God Makes a Friend
Patricia A. Williams
Early in 2005 Patricia Williams became the editor of
Universalist Friends, and readers of the journal will have learned
something of her life story in issue Number 42. In her introductory
essay there she describes herself as an editor, a scholar, an
academic, and a Quaker by convincement. Raised in the Episcopal
church, Patricia holds a PhD in philosophy and has taught at
universities in Australia, Canada, and the United States. For some
years she specialized in the philosophy of science then moved
into the field of theology. The author of several books, she
writes for both the academic world and for general readers. She
was recently elected a Fellow of the Westar Institute, which is
best known for its work on the Jesus Seminar.
In her own introduction to this pamphlet, Patricia
tells how it came into being and how she excerpted it from a
book that still awaits publication. To her readers she says: If
you want to contact me, please do. My e-mail address
is <email@example.com>. For information on my
other books, please see my web site at <www.theologyauthor.com>.
Rhoda R. Gilman
To understand this pamphlet, it is necessary to know how
it came to exist. It began with a series of spiritual
experiences that occurred over a period of seven years, from early
1993 through 1999. During those years, I wrote a daily
spiritual journal and also retained my weekly planners. Thus, when
I decided to write a spiritual autobiography of those years, I
had the raw materials available. I wrote the autobiography
during 2001 and 2002, framing it as a series of monthly letters to
the spiritual presence I refer to as Jesus or Christ or God or
the Holy Spirit or any of several other metaphors typical of
Christian references to the deity Comforter, Advocate, Light,
While the autobiography was seeking a publisher and
for reasons related to my professional philosophical work on
science and religion, I read deeply in Quaker theology and history
mostly the initial, 17th-century Quakers, especially works
of the founder, George Fox, and the systematic theologian,
Robert Barclay. At last I decided to re-orient my own book
slightly, and in re-reading the manuscript I discovered to
my astonishment that the spiritual presence who had been
my teacher during those seven years had taught me lessons
that were in close accordance with the theology of the first Quakers!
Thus, the book can be read both as a spiritual
autobiography and as an experiential affirmation of early Quakerism.
This pamphlet offers a taste of that 60,000-word book
in 10,000 words. I have retained most of the first year and the
last, then offered central letters from the intervening years.
Most of my social and work life is deleted, leaving a spiritual
core that tells of my journey from Episcopalianism to the
modern liberal Religious Society of Friends. Please do not mistake
the narrator for an omniscient voice. I am the narrator, and I
have tried to capture what I experienced at the time and what
I thought about it then, right or wrong.
The core Quaker doctrine as seen through Fox and Barclay
is that every person has a measure of the Divine within.
These early Quakers believed God to be omnipresent, immanent
in all things, but their emphasis was on persons. Each and
every one has a measure of divine Light, whether they are
Christian, Muslim, Hindu, pantheist or atheist, whether they are male
or female, black or white, bond or free, heterosexual
or homosexual. This divine Light has many roles, but
principally it shows people their sins, saves them from sin and death,
and instructs them. The Light is divine; it is not conscience,
although it may reprove and enlighten conscience.
This divine, inner Light shows us our sins in order to
purify us from them. Being shown one's sins can be unpleasant,
of course. The early Quakers speak of groaning, crying,
suffering, and repenting. They did, indeed, quake before God. Fox
advises them not to dwell on their sins, but to look above the sins
to their Savior. Nevertheless, logic says that in order to
cease sinning we must see our sins so we can confess them,
repent, and amend our lives.
The early Quakers thought moral perfection to be
possible now, in this life. Fox reproves Protestants for preaching
that we are always sinful and Roman Catholics for their doctrine
of purgatory. God, he says, can purge us of sin here and need
not wait for an afterlife. Although perfection requires our
desire for it and our efforts, in the end it is a gift of God who brings us
to the perfection Adam and Eve were in before they fell
and lost the image of God in which they were created. We
are transformed, then, from sinful people who disobey God
and tarnish the divine image in us into people who are
morally upright, people filled with love and compassion for all.
The Quaker testimonies capture this sense of
transformation. The central ones are simplicity of life, the
equality of all persons, non-violence, and not swearing oaths but
telling the truth on all occasions. Quakers emphasize the unity
of everyone and everything because they want all to live
together in peace, but their hope that harmony can reign springs
from the belief that there is one God, one Spirit, one Light, and
if the same Light enlightens us, we will live in harmony with
it, with one another, and with the rest of creation. This one
Spirit is head of the church. The church, then, needs no
formal ministers or priests, no bishops, and, certainly, no pope.
Fox refers to all these as "hireling priests," whether Protestant
or Catholic. He thinks those who minister, preach, or heal
should do so without pay, for they perform these actions by the
free grace of God, and what God gives freely should be freely passed on.
Fox recognizes that different people have diverse
talents, and that some, himself included, have a calling to preach
that others may not share. Still, anyone may have such a calling;
it comes from God, who is no respecter of earthly status.
The early Quakers worshiped together in silence, listening for
God, waiting for the Light. Any person whom God inspired to
speak in meeting could speak, whether male or female, rich or
poor, educated or illiterate. All should listen respectfully, for
this person's voice is, ideally, the voice of God with a message
to God's gathered people.
Because God is present at meeting, there is no point
in doing anything to evoke the Spirit's presence. The Light
is within no need to remember it or to call it down from
the heavens above. Therefore Fox and Barclay see no point
in celebrating the lord's supper (hereafter, eucharist) in
remembrance of Jesus' death, as Saint Paul
suggests. Communion either takes place internally, or it does not.
