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

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Flavor of Man

Jean Toomer was an American poet and novelist who wrote most popularly in the 1920's. Perhaps his most famous collection is Cane which depicts the struggles of the African-American in his times. The publication of that work established Toomer as an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

Jean Toomer was noted as a mystic and an important element in the introduction of Gurdjieff's system in America. As noted by a recent historian of Toomer's works:
Almost everything in Jean's writing and speaking to the Society of Friends was an echo of something Gurdjieff taught. After intense study of the great thinkers of the tradition, Toomer translated what he had learned (and in some cases distilled or distorted) from Gurdjieff and Orage into the language of the Quakers.

In this essay Jean Toomer tells the story of Brother Lawrence suddenly becoming aware and convinced of the love of God: "Then and there that young man was given the flavor of man, for the primary ingredient of man's substance is love, love of God, love of man, and through love, a sense of unity with all creation."

This pamphlet focuses on the 'deep rise' into a new consciousness, an awareness that was available to the first generation of Friends as it is still available to us:
"Through conscious and unconscious preparation, through effort and seeking crowned by God's grace, many Friends came up over. They arose in spirit, above that which had bound them, to a new consciousness of reality, to a new character, and consequently, to new behavior. As they arose, they deepened and extended. Their rise had elevation, depth and breadth. It was a deep rise. A deep rise characterizes all true spiritual transformations. It is to a deep rise that we of this day are called - not as an end but as a means, not because we may personally want it but because by and through it we will become really able to love and to serve God and man."

Using the life of George Fox as the prime example, Toomer exhorts us not to stop short, not to limit themselves but to "make way to the sanctuary of the heart, and bring to earth the flavor of heaven, and bring to men the flavor of God.… Only as we so rise will our contemporary Quaker faith and practice have the vision and the power of the original. Only so will the Quaker message of today be, not simply an interpretation, but a glowing witness in our time of the progressive revelation of God in the lives of men."

View the complete William Penn Lecture of 1949:
The Flavor of Man

Monday, January 21, 2008

Let Your Lives Speak

Elfrida Vipont Foulds, an English Quaker of the 20th Century, was most noted as an author of Children's books. A birthright Quaker she served as head of a Quaker school during World War II, and as clerk of the Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting.

In this pamphlet she recreates for us some of the happenings of 1652 in the northwest country where she makes her home. She helps us interpret the events of those days in terms which give meaning to the challenges which face us today.

Centering on ten challenges of 1652, Elfrida Foulds begins the discussion with “The Challenge of Obedience” where Fox was inspired to climb Pendle Hill instead of proceeding along a more usual way of service. “To any but a prophet the choice would have seemed obvious and the choice would have been wrong.”
One inescapable conclusion is that a vision has to be earned. Who knows on what far mountain of the spirit the vision for our own day awaits us? It may be there even now, in place, in space, in time, but to behold it the seeker, or group of seekers, must accept the same challenge, the same inspired madness.

From there the challenges mount: “The Challenge of the Vision; of Recognition; of Swarthmore Hill; of the Outgoing Spirit; of Friendship; of Strength; of Steadfastness; of the Sowing; and The Challenge of Joy.” Of that last Elfrida urges that “the spirit of the early days of Quakerism will not be fully renewed in [this] century of its history until the full secret of that joy is rediscovered and expressed anew...”
The world today is hag-ridden by fear, as if indeed the witches and warlocks of old Pendle had come to life, to execute a fearsome vengeance on mankind...If we could take up the challenges of 1652, we should know that the Lord is at work in the darkness; that the ocean of love and light is unquenchable, yesterday, today and forever; that whatever may befall us, our joy no man taketh from us...

Read the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet 71 by Elfrida Vipont Foulds:
Let Your Lives Speak

Monday, January 14, 2008

Worship, by John Woolman

In 1949 Herrymon Maurer headed up the publications program at Pendle Hill. There he wrote several books during the 40's and 50's including The Pendle Hill Reader, The Power of Truth, and this important collection all published by Pendle Hill.

