This is a series of short, 500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.
(1) Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
‘What do Quakers believe?’ When asked that question, we might hesitate, fearing we’ll come across as pushy. We might unhelpfully answer with what Quakers don’t believe, or talk about sitting in silence, which to the enquirer might be construed as another negative – sitting doing nothing. Might we instead answer with this A&Q? Is this the ‘good news’ of the Quakers? Here there is no hesitancy. This is not a suggestion, it’s an exhortation! ‘Take heed – listen!’
Reading between the lines of these two sentences, an expansive story can be read. The language of listening and leading speaks of a relationship. This is not a relationship of equals, but between one who leads and one who listens. This is a relationship between God and humanity.
Why are we being asked to trust these leadings? Because this relationship has broken down. Both hearing and trusting the leadings of God must be difficult if we need such a reminder. Why has this relationship broken down? Why is it difficult? Because we are in a place of darkness, a darkness that is in opposition to newness of life. It seems that we cannot emerge from this darkness by our own efforts. We cannot even see the darkness without help. We need Light with a capital ‘L’, and this Light belongs to God.
What else does this say about God? This is a God that communicates with us, and this communication occurs inwardly. These promptings, God’s leadings, occur in our hearts, in our inner, emotional life. These promptings are of love and truth, corresponding to the traditional twin characteristics of the Christian God: mercy and justice. God both comforts and discomforts, soothes and reproaches, embraces and unveils.
This is a God who calls us, and if we respond will reveal the darkness we inhabit, the darkness that inhabits us, and will lead us out of it to new life. For all that ‘being saved’ is absent from liberal Quaker vocabulary, here we have a story of salvation. This relationship of revelation with God is a saving one.
So we have in this A&Q a description of a fractured human condition – we are blind to our own blindness – and the promise of a restored relationship with a saving God who both reveals and casts out darkness.
Importantly, this is not an individualistic statement. It is communal. ‘Take heed, dear Friends.’ It speaks of our hearts, and our darkness. This is a relationship with God that takes place in community. We are called to listen together, to trust and be led together, to be judged together, and healed together.
For two sentences, this is explosive stuff!