Monday, December 31, 2007

The Practice of The Love of God

To quote the Wikipedia entry, "Kenneth Ewart Boulding was an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher." Ken Boulding has published some thirty books and numerous articles. His contribution to the Quaker literature includes There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets where he envelops James Nayler's last words in stirring poetry.

An equally important essay is the lecture he gave to Young Friends in 1942: "The Practice of The Love of God" where he challenges Quakers of his time, and Quakers of our own.

"God is love. How do you respond to these three words?" With this provocative query, Kenneth Boulding begins an investigation into faith and practice in the midst of a world at war. "It is our duty to seek emotional truth, as it is to seek intellectual truth, and indeed as we seek them we shall find that they are not two truths, but one."
"Unveil the picture in your mind, if you dare of the massed sin and suffering of the world, past, present and future, this terrible ocean of tortured bodies and tormented minds, of suffering innocence and triumphant stupidity on which our middle-class ark floats so insecurely. See the way of God rejected, the laws of God flouted, the love of God perverted, the purpose of God thwarted."

The importance of the love of God, His love of me, and my love of Him, cannot be underestimated in a world at peace nor in a world at war. "Unless we rediscover the love of God itself whose expression is the reason and purpose of our Society, the very Society that we cherish dwindles into nothingness."
"The love of country without the love of God is a destructive emotion; it leads into selfishness, pride, arrogance, injustice, cruelty, domination and war.… Without the love of God the command to love our neighbor is a monstrous sarcasm, the imposition on mankind of impossible conflict between the moral sense and the will."

But this pamphlet is more than a lament. "I have a vision for the world," writes Boulding, who would like to share that vision with you.

View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1942:
The Practice of The Love of God

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Vital Cell

The William Penn Lectures addressed the youth of a Quaker Philadelphia, and it is to this audience that Rufus Jones particularly appeals in 1941: "The really important thing is the quality of freshness and elasticity in our spirits. There is no use talking to minds that have congealed and set, and whose windows are not open for new light to dawn, and expectant of it."
There is no use saying anything about the local Meeting as a vital cell unless the youth are to be in it and are to feel their share of responsibility for its life and its development. Much that I am saying today will call for courage and faith and adventure and newness of vision, which characteristically belong to youth.

As usual Rufus Jones does not skirt the issues: "What is it we were born to do; for what mission came we into the world as the bearers and exponents? As I see our mission, across the years behind us and in front of us, it is to demonstrate and exhibit a type of religion which reveals the life of God in the lives of men."
Our deepest significance as a people, and our major importance as a religious movement, lie in a sphere which eludes public appraisal and can hardly be taught and tabulated. In fact this central mission of ours – this heart and pulse of Quakerism – has not always been brought to consciousness even to Friends themselves, and is always in need of fresh interpretation at the home base where if at all the scoring is done.

Rufus Jones, philosopher, theologian, historian, and most of all, educator, is most concerned with the loss of vitality in Quaker meetings of the time. How, he asks, are we to restore the vitality at the center of Quakerism: our local meetings? And Dr. Jones is not without answers. Community vitality must be supported with "constructive and creative ministry," with "carefully planned intervisitation," and especially with "an alert group of Friends who feel a profound concern for the spiritual life of the meeting."

The community of the local meeting cannot however exist independent of the community in which it finds itself.
"These little Quaker islands of ours, which dot the length and breadth of our country, would stir with new life if they suddenly found themselves awake to the tasks of life which lie ready to hand just there where they live. This deeper responsibility to the community would bring new life and deepened interest to the monthly meetings which in many places have become dull and thin."

But the most important element Jones found lacking in some meetings was their focus on education: "One of the most important concerns of this vital cell ought to be for the spiritual nurture of the children and youth of the meeting." Read how important this role has been during the confusing times of war, and how important it is today.

View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1941:
The Vital Cell

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bethlehem Revisited

In this short pamphlet Douglas Steere revisits his understanding of Christmas and the mysteries surrounding the Christmas story.
Christmas is a time when we are invited to revisit Bethlehem and to reconsider its miracle. Bethlehem does not change and the miracle does not change, but we change, and the eyes with which we are able to see change. Hence what we see from year to year is not the same, which makes this annual visit an adventure rather than a routine pilgrimage.”

Relating stories of Christmas the author captures new interpretations of the meaning of those events which were reported so long ago. Those stories provide Steere a framework, a lattice, on which he can hang his well worked ecumenism as well as his understanding of his fellow men. With the star of Bethlehem is rediscovered reflecting in the depths of a well Steere concludes that “when in stubborn self-will you refuse direction and lose the star of rapture, you can recover your direction only by looking into the inward well of your own heart.”

That inward well reminds Steere of the words of the 17th century Angelus Silesius who declares:
Were Christ a thousand times
Reborn in Bethlehem’s stall
And not in thee,
Thou still art lost beyond recall.

