Friday, March 28, 2008

Christ in Catastrophe

Emil Fuchs, a man who has passed through great suffering, has walked among us and lived among us. He spoke to us with the authenticity of one who has seen Truth and heard it and felt it; and even when he spoke of disasters his face was serene. He speaks of the catastrophe of Nazi Germany from his own experiences in protest, in prison, in despair and in hope.
Let us hear the challenge of Christ. There may be hard disappointment and bitter suffering on the road he points to. He never promised quick or easy victory. Only by our suffering can we overcome prejudices bred in millions of people by the inability of Christians to speak to their times. Mahatma Gandhi led a great nation along his way of truth and came to a great creative success. When will the Christian conscience be strong enough to unite those who call themselves after Jesus in the building of a world of brotherhood? When will we be ashamed to call Christian those who trust in the sword?

Were it ever so. Fuchs declaims the condition of man and the propensity to ignore our true role in the world.
So long as God is an idea in which we believe only with the mind, whilst in real life our chief aim is earning money and winning influence and power, we will never overcome the inward weakness that is servility. We will never overcome that outward weakness, nationalism, so long as it is more important to defend the honor of a nation against accusation than to find the right relation to God in our conscience. And it may be that what is true of Germany is true of all mankind.

As Emil Fuchs can be an example to each of us, he presents a life which does not ignore the risk of faith.
What does it mean, this trusting in God? I think it means that we are certain that spiritual power is life's precious foundation. It means that we are called as nations and as individuals to take a great task, to lose our lives and to find the life and power which overcomes distrust and hatred and cowardice.

This writing which he has left with us is about his life and experience in Germany, but it is about all life and all experience. It is the witness of a man who is both saint and prophet.

View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #49: Christ in Catastrophe by Emil Fuchs

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quaker Strongholds

This book written in 1891 by Caroline Stephen was considered by Howard Brinton to be a "Quaker classic" and was studied at Pendle Hill along with works by Barclay, Penington, Penn and Woolman.

Caroline E. Stephen (1834-1909) a Friend by convincement, was a member of the Stephen family, prominent in England and well-known in other countries for several generations. Her father was Sir James Stephen and her brothers, James Fitzjames and Leslie Stephen, the latter being the father of Virginia Woolf.

She described her first experience with Quaker meeting for worship:
My whole soul was filled with the unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God — with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at the least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very gate of heaven.

In writing this small book Caroline Stephen was prompted by
the hope of making more widely known the true source and nature of such spiritual help that I attempt to describe what I have called our strongholds — those principles which cannot fail, whatever may be the future of the Society which for more than two hundred years has taken its stand upon them.

Included in this discourse are sections on The Inner Light, Mysticism, Quietism, Conscience, Worship, Silence, Prayer and Ministry. Each of these components contribute to the essence of Quakerism for the author. On the Inner Light, for example, she writes:
When questioned as to the reality and nature of the light within, the early Friends were accustomed in return to ask the questioners whether they did not sometimes feel something within them that showed them their sins; and to assure them that this same power, which made manifest, and therefore was truly light, would also, if yielded to, lead them out of sin. This assurance, that the light which revealed was also the power which would heal sin, was George Fox’s gospel.

While the entire book Quaker Strongholds is now online, the Pendle Hill pamphlet is an insightful abridgement arranged by Mary Gould Ogilvie and published in 1951. View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #59: Quaker Strongholds

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prophetic Ministry

In this essay Howard Brinton presents his Dudleian Lecture which was delivered at Harvard University on April 26, 1949. He explains at the beginning that "the term prophetic indicates in a single word the basic theory of Quaker ministry. He who appears in the ministry in a Quaker meeting is, at least theoretically a prophet, in the sense that he or she is an instrument through which God speaks to the congregation."

As the consummate historian Brinton reviews the major periods of Quakerism with particular attention to vocal ministry and prophesy in meetings. "The most satisfactory ministry in the Quaker meeting of today arises out of a flash of insight, felt in the silence and delivered with brevity and a deep sense of concern."

There is no formula for discerning how or when a prophetic message arises.
Out of the depths of the worshiper’s soul arise thoughts, feelings, intuitions of widely varying value. If the will has been properly directed, some of these insights from beyond the margin of self-consciousness may be recognized as of divine origin. There is no absolute test, but if revelations come with power and create a unity not only with others within the congregation but also with the living Christ, the worshiper may truly feel that he has received strength and guidance from the supreme source.

He separates out the three major approaches to ministry in Christianity as illustrated in the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Quaker traditions: the altar centered, the sermon centered, and the prophetic. Read how Howard Brinton views the past patterns of ministry in Quaker meetings and especially how he views prophesy and the prophetic call in more modern Quaker times.

View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #54: Prophetic Ministry

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Place of Prayer

In "The Place of Prayer Is A Precious Habitation" John Nicholson summarizes for Friends the testimony of John Woolman about his rich and varied prayer life. He also helps us understand how it moved from direct prayer to living the spirit of prayer.

John Nicholson is a birthright Friend and was the long-time head of the Westtown School middle school. He gave this address as the principal speaker at a Quaker Universalist Fellowship gathering at London Grove Meeting, Pennsylvania, on November 9,1991. The topic of the gathering was “Listening Within: Prayer as a Resource.”

Nicholson shapes the life of John Woolman and his approach to prayer in four ways. First of all, there must be a center wherein prayer is grounded. Such a focus is described by John Woolman in his essay, The True Harmony of Mankind.
I feel it my duty to love my heavenly Father with all my soul and with all my strength. This I have learned through the precious operation of divine love, and ardently desire both for myself and for all who have tasted of it, that nothing may separate us from it.

The next focus is perhaps the most difficult factor, the surrender of will. In the same quotation from The True Harmony of Mankind, one finds,
I feel that pride is opposite to Divine love. And if I put forth my strength in an employ which I know is to support pride, I feel it has a tendency to weaken those bonds which, through the infinite mercies of God, I have felt at times to bind and unite my soul in a holy fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Thirdly there is continual preparation through practice, reading and study. As to practice, Woolman’s writings reflect a life of almost continual prayer. It is interesting to note that earlier in his Journal he often speaks of prayer, while later on his writing reflects the spirit of prayer, rather than using the word itself, an indication of ever-growing spiritual maturity.

Finally, writes Nicholson, we need to divest ourselves of the distractions and cumber that cloud the working of the spirit, and wait patiently for the answers that come in God’s time, not ours. Patient resignation in love can lead us to understanding that the answer is God’s, not ours.

Perhaps the crowning summary of Woolman's view of prayer is his vision of the Kingdom of God which is ever present.
The place of prayer is a precious habitation, for I now saw that the prayers of the saints was precious incense. And a trumpet was given me that I might sound forth this language, that the children might hear it and be invited to gather…before the throne of God and the lamb. I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet, when there were great stirrings and commotions in the world. Prayer at this day in pure resignation is a precious place. The trumpet is sounded; the call goes forth to the church that she is to gather to the place of pure inward prayer, and her habitation is safe.

View the complete Quaker Universalist pamphlet:
The Place Of Prayer Is A Precious Habitation by John Nicholson

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Power of Truth

Quakers speak blithely of the Truth, seldom knowing why it is capitalized. What is this Truth? Is this a Truth which evolves, which is different for each person, or is this Truth common among all people of faith in all generations? And what importance has this Truth? What are its origins, and how can it convince us?

These are the questions that Herrymon Maurer addresses in this small pamphlet, written in the shadow of nuclear holocaust, written with a hand that rips off the cover of complacency, written with a heart that struggles with the ignorance and deafness of his fellow travelers. “Our eyes grow clouded, our ears dulled; we neither hear nor see that we must lose ourselves in Truth.”

What is this Truth? It is the realization that outward works are ineffectual, even non-sensical, unless they spring from an inward reordering. Knowledge of the inward root is this Truth without which all action becomes meaningless, indeed, rootless.

Certainly the example of Jesus should be a hint to us of the right path, the other way:
Jesus preached no outward salvation, put himself at the head of no organization, offered — much to the displeasure of those who were deaf to the message of the prophets — no outward leadership, no panaceas. As his life was love and inward following of God, so also was his death. He who rejected in the wilderness the temptations of the world and its outward powers, who counseled nonviolence and the return of good for evil, died so that men and women might be made free.

The emphasis of Maurer's message is that we each have responsibility for our own confusion, our own misdirection. Our responsibility is “to know what is inward and to make outward works mesh intimately with it.”

Read with Herrymon Maurer about his certainty about the Truth, about our responsibilities, about our faith.
The Power of Truth

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obstacles to Mystical Experience

Scott Crom, a Quaker and philosophy professor at Beliot College in Wisconsin, wrestles with the dual nature of man's existence: the struggle between reason and intuition, between tradition and illumination, between liturgy and prophesy. Just a glance at his section heading will give you a glimpse of the depth of his examination: Intellectual Obstacles; There Are Many Paths; Between Time and Eternity; Obstacles in the Will; Socrates or Augustine?; The Personality of God; The Final Breaking Point.

Central to his concern is the role of reason in the spiritual realm.
"Does reason control the will, or can the will overpower reason? Both and neither. The very question is symptomatic of a split, if not a downright illness, on the part of the person for whom it is a pressing question. It is psychologically akin to the tail-chasing paradox found in those who admire a life of spontaneity and simplicity, and deliberately set out to make themselves spontaneous and simple, thereby pushing themselves further away from what they think they want."

But as a Quaker, Scott Crom realizes the limits of philosophizing, the traps of theologies. Quakerism, he says, "replies that religion really begins in an experiment, to end in an experience. Doctrines and interpretations tend not only to be stumbling blocks to the seekers, but divisive factors among the religious. Accordingly, a doctrinal formulation of belief does not matter nearly so much as what one feels and experiences, and how one lives and responds to his own illumination and to the world around him."

This essay is in the spirit of an investigation, of questions, paradox, problems, and sometimes solutions which attempt to fit both the sense of mystery and the requirements of religion. Determine for yourself whether Scott Crom raises more questions than he answers.

Read the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet 132 by Scott Crom:
Obstacles to Mystical Experience

Monday, February 4, 2008

Our Hearts Are Restless

The premise of this pamphlet is that "Quakerism is a way of response to God, a way of response to the universal tide of unrest which ever relentlessly sweeps in upon us."

Gilbert Kilpack, a director of studies at Pendle Hill in the 1950's, begins with an astounding declaration:
The outcome of all human living and thinking depends upon what we make of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. I say this not to astonish nor for the sake of novelty, but because to miss the implications of these chapters will, in the end, make all the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kind of world we make.

The author focuses our attention with fundamental question which we must all face: "Why am I here on this strange earth - what is the point to my life, to any life, to all human life? That is the question which passes from soul to soul and which we turn from and even conspire to avoid as one avoids some insidious disease..."
The essential, the primal question is simply "that of God in every man" seeking its fulfillment. That there is that of God in every man cannot be affirmed too many times, but it can be affirmed too easily. We should, every time we use the expression, be made to stop and think of the strange, terrible, and wonderful implications of such a belief.

From there Gilbert shines a light on each of our social testimonies, including Peace ("Sometimes I think I can hear the angels in heaven singing a funeral dirge for Friends' peace testimony.."), Community, Equality, and Simplicity. A reflection on our lack of true light leads him to question "How does 'the secret shining of the seed of God' become a living flame?" And answers at length "that to become Children of the Light we must first of all learn to pray... I do not care how broad a definition one gives to prayer so long as one does not impose a humanly fabricated limitation upon the possibilities of prayer."

I am enchanted by his understanding of the mystic:
The mystic is not one who possesses a special power to invade the Divine; rather he is any ordinary person who persistently puts down his human pride, that the Divine may invade him. The worldly man is the one who has learned to sidestep the everlasting seekings of God’s truth; the mystic is the one who has learned not to sidestep. Anyone can become a worldly soul and anyone can become a God-like soul. I never know whether or not I am a mystic until I bend my knees, which are not so much stiff as stubborn, till I bow my head, which is not so much filled with lofty reasoning as with lofty pride, till I calmly fold my hands, which are more restless from anxiety than from a desire to serve.

With examples taken from mystical literature, his own insight, and the writings of many others, Gilbert leads us through a discussion of prayer, its purpose, its mode, its difficulties and its rewards. He leads us to his six rules for seeking (q.v.) concluding "Only one thing is to be sought alone. God alone is an end in Himself."

Read the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet 32 by Gilbert Kilpack:
Our Hearts Are Restless