The externals, bread and wine, are useless. Barclay and Fox
treat baptism similarly. They see no point in it. Either it is an
empty ritual, in which case there is no reason to go through
the motions, or the Holy Spirit baptizes us, in which case we
do not need water sprinkled or body immersed. Indeed, the
early Quakers rejected all external rites and rituals. Fox and
Barclay consider them pernicious. They are superficial and false
teachers that lead people away from their inner Light into darkness.
As did all in Christendom in the 17th century, the
early Quakers believed the scriptures to be historical: Adam
and Eve were the first couple, Noah and his family survived
a worldwide flood, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery,
Joshua invaded the promised land, Jesus said exactly what the
gospels report, was born of a virgin, and died to atone for our
sins. However, Fox spiritualizes all of it, as does Barclay. Like
rites and rituals, historical events are external. For the early
Quakers, their meaning is internal. All the scriptural
narratives foreshadow what happens in us today, in our inner lives, as
we become increasingly aware of God within. We are fallen
Adams and Eves. We are slaves who are liberated. We are
conquerors of sin who enter the promised land of holiness. We are
Jesus' disciples who fall away, then return transformed to suffer
for the gospel. We have at-one-ment with the deity because
we are united with God inwardly, now, in this life. Although
Fox believes the deed of Jesus' crucifixion important, it
happened long ago. Fox focuses on what happens now, within
each individual, in each person's encounter with the Light.
Because the scriptures serve as signs or foreshadowings
or allegories of our inner transformation, Fox considers
them secondary, not primary. The Spirit is the source, the
fountain, the primary teacher, the One who inspired those who
wrote the scriptures and inspires us, today, too. This perspective
implies that revelation did not end sometime in the 2nd century,
as most Protestants believe. It continues today.
Yet, Fox took the scriptures seriously. He read them
often enough to have memorized them, and his sermons are
filled with scriptural quotations and allusions. Barclay, too,
treated them earnestly. His Catechism is a series of statements
confirmed by quotations from scripture. The point he seeks to prove
is that Quakerism is closer to scripture than Protestantism is.
But, then, this was before the rise of biblical criticism and
modern science and history. Today, Quakers look to other
external evidence also to substantiate their beliefs. But, mostly, like
the early Quakers, they turn within.
Another notable feature of Fox's writing, and of
early Quakerism generally, is that it is not trinitarian. Fox
makes little distinction, if any, between God and Christ (the
risen Christ, knowable experientially). He makes little or
no distinction between the risen Christ and the historical
Jesus. Rather, he focuses on the Spirit that meets and transforms
and leads us now, and he offers many metaphors for it
God, Christ, Jesus Christ, Light, Seed, Teacher, second Adam,
image of God, and Lamb, among others.
The early Quakers were universalists. They took
seriously their basic faith that there is a measure of deity in
everyone. Thus, they believe God can save those who do not know
the narratives about Jesus or that they have a savior crucified
for their sins. God can bring them, too, out of their sins and
into perfection, here and now. Like Fox and his
Christian contemporaries, people who do not know about Jesus
need only follow the inner Light, the measure of God within
all people. The inner Teacher will teach them all things
necessary to salvation, here and now, and lead them to perfection.
The measure can differ in people, depending on how
they respond to the Light they have. Some have little and/or it
lies under the filth of their sins. Others have large measure.
Some have the Light without measure. The early Quakers
thought Jesus the only one with such measureless Light, but some
modern Quaker universalists think others, too, may have had it.
They often name the Buddha as a candidate.
Finally, but of central importance, Quakerism is
an experiential religion. It is not learned from others, second
hand, but comes directly from the Spirit, the inner Light. Clarity
about this is important. The present evangelical position is that
a person must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. Quakers
say we must know Christ, the inner Light, here and now
must meet that Light, must experience its presence within
ourselves. I believe that my journey into the Spirit, and
concomitantly into Quakerism, can serve as an experiential affirmation of
the Quaker theology of direct access to the Spirit. It begins
with an extraordinary experience of God that I interpreted at
the time in medieval and Catholic terms.
30 April 1993
You've made a mistake. I've thought a lot about it,
and now I'm going to write about it, to see it in front of me,
on paper. I got your message okay. That's not the problem.
The problem is, I'm the wrong person. Your message must
have been meant for someone else. I admit the time was right
my favorite day of the church year, Maundy Thursday, when
the institution of my beloved eucharist is celebrated. And the
place was right, too church immediately after the celebration,
the altar stripped, the lights dimmed, holy silence. And the
vision. There's no mistaking the vision, a mental vision, of course,
not one a camera could capture, but a vision nonetheless. It was
a vision of me as a bride, a very classical '50s bride, long
dress, white veil, and all.
I didn't like the symbol even then. Marriage is not
my thing, not to mention being a classical '50s bride. Yet the
use of a bride as symbol is one reason I don't think my own
mind made up the message. My mind would have chosen a symbol I
liked. Anyway the message is clear. It's a call to what
the medieval mystics know as the unitive life, a life fully united
to yours. The medieval writers used the symbol of marriage
to talk about it.
Swept up as I was at the time, in that spiritual
atmosphere and state of prayer, I said "yes! yes!" joyously. Suddenly
the Spirit of altar and eucharist, who has always seemed
exterior, seemed interior. Your familiar presence appeared inside
me. At the time, I was enormously grateful. However, in the
cool light of day, I know something is wrong. I'm not worthy of
such a thing. There must have been a mistake. The message
was meant for someone else, someone far better than I, a
saint somewhere. The heavenly bureaucracy got the address wrong.
