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