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