Marshall Massey made the following comment in response to the blog on Amish Grace and Quakers: To adopt the [Amish] practices is, I think, to mistake the outward for the inward. Friends have historically had their own avenue to humility — the avenue of quietism, a stilling of our selves inspired by a powerful recognition of our own fallenness, and by a sense of our tremendous every-moment dependence on our Lord. It is to this, and not to outward tactics, that Friends need to turn.
Christmas, because of its garb, is a good time to think about outward wrappings and inward presence.
During Christmas, outward wrappings are more distinct than during other times of the year. Our houses are often transformed with trees, wreathes, advent calendars, pine boughs, candles, eggnog, mistletoe, creches, beautifully wrapped gifts and other signs of the season. Often our touches are old-fashioned or nostalgic--an idealized 19th-century village under the Christmas tree, a touch of a Nutcracker in either our music or a wooden replica of Tchaikovsky's figure, a viewing or reading of The Christmas Carol. We associate these outward signs with inward states:
--The Dickensian Christmas represents conviviality, family harmony, good spirits, fellowship. We are longing to be surrounded by healthy community and loving family.
--The shepherd and magi Christmas represents the conjoined simplicity and grandeur of the holy, the sacred made incarnate on earth, the sacred available through the everyday things of life. It is God's love alive and available in the here and now. We long for the sacred in life. We long for an extended season of goodwill to all men and women. We long for a just world.
--The trees, the pine boughs, the candles, etc., those elements borrowed (or stolen) from the pagan, represent our love of the living things of the world, our longing for light and life during this darkest period, our longing to incorporate earth love and joyfulness into the sacred.
During the Christmas season, we hope that putting on the outward form of what we long for will transform us inwardly--individually and collectively-- into what we wish to be. I think primarily this happens unconsciously--we don't think "I'm putting up this creche because I want all babies in the world to be treated kindly" or "I'm drawn to buy this colorful print of Dickensian carollers because I want to live in a more convivial world." But I do think we long for a world where everyone is cared for, community is strong, the material goods of the world flow abundantly, the earth is protected, and joy abounds.
Of course, we know that many marriages fall apart during the Christmas season. Many children can't come home, because no matter how beautiful the packaging, the underlying poison is too deep. We know the world is a highly flawed place. If anything, the beautiful packaging of Christmas can underscore-painfully- how far we are from the ideal.
The great question is: Can the outward form change the inward person--can the dress transform the soul? Some say that the great distinction between Christianity and the other two religions of the book, Judaism and Islam, is Christianity's persistent belief that the inward soul of a person can and must be transformed, that in fact the salvation of the world can only occur when people undergo the soul transformation --a new way of seeing--that leads to the true outward change ... of everything. The other religions, it is said, put more faith in outward changes--following laws and a set cycle of prayers, fasting, etc.--for softening or least ameliorating, the hardness in the human heart and thus engendering change.
Quakers have always come down hard on the side of the primacy of inward transformation, seeing the outward forms of the faith as "counterfeits." The early Quakers, as we know, saw the rites of the church as allowing people who participated to believe they were godly people without transforming their lives. They saw the rites of the church becoming an end in themselves, not an avenue to transformation. The Quakers swept away these rituals to open room for the essential, to put people in the unmediated presence of God with faith that this would result in world transforming change.
But we Quakers use ritual, and I would argue that sitting in stillness is one of the most rigid rituals of all. Coming from a different tradition, I tend to see the cultural ritualism of the English all over the faith--try introducing the tiniest variant or "programming" into a meeting for silent worship. So my questions is: what privileges silent worship over other rituals?
Also, like Marshall, I believe inward transformation is the key: I believe in inward to outward, not outward to inward. The most beautifully trimmed Christmas tree in the world will not magically mend broken hearts in a family. On the other hand, is there a transformative possibility or quality to the outward? For instance, many people think some transformative quailty was lost when the Roman Catholic sisters began adopting "civilian garb" and the church moved from the grandeur of the Latin Mass. What do you think?