For NWYM Peace Month, I am continuing to look at one of God’s great visions of peace from the Old Testament, a rich vision of shalom that God gave to the prophet Micah during a turbulent time of war and invasion, followed by a time of exile and slavery. Micah’s unique vision of peace has always held a special place in Friends movement. In this blog series entitled “Tanks, Tractors, and Tremblers Before God” I will look deeply at these symbols of God’s vision of peace from Micah 4 and explore the biblical roots of the Quaker Peace Testimony. There is indeed an interesting intersection between God’s rich vision of shalom and various, often untold stories of how Friends have uniquely tried to live out their commitment to peace. You can find part one in the series here.
1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3 He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
5 All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever.
The first prominent symbol in Micah 4 is Mount Zion. In ways that are hard to fathom with our culture’s separation between church and state, this is both a Jewish religious, as well as a Jewish political symbol. Above all, this reminds me that God’s vision of shalom is one that leads to worship. It is a vision of peace that recognizes God as ruler and creator of the earth and all that is in it. In this vision, God is exalted, and when this happens, people are drawn in to worship, to learn from, and to follow him. Here we see a vision somewhat free of intermediaries. For despite the ongoing priestly sacrifice of that time and place, God’s reign from Zion is a powerful metaphor of both the immanence and authority of God. This is symbolic of God’s closeness as well as his supremacy. Not only are people drawn in from all over the earth but God’s message and instruction (torah) flow out of this Jewish “center.” Micah’s symbol is not just one of a “personal” relationship, but a corporate one. This mountain and its temple symbolized Immanuel, or “God with us” to the Jewish people in ways Jesus would later represent in greater fullness to us.
At Barclay College, of which I am a graduate, there is a great room in the library with a fireplace where students often gather to read. On either side of the fireplace stood a painting by Doyle Penrose. One one side was the most ubiquitous Quaker painting: The Presence in the Midst. On the other side was one I had never seen before called None Shall Make Them Afraid, aptly named after a section of this passage from Micah 4. In the painting, Indians are shown invading a Quaker meetinghouse.
I had no idea what the story was behind this mysterious painting and never really asked anyone about it, perhaps out of fear someone might find out how little I knew of Quaker history, as I was one who came to convincement later in life from the outside. The painting eventually became just another part of the scenery of my college experience, and its mystery to me began to fade. In my senior year, I took the Teachings of Friends class with Dr. Dave Kingrey, the new theology professor. He was and is a Quaker legend, spending a great portion of his life sitting under the tutelage and personal mentoring of D. Elton Trueblood himself. Dave is both the most humble and genuinely encouraging person I have ever met. During a delightful section on Quaker art, both the painting and its story were explained to me, and at last, my questions found answers.
In 1775, in Easton Township, Saratoga NY, Native American Indians in full battle dress walked into the Easton meetinghouse intending to kill all of the Quakers inside. They had poison tipped arrows prepared for the occasion, and their belts sported European scalps in case anyone doubted their ability to kill. The Indians saw no guns at all among the Quakers, and to their astonishment, the Quakers continued to worship in peaceful silence. The leaders of the two groups stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity. The Indian chief, seeing that the Quakers meant no harm and “worshiped the Great Spirit in peaceful silence” just as the Indians did, laid down his bow and joined the meeting, worshipping alongside the Quakers. The other who came with him followed his example. The Indians eventually left without a word, leaving no trace except white feathers they tucked in over the doorways of the meeting and other houses. The feathers were omens of peace that protected the Quakers from future Indian attacks.
We might be tempted to write this story off as a mere legend, but it is recorded in no small number of personal journals from people who were present that day. In fact, so many details of the event are recorded in various journals that Penrose, the artist of the painting, was criticized for getting some of the details wrong and not doing enough homework before he began painting.
Here we see something of a Quaker Passover of Peace, one lived out in radical love in a harsh time and in a harsh land. What impresses me the most about this story is not the lack of fear that the painting is named after. What impresses me the most is what happens after the moment the painting captures when later, even non-Christians on a mission of murder are swept up in worshiping God alongside those they have come to murder. Only God can do that! Only God can change hearts from being full of fear to being filled with such love that something like this could take place. If even one person in that meetinghouse had been nervous about a possible invasion and carried a gun around with them, this story would likely have ended up a lot differently. It seems that violence held in reservation has a way of coming to the surface when danger fans fears into flame. If we spend our time preparing for a fight we should not be surprised when we find one. Yet these Quakers were so intently focused on worship that they would have even been at peace dying in God’s presence together.
This vision of shalom that centers on worship, and even leads others to worship, is captivatingly beautiful to me. It is a holy vision: one beyond unaided human imagination and boldness. It is a vision of a life lived pointing toward our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, like that life Thomas Kelly speaks of, where a three inch finger can point others to the most distant and beautiful star, or even the God of the Universe. Peace cannot be simply for its own sake. It comes through us drawing near to the Prince of Peace and God of Love whose visions soar above our myopic visions of terror held in check by fear of retribution. It comes through shared experience with God that transcends even human languages like English and Huron, and where faith finds its expression rooted in love rather than fear.
Query: How might the worship of God, and drawing others to worship, transform your vision of peace?