Look, I'm hardly even religious. I teach in a
secular university. I'm a philosopher of science. I believe in reason
and evidence. I defend science against faith, evolution
against creationism, and naturalized ethics against the Bible. I
don't think the Bible is authoritative. Christianity might be the
wrong religion. I've not believed it to be the right religion since I
was in eighth grade, when I read up on world religions and
decided I would never know what the right one is, if there is a right
one. I'm an Episcopalian merely because I decided to stay in
the religion of my childhood unless I saw good reason to
change. Moreover I'm a skeptic. I'm perfectly willing to admit that
God might not exist, that all religious experience might be
mere fantasy, including my own. I don't believe half the things
the churches teach, any churches, mine included. I've
remained an Episcopalian while I've been a Christian, a theist, an
agnostic, and an atheist. Yes, an atheist. I was an atheist for four or
five years that's years, not minutes.
Furthermore I drink, I cuss, and I've had a dozen
lovers. I've broken most of the Ten Commandments more than
once. I admit I've not born false witness. Nor am I covetous.
Nor have I murdered anyone, but I've certainly wanted to. I
remember being disappointed when Dave died because
his death meant I could no longer kill him. I get angry! I was
so angry at one time, I felt killing people was good. I knew
my feelings were wrong, but I certainly felt the emotions.
My sympathies were with the gunmen who randomly shot
people in McDonald's. I knew how they felt.
Dear God, there's been a mistake. People like me are
not called to unity with you. We'll never sit among the saints.
We can only hope to slip unnoticed some foggy night through
a crack in the heavenly portals.
Writing like this and rereading seems helpful. If
necessary, I'll try again.
26 May 1993
Dear and Blessed Spirit,
Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. Maybe
this is a good day to write you.
The Maundy Thursday vision is still worrying me,
partly because my skepticism cuts both ways. It's possible,
although highly improbable, that there wasn't a mistake. If you
have called me, it's an incredible privilege and honor, and I
should be responding positively.
I guess the appropriate response is to increase the
amount of time I spend in prayer and Bible reading. Neither should
be difficult since I rarely do either except in church. A
couple years ago I tried doing the daily offices in the
Book of Common Prayer, but I gave up. They're just too boring. Reading
the gospels is boring too. I already know them from hearing
them read on Sundays. In response to my experience of your
healing my depression in college, I've attended eucharist during
the week, too, where they're also read. After so much exposure,
I can't read them fresh. I remember what comes next, often
word for word.
So I need guidance. I feel I don't know how to pray
outside church, without the prayer book. I know there are
spiritual directors somewhere, but I don't know how to find one,
and anyway I mistrust religious people. They're too pious.
They find me too autonomous. They expect obedience to
some external authority, beginning with themselves.
Maybe you could be my director? I ask seriously. I
don't know where else to turn, and I'm really in need. I'll set
aside daily time for prayer and try to listen for you. Even if I've
not been called, spending more time in prayer should be okay.
Thinking of prayer reminds me to thank you for
your blessings over the years. A couple weeks ago I attended
a conference at the church camp up in the mountains.
The conference was a bore and I left early, but while I was there
I spent time revisiting the two summers I was a camper
there when I was fourteen and fifteen. I sat in the outdoor
chapel, and memories flooded back. The most poignant was of the
first summer when Sharon and I got into rivalry over an older
man. I think he was sixteen. One evening I left the other
campers and sat in that very chapel, listening to the distant shouts
and laughter and singing. There I thought about Sharon and
me. She was a wimp with a shrill voice who was poorly
coordinated. I knew I could beat her out and win our young man's heart.
You showed me what that would entail: jealous
rivalry, meanness, and manipulating him sexually to win. This
would not be the only time. There would be more men, more
rivalries. I could choose to become this vixen or to step aside and
let Sharon win. I stepped aside. I've continued to make that
choice. I've chosen not to compete with other women sexually
and not to manipulate men. As a result I've been blessed
with wonderful friends, male and female. Men have trusted me,
and their trust healed some who'd been damaged in
their relationships with the vixens of this world. Thank you for
the gifts you have poured upon me.
29 June 1993
Once before, when I was eight or ten, I had an
experience similar to the one I had with you yesterday among the
mountain laurel. They are worth recording. The earlier experience
took place under a huge poplar tree in our front yard one hot day
in midsummer. All of a sudden I saw that everything is one,
that the diversity we see around us is an illusion. Or maybe it's
not an illusion, but only one way of seeing. There's another way
of seeing, and from that other perspective, everything's united.
Today's physicists say something similar. In
quantum mechanics everything's connected, even things separated
by great distances. Electrons "know" what their sister
electrons are doing. It's weird. Moreover cosmologists think the four
basic laws of physics were once a single law. The laws diverged
by something called "symmetry breaking" as the universe
cooled. The diversity we observe rests on that broken symmetry.
Once, everything was one.
Is everything still one?
Everything was one in the rain and fog among the
laurel blooms. It was as if the rain and the blossoms were all part of
a single system rather than separate entities. The fog seemed
to hold it all together, like the ether that was (falsely) said
to pervade all space or Newton's absolute space, which
turned out not to be absolute. Yet not like those. Those
were intellectual constructs built to solve scientific puzzles.
Mine was an experience. It was more like a perception than an
idea, although, again, a camera would not have detected what I
saw. Hard to describe.
I apologize for being so reluctant to go yesterday.
There was such a storm! Lightning walks this mountain, and when
it does, I don't. The whole incident was such an odd
adventure. You were right there, urging me to go. I understood you
had something to show me. You took my hand, encouraging me
to rush out just as I was, right into the storm.
I stayed in my safe little mountain cabin until I had
put on my rain suit and hiking boots. By then the storm had
abated. You were so impatient while I dressed! Then you led me
across the lawn, into the woods, and half way up the peak into
the grove of mountain laurels. Standing there looking south
through the grove into the wind and rain, I experienced everything
as one. It was beautiful. Is reality truly like this, or is this just
one way of perceiving? And why among mountain laurel
blooming in a storm? Wouldn't a quietly blossoming day have done
It was so lovely. Something about the quality of
light through fog is fantastic, even without accompanying
visions. Thank you.
