harness all the gifts and methods of God's spirit in Quakerism for doing the work of Jesus on earth. Which one is currently in vogue with our fellow Christians is irrelevant.

And the fact is that if Quakers seek to take some or all of these aspects and incorporate parts of them into their lives, using the others to enhance or supplement the method they are called to or gifted towards, it shouldn't be viewed as "hijacking". Jesus was an activist primarily during his ministry. His contemplation in the Gospel accounts was mostly used to guide and shape his activism. Rufus Jones was primarily a mystic who used activism and intellect to enhance and complement his mysticism.
Henry Joel Cadbury was primarily an intellectual, whose experience was leavened with activism and Mysticism.

Wouldn't our society of Friends have more power, if more were willing to inculcate aspects of all into their lives, even if there focus was more towards one than another?

Comrade Kevin said...


Follow this link, which was the original source for what I posted.