"Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you." [From the Hadith Qudsi, or The Holy Sayings of Mohammad, which are believed to come directly from God.]
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:21
The spiritual life begins when we recognize that the conventional life is not enough, conventional rewards don’t bring inner satisfaction, and conventional religion doesn’t provide convincing answers to life’s questions. We may seek for the elusive “missing piece” in personal relationships, in our jobs, or in our purchases, but nothing external brings lasting contentment.
This divine discontent is what drives many people to become seekers. As a young man, George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, went to numerous sects and teachers, looking for the Truth, but everywhere he went, he was disappointed. Finally, like the Buddha, he sat down in contemplation and heard an inward voice say: “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” From that point on, Fox felt he had a direct link with his “Inward Teacher” and was able to help others to find their own way to connect with the Divine through silent worship.
Similar tales are told about Sufis who went in search of Divine Truth, only to discover that what they sought was already within them
This is the point of The Double Search: Prayer and Atonement (1906) by Rufus Jones (1863-1947), Quaker scholar/mystic. Through study, through prayer, through meditation, and through our myriad spiritual practices, we reach out to the One we hope will bring peace to our souls. Finally, we come to realize that what we are seeking is already within us, seeking us. That’s why Jesus reminds us that “the
is within you” (Luke 17:21) and why the Holy Qur’an affirms
that the One we seek “is as close to you as your jugular vein” (50:16). kingdom of God
This idea of the “double search” is a recurrent theme in the writings of Thomas Kelly (1893-41), the Quaker devotional writer whose language and passionate love of God come closest to the spirit of Sufism. In a beautiful passage, reminiscent of Rumi, Kelly uses the image of the wild duck and homesickness to describe the yearning for the Divine that calls us away from our mundane preoccupations:
A deep-throated bell, muffled or clear, comes ringing in the ears of our souls from a distant shore in Eternity and awakens in us a vague uneasiness, a homesickness, a longing. We’ve all heard that bell, distant or clear, calling us to a vaster life. Like a wild duck who has paused to pick at the straws of a barnyard, but who finds a dim stirring, a homing instinct which makes him leave the sticks and straws and easy comfortable food for the body, and wing his way into the blue south sky, where lies his home, so do you and I have a voice within us, a homing instinct of the soul which whispers within us uneasiness and urgency, and the call of Eternity for our souls. We are seekers, for we feel that we are sought (Plain Living, p. 104).
The image of the soul’s “divine homesickness” is common motif among Sufis and
is used by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a contemporary Sufi whose practice
incorporates a form of silent meditation. Kelly’s image of the wild duck is
reminiscent of the “sea bird” image used by Rumi to describe our yearning
to return to the Infinite Source:
Why have you come down here?
Take your baggage back.
What is this place?
Like the birds of the sea,
men come from the ocean—the ocean of the soul.
How could this bird,
born of the sea,
make his dwelling here?
Those who come to their first Quaker meeting and experience silent worship
often say it is like “coming home.” Coming home to one’s true self—the Inward Light
or the inner Friend—is what the path of Quakerism and Sufism is all about.