In Spirit and in Truth

How do you find yourself spending your time these days? Are you enjoying the long, open moments, the freedom of choice, the ease of not having anywhere to go? Have you learned to befriend your boredom, to enjoy a little creativity, to calm the anxiety that sometimes arises and then meet it with a friendly gaze and an open heart?

We spend so much of our lives focused “out there” that being held in a time of quiet repose “in here” might be uncomfortable and challenging. It also may be just what we need. Spirit doesn’t chase us through our days or compete for our attention; rather Spirit quietly abides with us, waiting our arrival and attending in moments of silence.

In a time when the outer world is so fraught with conflict and division, it is refreshing, recentering, and peaceful to turn toward the quiet within our own yards and in our own hearts. Instead of getting caught up in the fray, arming ourselves for a fight, challenging people on social media and lecturing strangers in the checkout aisle, we can explore the inner yearning of our own spirits that so tenderly need the love, presence, and comfort of God.

Our Old Testament scripture today is taken from the book of 1 Samuel. It’s a story about God’s relationship with Samuel and how God leads Samuel to find the next big king of Israel, which would turn out to be David, a man after God’s own heart. At the beginning of the story, we hear God talking with Samuel, asking, “How long will you mourn over Saul, since I have rejected him? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Samuel grumbles a bit and tries to object but God gives him further instruction, so he does as he’s asked. But the intimacy at the opening of this story is profound. Samuel and God know one another so well that God asks, “So how long are you going to mourn, anyway?” He knows how Samuel is feeling. He takes it in stride. But he still equips Samuel—one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets—to anoint the future king of Israel, the forbear of the coming Christ.

So Samuel travels to Bethlehem, to the home of Jesse. Scripture says the elders of the town trembled when they met Samuel; most likely he was known throughout the region as a powerful man of God. When he met the first of Jesse’s sons, he is quite impressed and feels this young man must be the future king. But God has other ideas. “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him,” God tells Samuel. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

This is a key statement that helps us understand the intimacy between God and Samuel we saw at the beginning of the story. Samuel’s heart was open to God and they knew one another—in spirit and in truth. Their conversation had been going on for decades, since Samuel was a little boy serving in the temple under the loving eye of the priest Eli.

But now, as the story plays out, one by one Jesse’s sons come before Samuel but none of them are the one God has chosen to lead Israel. Samuel asks Jesse whether he has any more sons and he learns of young David, who is out tending sheep. Samuel says they will wait for David to return and when he does, God says, “Rise and anoint him. This is the one.”

We of course saw these same ideas throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, as he questioned social norms and pushed against the illusion that power and wealth and advantage were the hallmarks of a blessed life. Time and again, Jesus points us back to our own hearts, asking us to consider the true motives of our actions in the world, inviting us to release everything in our lives that gets in the way of a true connection with God.

Throughout Jesus’ life, we saw that the most important thing to him—the thing he couldn’t do without—was his intimate connection with the Father. Yes, he came to this realm to help us, save us, heal us, lead us. But none of that could have happened without his intimate connection to God. When people sought to put him on a pedestal, he stepped aside and pointed them to the source of their life and blessing. “God desires this kind of relationship with each of his children,” Jesus told us. His “follow me” meant “come along on this path to true intimacy with God.”

In the Gospel of John, chapter 4, we learn that word about Jesus has been spreading—the crowds are growing larger and more people were asking to be baptized by the disciples than had come to John the Baptist for the same. After a series of long days, Jesus is tired and sits beside Jacob’s well and has his conversation with the Samaritan woman. For the first time, he reveals that he is the Messiah they have been expecting, and he tells her, “…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” {v 4: 23-24)

We are living through a time right now when we need to find and hold fast to what it means to “worship in spirit and in truth” in a big way. One evening last week, I was reading about the theoretical and quantum physicist Richard Feynmann. After a long and unique career, he was invited to be part of the commission that investigated what happened in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in the late 80s. He did a lot of interviewing and research; he became an annoyance to those political types who wanted only a cursory review and a quick wrap-up. But he found something fascinating that is a good word for us today.