I wonder why you thought it important.
11 August 1993
Dear and Blessed Spirit,
Incredible! I saw you on the lawn. I couldn't wait to write.
It was hot, one of those serene southern evenings. I
was out for a walk after being in my cabin all day writing, just
looking at the trees and flowers and sunlight, beer in hand, hangin'
out in the shade in the cool of the day. Suddenly I sensed
your presence behind me. Even before I turned around I was
sure you were there, and as I turned I knew you were the
person whom I meet at eucharist.
You were standing with that little dogwood beneath
the soaring poplar. I could see you. You were standing in
the dogwood tree, which is about a man's height. Its
branches extend about the girth of a man. You and the tree
My mind rushed ahead of me trying to figure out how
you were present. Perhaps the tree had changed and was now
you; perhaps the tree and you were both present at the same time
in the same place; perhaps you were present in my mind
and projected onto the tree; perhaps you weren't present at all, and
all was my imagination or recollection. With humor I
realized my racing mind had gone through the historical
eucharistic definitions. We have divided your church and killed one
another over things beyond our comprehension. Yet I see now that
the people who fought one another were aware of your presence
at eucharist and, like me, wanted to know how.
Like them, I couldn't merely stand and worship. I
walked around the tree where possible, trying to see better. Finally
I approached. I heard "Don't touch," but you know my
curiosity. I reached out my hand, which went through the space
you appeared to occupy and touched a leaf. I withdrew. A
breeze stirred the leaves. You were gone.
It was a magic moment.
Although interesting, how you were present was not
the point even for curious me. If I wanted to work that out,
I'd need to discard the false notions of Aristotelian physics on
which the eucharistic definitions and battles rested. In modern
physics, matter is a form of energy and is unlike the material objects
we perceive daily. Mostly it's empty space or a frothy
vacuum. It could be considered spiritual, it's so spirit-like.
Assuming you're present at eucharist, Luther's concept of
consubstantiation fits better with modern physics than the
Catholic notion of transubstantiation, which would demand a change
of atomic structure if taken literally, and then the wine
would really change to blood!
Interesting but not the point. The point was that I
knew you from my experiences at eucharist. I immediately saw
that I've known you at eucharist as a distinct personality, not
merely some vague, mystical "presence" such as Wordsworth
evokes so often. I've known you almost all my life, but I'd not
been conscious that I knew. Now I know. I think I'll dub the tree
the "theophany tree" after the term for the manifestation of a
god, for my new realization is the equivalent of a revelation.
Realizing I've known you so long makes me feel grateful and
intimately close to you. Hi, from this side of knowledge.
29 September 1993
Dear and Blessed Comforter,
My prayer life is suddenly filled with imagery, and I
want to write it down. I laughed to get images from
Star Trek the Next Generation whose episodes I have taped and watch
over and over, always with delight. There I was on the deck of
the Enterprise with Captain Picard, Data, and the rest of the
crew. What fun! Clearly the images are symbols and the
plots allegorical. While praying I exercise Coleridge's
"willing suspension of disbelief," receiving all uncritically. I can
For a while now, almost every time I pray I return to
the same story line. I'm climbing Mt. Sinai. As in the
biblical narrative, God is at the top of the mountain, hidden in
clouds and accompanied by thunder and lightening. My intention
is to climb up to God. The story begins at the bottom of
the mountain in grassy fields and warm sunlight. I'm dressed
sturdily as if for a climb, wearing stout hiking boots. My arms are
laden with carefully prepared gifts. I intend to take them to God.
I expect a few days' climb and am confident of my abilities.
The trip doesn't look difficult.
It starts well. The ascent is moderate and the weather
good. Later the incline becomes steeper and the way rocky.
The weather turns colder and clouds sweep in driven by
strong winds. I begin to have doubts. Storm after storm breaks
over the mountain. I fall over rocks that have become slippery
with rain. My clothes are torn. I lose my grip on the beautiful
gifts that one by one tumble down the mountain, sodden
and mangled. I begin to think I'm a fool to go on. Finally I
collapse on a rock behind a huge boulder and finger my torn
boots, shivering and sobbing, bewildered by the fog and
wondering what to do. I've lost track of how many days I've been
stumbling up the mountain, and I'm unutterably weary, bruised,
Then the storms dissipate. The fog lifts. The boulder
is blocking my view of the mountain's top, but I feel
too disheartened and exhausted to rise and walk around it. At
last my curiosity gets the better of my exhaustion, and I work
my way slowly forward. Beyond the boulder is a grassy
promontory. As my feet sink into the spongy vegetation, the sun
breaks through. I'm so grateful.
In the distance, seemingly as far and as high as when
I started, is the top of Mt. Sinai. At the edge of the
promontory, between me and the top of the mountain, is a wide,
almost vertical chasm, plunging hundreds of feet. As I stand there
in complete despair, I become aware that God is watching me.
I stand before God in total humility: ragged, dirty, hungry,
and bruised. All my gorgeous gifts are gone. I've nothing to
bring. Instead I need God's gifts.
Is this a foretaste of the journey I may have been called
to take? If so it doesn't look very propitious.
31 December 1993
Dear and Blessed Savior,
I think you've resolved my dilemma.
In prayer I've been carried back to the promontory
where I was exposed to the top of Mt. Sinai and God's full view.
The chasm's still there and the top of the mountain still far away.
I felt the same hopelessness I experienced on the first visit,
the same sense of humility before God, and my own
aching neediness. I longed to cross the chasm and climb upward
even in the face of the apparent impossibility of doing so. I'm
not certain what happened next. It appeared that the
sunlight struck the mists at such an angle that a rainbow arched
from the edge of the promontory to the top of the mountain.
