NEWSLETTER MARCH 2006
Rambling Around the Parsonage
Last week I stumbled on an essay by Douglas Steere, a beloved Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Haverford College, a Quaker School near Philadelphia.
The piece is about the power of sustained attention, a neglected factor in higher education. There is an experiential aspect of faith that sustained attention fits as well. He calls it a "rudimentary framework for a philosophy of contemplation." Quakerism is a contemplative spiritual practice much more than a way of understanding doctrine. We find the presence of God, or the presence finds us, and the way we understand this in terms of doctrines and beliefs is a next step. Sustained attention is a way of describing the journey inward.
In Steeres essay there is a delightful anecdote. A teacher friend of his played a parlor game in his home where each guest was given a limited time to list all the things in the room. It was of interest that few guests listed the light by which the objects were able to be seen at all.
Sustained attention means deep listening. It assumes that human beings can visit the deep. For Friends, worship is about what the Psalmist describes as "the Deep answering unto the Deep." Our exercise in the silence is about relinquishing surface attention and sliding into the deep, only to rise to the surface again with a new sense and perception of it all.
List all the examples of love in your life: every kindness, every act of cherishing, all the caring and concern. There must be something like the light without which nothing is seen at all. Sustained attention acknowledges the love behind the love. Love as the source. Love as the life sustainer. Love that makes all things new. God is Love.
So Steere invites us to a new dimension of prayer, paying atttention, following the trail of the hearts hunger. The consequence is life more vital, a life of walking in the light.
Steere ends by saying that the power of sustained attention enables folks to walk through the dream of life as one awake.
A Word from John Woolman (1720-1772). . .
"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren "
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