Monday, August 27, 2012

BookPastor >> "A Testament of Devotion" (Thomas R Kelly)

TITLE: A Testament of Devotion
AUTHOR: Thomas R. Kelly
PUBLISHER: London: Quaker Home Service, 1979, (114 pages).

This is a classic devotional in the best tradition of the Quakers. Quiet but confident, Earnest yet humble, small-sized but big in contemplativeness, this is truly one of the greatest spiritual literature from the pen of a twentieth century author. First published in 1941, this book has become so popular that it has gone through multiple reprints by different publishers. Kelly, writing from the Quaker tradition, has very little to say about himself but a lot to say about our response to God. Douglas B Steere fills in a much needed preface that describes to readers the person of Thomas R. Kelly.

Kelly is strongly motivated to learn about how things work. His hunger for life fuels his hunger for God. Through this hunger, he goes on to complete a PhD at Hartford Theological Seminary. He goes on to teach at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. His earlier passion for science similarly drives his passion for philosophical method. As much as he is eager to learn, he is also eager to teach. His lectures are often so rich and original that students are moved by his creativity and authenticity. What is most distinct is the way Kelly's inner life blossoms as he personally discovers God and receives a life changing experience. Devotion becomes his new drive. This book is a collection of his lectures. Five themes are brought together to make this book a testament of devotion.

Chapter 1 - The Light Within

Devotion begins introspectively. It is the awareness of the inside that guides the behaviour on the outside. God touches us from the inside out, illuminating the light within us so that we can truly become the light of the world.

"It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories upon the face of men. It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all." (27)

Our response is inner adoration, joy, gratitude, surrender, worship, and constant listening. This is sustatined through continued spiritual practices of good thinking and inner discipline. Kelly talks of two levels of ordering our mental life. At the first level, it is one of activism where we work hard. At the second level, we become more aware of divine presence through prayer, through worship, through a gentle receptiveness to God. What is most interesting is that these two levels cultivate each other. Such devotions at both levels are both painful as well as rewarding. Painful because of the gaps in moving from one level to the other which creates a kind of a start-stop movement which can be frustrating. Rewarding because of the sweetness of having a greater ease of thinking about God. One thing Kelly highlights is that the more we grow in God, the simpler our devotions. This process can be experienced through the increasing comfort of letting God work in us. Another way of putting this reward is as follows. If we begin our devotional life as if "God expects a lot from us." The hope is that once we arrive in God, we will realize that "God gives everything."

Chapter 2 - Holy Obedience

Beginning with a description on how greatly God pursues us His beloved, Kelly points to the nature of true obedience. Complete obedience is wholly and holy. It is without reservation all for God. Using Meister Eckhart's description of many first-half people, and few who bothers to complete the other half, while the journey is fraught with difficulties and temptations, we have the joy and hope of being encouraged that many saints of old have made the journey and have succeeded. Holy obedience is possible and attainable. There are several gateways to holy obedience. Firstly, it is the meeting of God and men, where we realized that all power comes from God alone. It is a state where the "soul is swept" into God's loving Centre. Our response to God comes through an earnest desire to want God. Some of the mystics of old calls this the "passive way." There is the "active way." This leads us to the second gateway, to "begin where we are." Obey whatever we can. Obey where we are. The third gateway is NOT to be discouraged when we slip back to our old ways. Do not let self-accusation stop us in devotions. The fourth gateway is to learn to submit to God for the results. This holy obedience thus depends on God from beginning to end. Humility and holiness are the twin fruits of such holy obedience. The third and fourth fruits are suffering and simplicity respectively.

Chapter 3 - The Blessed Community

Kelly progresses from individual devotionals to a desire for community with the people of God. True devotions that begin inside never grows inwards but outwards. One grows in friendship. One aligns with one another. Love grows. Together, the people of God discover God's love. Differences are marginalized, with commoness in God becoming the central identity.

"And this Fellowship is deeper than democracy, conceived as an ideal of group living. It is a theocracy wherein God rules and guides and directs His listening children. The centre of authority is not in man, not in the group, but in the creative God Himself. Nor do all members share equally in spiritual discernment, but upon some falls more clearly the revealing light of His guiding will." (78)

Chapter 4 - The Eternal Now and Social Concern

Kelly continues his spiritual trajectory from individual to community, and from community to the society at large. Key to this understanding of "eternal now" is the delicate balance of heavenly desiring and earthly living. We either take heaven too seriously that we forget about the present earth, or we take earth too seriously at the expense of hope of heaven. Kelly urges us to hold both the time now and the timelessness future. What truly makes the spiritual experience special is not our man-made diligence to join the earthly work with heavenly hope, but the sudden experience that it is God who is behind everything. Such an experience of God that joins the time and the timeless is evident through three kinds of fruits. First, it is joy unspeakable. Second, it is love. Third, it is peace. This peace erases earthly anxieties. It takes away a performance mindset in many believers. This brings us then to the motivation for social concerns.

"We have tried to discover the grounds of the social responsibility and the social sensitivity of Friends. It is not in mere humanitarianism. It is not in mere pity. It is not in mere obedience to Bible commands. It is not in anything earthly. The social concern of Friends is grounded in an experience - an experience of the Love of God and of the impulse to saviorhood inherent in the fresh quickening of that Life. Social concern is the dynamic Life of God at work in the world, made special and emphatic and unique, particularized in each individual or group who is sensitive and tender in the leading-strings of love. A concern is God-initiated, often surprising, always holy, for the Life of God is breaking through into the world. Its execution is in peace and power and astounding faith and joy, for in unhurried serenity the Eternal is at work in the midst of time, triumphantly bringing all things up unto Himself." (102)

Chapter 5 - The Simplification of Life

This chapter comes back full circle to the inner life of the believer. Far too often, we tend to think that the problem of life or the solution to it lies out there. The fact is, there is much work to be done in us. We have been guilty of making the world too complex for our own good. As a result, we are "unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow."

Simplicity means living from the Center. It means living with a sole focus on God. In contrast, our complex lives lie in being too worldly. Too many idols. Instead of listening to only one voice, our ears are drowned out by the many noises. Simplicity means singleness of mind, singleness of sight, and silently watching for God. Here are some of the questions that Kelly use to challenge us toward simplicity in God.

"Do you really want to live out your lives, every moment of your lives, in His Presence? Do you long for Him, crave Him? Do you love His Presence? Does every drop of blood in your body love Him? Does every breath you draw breathe a prayer, a praise to Him? Do you sing and dance within yourselves, as you glory in His love? Have you set yourselves to be His, and only His, walking every moment in holy obedience?" (109)

My Thoughts

This book is dense with its focus on God and soaked with spiritual wisdom. Written from a person who has experienced the Center in God, it invites readers to enter into this journey toward God. It is a testimony of God's grace to men that all of our devotions begin with God. It is a trial of challenges that one needs to overcome in order to disentangle oneself from the tyranny of worldliness, and the deceptions of self-strengths. It is a testament of devotion that leads one from inside to God, from individual to community, from community to social concerns, and from social concerns, back to a needed reminder that our lives need simplification. This book is a guide for deeper devotions. The best way to use this book is with a spiritual guide, or a more mature believer.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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