But the rainbow was you, forming a secure bridge from
the promontory to the seat of God. With your help I could
easily cross the chasm and ascend the mountain.
Moreover when God first saw me on the promontory,
my humility and neediness were exposed, but my unworthiness
was nowhere in evidence. Maybe my unworthiness is not
as conspicuous as I thought. Furthermore with you as bridge,
my unworthiness felt less important. I need not face God
alone, for you'll be with me. Theology says you are human, so
you know about our unworthiness, and somehow our
unworthiness doesn't matter.
I think it's I who have made the journey up Mt. Sinai
so difficult and the chasm so deep. This needs healing. Please
Happy New Year. Maybe the next year will be easier.
The Interim Years
31 August 1994
Dear and Blessed Comforter,
In prayer I saw an unusual pyramid, so afterward I
looked it up. It's a ziggurat, a pyramid with its sides stepped so
people can climb up. At first in the prayer the perspective was
from the bottom looking up. High, and so far away as to be
almost out of sight, I saw myself. I've climbed these steps,
sometimes on my hands and knees, soaked in my own blood. I was
near the top of the steps. On top of the steps towered a spire,
slender, highly polished, and perfectly smooth. I saw it and
exclaimed, "I can't climb that. No human being can!" Then I knew I
must be carried to the top of the spire if I'm to go there, for I
cannot get there through any effort of my own.
So I assented to being carried passively, beyond my
will, beyond my control, and so I was. At first I struggled to
remain passive, and then suddenly it was effortless, wonderful. I
felt like a song being sung.
I was blind. Asked if I wished to see, I replied
truthfully that I wished to see only if seeing would help me love you
more; if it would help more to be blind, then I preferred
to remain sightless. Immediately I was in a startlingly strong
light, too strong to bear, and I was very high up, clinging to the
spire of the ziggurat.
"What do you want?" I was asked. I thought, "To
know you better, to love you more." Quickly I saw that this
is insufficient for me. Meditation and mysticism are not
enough. "I want to be able to enact your love in the world," I replied,
and heard echo through me, "You want it all." Yes, I want it all.
Then you soul of the eucharist were with me,
through me, throughout me. I felt like worshiping on my knees
in adoration, but how can I get on my knees to you while you
are within me? I said, "You are here," but understood that
neither "here" nor "now" has any meaning for you. Here and now
are human perceptions and expressions. The laws of the
universe are much simpler.
Infused prayer suffused me. It was different from
other infused prayers, for it seemed not to come from outside
me, but from inside me, spoken within me, not by me, but
from me. Extraordinary! Then I was consumed until there was
almost no "I," then fed by you, on you. These two experiences,
being consumed and being fed, became simultaneous until I was
filled to abundance and beyond. This is unity past imagination.
This is love like none I've known before. Ah, my beautiful,
dear, and blessed Comforter, I thank you with all my heart.
30 November 1995
Poverty, chastity, obedience. I've been a nun
without knowing it. What a shock! I realized it a couple weeks
ago while thinking about issues associated with the
Spiritual Direction Institute, and I still haven't recovered. I do
remember that I explored entering a convent in my twenties, and
when the lead nun explained what could be accomplished in the
religious life, my immediate response was, "That can be
done on the outside." But I didn't see myself as doing it, living
it then, just as I was, with a beer in one hand and the other
holding a lover's hand.
Obedience came first. I chose it at age six when my
parents joined the Episcopal Church, where I saw eucharist
enacted and heard the summary of the law as love to God and
neighbor. I desperately needed a role model because I didn't want
to grow up to be like my mother. The liturgy provided a
role model. Love of God and neighbor wasn't hypocrisy there, for
it was acted out, words and deeds fitted to each other. I fell
in love. I wanted to become what that liturgical
It represented equality. In the eucharistic celebration
God gave to everyone equally the round pressed wafer, a
sip from the cup. At that altar rail everyone knelt,
everyone received the same as everyone else, everyone was identical;
no one was better than anyone else was. Indeed, if anything,
all were equally unworthy. That altar made Episcopal
snobbery seem disrespectful.
The eucharistic liturgy represented what I came to
call "giveness," not knowing I'd invented a word. It
characterized Paul's "free gift." God gave freely. One didn't need to
bring gifts or even to ask; one needed only to be there, to hold
out one's hands, to be willing to receive. Eucharist was free,
grace was free. I saw it enacted so I knew it was true. In that light
my mother's emphasis on social reciprocity seemed perverse.
I saw Love enacted. Love gave freely and
without discrimination to everyone, worthy or unworthy. Here was
God sending rain on the just and unjust. It made racism wrong,
at least in that context.
Apparently when I was six I decided who I wanted to
be. I wanted to be God. Not the great God up in the sky, the
All Holy and unreachable God to whom one prayed on
bended knee, but the humble God who gives, who gives divine
substance to everyone who extends a hand. I'm conscious
of meeting that God only now, but I've known about (and
perhaps subconsciously known) that God for many years. With such
a role model, how rich my life has been!
Chastity is not celibacy. In Medieval or Renaissance
times, one could speak of a wife and mother as chaste. Chastity in
this context meant two things: faithful to her husband and
not exploiting her own sexuality, especially for personal gain,
not flashing her sex appeal around. Today we might think of such
a person as demure. I've not been celibate, but I've been
chaste. It's strange to think of myself that way, but I can see it's
true. That evening when I had just turned fourteen as I sat in
the chapel thinking about Sharon and giving up my side of
the contest for our young man, I chose chastity. Moreover
I'm naturally monogamous: when attached to one man I lose
sexual interest in others. What gifts!
Poverty. When I was twenty-three I chose to live in
the poorest section of Melbourne, Australia, and about
eighteen months later I gave almost all my belongings to the poor.