In the build up to the launch, Feynman found there had been a major discrepancy between the ideas of the NASA managers and the NASA engineers. The managers thought there was a 1 in 100,000 chance of a catastrophic failure and the engineers thought the risk was closer to 1 in 200. The people who weren’t directly responsible for the hands-on shuttle work, those who were assigned to keep the project moving, get it completed on time, and share the story with the world—those people thought the risk was low. The people who had the expertise and experience to get the shuttle built—who knew the equations, worked with materials, did the planning and the tests—those professionals believed the risk was much greater. Of course we all know who was closer to the truth. Seven crew members—including a high school social studies teacher—were killed on January 28, 1986, when the shuttle exploded suddenly. The fault was eventually found to be a defective O-ring which was unable to adapt to the unusually cold temperatures at the launch. Feynman was determined to be a truth-teller about the report even though the powers-that-be wanted him to limit his editorializing. Finally he refused to sign his name to the report unless they allowed him to share his views in an appendix, which was added at the end. In that writing, he tellingly—and prophetically—wrote, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

We are living in a time of managers and engineers, of public relations messaging and a force of nature unfolding among us. It is sometimes hard to know who out there to listen to, who to put our trust in, whose directions to follow. Are we believing popular messaging or are we listening for the truth, for the insight of those who really know?

Early Friend Isaac Penington was a convinced Quaker in George Fox’s time who had a clear sense of truth—what it is and where to find it. He wrote,

“Truth is of God, and was with God, and in God, before anything else had a being. Truth was before error or deceit; for it was from the truth that the error was, and it was about truth that the deceit was. There was somewhat which erred from truth, and brought deceit into the world, and hath propagated deceit in the world; but truth remains the same that it was, keeping its pure, eternal, unchangeable nature, and is not, nor ever was, nor ever can be defiled or tainted with any error or deceit, but testifieth against it, reproveth it; and comdemneth for it, draweth out of it, and delivereth from its bonds and captivity all those that hearken and cleave to it, in the faith which is of its nature and begetting.”

Indestructible truth. And his evidence for the truth of God’s constant presence with us is the irrefutable, unstoppable force of love that brings grace to meet every need. Again, he writes:

 “Oh, how sweet is love! How pleasant is its nature! How takingly doth it behave itself in every condition, upon every occasion, to every person, and about everything! How tenderly, how readily, doth it help and serve the meanest! How patiently, how meekly, doth it bear all things, either from God or man, how unexpectedly soever they come, or how hard soever they seem! How doth it believe, how doth it hope, how doth it excuse, how doth it cover even that which seemeth not to be excusable, and not fit to be covered! How kind is it even in its interpretations and charges concerning miscarriages! It never over-chargeth, it never grates upon the spirit of him whom it reprehends; it never hardens, it never provokes; but carrieth a meltingness and power of conviction with it. This is the nature of God; this, in the vessels capacitated to receive and bring it forth in its glory, the power of enmity is not able to stand against, but falls before, and is overcome by.”

I cannot say why some people seem to grow angry when they are approached by grace. Why when given a chance to see the humanity of another who is different from them, they respond with anger and prejudice. Why they close their minds to learning more about the diversity of our world, rejecting others’ way of living as inferior to their own. I don’t understand why some hearts grow hard and others grow soft. But I do know this: Those rejecting love and light and life need healing. And we all—open people and angry people alike—we all need one another for our world to be made whole.

There is nothing better, nothing of more value than the intimacy with God that enables us to grow ever more open to love, ever more sensitive to truth, ever more under the sway of spirit. It is the best possible use of our time in quarantine. In the quiet, rest. Listen. Welcome God’s presence in the still moment. And watch our world come alive.


2 thoughts on “In Spirit and in Truth

  1. Thank you, Katherine, for your strong compelling message that is much needed in today’s world.


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