waging peace restores harmony uncovers common values where only conflicts and differences in appearance surface steps outside dominant viewpoints teaches children alternatives to consumerism which is self-centered at its core engenders instead the practice of doing good work reveals to us the unfavorable implications “God bless America” extends to the rest of the world O […]


One point Quakers have emphasized is that the Word of God is Christ rather than the Bible. It’s a point made clear in the first chapter of the gospel of John, where what is often translated as the Word – or the Greek philosophical concept of Logos – was made flesh and dwelled among us.

Fundamentalists, in contrast, insist the Word is the book, usually in a King James translation, or so it seems.

Some Christians, aware of the difference, will speak of the Living Word, meaning Christ, on one hand, and the Written Word or some variation, on the other.

The consequences of these differing understandings can be drastic.

In his book Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience, Douglas Gwyn cites another criticism of those who claim their religious authority springs from Scripture. Summarizing John 5:45-47, he says: “Moses, the legendary author of the Torah, will be the witness against those who have staked their salvation and spiritual authority upon Scripture.” It’s a remarkable turn in the argument. Moses, after all, had met the Holy One in the Burning Bush. There was something much more compelling than the written words to draw upon.

It was a first-hand experience rather than a retelling. For Friends, of course, the Holy One was (and is) present in Meeting for Worship and in faithful daily life.

Quakers advanced another concept they called gospel order, which was living in that faithful daily awareness. Again, citing Gwyn, the pivotal early Quaker George Fox “wrote of gospel order as the restoration of the relations between man and woman in Eden before the Fall.” For Friends, this became the basis for allowing women to establish and manage their own Meetings for Business at a time when the very idea was scandalous.

It all points to another central point of dialogue: the source of authority in our various identities and practices. These understandings are important, I sense, because they can profoundly affect our outlook on life itself and the ways we live within it.

And yes, no matter how much we might “question authority,” at some point we still need meaningful structure in direction – individually and collectively. Just where do you find it, in your own experience?


More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.


So we can’t really stay in that circle, secure as it might be. Honestly, your Zorba and my Elektrik Bleu would chafe too much under an imposed discipline. As it is, there’s just not enough time or freedom to satisfy our creative endeavors or passions. Much less all the community service we require of ourselves.

Our dilemma is in wanting all the benefits of Old Order or monastic communion, with few of its restrictions.  (Never mind our own relentless self-discipline.)

Now, in our own households, with our gardens and mates and children, we live decades later.

The landscape really is a maze, after all.

Oh, vicar! Said the clerk, kayaking with the physician, too.

Actually, I wonder.

When I lived in the ashram, we heard stories of Americans who’d gone to India and found it impossible to return to the U.S.A., in large part because of the secular emphasis here, rather than the God-intoxication there.

It’s equally difficult to be left hanging in transition, as I feel I am these days.

But we need to be faithful in resting in the Lord “centering” in the Lord, as we might translate much of Hebrews rather than leaning on others to do the spiritual warfare for us.

My Bible opened on 1 Corinthians 3 and 4 in Meeting First-day last, and I was struck by the way Paul emphasizes our role in being co-laborers with God, rather than trying to do it all ourselves or expecting Him to do it all for us.

(It was not the passage I was trying to locate!) When I came to the passage, “Already you have all you want!” my mind instantly began its litany of desires: book publication, family, home, recognition, close circle of friends, and so on.

Then, when I had centered again, the passage re-translated itself as “you already have everything you need,” which is all the more intriguing now that I’ve looked up other translations of the same passage (1 Corinthians 4:8) – there’s a big difference between desires and needs, and between being filled with food or enriched and being hungry or impoverished. We can do much more when we’re fed or have the riches to invest than when we’re starving and beggarly.

The hidden, spiritual turns that happen in the life of the faithful often amaze us, and yet they seem so natural.

Thee speaks of the ways the doors to Plainness have opened to thee, even when thee thought them closed, and I could speak of the ways I was drawn back to family roots I had been totally ignorant existed in the Quaker, Brethren, and Mennonite origins of the Hodgsons and Ehrstines, all the way back.

It’s no accident.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


with distances our skin our heart our thoughts the countryside a big city such poverty and misfortune such glittering opulence visibly and invisibly blinding even before the mildew *   *   * my turtle shell my weakness three times I’ve prayed it not be moved *   *   * casting addiction or promiscuity or crime along racial […]


As I wrote at the time:

It’s the third straight day of temperatures above ninety, with humidity to match. Still, we’ve avoided a miserable July this year, and the heat has not locked itself into the house: we’ve been able to cool everything overnight. What strikes me is that we’re no longer floored by the oppression. We simply move slower, more deliberately. Avoid using the oven. (We’ll grill outdoors this afternoon.)

In other words, we’ve adjusted ourselves to seasonal change.

Come winter, we’ll have to brace ourselves all over again for biting cold. What will be bitter in November or December will instead feel balmy come February or March.

At the office, I know that any sharp change in the weather brings an increase in obituaries. We can joke about the shift that sends those who are barely hanging on over the edge, but the numbers support us. People in climate-controlled chambers all the same responding to minor shifts in barometric temperature or dew points, all the same. Do we inhale and exhale something other than air?

Spaces I’ve entered where silent prayer or meditation are already under way all felt set apart from their surroundings. I’ve sometimes described it as diving into water and swimming beneath the surface or like entering a pressurized rare-book library.

Returning to the ashram and its grounds after being away presented a similar sensation, as have old Quaker meetinghouses, even years after their regular use.

Live within that energy, and you no longer notice it – it’s simply the way life is. Leave it, though, and you can feel you are falling through space, for weeks on end.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


the reality of who we are becomes too unbearable to sustain the animal, adorned over shame crawl away, then in whose image of Creation are we naked? O Holy One casting light within the diverse exhaustion yet exposes and heals Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson To see the full set, click here.


That summer, I read his namesake book again, this time in the New Jerusalem Version, a fresh, scholarly translation that sticks very close to the text—in the process losing poetry while gaining directness. I’ve joked that this version sounds more like a batch of reports from a Quaker meeting’s Peace & Social Concerns Committee than a section from the Bible. Been surprised, too, how early in the text the hopeful, Messianic thread appears to weave through the warnings of doom and gloom; all along, I had thought the first half of the book was dominated by dark jeremiads, with the lightness taking the lead in the second half. Not so!


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.