From then until I moved to the mountain, I owned almost
nothing. Now I own more a house and land and the requisite
tools like a chain saw, books, and computer. My mountain cabin
is 16 by 24 feet with half an upstairs. It has never been
connected to the electric grid. Water is scarce. In warm weather, I
shower outdoors, in water heated by the sun and driven by
gravity. This is hardly real poverty, but to be a hewer of wood
and drawer of water in late 20th-century America is
certainly symbolic poverty. I live in symbolic solidarity with the
poor and with women, who in many materially poor cultures
gather the wood and carry the water. I also tend to dress down,
and my sympathies are with victims rather than oppressors,
perhaps because I was a victim myself as a child. Poverty has also
been a gift. On the whole I have not chased after baubles.
I also see for the first time that I've suffered for my
choice been discriminated against at church and on the job. I didn't
fit in. I had values people didn't understand or didn't like.
I must have committed myself wholeheartedly to my
choice, though, for even in my years as an atheist I didn't change. I
saw that "all things are possible" right along with Raskolnikov,
but I couldn't give up my values, and I realized why: they
represented most fundamentally who I am.
Looking back I would say that, although an atheist, I
was unwilling to give up my life as a nun. I loved God too much,
a God whom I thought non-existent at the time. How crazy it
all is! How remarkable.
31 March 1996
In the middle of the month I went to Quaker meeting on
Sunday morning at 11:00, my first ever. I've always admired
the Quakers for their moral leadership. They always seem ahead
of the rest of us. When I was an Episcopalian I could never
attend because the times clashed, but Saturday night mass has
freed my Sunday mornings. And now it's Lent, a good time to
take on an extra spiritual discipline. I liked the meeting's
simplicity and spirituality; the plain, bright room; the people. They're
my sort of folks: casual, without vanity and without pretense.
I'll go again.
30 April 1996
Again I attended Quaker meeting the 8:30
meeting this time. I felt completely at ease and at home, and for a
while I couldn't figure out why, since I'd been there only once
and not at that hour with that group of people. Then I saw. I sit
in just such silent meditation myself every morning in a house
as bright and simple as the meeting room. Being there is like
being home. I think I'll try to attend once a month. I felt
exposed before God as I had on the promontory, as if naked, and
I realized that I have become naked, bereft of church affiliation.
Maybe this is why my private prayer time on Holy
Thursday was so rich with revelation. Beforehand I read the last
supper passage from Mark. As if for the first time I heard "On
the night he was betrayed." As often as I've attended eucharist
I must have listened to the phrase several thousand times,
but for the first time I saw Jesus, knowing he was to be
betrayed, making himself a servant, washing the disciples' feet,
feeding them. Jesus lived his life symbolically to show us who God
is. Here is who God is: God is love, forgiveness, and
compassion such that, knowing we are at that very moment
planning betrayal, God becomes our servant and our nourishment.
God is that humble, that compassionate, that willing to identify
with us and be for us.
Later I realized in prayer how union is possible without
a person's human personality being overwhelmed or, as it
were, possessed. As people mature spiritually, they grow more
like you. Then when you ask for their surrender, they
surrender that in themselves which is the divine self or longing to be
the divine self, that which longs to be like you. The
whole personality, even the cultural self, is transformed. And
because you and God are one, intimacy with you is intimacy with
God. There's no need of a "second step." Profound simplicity
lies behind the complexity and difficulty of spiritual growth,
change, and surrender leading to union.
16 December 1996
Dear Teacher and Nourisher,
Early this morning during prayer time I tried to do as
you have taught me, to remain mindless and unfocused, yet
give myself to you. I heard the phrase from 1 John I'd just
read: "God is light; in God there is no darkness at all." I
thought, "Then God is unsullied by evil: I can bring all before God,
give my whole self to God without fear."
Then I knew that you humbly want to dwell in me,
want to be my food and drink, so I asked for these things and
saw that eucharist is only a symbol, a symbol of this true
spiritual eating and drinking of you. I can toss eucharist aside if I
wish, for I shall feed on you within myself forever. Then the
holy eucharist was celebrated within me. Perhaps this is why
I've begun attending Quaker meeting so regularly every
Sunday this month. Eucharist is celebrated inwardly there every
Sunday, without need of the outward rite.
The Moloch worshipers had it exactly backwards
when they sacrificed their children to Moloch to feed a god. It's
the other way around. God is sacrificed for us. God feeds us.
God-mother; God-nurturer; God-lover.
Then I spoke in tongues. As usual I didn't know what
was said. Again I felt frustrated but accept it a spiritual gift.
It was an ecstatic, person-to-person speaking, very intimate,
As the tongues ceased, I was shown God's humility:
the boy who was hanged in the Nazi camp but strangled at the
end of the rope because he was too light for the drop to break
his neck God. Those tortured in South America God.
The raped and humiliated God. The fearful on death row
God. The dying in intensive care whose welfare is neglected
so doctors can claim one prolonged hour of breath God.
God suffers with us. Not a vision of the impassive, unmoved God
of the philosophers!
31 July 1998
I'm still baffled. Just after I'd written my May letter
to you, I had the most extraordinary prayer session. I spoke
in Tongues as I do fairly often, still without knowing what
I'm saying (and I'm still frustrated about that!). Then I was in
the room with the altar, just as I've often been, but I was there as
Buddha. I don't mean Buddha was there or that I was
dressed like Buddha. I mean that I was Buddha.
A voice said. "You have chosen the Buddha-nature:
you have chosen contemplation." Although I agree I've
chosen contemplation, I felt confused. Buddha?
I replied, "I guess I don't mind, but I don't know
anything about Buddhism."
