States and Conditions

I first became a Quaker because of my own personal experience of God. I knew many people who talked about God, but I was always a doubting Thomas – I needed to see and touch for myself before I could believe. And God, with great mercy, granted me this. God showed up in my life, demonstrating love and power in ways that I could no longer deny.

Early on in my journey as a Friend, I had several opportunities to witness God’s life and power in the midst of Quaker gatherings, especially gatherings of young adults. In several intense episodes over the course of a few years, I experienced the explosive power of God. Tent revival stuff: Ecstatic states, visions, and times when there was no doubt that the Spirit was speaking directly to us as a community. The Book of Acts came to seem familiar.

Young Adult Friends Gathering at Burlington, NJ – 2007
With such experiences, it would be easy to become a “God-addict.” In truth, one major dynamic of my early development as a Quaker was a search for “peak experiences.” I wanted to feel up. I wanted to experience God’s presence and power; the ecstasy of communion and the assurance of salvation. My faith in God rested primarily on the euphoria of the Spirit’s presence.

The truth is, my faith was weak. Rather than being based in a profound trust of my Creator, my faith was built on the shaky foundation of psychological and emotional states. When I felt connected, when the movement of the Holy Spirit was readily apparent to me, it was easy to believe. But things felt very different when the euphoria faded. In the face of the humdrum of everyday life – not to mention the times of darkness, when God seemed distant from me – it was easy to question all of my previous experience of God. Was that all God was? A fleeting rush of hormones?

A major area of growth for my life as a Christian is realizing that God is present in all my states. Just as the Word is alive and active in those moments of ecstatic communion with Christ, the Word abides within us in times of darkness and suffering. God’s shepherding presence is not limited to the times when we feel good. The Holy Spirit transcends human emotional states.
In the Quaker tradition, the role of gospel ministers is to speak to the “states and conditions” of our fellow women and men. God is not dependent upon our psychological or emotional states; rather, the Spirit speaks to us in our states and conditions. Whether through the Spirit-led ministry of our brothers and sisters, or through the inward voice of God in our hearts, Christ stands at the door and knocks in whatever condition we are found.
It is definitely easier for me to recognize the voice of God when I am in a positive state of being. Nevertheless, as I seek to grow in faith, I feel called to rely more on Christ and less on my own personal states. Rather than insisting that God provide me with euphoric experiences, I feel that God is inviting me into a deeper, healthier relationship.
I believe that a truly mature relationship with Christ is one in which we can sense God’s Word in all of our states and conditions. I am learning to simply be present with reality as it is, allowing Christ to reveal himself not only in the bread and wine, but also in the cross and crown of thorns. If God was present with Jesus in his greatest suffering, surely the Spirit will remain with me in my daily cycles of joy and sadness, depth and shallowness.

Planning Committee – Young Adult Friends Gathering – 2008