With Covid-19, the entire human race now lives in a fog, unaware of where we’re headed. It’s like we’re on a gigantic cruise ship, plowing through a thick fog, sirens blaring, thus warning other ships to beware. Passengers cannot see the sun and much less are the stars and sky open to their gaze. As daily cases rise exponentially, so far there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. As the July 13, 2020 edition of the Wall Street Journal, page one noted, experts warn that the Covid-19 crisis seems to be turning “uncontrollable.”
Correspondingly, low visibility on the horizon might be a parable for the physical health and spiritual climate around the world today. Global leaders today from China to Russia to the U.S. and Brazil can’t agree on a strategy to clear the fog and go full speed ahead, politically, economically, and spiritually. In this connection we need to think globally and act locally. This means we need to take the advice of infectious disease experts and use social distancing and the wearing of a mask when in public as ordered by the CDC.
In this article, I reflect on the thought of Rufus Jones, a Quaker, writer, and spiritual guru from the 20th century. I like to think of him as a mystic of everyday life, as described in the book, "Rufus Jones: Essential Writings: Selected with an Introduction by Kerry Walters," (Maryknoll, N.Y.: 2001).
In times of crisis, God appears to be absent when needed most. It’s akin to the sun on a cloudy day. Though the Lord on high seems to be distant, the Transcendent One is there like the sun, behind and above the clouds. As Muslims teach us, God is nearer to us than our jugular vein. Also, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh made a covenant with Israel, according to Jeremiah 31:33 “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This implies that the Lord is the One who’s there when needed by those suffering the ravages of disease and tribulations. As Rufus Jones puts it, “Every situation may be turned into an occasion for winning a nearer view” of the Lord.
At the end of the day, we must all bow down in silent awe to the mystery that is the divine. Jones reminds us why we’re here on the planet. He remarks that “the major business we are here for in this world is to be a rightly fashioned person as an organ of the divine purpose.” What we do in terms of our work, success, and the like doesn’t seem to matter in the sight of the Lord of the universe. The kingdom of God is what it says, “God’s” kingdom, not ours.
Within each human being there exists a Beyond in us, a “More yet,” (or as William James calls it “our Mother Sea), since we are in our constitution temporal-eternal, finite-infinite beings. We’re composed of matter (body) that is finite and corruptible, plus a soul that’s eternal and incorruptible or infinite. We have been made a little less than the angels. We’re in a reciprocal relationship with God with whom we live, move, and have our being. As Rufus Jones notes, “The Spiritual Universe is thus a concrete reality, not an abstract one.” (See Rufus Jones, “Why I Enroll with the Mystics,” in Contemporary American Theology: Theological Autobiographies, ed. V. Ferm, New York: Roundtable Press, 1932).
As human beings, we live in an Over-World that influences the entire world-drama. The Spirit that is God may be found in the middle of our everyday world, if only we took the time to look. We humans contain within ourselves a capacity for the divine as noted by the early Christians after the event of Pentecost. The 17th-century Quakers constructed their religion on the premise that the presence of God may be found in every human being.
Hence, the Quakers down through the centuries speak of getting in touch with the “Inner Light” or the “Divine Seed.” In short, we humans have a divine origin and a divine goal or destiny. This “Inner Light” must be seen, known, and felt by each of us experientially. We humans are way More than who we are because of this “Inner Light” within our consciousness.
In this connection I am reminded of Psalm 36:9 “in your light we see light.”
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.