Everyday Prophets

By Margery Post Abbott. James Backhouse Lecture, 2016. 52 pages. $14/pamphlet; $8/eBook.

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The two words in this title seem so antithetical—one so ordinary, one so formidable. Yet it is just this perceived incompatibility that provides both the space and the energy for Abbott to explore what prophetic ministry has meant and might continue to mean within Quaker history and tradition.

According to Abbott, the task of prophetic ministry, what she calls “the Big Picture,” is to nurture and evoke a consciousness or a perception that provides an alternative to those of the dominant culture around us. When, through our own experience, we come to see violence, suffering, or injustice with new eyes, we may find ourselves called to share and act on this revelation. But how do we find the courage and the humility to follow the guidance of our spirit? And what role, Abbot asks, can our meetings play in nurturing an individual’s “calling” when, within both the member and the meeting, “fear rises or when the comfort of what one once was lures us to inaction”? How do we listen each other into fuller life and trust that the Spirit is at work?

Abbott fears that for Friends, the willingness to be visible may be slipping away. We have grown fearful to share within our meetings callings that at first seem incomplete or unformed. And, while recognizing the value of Quakers’ “cherished list” of informants for ethical decision making—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality—Abbott finds these insufficient in themselves to embrace fully either the source or the power of an individual’s call to “prophetic action.” We can be opened more deeply and with greater vulnerability to the voice of the spirit within, she writes, when we feel ourselves part of a community that is “carrying a vision of the New Creation, the Kingdom of God, that is being formed on earth.”

Interspersed throughout Everyday Prophets are stories taken from interviews Abbott conducted with individual Friends about their experiences listening for and trying to faithfully follow the voice of “deep spiritual guidance.” One Australian woman is called to persuade those of Anglo heritage to “pay rent” to Aboriginal people for use of their land; a lesbian couple from an evangelical yearly meeting whose Faith and Practice condemned such a commitment, remain present in their community; an older man arrives at an understanding that, under divine guidance, every aspect of our lives has the potential to be ministry and each act, however small, can be prophetic. There is no hierarchy of prophetic action, only a measure of faithfulness to the call.

Abbott is an experienced sailor and finds in the skills required to sail her small boat through rough seas apt metaphor for those embarking on a prophetic journey. While our boat may be small, the sea so large, and our journey unmapped, we do not have to fear being lost at sea. Many of our Quaker practices and beliefs, such as our direct relationship with the god or Spirit, a comfort with expectant silence, trust in continuing revelation, and practice in waiting on “way to open,” are available to help us “right ourselves and find the course that is ours to follow.” Each of us who chooses to raise the sails and ride the “voice of the wind” that calls us across the vast openness of the sea can, according to Abbott, provide witness to another way of being that is grounded in “beauty not fear.”

I plan to recommend that our meeting read Everyday Prophets, and I believe that we will be enriched and emboldened by reflecting together on the life of the Spirit in our community. How are members inhibited from or encouraged to share what we experience as a call from the Spirit? Is the Spirit alive in our meeting and are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to explore its movement among us? What are the ways we resist seeing the world around us with new eyes? How do we respond to an individual’s struggle to understand what the Light is revealing to her?

Margery Post Abbott is a member of the Religious Society of Friends and has served as clerk of Friends Committee on National Legislation. Her monthly meeting has formally minuted its support of her ministry as a writer and teacher on Quaker spirituality and history. Everyday Prophets was delivered as a lecture at the 2016 national gathering of Quakers in Australia. Order online from quakersaustralia.info or ipoz.biz/quaker-publications.

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