Listening in Tongues – Friends Journal

I first heard the phrase “listening in tongues” at a local interfaith group that I was part of for almost two decades. (I heard it again in Robin Mohr’s excellent QuakerSpeak video.) Serving first on the board of governors and then as president, I learned a great deal about listening in tongues. I understood this phrase to mean something like empathic listening: listening with the heart, not the rational mind. It is tempting when learning about another faith to listen and then mentally say something like, “Oh, your word for God is Allah; or oh, your word for God is Adonai; I get it.” This is not only a disservice to true understanding but contains the danger of hubris. The implication of this thinking is that God’s real name is God and these other words are just other names for the real thing.

ngoing revelation means that our truth can shift to introduce, reflect, and absorb new information, new cultures, and new practices into our midst. The current work on antiracism is an example. Was it always a problem? Yes. Did we lift it up to its rightful place in our corporate concerns? We did not. Have we learned and changed? Pray God, we have. We also practice ongoing revelation as individuals. We trust that God is able to speak to us directly and show us what is true. Friends may also use Scripture and corporate discernment to confirm or challenge their sense of what has been revealed. The example of James Nayler shows how important such confirmation can be.

Finally, our faith locates final authority in God’s inner presence within each person. It is not in the words of Scripture, though we may seek Scripture for guidance or corroboration. It is not located in a papal authority or even a pastoral authority. We have no written creed that all can learn and practice. Ours is an experiential faith; as George Fox said, “This I knew experimentally.” This experience cannot be translated. It is this experience of the Holy that we believe has the final say. It draws close to the mystic heart of Christianity. And the mystics universally use metaphor and analogy to point to their unitive experience. Fox has dozens of metaphors for the point at which the soul and the Divine are in communion. When translated literally into another language, many of them, such as “Christ Seed” or “Inner Light” may have little meaning. Isaac Penington describes the Seed as the “vessel, the only vessel which containeth this life.” How is a seed also a vessel?

Listening in Tongues – Friends Journal