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

No comments: