We Are the Missing Link Reflections on Walter Wink’s “The Human Being”

Douglas Gwyn

The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man, Walter Wink. Augsburg Fortress, 368 pages, $26.00.

When I began my seminary education at Union in New York in 1971, I took a New Testament survey course with Walter Wink. I vividly recall that he began his first lecture by announcing that historical criticism of the Bible is “bankrupt.”

I was shocked. In some survey courses I had taken in college, historical criticism had added valuable perspective on the Bible. For one terrible moment, I feared I had chosen the wrong seminary! In the weeks that followed, I learned that Wink did not reject historical-critical interpretation, but urged that we must advance with more reader-centered, depth-psychological, and politically engaged forms of interpretation.

Many of us have gained over the years from Wink’s engaged biblical scholarship, particularly his trilogy on ‘the powers’: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992). He later summarized that work in The Powers That Be (1998). Wink used Pauline and other New Testament texts, in combination with modern psychological and sociological theory, to define the spirituality, or interiority, of institutions. He further combined that elaborate hermeneutic (interpretive structure) with his own political engagement for change in South Africa and elsewhere. The result is a compelling vision for faith-based communities to see their world with new eyes, and to respond to violence and injustice with transformative courage.

Human Being and Human Becoming

Wink’s work on the powers helps us see the institutional forces that prevent us from realizing our full humanity. Here I want to focus on a successor work, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man (Fortress, 2002). In it Wink takes a different (but complementary) tack, utilizing the “Son of Man” sayings of the gospels to define what it means to become more fully human.

The Human Being is long and challenging, but rewards perseverance. I believe it could be useful to Friends and others looking for ways to renew and apply a Christian faith in our time. It combines solid New Testament scholarship with Jungian archetypal psychology and a trenchant vision for personal and social transformation. (In a helpful Glossary, Wink offers a definition of archetypes as inherited patterns of thought derived from the experience of the human race generally. These exist in the collective unconscious of our species but are known to us only through specific archetypal images in individual consciousness.)

Wink’s title is a variant of the traditional biblical term, “son of man,” which he uses interchangeably with more gender-inclusive paraphrases such as “Human Being,” “Humanchild,” and “Wisdom’s Child.” He pointedly credits Elizabeth Boyden Howes [Intersection and Beyond (1971) and Jesus’ Answer to God (1984)] for her pioneering work in identifying the archetypal dimension of the Son of Man sayings.

As a starting point, Wink notes that as we look around the world today, we seem to be losing the struggle for humanization. Violence, oppression, domination, terror, poverty, and environmental degradation are at unprecedented levels. What can we learn from Jesus about being human, and can that help us overcome these plagues?

Answers to this question will not come easily: Jesus’ numerous references to the “Son of Man” remain enigmatic, opaque to modern understanding. Wink suggests that by exploring the various usages of the term in the gospels, we may perhaps construct a “Christology from below” to replace the divine images of Christ that, for many today, no longer inspire transformative faith. That is, to regain the energy for outward change, we need a new myth, that of the human Jesus.

To begin work on this new Christology, Wink argues that the quest for the historical Jesus over the past two centuries has been largely unconscious. Every new construction of the historical Jesus has obliquely attempted to recover something numinous about ourselves, something redolent of the holy, the divine. For Wink, both the mythological Christ and the historical Jesus are archetypal images, potentially numinous and transformative.

And by the bye, in searching for the archetypal valences of the Son of Man traditions, Wink is less concerned whether the historical Jesus actually said something than whether it is true (‘true’ within a depth-psychological perspective). Yes, attempting to delineate the teachings of the historical Jesus from the testimony of the early Church is still important. But both of these aspects are intimately intertwined. “Truth is,” he insists, “had Jesus never lived, we could not have invented him” (p. 16). One of the pleasures of this book is in its occasional paradoxical statements like that one.

Working with these traditions is not easy. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus generally avoids titles such as Messiah and Son of God. He instead prefers the enigmatic Son of Man (or more literally and awkwardly in the Greek, “the son of the man”). In some cases, the title is clearly his self-designation. At other places, it seems to posit an unspecified collective. No one else calls Jesus Son of Man. His usage appears to be unique, but not without precedents. Generally in the Hebrew Scriptures, “son of man” simply designates humans as a general category.

