Following the Spirit

My wise Friend, who has a wonderfully rich intellectual and spiritual life, asked,

How strong or weak is your faith?
Are there times when letting yourself be “led by the Spirit” seems unrealistic, naive, or wrong?
When, if ever, have you been surprised by what faith can do?

Jonah knew he had a call from God, with precise instructions, and he ran away from it. I, being materialist and not conceiving Spirit as separate from myself, don’t see how I could know. Spirit in the human is a useful metaphor, rather than a discrete part. In May 2000 I could not face transition, because it frightened me too much. Only in November did I decide I had to do it. Internalised transphobia makes it hard for me to think of this as a leading of the spirit.

Sometimes, I have a sense of what I must do, and do it. Thinking back, I delight in these moments, when I believe I was acting according to my best nature. Examples:

I was working for an advice agency, helping claimants challenge refusal of welfare benefits. Dr Patel was an “Examining medical practitioner”, doing reports for Disability Living Allowance. The second part of the EMP form was his assessment of the claimant’s condition, but in the first he was supposed to take a statement from the claimant, saying what the claimant said they could do. The less they could do for themselves, the more money they would get. Dr Patel filled in the statement as if the claimant had said they had no particular difficulty with anything that would get them DLA. “I didn’t say that,” said my client.

Then in the tribunal waiting room I heard someone else talking about the same problem. Dr Patel had done their examination, and again had written the statement as if they had said they had no problem. “Sign here,” he had said, and of course they did, because he was a doctor and they could not read his handwriting. I had great difficulty with it, spending ages transcribing his reports. I began to check whether the EMP report was Patel’s and if so what the “claimant statement” was like.

We had strong evidence of what the claimants said they could not do, because they had completed the DLA claim form, but tribunals still did not believe them. Unsurprisingly, the tribunal took the doctor’s word over the benefit claimant’s. Eventually I found seventeen such claimants each with the same complaint. I argued to the tribunal that the “similar fact” rule of evidence applied, and they produced a six page legal argument that it did not. I argued to Patel’s employer that everyone saying the same thing made Patel’s denials incredible, and they argued that I had told my clients what to say. After months of work, with the help of the local MP I got him dismissed from his role as EMP.

As I type this, I am feeling my resentment at my integrity being impugned, my anger at Patel’s arrogance, dishonesty, and contempt for the people he examined, my determination and my pride at finally succeeding. It was above my pay grade. I could just have said to the claimants, well, sorry, the tribunals treat EMP reports as strong evidence, I can’t help you any further. I went in to the office in evenings and weekends to pursue this case.

It was me being me. While not universal human characteristics, anger at injustice and empathy with people one is working with are fairly common. I think it “Good”. In one sense of the word it is “spirited”. I had the energy and devoted myself to the task. The next EMP I thought was lying on the forms, I just gave up, it was too much for me.

Then there is me having breakfast at Woodbrooke. I take a moment to consider what I want. No, I do not want a fry-up, just fruit and cereal. Someone said this is “good” of me. It is “self-indulgent” to eat the fatty foods. I felt it was using my autonomic understanding, physical perception of need, to decide separately from cultural understandings what I should eat. The whole human, acting with integrity, does what the whole human needs to do. Yes it is a trivial example, but it is what I understand being “led by the spirit” to be: the sensory inputs are analysed, and the human being pursues its course, without any internal conflict.

That phrase, “the human being pursuing its course”, might apply to Donald Trump winning the 2016 election.

I am retreated from the world, seeking my healing. I wish I were other than I am, stronger than I am, that I could accomplish more, and I have moments of healing and understanding that warm and bless me. This is where my me-ness is directed now. My inner critic calls it laziness, possibly other humans might agree, and I can only know this is my leading because this is where I am following, now. I may be wrong.

There is the idea of Light within, which can guide a human being, “That of God in every one” which we might follow or suppress, obey or disobey. How could I possibly know? Sometimes instant gratification is wrong, as deferred gratification is a wiser as well as nobler aim. You feel sexual attraction but do not act upon it because you have an obligation to your partner.

Sometimes Quakers make decisions which seem to our rational understanding to be right, and there is no life or energy in them. The Outreach Committee has to do something so it sets up a stall in a place no-one visits. In that job I thought much of the action I could take was hopeless. It was like staring at a solid wall. I would find the cracks in that wall, and devote all my energy to bursting through there.

Insofar as I do not follow leadings of Spirit, it is because I do not see them. Some conventional morality I have picked up, which does not fit the case, makes me imagine a “light” which came from God or was good would not do that. But I would never see that is what I was doing, I would imagine I was doing the right thing, and indeed would be as far as I was able. Loving community may correct that.

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