"Not Buddhism, but Buddha," echoed through my
mind. That was clear: not a religion developed by people, but a
way of being. I was united with the Buddha-nature rather than
being a person who practices a particular religion.
But I still wasn't satisfied because I couldn't help but
think that my background and understanding of God is
Christian. The reply: "Not sacrifice, but prayer." I understood that,
too. Christianity emphasizes sacrifice, Buddhism prayer. I've
chosen prayer, not sacrifice.
Am I being united to the Buddha-nature rather than
to you? Or are you also the Buddha-nature? That makes
sense: there's one God who has entered many people, some fully,
so that we may speak of incarnations, plural. Each incarnation
is a manifestation of God, but God appears differently in
each one because God transforms each personality in such a
way that the personality remains intact. It isn't replaced by
The session ended with my wondering whether this
means saying goodbye to eucharist because it's exclusively Christian.
30 March 1999
One morning I prayed for you to show us how to
live, only to see a whole line of prophets and teachers pass by,
not only from Jewish tradition but Buddha and Lao-tzu and others
as well, all the way up to Gandhi and Martin Luther King,
Jr. How foolish I was. You've constantly shown us how to live.
Lao-tzu probably showed up because my
devotional reading recently has been the Tao Te
Ching. Lao-tzu knows the same God I know. Here's my favorite verse so far:
The supreme good is like water,
Which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
The supreme good is like water. In prayer recently
I revisited familiar landmarks the meadow, the altar, the
ocean. I no longer fear drowning. I can walk easily now along
the bottom of the sea.
Some days later, I complained to you that I'm wasting
my talents: I have too many; I just can't use them all. You
offered a different perspective: God gives generously, abundantly,
far more than we can use. I need to think of my talents as
a cornucopia, an overflowing abundance, and be grateful.
Wow. As I write this I wonder whether it also applies
to the "evil" of natural selection, which apparently is
extremely wasteful. Maybe we should regard the lives of organisms
that are generated but don't survive to reproduce as God's
creative exuberance pervading nature.
I think most of us are secretly little engineers who
love efficiency. We often conceive of God as an engineer too,
the Grand Designer. But maybe a better metaphor would be
the banqueting God Jesus so often tells us about in the
New Testament, the one who greets the Prodigal Son with the
fatted calf and welcomes outcasts to feasts. Maybe a better
metaphor would be those one or two hundred gallons of wine the
Gospel of John has Jesus create after the guests have already
drunk everything in sight. Maybe we should think of the "waste"
in nature as celebration, not dissipation.
30 August 1999
Dear God of Us All,
Yesterday I decided to join the Quakers.
My decision occurred right after I gave a message.
The message was about choosing rightly within one's own
religious tradition, that we should choose God and love rather
than rules. I sat down and immediately thought that the
Quakers represent the best within Christianity partly because
they reach beyond it and that I should join officially, in support.
Afterwards I ate brunch with one of my beloved
Quaker friends and mentioned the possibility to him. He was
very supportive, even enthusiastic. He said all I had to do was
send a letter to the clerk of the Meeting saying I want to become
a Recorded Member and, briefly, mention why. I considered
it prayerfully this morning and everything seems clear.
Joining seems the right thing to do, so I composed the following
letter to send to the clerk:
"I have been an Attender at Friends Meeting for
almost three and a half years, and I would now like to become
a Recorded Member. For many years, I have thought
Quakerism represented the highest moral standards within the
Christian tradition. As an Attender I find that I have honored
typically Quaker beliefs all my adult life belief in that of God
in everyone, human equality, truth telling, and simplicity.
"Furthermore the Quaker practice of listening to/for
God in silence has developed into a willingness among Quakers
to listen to others and to respect religious traditions
outside Christianity. This willingness to listen seems to me to
express appropriate humility before our ignorance of a God who
is larger than the human mind and before others who may
know more about God than we do. By becoming a Recorded
Member, I feel I would be demonstrating my personal, public
support for these beliefs and standards."
Recently I've been wondering whether I'm still a
Christian. I know God is incarnate in all of us to some extent and
deeply wants to be incarnate completely. I think God may be
fully incarnate in many people Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, and
Louie Crew, to name four. This doesn't mean Jesus isn't unique.
We're all unique. Moreover I know incarnation doesn't
mean replacement. It means unity, so that every incarnation,
even the fullest, fulfills a unique relationship with God. Still I
no longer believe Jesus was a sacrifice for sins or uniquely the
Son of God, or the last revelation of God. If the charismatics
were to ask me whether I'm a Christian, I think I'd be honest
to reply something like "No, I don't think so. I try to be a
follower of Jesus, and I don't think the two are compatible."
This reminds me that Father Malachi Martin died. He
said emptying one's mind as you've taught me to do opens it
to evil. Here was a Jesuit and life-long priest running from God
as if from the devil, mistaking the two. I fear there's much
running from God, especially by clergy. Father Martin's fears
are widespread. I heard them expressed in places as distant as
a charismatic church and the Spiritual Direction Institute,
headed by a Roman Catholic priest. Of course, I have fears
myself. Still I want to love God, and I can't love and run away at
the same time. I'd end up in little pieces.
30 September 1999
Dear God of Meditation,
I've seen even more clearly that there are only
two religions, one with rituals, rules, barriers, and an external
savior; the other with the inner Light, the integration of all things,
and the oneness of reality. One of my friends has been
living according to a modified Benedictine rule. Meditating in
the Zendo, I saw that such a life is precisely what Jesus rejected
the Essene rules and self-made holiness. In contrast Jesus
lived his life spontaneously in God's presence without need of such
external props. However I have no idea how someone
moves from the first sort of religion into the second.