But a more specialized meaning emerges in the prophetic books of Ezekiel and Daniel. In Ezekiel 1, the prophet is given a vision of God in human form. This overtly anthropomorphic God addresses Ezekiel as “son of man” (a total of 93 times throughout the book). Wink suggests that, in turning a human face toward Ezekiel, God has begun drawing us into the task of becoming human. As Wink tartly states it, we are the missing link between the primates and the humans (p. 27). But, he ponders, how can we become human when we hardly know what that means?

We need God’s revelation to discover the divine/human image in which we were created. That process begins coming into focus with Ezekiel’s vision. Wink finds the goal of that process evocatively stated later by the Apostle John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be is not yet revealed. When the Humanchild is revealed we will be like it, for we will see it as it is” (1 John 3:2, Wink’s translation).

By this logic, our goal is not to become what we are not (divine) but rather what we truly are (human). Therefore, we are not on a quest to become perfect but to become ourselves. Wink argues that the synoptic gospels do not portray a perfect Jesus, but a figure who can serve as catalyst to our transformation.


This thesis raises the issue of anthropomorphism. To approach it, Wink is obliged to grapple with the critique of religion by Ludwig Feuerbach (1841), which contends that humanity empties itself into transcendence. In other words, ‘God’ is a projection of human ideals. The more we make of God the more we diminish ourselves.

Wink agrees that much in religion confirms Feuerbach’s critique. Faith can become disempowering and used in abusive ways. But he cautions that humanity cannot be the measure of all things, least of all God. Humanity has not yet arrived. From the standpoint of Ezekiel’s revelation, God is the measure of all things, for God alone is human.

From a Jungian perspective, Feuerbach sought to banish the divine archetypes in us. But Wink contends that our task is instead to withdraw our projections of archetypes outside ourselves and find them within. Jung stressed that we do not create archetypes, and our denial of them will not make them go away (p. 37). By withdrawing our projections and finding the divine/human archetypes at work within, we truly begin to relate to God.

For example, the “wrath of God” as witnessed by Paul in Romans 1-2 is not about an angry parent. It is about facing the consequences of our own actions. When we withdraw our parental projections from God, our faith can begin to mature. Wink summarizes (citing opening lines from Calvin’s Institutes of Religion) that there is no knowledge of God without knowledge of self, and no knowledge of self without knowledge of God.

Hence, Wink offers a nicely ironic defense of anthropomorphism, that favorite whipping-boy of the moderns. The human brain simply humanizes all perception. To see God in human terms means that whatever God is in the fullest sense (which we cannot know), it is consistent with what Ezekiel saw and what Jesus of Nazareth tried to live. God is not different from our perceptions, just more.

Or, if you prefer, we can just as easily say that we are theomorphic. One of the important things Wink does throughout this book is to help us stop thinking in either/or terms. He invites us to engage with the full range of valences in the divine-human paradox. This perspective should be liberating to an American religious culture and a Religious Society of Friends polarizing and entrenching into orthodox versus humanistic camps.

Wink draws from a wide variety of sources for his synthesis. He cites Nicolas Berdyayev, the Russian philosopher who wrote in 1914 that we are on the verge of an “anthropic revelation,” a Christology of humanity. But he also quotes the neo-orthodox Protestant theologian Karl Barth to similar effect: “God is human – genuine deity includes in itself genuine humanity” (p. 49). Wink summarizes that the final answer to Feuerbach is prayer, that supreme act of human imagination (p. 46).

The other key antecedent to “Son of Man” in the gospels`comes from Daniel 7. There, the prophet prophesies (ca. 167 B.C.E) a succession of four oppressive empires, each envisioned as a terrible beast. These are followed by a vision of “one like a human being” coming on clouds of heaven before the throne of God, to receive universal and everlasting dominion on earth. Wink views Daniel’s vision as a counter-movement to Ezekiel’s. In Ezekiel’s vision, God approaches the human, seeking incarnation. Ezekiel himself becomes a mediating figure. In Daniel’s vision, humanity approaches God, seeking transformation. The teachings and life of Jesus as “Son of Man” are the product of a mutual attraction, witnessed by these two Hebrew prophets (p. 54).

Wink cites more “Son of Man” imagery in Jewish literature of the intertestamental period. The growing chorus of witnesses to this coming Human Being suggests that humanity was ready for a new revelation. Humanity was beginning to see itself as a species, thanks (and no thanks) to the world-unifying Alexandrian and Roman empires. Jewish texts such as 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra speculate upon the Son of Man as a coming mediator (albeit primarily between God and Israel). Elsewhere, in a similar vein, Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue projects messianic glory upon Caesar Augustus as savior of Rome and bringer of world peace. So Jesus appears at a moment of readiness for a new, human archetype. But in contrast to the exalted figures envisioned in Jewish and pagan literature of the day, Jesus will present the world with a strikingly mundane Human Being (p. 62).

Jesus’ Words Concerning the Son of Man

The book proceeds to investigate the Son of Man sayings most likely uttered (in some form) by Jesus himself. For example, Jesus defends his disciples against criticism for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, asserting that the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. Here, the title apparently includes not just himself but his disciples. When Jesus cites the example of David and his soldiers taking bread from the temple, it is not to compare himself with David (and thereby garner messianic implications to himself). Rather, he invokes a comparable situation of human need. The Son of Man is an emergent human being, “something of God within us” (Wink states in crypto-Quaker fashion, p. 72). It is not God as such, but God at work in concrete human circumstances. Or, following Elizabeth Howes’ Jungian terms: the Son of Man is not the Self but a catalytic agent at work between the ego and the Self.

In defending his healing of the paralytic, Jesus claims that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins. Neither here nor in any other case does Jesus appeal to God’s authority for his words or actions. After his death, the Church slowly narrowed the authority of the Son of Man onto the person of Jesus, and those individuals as successors duly ordained to forgive sins. But in these words, Jesus speaks open-endedly.

In another case, Jesus asserts that blasphemy against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Wink reasons that because the Son of Man is a mundane process of emergent humanity, it proceeds on a trial-and-error basis, inevitably making mistakes along the way. Therefore, it may be spoken against.

By contrast, the Holy Spirit is divine immanence drawing us toward full humanity. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to call good evil. Ordinary sin amounts to calling something evil good. Everyone does that and will be forgiven. But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is very rare, as it curses the source of good (pp. 85-86). Wink’s book is full of novel, inventive, and tentative interpretations like this one. As such, they should be taken as experimental, not authoritative, in the same spirit that Wink understands our emergent humanity.

Thirteen times in the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks of the coming rejection, suffering, and death of the Human Being. Wink reckons that, once Jesus began his move toward Jerusalem, he probably took that fate for granted. John the Baptist had been recently martyred. And although Ezekiel was not martyred, God warned that “son of man” too that he would face rejection, contempt, and suffering (Ezek. 2:1-3:11). Wink stresses that Jesus’ death was necessary, not as God’s will, but owing to the willfulness of the powers. In their rebellion from God, they will move to silence anyone who exposes them (p. 102).

Son of Man versus Messiah

Jesus speaks of the Son of Man in the third-person, sometimes referring to himself. Why did he prefer it over Messiah, the Son of God? The title of Messiah was laden with kingly, prophetic, and priestly expectations. The wilderness temptation story (in both Matthew and Luke) portrays Jesus struggling with all three expectations. Wink offers a good list of positive and negative potentials inherent in projecting human hope upon a Messiah (pp. 114-15). These range from our positive desire for redemption and vindication, to our negative desire for someone to punish our enemies. Jung saw Christian faith as a total identification of Christ with the Self (or, in theological terms, with God). But as the Human Being, Jesus attempted to bridge between ego and Self, between humanity and God, and serve as a catalyst for personal individuation and species evolution. .

When Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus warns him to tell no one, then immediately shifts to the Son of Man and predicts his suffering and death. Peter is scandalized by Jesus’ response. The sharpness of Jesus’ retort (“get behind me, Satan”) suggests how Jesus himself struggled with the messianic identity. Wink paradoxically summarizes that Jesus bore the messianic identity but refused to be identified as such (p. 116). So, he doesn’t deny Peter’s confession, because he must keep the messianic image alive in Peter.

Similarly, when John the Baptist sends emissaries to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah (“the one who is to come”), Jesus responds by describing his healings and the good news he preaches to the poor. Then he adds the admonition, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Again, he evades messianic identification, but keeps the question open. His true messianic function is to help people find the Messiah in themselves. Finally, when Jesus appears before the Sanhedrin the night of his arrest, he is asked directly if he is the Messiah. In Mark, he answers “I am.” In Matthew and Luke he responds enigmatically, “You have said it.” But in all three cases, he immediately shifts focus to the Son of Man, whom they shall see coming upon clouds of heaven (an allusion to Daniel 7).

Wink maintains a helpful tension between Messiah and Son of Man as identities of Jesus. He views both as archetypes with powerful positive and negative valences. As he did for the Messiah archetype, he offers a list of potentials inherent with the Son of Man archetype (pp. 125-26). For example, positively, the archetype draws us toward wholeness. Negatively, there is the danger the archetype may tempt us to repress the shadow rather than seek to integrate it. Wink summarizes his argument: Jesus couldn’t tell people he was the Messiah, because it would block them from discovering it in themselves. “And if Jesus did not enable them to discover such powers within themselves, he was not the Messiah” (p. 127). That enigmatic statement leaves the question open for us, much as Jesus did for John the Baptist

Wink admits that both Messiah and Son of Man will always invite our projections. But projections aren’t necessarily bad. Handled well, they function as keys to spiritual illumination. They have heuristic value for us as models in our journey toward individuation. Wink cites the example of Albert Schweitzer, who concluded a century ago that the quest for the historical Jesus simply projects our modern ideals upon Jesus. As an antidote, Schweitzer portrayed Jesus as a faith-healer and apocalyptic prophet, images that resist modernization. Then he went off to Africa to serve humanity as a medical missionary. Rather than make Jesus over in his own image, he made himself over in Jesus’ image (p. 128).

We can recognize Jesus working with projections in the gospels. When someone addresses him as “good teacher,” he retorts that no one is good but God. When people are healed, he emphasizes that their faith has made them whole. Finally, the death of Jesus serves as the ultimate breakdown of his followers’ projections. In Luke’s story of the two disciples walking out of Jerusalem to Emmaus, we hear of their shattered dreams of messianic redemption. They do not recognize Jesus risen and walking with them. Later, when they do recognize him, the vision fades. At that point, he is no longer visible before them, but becomes active within them. Successful work with our projections requires finding within ourselves that which corresponds to what we have perceived without (p. 145).

At the end of his ministry, Jesus announces that his servants/disciples have become his friends (John 15:15). In our own experience, the Son of Man mediates our projections over the course of a life-long process. In human relationships, that process turns mentors into partners, parents into friends. Wink describes Jesus as “God’s Lorelei, luring the ego to blessed shipwreck on the rocks of the Self” (p. 146). Hebrews similarly testifies, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31 NRSV). Integration of the shadow into a larger sense of self has its terrors. “But that seems to be the price that must be paid for authentic life” (p. 147).

Post-Easter Sayings Concerning the Son of Man

Next we engage with sayings less likely to have been uttered by Jesus, but added by the early Church. Wink organizes these thematically into two groups, those dealing with the ascension of Jesus to heaven and the apocalyptic sayings concerning the Son of Man’s return and final judgment. Here, Wink echoes the general opinion of the Jesus Seminar and much current scholarship, that Jesus was not apocalyptic in outlook. (I do not share that view, but we will return to that matter soon.)

First, the matter of the ascension. Jung suggests that Christianity could not have spread so rapidly unless there had been a collective psychic readiness in the human species. Building on Jung, Wink remythologizes Jesus’ ascension to heaven as an ascension into the archetypal, imaginal realm. As such, the ascension of Jesus is a historical (collective psychic) event, even if not an observable (empirical) one. The rapid spread of the Christian experience and movement across the Greco-Roman world makes the historicity of the event undeniable. The Son of Man archetype becomes a new filter through which followers will experience God. Jesus becomes their experience of God. Following the logic of this Jungian remythologization, Wink suggests that the revelation of Jesus’ ascension may have been primary. Belief in the resurrection may have been only a secondary inference.

