Testimony of Freedom

Page 5:  Cultivating Spiritual Life and Power

A.   Texts

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:12-13 (New King James Version)

Friend, Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power. Therefore mind: that is the word of the Lord God unto thee that the authority, and thy faith in that, to work down; for that is it which keeps peace, and brings up the witness in thee, that hath been transgressed, to feel after God, who is a God of order and peace, with his power and life.

George Fox, Letter to Lady Claypole, 1658.

What we want is to discover a way to enrich and heighten the quality of life and not merely to add to the quantity of it. We are seeking for a dynamic force which will raise the intrinsic power and value of life. We can get out of that dreary row of dots, the seriatim way of living, only by finding something that organizes life from above and makes it a cumulative affair, something that stores up the gains of it and forms them into a permanent and expanding whole.

We tend to fall into the one-dimension track - often a rut or a groove, and we thus miss the wider, freer possibilities of the many dimensional life. We are very apt, furthermore, to get cut off, isolated and stranded, which means that we get separated from the completer wholes of being to which we properly belong. Most of the tragedies of human life are these tragedies of separation and division. The divided self, sundered from its fellowship and companionship for which it was made, is always a sick and feeble soul. The way of health and healing is a way of union and correspondence with those necessary realities from which we have become isolated and we shall find that religion is one of the mightiest of all the constructive, unifying forces we know. As the word implies, religion binds back the soul into union with realities which refresh it, restore it, vivify it, and integrate it and complete it; i.e., put it in possession of the whole of itself.

[R]eligion ...[is] a way of realizing and fulfilling life, a way of finding the whole of oneself. Life ... may mean hardly more than the ability to stay alive, to exhibit behavior, bare biological survival,...; or it may mean the discovery of infinite interior dimensions and possibilities, the finding of almost inexhaustible resources and supplies of power for the continual expansion of personal capacity and so the constant winning of unwon goals and the perennial acquisition of joy.
Rufus M. Jones, Religion As Reality, Life And Power, William Penn Lecture 1918 (http://www.quaker.org/pamphlets/wpl1919a.html)

I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness ... I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me — commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don't realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don't understand what I mean. Only now and then comes a man or a woman who, like John Woolman or Francis of Assisi, is willing to be utterly obedient, to go the other half, to follow God's faintest whisper. But when such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, world-renewing divine forces are released, history changes. There is nothing more important now than to have the human race endowed with just such committed lives.

The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child. It is the life and power in which the prophets and apostles lived. It is the life and power of Jesus of Nazareth, who knew that "when thine eye is single thy whole body is full of light" (Luke 11: 34). It is the life and power of the apostle Paul, who resolved not to know anything among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is the life and power of Saint Francis, that little poor man of God who came nearer to reliving the life of Jesus than has any other man on earth. It is the life and power of George Fox and of Isaac and Mary Penington. It is the life and power and utter obedience of John Woolman who decided, he says, "to place my whole trust in God," to "act on an inner Principle of Virtue, and pursue worldly business no farther than as Truth opened my way therein." It is the life and power of myriads of unknown saints through the ages. It is the life and power of some people now in this room who smile knowingly as I speak. And it is a life and power that can break forth in this tottering Western culture and return the Church to its rightful life as a fellowship of creative, heaven-led souls.
Thomas R. Kelly, Holy Obedience, William Penn Lecture 1939 (http://www.quaker.org/pamphlets/wpl1939a.html)

B.   Experiencing life and power

A person experiences heightened life and power during purposeful activity. Contests provide illustrative examples. Contests include foot racing, academic testing and business competition. During a contest, a person experiences sharpened perceptions and intensified mental operations. During a contest, a person's desire to win is behind the greater perceptual sharpness and mental intensity.

Contestants perform at the peak of their capacities during a contest. While preparing, contestants organize their activities around the contest and extend and sharpen their minds as to matters connected to the contest. The contest provides material for the person to reflect upon after it has been completed.

In my construction approach, the excitement a person experiences during a contest or other purposeful activity is based on life and power flowing through the person. Life is experienced as the capacity to follow or pursue a purpose; and power is experienced as the capacity to exercise freedom to achieve the purpose, e.g., by selecting courses of action or by switching between courses of action so as to win a contest.

For me, life and power is value; and more life and power is a greater value than less life and power. I experience more life and power when I have greater capacities to follow and achieve purposes.

The concept of life and power does not rest on a "quantity" but does rest on comparisons. Comparisons start simply. Winning is better than losing. More money is better than less money. However, as life and power grows, comparisons become more complex and difficult. Winning a single, repetitive kind of game may lose its savor and successive wins may become meaningless. A person who grew in life and power while acquiring wealth grows further by giving away the wealth to help other persons achieve their causes.

Cultivation of life and power is activity of a person where the purpose is acquiring more life and power, that is, acquiring more capacities to pursue and achieve purposes. As a principle of cultivation, life and power comes from sources that can be developed. Education is a primal example. Of highest importance, spiritual life and power is the source of life and power that is the most powerful and far-reaching.

There are multiple sources of life and power in general and of spiritual life and power in particular. Each person has access to these sources in different ways and in variable strengths. Understanding life and power is developed by examining the sources, an undertaking commenced below.

Persons have been examining sources of life and power since ancient times; and persons in ancient times had a different view than we do since their minds were not clouded by fallacies such as "atoms," "laws of physics" and the "computational cosmology." Of course, their minds were clouded by other fallacies; but very often they were not so certain of the truth of their fallacies as we are of ours. In any event, we can assimilate some of their useful concepts while discarding their fallacies, once we detach from the notion that truths of our own time are devoid of fallacies.

The truths of ancient thinkers illuminate our fallacies. Some of them understood, as we do not, that the first facts, the primal facts on which others are built, have to do with personal experience, not with material objects. According to such an understanding, knowledge of material objects is shaped by mental processes that have primal functions of generating personal experience. Scientific knowledge is based on primal personal experience, e.g., of space and time, only refined and developed in certain directions. Such development is limited to constructions that employ certain forms and those forms do not have the capacity of giving us comprehensive understanding. Forms used in physical science, such as atoms and mechanisms, lack the capacity to describe or "explain" the existence of a person, the character of human personality or the activities of organizations and institutions. Views similar to the foregoing were held by authors of ancient Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist treatises.

As examples, the concept of life and power appears as prana and Shakti in traditional Hindu concepts and yoga practices; and as chi in the culture of China. Ancient Greeks used the words pneuma and logos. Iroquois Native Americans called it orenda.

All over the ancient Orient, in Assyria and Babylonia as well as in Egypt, the word, and particularly the word of God, was not only nor even primarily an expression of thought; it was a mighty and dynamic force...the conception of the divine word in Israel [has a distinction]: from the beginning Jahveh was a conscious and moral personality.
Bowman, T., Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (1960), 58, 60.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Kovsky