I'm back to the realization that what I see as chains,
other people perceive as safety nets. How does a person leave
the apparent safety net of rules and parental protection and
leap into the unknown dark? But Buddha did it and so did Jesus
and George Fox and Kierkegaard and thousands of others. Is
there a technique in aid of grace? Or does the leap require
trauma like Buddha's confrontation with suffering, Jesus'
baptismal voice from heaven, Fox's voice within, or Kierkegaard's
wind from the groves of Mamre? I don't even know where to
classify my own vision of marriage I saw so many years ago. Even
then I didn't have a "rules" religion, and I'd already experienced
the mystic dark night of the soul, during which God
apparently withdraws, and the mystic lover learns to love God for
the sake of love, without thought of reward. My four years
of atheism, I now think, constituted my dark night of the soul.
I also know now that there are two ways to become
God. The first is to replace God by taking onto oneself all the
world's grief and sin and guilt, believing one must save the world
oneself. The other is to let God replace one's self, be absorbed in
the Light, free one's Buddha nature from the illusion of self,
knowing that God has saved the world already. The simple truth
all religions teach is that we have only two choices: either we
try to become God or we let God become us. Hell or heaven.
31 October 1999
Dear and Blessed Guide,
I have the key! O thank you, I have the key! God
bless N. T. Wright, and thank you for sending him here yesterday.
Wright talked about the Christ-as-Roman-Emperor
motif in St. Paul's letters. Months ago I'd read Thomas
Schmidt's article about Mark's use of the same motif in his
passion narrative, gotten excited about Mark's genius, then filed
Schmidt's article away. But now that I've heard Wright,
I've resurrected Schmidt and found a new interpretation
of Christianity, one that makes sense of everything I know
about the historical Jesus combined with the insights from my
My new interpretation begins with Jesus, a man.
During his lifetime this man becomes filled to the fullest with the
Spirit of God. After his baptism, if not before, he lives in unity
with God. This man is crucified, but his spirit lives on, for it is
united to the eternal Spirit of God.
Jesus' followers experience his presence after his death
so strongly they think he is still alive. As Jews who already
believe in the resurrection of the dead, they interpret his
continuing life as the resurrection of the first human being, with
the resurrection of all others soon to follow. They think the
world they know is about to end all this is straight out of St.
Paul. As Jews who think he's ascended to heaven they also
interpret him as the heavenly Messiah of Daniel 7 and, later, as
the Davidic Messiah. However the Jesus movement
quickly becomes predominately Gentile. When Paul and Mark
write to their Gentile converts, they apply pagan concepts to
Jesus. They portray Jesus through pagan beliefs about the
Roman emperor. By the time of Jesus, pagans believed the
Roman emperor is the son of a god on Earth and that he ascends to
the realm of the gods when he dies. Pagan converts would
construe the Jewish Jesus as the son of Yahweh, of course, rather
than the son of a pagan god.
As they increasingly deify Jesus, his followers set him
so far above the rest of humanity that eventually Christians
can no longer identify with him. He seems too exalted to be a
role model. So Christians develop human intermediaries with
whom to identify Mary and the saints to whom they
ultimately begin praying. Protestants are not immune. Dependent
solely on scripture, they identify with Luther and Calvin who
become the true interpreters of scripture. I think Christians need to
forget about the intermediaries and the myths of Messiah
and Son of God and follow Jesus, who was fully human, like us.
He shows us how to live, not Mary, Benedict, Dominic,
Francis, or Loyola, nor Luther or Calvin, although they may
have something to offer, too.
I met with my clearness committee, composed of three
of my favorite Quakers, to ascertain whether I'm clear to
become a recorded member. The gathering was a pleasure, so that
I felt more welcomed than examined. They were
evidently delighted I've decided to become a recorded member.
December 31, 1999
Marriage, yes. I've no doubt. O thank you for being
so clear. You reviewed the vision of Maundy Thursday 1993
and told me this vision has now been fulfilled. Dearly
beloved, thank you. I love you.
I didn't see it coming despite long and intense
prayer sessions all week. Monday I felt invited to enter God's
inner sanctum, which is darkness and ecstasy, and I had a vision
of the cosmos. In the vision, I saw that nothing ever dies; it
only changes. Everything from the big bang forward is gathered
up in me, in all of us the light, the carbon, and the
other elements. God and the material world are united, are one.
In us in me they are united willingly. A material being
(me) has freely said yes to this unity. In me, and in thousands
of others, the material universe has said yes to its oneness
Another morning, another vision: that to enter the
inner sanctum, a person must have nothing but love. Instead of
love, I felt my fear of my mother, of the female, and I
concluded that I had a long road to travel before entering the
inner sanctum. I joyously anticipated a rich and interesting journey.
Because Jesus was male, and we customarily don't
think of persons as neuter, I usually think of you indeed,
experience you as male. But during this same prayer time, in a
very intimate moment, you switched to female. What a shock!
And yes, I have always known intellectually that you are
neither male nor female, and yes, the change has occurred before,
but not during such an intimate encounter. The replacement
at that vulnerable moment highlighted my fear, which is so
far from love.
Yesterday in prayer I felt a love for myself I've never
felt before. It wasn't self-centered and egocentric, but a real
caring-for. It was good.
This morning was two hours of ecstasy and darkness,
two hours of fulfillment. You do not reject us; instead you
fulfill our nature.
You came to me as you have come so often, and I
gave myself to you as I have given myself so often, in great
pain, great joy. As sometimes before, your presence spread
throughout my whole body. But for the first time, you turned to face
the way I was facing, sat where I was sitting, and united yourself
to me. Then, with a smile, you became female. It was okay. It
was wonderful. I repeated "I give myself to you completely,"
and you echoed the sentence back. You, the soul of eucharist,
the source of love, the inner light.
And that was when I saw the vision of 1993. I knew
this moment to be the fulfillment of that invitation, that promise.