Put another way, by entering the collective unconscious, Jesus becomes available to all. Unfortunately, he is also thereby made accessible to re-appropriation by the Domination System. Hence, the full, liberating power of this historic revelation has been recaptured by powers of psychic and political repression, both within the Church and by powers that dominate the Church. But Wink can still affirm, “The Human Being is a visionary reality now, and it will become a world-historic event in the fullness of time, when the mystery of humanity, the anthropic revelation will be fully revealed” (p. 155).

Turning to the apocalyptic, end-time theme in post-Easter sayings, Wink laments that “the human Jesus is swallowed by apocalyptic fantasies” (p. 158). He differentiates apocalyptic eschatology from standard, prophetic eschatology, suggesting that the latter allows for a continuing historical process, while the former collapses time and confronts us with bizarre, dire, dualistic images. Here, however, it seems to me that Wink has failed to consider the implications of his ideas regarding the ascension. With Jesus moving in the archetypal realm, of course the revelations are vivid and frightening at times! To deny this is to fall prey to the same rationalism that Wink rightly identified in the quest for the historical Jesus. The Son of Man cannot be so tame.

Wink admits that, when we consider the nuclear threat in our own lifetime, we realize that dire, apocalyptic warnings of impending doom can be very appropriate. They can awaken us to where we are heading and inspire us to change course. But still he draws back, calling this modern, rational apocalyptic “anti-apocalyptic.” He can imagine that perhaps Jesus did himself utter some of the bizarre warnings contained in Mark 13 and its parallels in Matthew and Luke. After all, Jesus could see the collision course between his people and the Roman Empire, and a judgment coming upon the temple and its regime (pp. 162, 166).

But Wink badly misses the mark with one of the best sayings about the Son of Man. Jesus warns his disciples that people will look for the Messiah, believing they have found him here, then there. But the coming of the Son of Man will be like lightning flashing across the sky (Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24). Wink compares such a prophecy to a “grandiose media event” aimed at making people believe, a “final solution” that “ought not to happen” (p. 172).

But this prophecy works as powerful imagery of the collective unconscious. It is the Son of Man in the heavenly/psychic realm, lighting up across the entire human race. It stands in the strongest possible contrast to finding the Messiah in this person or that. It is apocalyptic at its best: literally an unveiling of the reality Jesus preached in his lifetime. Frankly, I see no reason not to believe that this could have been uttered by Jesus before his death. I’m bewildered that Wink could miss this, given all the pieces he has assembled so well – until the subject of apocalyptic arose.

That being said, many apocalyptic sayings, particularly in Matthew, portray the Son of Man not only as a coming judge, but as torturer and executioner. (No doubt, the gospel-writers sometimes became tangled in their own projections.) Nowhere is this more painful than in Matthew 25, where the Son of Man comes to separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who have visited the Son of Man in the form of the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry (although they did so unconsciously). The goats are those who did not visit (just as unconsciously). They will be sent off to eternal punishment. Wink rightly notes that violent and repressive texts such as these have re-enforced bad religion in Christian history. But clearly, the solution is not to repress such passages, but to raise them to our own consciousness and work with them.

In early Quaker writings, for example, Friends grapple with hair-raising biblical texts, including many from the Book of Revelation. Rather than discount them, early Friends find them fulfilled in their own spiritual experience. Moreover, they put these very texts to nonviolent and socially transforming purposes. I have tried to show this in my three main books on early Friends: Apocalypse of the Word (1986); The Covenant Crucified (1995); and Seekers Found (2000).

Of course, early Friends are a separate historic case. Their spirituality should not be imposed upon Jesus or the writers of the New Testament gospels. But reading early Friends can help us toward similar readings today, or to imagine similar understandings at work in the early Church. Wink complains that Matthew 25 starts out with good ethical teaching, then reverts to mythical thinking and leaves judgment in a far-off future (p. 186). But when we read it and take it to heart, does it not become a present judgment/confrontation, an apocalyptic unveiling of our true condition?

