Spiritual Gifts, the Beloved Community, and Covenant

By Emily Provance. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 461), 2020. 30 pages. $7/pamphlet.

Picture an equilateral triangle—let’s call it a “covenant triangle”—with its corners labeled as follows: “Spiritual Gifts” at the lower left, “the Beloved Community” at the lower right, and at the apex “God.” This is the geometric image I see on reading the beautifully written pamphlet Spiritual Gifts, the Beloved Community, and Covenant by Emily Provance. Her essay is in equal measures witty and wise.

Let’s begin where the author does: with spiritual gifts. Provance writes in an engaging way about this topic, and many readers will find themselves asking: What is my spiritual gift? Am I an organizer? A worker? A carer? A pray-er? A provocateur? A healer? Provance notes that there are some 24 different gifts.

Provance’s gift is apostleship: “the ability and natural authority to care for and lead groups of organizations or communities of faith.” In her Quaker blog, she describes the global reach of her ministry. “I’ve traveled among liberal unprogrammed, conservative unprogrammed, pastoral, and evangelical Friends on several continents.”

For those Friends who have already named and claimed their spiritual gifts, this pamphlet may prompt them to further develop and share their gifts in obedience to God’s will.

Next, she writes of the Beloved Community. In Provance’s expansive, unifying vision, the beloved community is the entire Religious Society of Friends. Though we most often experience the beloved community locally, it spirals out to include regional, national, and international Friends communities. We all share the same divine light, but, as she explains, it’s light refracted through a prism. “We each have the Light within us,” she says, “but it shines through us differently.” Friends represent every color of the spectrum: Roy G. Biv!

Now to the apex: God—sovereign over all, and loving mediator between our rainbow of gifted Friends and their cherished faith communities. Such is the “covenant triangle,” an integrated whole. Provance defines “covenant” in this way: “[W]e give ourselves to God and God, in turn, gives us to a group of people.” And our ultimate work together is to build the kingdom of God on earth.

What is belied by my neat geometric scheme is that serving God within a faith community is often anything but neat. Provance makes this point in a lively, funny, sprawling sentence:

[I]n reality, most of the time, it’s actually kind of sweaty and dirty and takes a lot of effort and jostling around and we tend to fight about who’s the yellow and who’s the green and do we really need indigo anyway (and what is indigo?), and we get distracted and knock into one another and fall down and skin our knees.

So why do we Friends do it? Her answer: We are a covenant people.

The exalting concept of covenant appears and reappears, like a recurring musical motif, throughout Provance’s text. We see it in inspiring personal stories. And we see it in her Bible stories that speak to our hearts and minds. To read her pamphlet is to sense the beauty, the responsibilities, and the mystery of covenant.

Bob Dixon-Kolar is an associate professor of English at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill. He and his family are members of Evanston (Ill.) Meeting.

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