“I was early convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures; that, as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so by the same principle, it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that, as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him, was a contradiction in itself.”
~ John Woolman, 1740, Quaker preacher
After reading this 272-year-old quote, I can’t help but agree that the spiritual life is about both contemplation and the “inward life,” and it is also about putting love into action. John Woolman was a traveling Quaker minister who traveled throughout the American colonies and in England, advocating against cruelty to animals, economic injustices and oppression, conscription, military taxation, and particularly slavery and the slave trade. He speaks of an “inward principle” to love God. I feel this principle strongly today, choosing to spend a fair amount of time in solitude praying to God through journaling and feasting on spiritual truths through the writings of contemporaries and writers who have gone before me. I am convinced that we all need to find a way to spend time with God/The Divine/The Universe, whether it be through prayer, journaling, taking a long walk in the park. For me, journaling slows down my mind and my fears and concerns are swallowed up by the love of God.
At the same time as developing an inward spiritual life, Woolman writes that if we say we love God yet are cruel to the people and the world around us, we are hypocrites. We have all seen such people. And perhaps at times in our lives we have been such people. Sometimes, as the Scriptures say, we have to go into our closets and spend time with God. Sometimes we go through long periods where we have to be alone with only God for company. But when we are ready, we are called to move into the world to love everyone and everything around us with the love we feel in God.
Perhaps the best way to answer the question “How are you doing spiritually?” is by tallying how we have been treating those around us.
My encouragement to you today is to find some way, some path to commune with God on a regular basis. Perhaps that means formal prayers that we have learned in church, maybe it is writing or time in nature. It will make a world of difference when we meet our fellow humankind throughout the week.