Son of Man in the Gospel of John and in Paul

Wink prefers the approach in John’s gospel (he is pretty cool, isn’t he?). John features no apocalyptic advent of the Human Being. Rather, the Son of Man is a ladder spanning heaven and earth (John 1:50-51). It is a powerful image of the mediating agency Wink suggests in this book. (Given that, I don’t understand why Wink views the angels descending and ascending on the ladder as heavenly beings, rather than human beings. Either interpretation would seem plausible.) John uses both Son of God and Son of Man titles for Jesus, furthering the interplay between heaven and earth. As a result, Jesus is engulfed by the archetypal. He is past, present, and future humanity before God. The believer, Christ, and the Father all interpenetrate in one collective reality (pp. 202-03).

By contrast, Paul’s letters never mention the Son of Man. But Wink finds the same reality witnessed in Paul’s language of a new humanity and a new era beginning in Christ. His message of collective identity in the body of Christ offers a new, liberating social reality. The body as temple of the Holy Spirit is similarly humanizing (pp. 207-10). Wink also reviews contemporary parallel developments in Jewish mysticism and in gnosticism of the same period (Chapters 15 and 16). He finds in these evidence that the early Christian movement was not an isolated phenomenon. There was a shift in the collective unconscious, articulated in different ways by these different movements.

Wink concludes by suggesting that, because Jesus did not identify himself definitively as the Son of Man, we are freed to become, not like Jesus, but more ourselves. There is no universal Son of Man. Rather, the Human Being is always historical, particular, local, articulated in relationship to communities and traditions (pp. 194-95). By speaking open-endedly of the Son of Man, Jesus intended to make it available to all of us. Nevertheless, we appropriate it only as we surrender to it (p. 256), as he did. Jesus reveals two things to us. The Christological revelation is that God became incarnate in the human. The Anthropological revelation is that God calls us to become human as God is Human. Wink can affirm both revelations, but his emphasis is upon the latter. “The gist of this book is, simply, that Jesus as the son of the man is enough” (p. 259).

Concluding Reflections

The Human Being is well organized, although the writing rambles somewhat. Its thesis is massive and complex. It is a large-scale remythologization of the New Testament witness in terms of Jungian archetypal psychology and evolutionary historicism. Thankfully, Wink resists reductionism: he doesn’t try to tell us that the gospel is really about archetypes and species evolution. He respects the faith of those who believe in more traditional terms. But he holds both theists and humanists accountable to a faith that is socially liberating, engaged in unmasking and transforming the powers around us.

Wink notes that, although the Domination System has held sway over much of Christian history, the liberating power of the Son of Man has been rediscovered and reclaimed by many individuals and groups over the course of Christian history. George Fox and early Friends could certainly be counted among them. Early Friends did not focus on the Son of Man tradition as such. Their Christology was high and transcendent. But Fox’s emphasis upon personal experience (“What canst thou say?”) consistently humanized his theology spiritually, morally, and socio-economically. For example, in the early chapters of his Journal, George Fox finds his personal transformation replaying the salvation history of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. He summarizes his approach to Scripture:

I saw the state of those, both priests and people, who in reading the Scriptures, cry out much against Cain, Esau, and Judas, and other wicked men of former times – but do not see the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Judas, and those others, in themselves. And these said it was they, they, they, that were the bad people; putting it off from themselves: but when some of them came, with the light and spirit of Truth, to see into themselves, then they came to say, ‘I, I, I, it is I myself that have been the Ishmael, and the Esau’, etc. For then they came to see the nature of wild Ishmael in themselves, the nature of Cain sitting above all that is called God in them.

I saw also how people read the Scriptures without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states. For, when they read that death reigned from Adam to Moses, that the law and the prophets were until John, and that the least in the kingdom is greater than John, they read these things without them and applied them to others without them, and the things were true of others without them, but they did not turn to find the truth of those things in themselves (Fox, Journal, 1952, pp. 30-31).

Fox counseled that the light first reveals one’s own darkness. In other words, it emerges from the shadow, the eclipse of the ego, or socially constructed self. The light reveals not only the things one knows are wrong in one’s life, but things one is told are good, or good enough. By standing still in this light, one sees what is to be kept and what is to be renounced. It amounts to what Wink would call the integration of the shadow into a more adequate new construction of the self.

