Quantcast

From Signs to Waiting, I Endure

stones

“Friends and God” are personal reflections from a selection of Friends on how they define God.

In the American South, where I came of age, language is regularly interspersed with phrases such as “God have mercy”; Trust in God”; “Bless her heart, God”; “God don’t like ugly”; and “He is an on‐time God.” The word “God,” which I came to know meant a higher, invisible, and omnipotent force, has been in my lexicon since I learned to communicate.

Stories of devotions to God, personified by biblical heroes such as Abel, who was obedient and gave his best to God, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who risked their lives by refusing to bow to an idol lower than God, created indelible imprints in my value system and spiritual development long before I learned the children’s stories of “Cinderella” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Yet, in this milieu of the American South, I, too, learned that God exacts punishment on those who disobey. Terror and guilt accompanied my ideas concerning God. I concentrated more on the wrath, not mercy, of God. “God sits high, but looks low” was a favorite saying of the elders around me. My translation: Avoid the brimstone by never upsetting God.

Without a true connection with faith, God served more as a mythical Santa Claus or magisterial judge and a ready excuse for unexplainable occurrences. As long as God delivered, blissful and blessed described my life. However, when my lofty wishes and fanciful desires failed to occur and humiliations abounded, I became quite dispirited and restless in thoughts that I had unwittingly disappointed God.

I came to rely on signs. Without the comfort of signs, I could not maintain the enthusiasm or hope that some associate with faith. These signs took place normally in what some call “blessings in disguise,” such as an unexpected, fortunate outcome.

The hallmark of my Quakerism is my willingness to endure, positively, whatever happens. The emphasis on endurance reduces my dependence on outward signs and increases my trust in God. This trust routinely creates a more profound peace and joy. It allows me to focus less on expectations. Also, it takes away any fear that might derive from worrying. Jesus admonishes me not to worry about even the most basic of needs, as it interferes with the ability to live presently and in joy. Taking advice from the Apostle Paul, I should run with endurance any present race set before me (Hebrews 12:1).

The humbling process of waiting encourages endurance. At unprogrammed Friends meetings, I wait for the Inner Light to speak, clarify, instruct, and transform me. No longer do I rely on outward prompts that, at the mere cue of a word or an action, elicit performing my religion to the delight of others who perhaps unknowingly associate and connect performance with a level of faith.

A different understanding of the Twenty‐third Psalm embodies my convincing: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” My relationship with God is inviolable. I have a direct and unmediated experience with God. There is a dynamic, spiritual presence in the world that transforms the world, including me. The possibilities are limitless.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Before I gained insight from the Inner Teacher, I read this passage as a royal, godly payback to my enemies and a big‐return lottery of worldly rewards for me. Now, I understand my leading may result in acceptance or rejection. I may not outwardly appear whole by worldly standards, but inwardly I am whole in spirit. My rewards may not possess any material aspects, but may take the form of attributes associated with spiritual discipline such as love, joy, peace, and faith.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I am inseparable from God. Even when I falter, I have the protection of a trusting Inner Teacher.

Endurance encompasses an independence that liberates me from religiosity. This freedom affords more opportunities to speak to power, honor justice, abolish inner fear, and trust that whatever happens is purposeful. Acts of endurance seed what I associate now with faith and spiritual activism.

tonya thames taylor, Coatesville, Pa.

Posted in: June/July 2014: Concepts of God, Reflection, Unfeatured

13 thoughts on “From Signs to Waiting, I Endure

  1. Monica says:

    City & State
    Jackson, MS
    Beautifully written, Tonya!!

  2. Bonnie A. Shockey says:

    City & State
    Greencastle, PA
    The “journey,” i.e. the process, was necessary to realize and acquire enlightenment, which equals a stronger, enduring faith.

  3. Richard Josey says:

    City & State
    St. Paul, MN
    Very inspirational…and timely for me. Who would have known that my decision to pay for internet on the flight home from DC would bring me EXACTLY what I needed. Thanks for the reminder.

    God truly operates in ways foreign to the mortal mind.

    Thank you Tonya,

    Richard

  4. A. Levi says:

    City & State
    Coatesville, PA
    Coming to Quakerism from other Christian traditions often brings with it certain weights that one finds relief to unload. The Quaker faith is light, spartan, and unencumbered with many of the distractions and colloquialisms of tradition that have a tendency to frustrate true faith.

  5. natascha says:

    City & State
    houston
    Very enlightening, Tonya. Also, very timely for me–I have been “majoring” on endurance and faith most recently.

  6. Nate says:

    City & State
    Plymouth Meeting
    Well said! The points you make are valid to those from many walks of life, not only Quakers. I truly enjoyed reading it.

  7. Tamir says:

    Great read Dr. Taylor. (still can’t call you Tonya). For a lot of us religion in the traditional sense leaves something to be desired, it feels like something is missing. I see people that go to church faithfully but still live their lives in fear. Your article says to me that it’s not religion that’s deficient, it’s the spiritual connection to God that most of the followers are lacking. I admire your positive spirit. I’m trying to get there. 🙂

  8. Lashawn says:

    City & State
    Mobile,AL
    Tonya,

    Thanks for this. This is such an easy, and relevant read..As I was reading, I felt myself shaking my head(agreeing with your words) I will read this again and again!!

  9. Regina says:

    City & State
    Gulfport, MS
    I’ve had those thoughts as a child and was taught most of the same teachings. It was a wonderful read.

    1. Doris Durr Ross says:

      City & State
      Columbus
      Quiet a journey to get from your biblical roots as a child to where you are today. The inner peace you have in your life seems quite evident of your growth and knowledge. Sadly, too many look too much at the discipline of God and not enough at the great love for each one of us as if we were one. That’s the God I’ve come to love even more and appreciate as I face my own mortality. Thank you for writing this article.

  10. McCleod says:

    City & State
    Yeadon, Pa
    This is beautiful and enlightening Dr. Taylor. Every time I find myself unsettled, I remember one particular conversation you had with me when I came to you distraught one afternoon about “settling” digging in and and being my true self.

  11. Greg Sykes says:

    City & State
    Atlanta, GA
    Awesome stuff, Tonya. Wow… I love it when great thinkers do what you just did with this. Again, an awesome read. ~ Greg Sykes

  12. Rich says:

    City & State
    Coatesvillle, Pa
    Outstanding article and oh so well written. Would have loved to have had you as an instructor. This adds depth and understanding to all who believe but struggle to understand. This kind of wisdom is what made you a great leader in your past positions. I consider myself lucky to have known and learned from your presence. Please keep writing. Rich

Leave a Reply

Sign up for Friends Journal's weekly e-newsletter. Quaker stories, inspiration, and news emailed every Monday. Web comments may be used in the Forum column of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.