Steere considers what Pascal in his Thoughts says that "all of the troubles of the world come from the fact that a man cannot remain in his own chamber."
When in stubborn self-will you refuse direction and lose the star of rapture, you can recover your direction only by looking into the inward well of your own heart. Only as you return to your chamber – the chamber that lies open to each of us if we dare to stop and enter into it – will you be restored to that which you most deeply long to find: One who can take away all fear; One who can restore you to living on the earth, sowing your life as a seed in those about you; One who can take away the haunting fear of death by using your life in His and your fellow man’s service.

For Douglas Steere, a fundamental message of Jesus is that "he has come to draw all men, and that no religion can ever again be exclusively concerned about either individual or denominational salvation but only about the lifting of all men into a community of loving interdependence."

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 144:
Bethlehem Revisited

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can Quakerism Speak To The Times?

John Hobart, born in England and active among Canadian Friends in the Thirties and Forties, served as the director of studies at Pendle Hill in the early Fifties. In Hobart we find both a birthright Friend and a Quaker by convincement who had been active in the Quaker movement for decades.

Given the admonition, "Oh, why don't Quakers preach what you practice?", John Hobart considers the content of Quakerism and, while recognizing that we have let the world know by our actions what Quakerism is, we have failed to tell our story.
"We recognize that Quakerism today lacks the force, power, and convincement, that carried it through its first century of oppressive and bitter persecution. What happened to the prophetic zeal and world vision of its founders?"
But Hobart does conclude that "a living Quakerism, expressed in modern concepts, can meet the almost universal need for a faith to fit the times." We cannot solely fall back on the accomplishments of the past:
"A Quakerism that is concerned only with the preservation of inherited testimonies and the recorded experiences of early Friends, is totally inadequate for the tasks which now confront our Society."
But the reinterpretation of Quakerism needs "earnest spiritual seeking for light, guidance, understanding, wisdom, and growth." Because of the experiential nature of Quakerism, words are insufficient: "Our task is not to rewrite their books in modern language, it is to relive their experience and, by so doing, make it our own. Let your lives speak, the words must come out of the life. There are grave perils in trying to modernize Quakerism by any other method."

While John Hobart's essay was written over fifty years ago it continues to be relevant to the questions we raise today. "Shall the Society restrict its activities or deepen its spiritual life? It may need to do both of these things."

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 78:
Can Quakerism Speak To The Times?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Quaker Doctrine of Inward Peace

Howard Brinton had been a professor or lecturer at Guilford, Earlham, Mills, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges, and at Woodbrooke, one of the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham in England. He has also worked in Europe for the American Friends Service Committee and in Japan. From 1936 to 1950 he, with his wife, were Directors of Pendle Hill and from 1950 to 1952 he was Director. This pamphlet is one of his seventeen published by Pendle Hill.

The lack of inward peace is everywhere in evidence. "Busyness, restlessness,
the desire for activity is a form of escapism; we are trying to escape from ourselves. Not being able to face our own inner lives with all their stresses and strains, their disorder and chaos, we occupy ourselves as much as possible with what is outward. We do not like our own company so we feverishly
seek the company of others. We compensate for inner weakness by seeking outward sources of strength. We are continuously in motion because we do not know what to do when we are still."

Comparing the pressures of today with those of Friends in the 17th and 18th centuries, Brinton gives us his analysis of how Quakers in the past dealt with internal conflicts. With sections on “The Attainability of Inner Peace,” “Perfection and Pacifism,” “The Place of Self-Surrender,” “The Habitation of Peace,” and “Inward Peace as a Test of Guidance,” Brinton illustrates a spiritual history with specific examples from the Journals of Friends.

What is important in Brinton's view is a balance between the urgency of the outward mission, and the call of the inward path.
"The Quaker way is so to order the inner life that outer pressures can be adequately met and dealt with. This is not the method of the ascetic who conquers his sensual desires by violence toward himself, nor of the hermit who avoids his fellow men, nor of the stoic who makes himself independent and indifferent to the world around him. It is rather an ordering of the inner life, so that there will be a proper balance of inner and outer..."

Learn what draws Howard Brinton to his conclusion:
“The Quaker meeting for worship and the Quaker meeting for business are unique institutions. It is their purpose to expose the soul to the Light from God so that peace is removed if it ought to be removed, or attained if it can be attained. If the soul becomes sensitive, if its vision is widened and deepened so that new areas of life come within its ken, then a new requirement may be laid upon it and peace removed until that requirement is met. If the soul is able to find in the silence union with the peace of God at the heart of existence, then inward peace is secured and new knowledge and power received. The soul, no longer exhausting its energy in conflict with itself, becomes integrated and unified. Hence arises new power and vision for tasks ahead.”

View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #44: The Quaker Doctrine of Inward Peace