His more direct Quaker writings are certainly overshadowed by his more popular translation of the Tao Teh Ching, The Way of The Ways: Tao. As noted by Anthony Manousos,
"Even though many twentieth century Quakers have been drawn to Taoism, Herrymon Maurer's Tao Teh Ching is the only book-length work to explore Taoism from a Quaker/Hasidic (or as Herrymon would say, "prophetic") perspective. Herrymon's interest in Taoism and China was lifelong and deep. From 1938-41, during the Sino-Japanese War, Herrymon taught English in West China, where he first became acquainted with Taoism and experienced first-hand the brute facts of modern combat."

Maurer considers John Woolman a true American Saint, a "humble and gentle Quaker, so set against every form of evil that he raised the most eloquent of voices against slavery and oppression."

Consider this introduction to the words of John Woolman:
Out of John Woolman's gentle love of Pure Wisdom and his hard struggle to hold to it there came writings which have ever since led men through darkness. These writings bring peace through disquiet. They put down, where it can be looked at, the growth in inward richness of a man who took upon himself the suffering of the world, felt responsibility for it, and set out to lose his life in the Light that illumines and alters it. Here such parts of his writings are collected as bear on the problem, 'What is worship? How shall we have faith?'

In this short pamphlet, Herrymon Maurer excerpts and collates the insightful writings of John Woolman from the Journal, as well as from Woolman's essays Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, Considerations on Pure Wisdom and Human Policy and others.
This is not a spiritual guide book, not a conducted tour that passes through various set stages to get to some stage else. It is a record of that steady atmosphere, that constant state of being wherein one can find "the simplicity of Truth." Finding, not searching, is its foundation; the saint himself is its keystone. For John Woolman is of the company of those whose response to God and to all creatures is warm and ever-ready, whose abandonment of worldly evil is unhesitating.

As Herrymon Maurer maintains, "John Woolman is not to be studied as history. He is to be read and read again. From him it is impossible to stop learning."

Read this collection of John Woolman's writings in Pendle Hill Pamphlet 51
Worship, by John Woolman

Monday, January 7, 2008

Quakerism of the Future

John Yungblut, a student of Rufus Jones and Henry J. Cadbury, worked for the AFSC in the South and became director of Quaker House, a civil rights and peace program in Atlanta in the 1960’s. He was invited to give this Henry J. Cadbury lecture at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1974.

Yungblut begins immediately by dismissing any pretention to predict the future of Quakerism.
“I am doing something even more presumptuous: I am saying that in my judgement the only Quakerism that can survive in the future will have to be mystical, prophetic, and evangelical.”

Taking each of these subtopics he gives illustrations and discusses what he means by the language. Regarding mysticism he feels that “there is within the Society of Friends a growing group of those who would have us disclaim this heritage.”

But a great deal of Yungblut's message centers on how he defines what he means by mysticism. Quoting Dean Inge he maintains that
Religious mysticism may be defined as the attempt to realize the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, or more generally as the attempt to realize, in thought and feeling, the immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal.

Yungblut goes on to discuss “The Prophetic”, noting that the “white heat of early Quaker testimony cooled when the mystical conciousness that supported it died down.” Concluding with a discussion of “The Evangelical”, he presents a more personal testimony of his convictions translating the atonement of Christ to his understanding of the mystical “at-one-ment.”

In his summary John Yungblut is earnest in his appeal:
Strange and unendurable irony — that Friends who speak so much about the Inward Light should so timidly hide their own light under a bushel! The time has come to preach the faith we have resolved to practice. If we have good news for our brothers, and I believe we do, let us shout it from the housetops! Let us learn to be publishers of truth about our faith as well as our social concerns.

View the complete Pendle Hill pamphlet number 194:
Quakerism of the Future