In the passage above, Fox describes how the light causes one to stop projecting upon others and find the truth in oneself. One receives power over time to choose the good and serve the truth (Jung’s Self). Early Friends strongly held to the transcendence of the light. But because it is an inward (not inner) light, it comes deeply into one’s experience. One must be willing to turn and stand in the light, to surrender to its teaching. So transcendence and immanence are held in tension in early Quaker understanding. Living in that tension, the early Quaker movement generated enormous powers of personal and social transformation.

I met Walter Wink again in 2000, while I was Quaker Studies Tutor at Woodbrooke, the Quaker study center in Birmingham, England. He was leading a workshop there for staff and committee members of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Quaker Peace and Service. (He told me that in recent years he has become a member in New England Yearly Meeting). In the workshop, he read from the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, where John has a vision of the risen Christ and falls prostrate. Christ orders John to rise up and start writing letters to churches.

To help us gain a more embodied feel for the text, he asked us all to lie prostrate on the carpet of that large room. I must admit, I peeked. It’s not every day one gets to see 30-40 liberal, activist Friends prostrating themselves before the Lord! He then instructed us to rise and write a letter of our own. It proved to be a good exercise in engaged, embodied theology.

More than that, it was gratifying to participate with a group open to new insight from old sources, while engaged in work for a more peaceful and just world. Quaker social witness today ranges from larger, more bureaucratic institutions like QPS (now Quaker Peace and Social Witness) and AFSC, to smaller, more improvised, grassroots groups of all kinds. None of them is perfect. But, as Wink emphasizes, our journey toward authentic humanity must be experimental, with much trial and error along the way.

I conclude with two songs. I wrote the first before reading Wink’s book, but it contains perspectives consonant with his. It goes with the guitar riff from Muddy Waters’ blues classic, ‘Mannish Boy’:

Son of Man

Doug Gwyn, September 2005

Son of Man like a flash of light, lightning from east to west
Son of Man like a thief in the night, like an uninvited guest

Son of Man
there in the burning tower, there in the Gitmo cell
there in the halls of power, yeah, he descends to every hell

Son of Man
well, the experts all declare, he’s just an old superstition
they made a raid on his lair, they found nobody here but us Christians

Son of Man
oh, the politicians have designs, Republicans and Democrats
to tie him to their party line, but it’s more like herding cats

Son of Man
if you know where to look, you can find him near
read his story in the Good Book, then start looking here
bend down ‘til you’re almost fetal, and look for a narrow gate
then pass through the eye of a needle, and pray you’re not too late
hear the groans of humanity, feel the ravages of sin
then the next human being you see – yeah, that’s him

Son of Man
you can’t seem to find him, you’re wondering why
set aside your ideals, boy, you’re aiming way too high
check at the local jail, check the hospital bed
and if that still fails, check to see if you’re dead

Son of Man
feel the heat of his Passion, now you’re getting warm
then follow your own compassion, to where your heart is torn
stand naked in the blinding light of his God awful truth
don’t turn to the left or the right, just be his living proof

Son of Man

The second song is new. It has something to do with global warming and the economy. It goes to the tune of the old revival hymn by the same name.

Higher Ground

Doug Gwyn, April 2007

the waters are rising, I wonder why
is it national debt or that hole in the sky?
but one thing’s for sure, the broad, fruited plain
is quickly becoming a bounding main

well say what you will about human rights
all power is theirs who command the heights
and the prayer of millions, all milling around
is “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground!”

now health care goes boom as the nation goes bust
the stock market zooms as factories rust
the media feed our commodity lust
and the dollar bill smirks, “In God We Trust”

the poor tread water as common sense teaches
preyed on by sharks and all manner of leeches
while middle-class folks stand by and frown
praying, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground!”

Katrina was just a toe in the water
wait til it gets a little bit hotter
when some die of flood while some die of drought
and Washington keeps on messing about

and the President swears with one hand in the till
while millionaires sit up on Capital Hill
and the Religious Right votes yet one more round
of “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground!”

some say the bell rings from the church steeple
to sell opiates to desperate people
but the drug that works on the ninety-nine sheep
just won’t seem to put that last one to sleep

‘cause you cannot cheat that one honest soul
so ask not for whom that old Church bell tolls
the Son of Man came for the lost and the found
to plant all our feet on common ground.

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