June 2012


“In the beginning God was alone, but, wanting to share His infinite love and life, He posited for Himself a creature, the human being, with whom He could potentially share that life. We, as human persons, are therefore nothing other than possible partners that God has posted for Himself in order that He might share his life in dialogue, love, and beatific vision. Now, if we are to be capable of such a dialogical love relationship with an infinite God, this implies some pretty astonishing characteristics on our part. We must not only be free personal beings, capable of receiving and responding to such love and yet retaining our freedom and self-identity, but we must be open to the infinite itself as well, beings who are capable of receiving infinity itself in love and vision. Because of our capacity for the infinite, we are unable to achieve complete satisfaction and fulfilment in this life. We are by our very structure both blessed and condemned to be lonely and insatiable, restlessly striving to fill a space within ourselves which is infinitely deep. We are lonely because of the way God has made us, and our loneliness is very good, albeit painful, because it keeps us focused on the very purpose for which we were created.”

Ronald Rolheiser

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Photo: Mike Stroud (I accidentally made a video instead of taking a photo!)

This blog has been inactive for a few months. Part of that is because of the busy-ness of moving to a new home, new city, new country and settling into a kind of new, or redirected, job with much larger responsibilities. Part, however, is because it’s in my nature to slowly assimilate changes taking place around me and in me, before I can begin to understand how I feel about them and later start to express those feelings. It takes me a while.

This last weekend, however, I took a break from my daily life. I spent it in a city I’d never visited, celebrating the upcoming marriage of a very old and very dear friend along with a number of other old and dear friends and a couple of new ones. It was fun.

My friends know me well and understand some of my quirks, so they weren’t bothered when I excused myself one afternoon to wander off on my own for a little while. I headed back in the direction we had come, down the beautiful, balconied streets of Charleston, South Carolina to Meeting Street, where I found a memorial stone to the Quakers buried there. There was a particular name I was looking for and found, Mary Fisher Bayley Crosse.

I have many Quaker ancestors but she is not one of them. She is however, a kind of spiritual ancestor, whose testimony has inspired me from the first moment I came across it years ago (for those who are interested, go read George Fox and the Valiant Sixty).  Mary Fisher was a housemaid in Yorkshire in the 1660s, who was convinced by the Spirit to go and preach the gospel to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Despite what many considered to be the insanity of this idea, her church was convinced as well and sent her on her way.

She made it to Istanbul where she went to the British Consulate, in the hopes that they would help her with the introductions necessary to speak to the Sultan. The British Consul, not surprisingly, thought she was mad and worse, a potential diplomatic liability. He pretended to help her, putting her on a ship which he said was going to the Sultan’s palace, but which she realized at some point was actually headed in the opposite direction.

Undeterred, she jumped ship as soon as she could and made her way, by land (again this is in the 17th century!! And she was a woman who probably only spoke English and a heavily Yorkshire-accented English at that!) across South-eastern Europe, back to Istanbul. This time, she bypassed the British consul and began making her own enquires. Somehow, the Grand Vizier heard about her and apparently thought it would be a hilarious joke to usher in this dowdy woman who called herself an emissary of God and he made the arrangements.

Mary Fisher entered the Sultan’s palace, introduced with great pomp, fanfare and laughter as God’s Ambassador to the Sultan. Then she just stood there.

The laughter died down and it must have suddenly started to get a little uncomfortable as someone then told her to get on with it, and give her message.

Her reply stunned them all, and stuns me today. “The Spirit told me to come, He did not tell me what I should say. I must wait for Him to do so.”

The stories don’t say how long she stood there in silence as the court waited, but eventually the Spirit gave her words to speak and she began to share those words with the court and the Sultan. Her words were well-received and she stayed for some time, preaching daily and sharing God’s word with the Ottoman court. Then, suddenly, the Spirit told her it was time to go home and off she went, back to Yorkshire.

In her report to her Meeting she said,

Now returned into England … have I borne my testimony for the Lord before the king unto whom I was sent, and he was very noble unto me and so were all that were about him … they do dread the name of God, many of them… There is a royal seed amongst them which in time God will raise. They are more near Truth than many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than many others will also raise his seed in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness hath in some measure been shown towards his servants.

I really wonder what this woman was like; this woman who listened so closely to the Spirit’s leading that she would not take a step or say a word without it; this woman who crossed continents and, at other points in her life, oceans and dared to do things that might have made a wealthy man hesitate, let alone a housemaid from the North of England. She did things, not knowing the impact they would have nor the purpose, but simply because she listened and God told her what to do.

As I thought about her, I thought about all of my other ancestors, Quakers and otherwise, who left home centuries ago because of their convictions, fleeing persecution and seeking the freedom to listen to and worship God according to those convictions. I thought about the many people I know today who pay the ultimate price, and by that I don’t only mean giving their own lives, but also, often, risking the lives of their children, parents, spouses and other loved ones, because of the strength of their beliefs.

And then I thought that it all comes down to such a simple act. Listening. Being quiet and opening our ears and hearts to that still small voice, the Inward Light, as Mary Fisher might have called it, – and then taking the decision and the step to obey.