Monday, January 23, 2006

Take my life and let me be

My father says that when he was a child, he had this goal of making his life a constant prayer. He laughs at the idea now, partly because he's an atheist but mostly at the idea that anyone ever could.

In my Quakerism class today we talked about the beliefs of the original Quakers, one of which is that life should focus on continuous and active worship. They believed that God is always present and might send revelations to anyone at any time, so we should always be listening. To do that you're supposed to clear out all the noise from your life and your thinking – thus the emphasis on simplicity. You're supposed to look to the Gospels for guidance on living the nonreligious parts of your life, but the real goal is to fuse your life so there are no nonreligious parts.

And the way you spend your time, the work you do, is to be examined for its implications. So if you go to Meeting every week but the work you do supports the military, that's wrong. But if you work writing railway schedules, you write them to the glory of God, because you're serving your fellow humans by letting them know what time their train leaves. And doing the work God calls you to do, they believed, leads to inner peace. It reminds me of Kahlil Gibran:

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

I don't know anyone who's fused all the parts of their life, who can make every moment intentional or prayerful or whatever you want to call it. But I'm not going to laugh at the idea.

Of course, I can't very well spend my life in worship since I can't bring myself to believe there's anything out there to worship. What am I listening for, since I don't believe there's anyone out there speaking? I know there are agnostic and atheist Quakers out there, but I don't know how they reconcile all this. Perhaps "reverential" is a better word?

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