Many of us are deeply concerned by the division and polarization which we see around us, and which has been particularly evident in this latest U.S. election. Here are some preliminary questions to consider:
· How do we foster exchange and active civil life when public discourse is pitched as a battle fought between those who conquer (good) and those who are defeated (evil)?
· How do we remain strong in our convictions while remaining open and available to continuing revelation?
What is a conviction? The dictionary defines it as a deeply held belief or opinion. But when we remain in our entrenched ideas, is it us who are conquered or do we hope to conquer others by our ideas? It is worth noting that “to convince” and “to convict” (including in French convaincre) are all rooted in the Latin vincere, meaning conquest.
Early Friends spoke of convincement as a life-shattering, singular event – a moment of great realization. We can consider some ideas around convincement – see this article from Post Modern Quaker which is particularly interesting when we talk about the “divine in all people.” What does this really mean? Does divine=good?
In Psalm 19, the psalmist prays, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” According to classic Quaker teaching and experience, the first work of the “Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world” (John 1:9) is to begin that cleansing by showing us the sinful—i.e., self-centered and consequently unjust—character of our nature. Conversion begins with the experience of being enlightened to the truth of oneself, the unwelcome truth which one had more or less successfully repressed (perhaps with the help of religion and spirituality), and it matures and bears fruit as one is increasingly surrendered to the continuing work of the Light within.
Quaker conversion involves, then, a response to revelation, but to revelation of a specific nature: of the evil abiding in every human heart and specifically in this heart. That revelation can be devastating, and it should be no surprise that the first Friends trembled—quaked—as the Light worked in them. Nor should it be a surprise that we normally deny or rationalize the reality of darkness in our hearts. Conversion is baptism into a more sincere, and therefore holier, way of being.
And for those who like videos, Quakerspeak has a video here.
Eventually convincement came to mean asking for Membership into the Society, as this status became more codified in the years of persecution. For us today, what does this mean to become a member of the Society of Friends? How does it relate to convincement? For further reading, there is 11.01 of the Britain YM around the meaning of membership.
Perhaps as part of this discussion, we shall also hear from those in our group who have come into membership and what that process was like for them.