Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Quaker Thomas R. Kelly offers insightful perspective for social activists and compassionate caregivers

TIME IN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE.  I wish every one—particularly Christians—engaged in social work or compassionate care could read Thomas R. Kelly’s chapter “The Eternal Now and Social Concern” in his book A Testament of Devotion.  It resets the context, purpose, content, and manner of our work.  Here are a few poignant snippets:

NOT FOR GOD, BUT GOD THROUGH YOU.  “Too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something FOR God that they don’t hear God asking that God might do something THROUGH them…  For the Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort, that is, self-originated effort, and let the Eternal be the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.

THE TENDERED SOUL.  Kelly describes an essential “tendering of the soul”: “There is a tendering of the soul toward everything in creation, from the sparrow’s fall to the slave under the lash.  The hard-lined face of a money-bitten financier is as deeply touching to the tendered soul as are the burned-out eyes of miners’ children, remote and unseen victims of his so-called success.  There is a sense in which, in this terrible tenderness, we become one with God and bear in our quivering souls the sins and burdens, the benightedness and the tragedy of the creatures of the whole world, and suffer in their suffering and die in their death.”

A FEW CENTRAL TASKS.  Thus, concern is born.  Of it, Kelly writes: “The loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities.  For each of us these special undertakings are our share in the joyous burdens of love.”

FOREGROUND & BACKGROUND OF CONCERN.  “The state of having concern has a foreground and a background.  In the foreground is the special task, uniquely illuminated, toward which we feel a special yearning and care…  In the background is a second level of universal concern for all the multitude of good things that need doing.  Toward them we all feel kindly, but we are dismissed from active service in most of them…We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to.”

ORDERED AND ORGANIZED FROM WITHIN.  Kelly stresses the challenge of being focused in our social concern: “Too many of us have too many irons in the fire… I am persuaded that this fevered life of church workers is not wholesome.  Acceptance of service should really depend on an answering imperative within us…  The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within.  And we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility.”

BREAKING THROUGH INTO THE WORLD.  Finally, Kelly describes the relationship of the Eternal Now to social concern: “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.”

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