Winter Solstice 1997
Dear Monthly Meeting correspondent,
The PYM Committee on Unity with Nature is requesting monthly meetings to examine our faith and practice in the context of our relationship to the earth. As we explore the meaning of spiritual connection to the earth, it becomes increasingly apparent that deep transformations are needed in our "faith" and our "practice". We seek meaningful ways to nurture this process. As insights emerge they need to be integrated into our daily lives. This work has just begun.
A starting place for us as Friends is to explore the meaning of "the light within." This concept is central to Friends' faith and practice. When we refer to the light within, do we mean within humans alone? ... Or within all life spirit? Is the light within closely related to what Native Americans refer to as "the Great Spirit" that pervades all of creation - everything? Exploration and insight can be a lengthy process. We believe that this questioning will bring important understanding of our spiritual unity with nature and provide an opportunity for significant spiritual growth.
After Friends' collective concern for the earth emerged within PYM nearly a dozen years ago, we had hoped that there would be considerable interaction within all Friends meetings on the meaning of spiritual relationship to the earth. This is reflected in the minute that emerged from a PYM-sponsored conference at Ben Lomond in 1987:
"Our concern for the earth is a spiritual one. We feel the need to examine our faith and practice in the context of this concern. We invite and celebrate the light that each meeting has to shed on this."
Initiating and sustaining the process of deep exploration of spiritual relationship to the earth has been difficult and is taking much longer than we had anticipated. There have been many factors contributing to this. Clearly, fundamental change is needed in order for humankind to come into harmony with the earth. We foresee clarity emerging and being integrated slowly, in small steps.
The process is similar to that which we used to remove sexist behavior and language from our faith and practice. The anthropomorphic language - and more importantly the implications of raising the human form above the rest of creation needs to be recognized and appropriate revisions made.
As a primary step, PYM Unity with Nature Committee is working to facilitate in the yearly meeting a search for clarity on the meaning of the light within. This is exciting and challenging work. The "light wihin" has historically been viewed as fundamental to our relationships as humans. It provides the spiritual basis for the testimonies on equality, unity, peace, and social justice that are so basic to our faith and practice. From the time when Friends first emerged, it was the "light within" that formed the basis of Friends' commitment to the practice of equality between men and women.
As Friends came to the "new world," the light within provided the basis for recognizing the light within everyone, not only the white Europeans. This led to Friends having better relations with native peoples here. It was also the spiritual basis for the work that John Woolman and others did to free the slaves. It was the clarity provided by this central tenet that put Friends, particularly the women, at the forefront of the suffrage movement. It is at the core of our continuing revelation concerning same-sex relationships. Clarity on the meaning of the "light within" is essential to the process of transformation needed to nurture our species' return to living in harmony with the earth.
We "... Invite and celebrate the light that each meeting has to shed on this." We ask that each monthly meeting, preparative meeting, and worship group prayerfully consider the meaning of "the light within" in the context of our spiritual relationship to all of creation. Using worship sharing, threshing sessions, meeting for worsl-dp, and meeting for worship for business, each monthly meeting is requested to contribute to our evolving, collective understanding of what we currently mean when we refer to "the light within".
Seekirig the light,
Michael Dunn, clerk, PYM Committee on Unity with Nature
Dear PYM-CUN Contact,
The Unity with Nature Committee is continuing its work to explore Friend's faith and practice within the context of our relationship to the earth. At the end of 1997, we asked your meeting or worshigroup to explore the current meaning of "the Light within/that of God within", through worship sharing, threshing sessions, meeting for worship, meeting for worship for business, or through other creative means, and then report back to PYMCUN the results of your exploration. We now are in receipt of reports from ten meetings/worship groups, and Junior Yearly Meeting (at PYM), and we have recorded additional statements from about 45 individuals at our Interest Group at PYM this past summer. In all, we have collected about 150 individual responses from Friends in PYM. The overwhelming majority of these responses are consistent with the belief that there is that of God in all living things.
Therefore, with this letter, we are contacting your meeting again about this subject. First of all, if your meeting has not reported back to us yet, let us assure you that we remain very interested in learning about its responses to our queries on this subject. While we do not expect that your meeting will necessarily reach a point where you are united in an understanding of "that of God within" and/or "the Light within" with respect to the earth, we are interested in receiving the responses of individuals from your meeting on this subject. Therefore, if you have not yet explored the queries we sent to you last year, we urge you to do so. Secondly, if you have initiated an exploration of these queries, then we encourage you to engage in further exploration of this subject, i.e., to take the next step. We suggest that the following three queries, developed at PYM, could be helpful in shaping your deliberations:
(1) If we believe that there is that of God in all living things, what actions can we take that are consistent with this, especially in relation to creatures that we kill, whose habitats we appropriate, and those that kill or harm us (i.e., cattle, endangered species, malarial mosquitoes)?
(2) Can we apply concepts such as simplicity and right sharing to other living things while continuing to apply them to people?
(3) It is clear to many that there is that of God in all creation. Is God different from the "Light"? George Fox said "Now this is the Light which you are lighted withall, which shows you when you do wrong_there is something riseth in you that is a witness against you" Most Friends believe we have a continuous interaction with God and the Light. We tend to use the two words interchangeably. Can we do that with all of creation?
Again, we will be delighted to receive reports containing the individual responses from members of your meeting on these querries. It is our experience that a worship-sharing format or a dialogue format is very productive for exploring the views of the meeting. In addition to responses from the adults in your meeting, we also would be delighted to receive responses from your children and young friends. ...
We look forward to receiving your responses and to sharing them with PYM.
Eric Sabelman, Clerk
PYM Committee on Unity With Nature
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