Mark Johnson. June Coordinating Editor.
Most Christians celebrate May 27 as Pentecost, remembering the event when those disciples of Jesus – frightened, disoriented, and uncertain – were dramatically inspired by the Holy Spirit to leave their refuge and proclaim the Good News to the world. The Book of Acts describes this event as like the rush of a violent wind, filling the entire house in which the disciples were hiding. And then flame, like tongues of fire, rested above each, filling them, we are told, with the Holy Spirit (Acts2:1-4).
For many this is one of the seminal moments in the birth of the early Church, an event that expresses the utter reliance of the fledgling community upon the initiative of God. It was only within the impetus of the Spirit’s momentum that the disciples overcame their fear, their self-preoccupation, and the small world of the room into which they had fled.
The narrative of Acts continues to tell us that the Spirit’s filling each of those gathered enabled them to speak in other languages, with the disciples not only proclaiming the Gospel in diverse dialects but many of those assembled outside, hearing the Gospel proclaimed in their own diversity.
From this early stage in the life of the Church diversity is its character and context. The Gospel cannot be contained within one privileged language, one grammar, within uniformity or cultural dominance. It is the Spirit which breaks down barriers that artificially divide and constrain.
Every language, with its rules, its vocabulary and grammatical limits, conditionally frames people’s experience of the world. If the Gospel was proclaimed in one privileged language we would then, as people of faith, have only one privileged view of it and our relationship to the world.
Pentecost explodes this grammatical primacy. Instead, many languages were given authority to proclaim, and legitimacy to receive. One Gospel diffuses through many understandings. This Good News cannot be contained by one vehicle only, by one privileged way of speaking.
The Spirit moves to proclaim in diverse ways. Friends may hear this message in the actions of those who work for justice just as powerfully as those in works of ministry. Some speak the Spirit in ways of friendship simply by their presence at our Meetings. In response to the same inspiration there is no one single way of Friending.
Quakers do not worship a text, a law, a creed, or a formula. God did not speak through a narrative or static word, instead, as we are told by the Gospel according to John, through a living Word; Word which is not ours, but which enlivens our words. Pentecost reinforces this. One privileged language cannot capture the Gospel. It is a plethora of lives which speak and live the Gospel, including but ultimately beyond mere words and concepts.
It is a Living Word which enables our lives to speak.
Pentecost reminds us that listening to the language of others leads us to appreciate that there is no monopoly on the Light. The Inward Light speaks to us wherever and whoever we are, not as others would have us be. It calls us to integrity, and leads us out of our safe, closed rooms so to let our lives speak with that of others beyond the closed doors of selfishness and fear.
Many of the articles in this issue of Australian Friend reinforce such a focus. We at the Australian Friend thank all of our contributing authors for helping to create such a rich and diverse issue. There are several articles which let us listen to the many voices and languages at this year’s FWCC conference held in Kenya. They are small soundings into the diversity of our Society of Friends, and the tensions of diversity. Another article takes us back to the voices of the Middle Ages, showing that voices of the long past still have much to say to us here and now. There are poetic voices, and voices of exhortation, voices from the past, and voices of spiritual experimentation.
Australian Friend invites participation in a virtual retreat on Quakerly inquiry, an opportunity to listen to voices of spiritual experimentation across Australia, and develop strategies and skills for living experimentally. The article on Living Systems gives the substance of the retreat, and there are details about how to participate in the Quakerly Inquiry supplement to this issue at http://australianfriend.org/qi/
In the spirit of many languages and voices the theme for the September issue of Australian Friend will be “What is a Quaker Voice?” Please consider how this ‘voice’ manifests in the diverse range of activities and presences that Quakers undertake, and too in the diversity of both so called ‘programmed’ and ‘unprogrammed’ communities of faith. Is there something distinct about a Quaker voice, or not at all? From actions for peace, to earthcare, prayer, ecumenism, ministry, development aid, to politics, creativity, theology, to education, to evangelisation, scholarly endeavours, and spirituality; what is a Quaker voice in any of these diverse endeavours which we undertake? What is it to simply be Quaker in society and family? Please consider contributing to this special issue. Feel free to contact the editors with ideas or requests for help.
The Australian Friend draws your attention to a special feature in this edition. It is part one of a two part work on the thought and contribution of the Quaker theologian Robert Barclay. Our Friend Paul Copeland provides us with a significant opportunity to engage with a too often neglected voice of Quaker Tradition.
This is the second issue of Australian Friend since Australia Yearly Meeting decided we should go online, and our Editors will review our progress so far. We welcome your comments, critiques and suggestions on how the publication is attending to the building up of Yearly Meeting. Perhaps there are topics that you might like to see covered that as yet have not been addressed. Or perhaps you might like to see a different format, or have experienced technical problems. Whatever your comment or suggestion please feel free to contact Australian Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org , or use the contact form provided on the Australian Friend website.
May our diverse lives speak.