Monday, March 4, 2013

Do we see the world in black and white or living color?

Sometimes I become sad, or angry, when I encounter Quakers who are lukewarm about their faith. They go to meeting, fill a committee slot, and dutifully do what Quakers are supposed to do. But they lack enthusiasm or joy. They seem to be living in a world of Quaker gray.

I have to struggle against judgmentalism. I have to remember that, as Quakers used to say, they are living according to the measure of the light that they have been given.

Remember when computers had black-and-white computer monitors. At that time, black and white seemed perfectly fine and we were satisfied with shades of gray. Then there were monitors that displayed sixteen colors. Suddenly the old black-and-white world seemed drab. We was dazzled by the new technicolor universe, a universe with sixteen different colors!

I remember when I was given a monitor that could display 286 plus colors. At first, my amazement was beyond words. Who would have thought that the human eye could perceive that 286 plus colors! Yet when I looked at this monitor and compare it to the real world, I realized that the real world contains thousands, maybe millions, of nuances of color that the human eye can perceive. And of course, the human eye perceives only a fraction of the total color spectrum. Even humble insects can see ultraviolet shades that are invisible to us. We should therefore never imagine that an insect or a flower is drab simply because we can't perceive its beauty. That pale, sad-looking wild flower may be emitting ultra violent light waves more spectacular than the reddest of roses!

Robert Barclay said that those who have not yet experienced the presence of God in their lives are like people who are color-blind. These not yet fully enlightened souls see the world in shades of grey, or in black and white. But those who see the world as God made it, see it in living color, in shades too various and too subtle to put into words.

The Psalmist said that the "Word of God is like a lamp unto my feet." I'd like to update this image by comparing the Scripture to a flashlight. This extremely useful device emits a narrowly focused beam of light that helps us to find our way in the dark. Scripture can be very useful when you are in the dark. But when you turn on the light of God's love and it fills the room, or your life, you don't need the flashlight of Scripture any more. You might keep it around for emergency power shortages, but you don't go shining into every one's eyes. The same should be true of the way that we use the Bible.

The experience of God's presence changes everything. George Fox, that earthy man, had a more pungent image for this transforming spiritual experience. He said, "All creation has a new smell." You can almost imagine him leaning over and sniffing the earth in springtime, when the soil is rank and pregnant with new life invisibly stirring beneath the surface. In spring, new life stirs everywhere, in the earth, in the air, and even inside of us. Some of springtime's odors are fragrant, some are pungent, and some are downright irritating. The same is true of spiritual "scents." Spirituality isn't just about smelling roses; it's also about smelling corruption.

I once knew a woman who had no sense of smell. She couldn't tell if something had gone rotten in the refrigerator, unless she labelled and dated it. Only when she read the label could she be sure that something was fresh.

Many people are like that when it comes to spiritual matters. They lack the ability to "smell out the truth." They need labels and dates to guide them. But as a Sufi master once said, "Truth has a smell." If your spiritual senses are in good working order, you can perceive truth directly, just by sniffing the air, so to speak. It doesn't take a spiritual genius to discern that baloney and roses have a quite different aroma!

When our noses and our eyes have opened, we realize that the practice of the presence of God is not a one-hour-a-week Sunday morning ritual. To experience God's presence, we must be willing to be open ourselves to the truth twenty-five hours a day. We must be willing to inconvenience ourselves, to give of ourselves totally. At very least, we must be willing to spend time with kids outside of Sunday school, to share their joys and concerns, to have fun with them, to listen to them, and to let them know that we care, that God cares.....Words are not enough. Our very lives must speak....

A young man went to an old desert monk, and said, "I have studied the Bible and I have prayed diligently, and yet I feel that something is lacking. Tell me what I must do." The old man stood up, stretched his arms into the air, and light seemed to stream from his finger tips. The young man was dazzled, and the old man said simply, "You must become fire."

This is what Barclay and Fox and Jesus and other great teachers have tried to tell us. We must become fire. We must open ourselves to all the world's colors and smells, and most of all, we must open ourselves to God. When we are truly open to God, we will be given all that we need to convey the glory and wonder of God's spirit to young and old alike. Then the world will truly have a new smell--the smell of truth--and we can trade in our thread-bare Quaker grays for Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat!

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