Monday, October 26, 2009

Friendly Bible Study in Woodland, NC

I spent the weekend in Woodland, NC for the tenth month Representative Body meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. On first day morning, we had a Friendly bible study before meeting for worship. Rich Square Friends have a simple form of bible study in which someone reads some verses aloud and then they wait for reflections to arise. This is different from the Friends' tradition of bible reading in which Friends sit together and read the bible, sharing with the group as they feel led, but not inviting reflection on the text.

Rich Square Friends use the Revised Common Lectionary as the source of the week's verses. I have often thought that it would be good for Friends to at least be familiar with the lectionary readings so that they had some sense of what other folks may have read that weekend in their church. This may give opportunities for discussion and open new avenues for ministry. I see it as a way of preparing the ground.

At times I felt almost giddy during the bible study because it felt so special to have this communal sharing of bible study, and at many different levels. Some Friends were very familiar with the bible, others were not. Some had insights into the particular historical and cultural context of the readings, while others offered real life experiences that reflected on the text. It was beautiful that Friends felt open to discuss their difficulties with various verses, and there was an indescribable way in which these difficulties felt like they belonged to all of us. It felt like the unity of the body of Christ that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:24-26:

But God has combined the various parts of the body, giving special honour to the humbler parts, so that there might be no division in the body, but that all its parts might feel the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all suffer together; if one flourishes, all rejoice together.

Every time I have done this form of bible study with Rich Square Friends it has been a deep, and wonderful experience.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Nobel Peace Prize

I saw some e-mails recently on a mailing list that were proclaiming great joy over Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The general tone of the messages felt to me like anyone who didn't agree with the choice didn't understand, or didn't pay attention, or didn't read the committee's statement. In fact, even after I posted a message expressing my trouble with this attitude, another Friend posted a message suggesting that anyone who questions the prize isn't paying attention.

It is not my intention to argue one way or another, but to suggest that when we are unwilling to accept that people may actual have a rational basis to disagree with us, we are sowing seeds of war. Paul wrote that "We are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." I think we should take this as a reminder that we are not fighting other people - that we should be careful not to personalize things, nor should we lump people into groups such that they lose their identity. When faced with a disagreement, we should sink down to the Seed and seek guidance from God. Perhaps some things are not worth arguing over, or perhaps there are lessons we need to learn. Perhaps we are even wrong.

I have also seen some Friends mention the AFSC / FSC Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, as if it makes us experts in the awarding of the prize. As I settled into worship yesterday, I felt led to read from First John, and I encountered this verse:

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are of this world.

I took this as a reminder that we shouldn't be looking to other people for validation of what we do, but we should be attentive to God for validation. Sooner or later, the life of the Kingdom of Heaven threatens worldly comfort zones, and people (including us) may become defensive. Instead of being concerned with worldly prizes, we should be saying something similar to Paul when he said "I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Love Freely Received, Love Freely Given

I am back from my first residency at the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program. It was a wonderful experience, that seemed very daunting for the first day or so. My Koinonia group walked the labyrinth the day we first met together, and unlike previous experiences with a labyrinth, I found it very comfortable and it really allowed me to slow down and listen. I ended up spending about an hour every morning walking the labyrinth at a very slow pace.

Every so often on the labyrinth there were little stones with messages on them, one of which was "Love Freely Received, Love Freely Given". While I had seen this stone a number of times, something was opened in me on first day morning.

Usually when I see that phrase, I skip right to the "Love Freely Given" part, and I suspect many or most of us do. I think we want to picture ourselves in the place of giving. When we read about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, do we tend to see ourselves in Jesus' place, or in the disciples place?

It seems hard to put ourselves in a position to receive love freely, without any obligation. Is it even possibly to truly give love freely without the love being freely received? If I do something out of love for someone else who then feels an obligation to me, then the love wasn't really free for that person, even though I expect nothing in return (assuming I am truly giving love that way). I need to learn to accept love that is freely given, without any worry about what I need to do for that person, or whether I am deserving of it, or whether it somehow means I am a helpless person.

The act of receiving love freely is also an act of giving love freely - I am allowing someone else to express their love towards me with total openness. Likewise, truly giving love freely is also an act of freely receiving the other person's gift of acceptance of that love.

Since this past first day, some lyrics from the B. B. King song "I Like to Live the Love" have been going through my head:

Every man or woman
Enjoys going home
To a peaceful situation
To give love
And receive love
Without any complications

My prayer for us as a religious body is that we learn to give love and receive love without any complications.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I have been reading Incidents Illustrating the Doctrines and History of the Society of Friends and in the section on worldliness I found this story:

When John Churchman and John Browning were travelling in Talbot County, Md., an elderly man asked them if they saw some posts standing, pointing to them, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay was held in a tobacco-house there, which was then new, the posts that were standing were made of walnut; at which J. B. rode to them, and sat on his horse very still and quiet; then returning again with more speed than he went, J. C. asking him what he saw among those old posts, he answered:

I would not have missed of what I saw for five pounds; for I saw the root and grounds of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe to be a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George Fox was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the Fountain of living virtue.

I think there are a lot of things in addition to posts, earth, or curious pictures that we substitute for the power of God. Sometimes we substitute ideas, or particular practices, or a desire to be identified with a particular group of people. Lately I have found myself letting go of particular ideas when they are taken on their own, but holding onto them in relation to experiencing God. Perhaps they are like the old posts. They once stood and held up a building in which Friends met, but by themselves, they are just pieces of wood.

I have found myself wondering how much of Meeting for Worship has become an idol. Do we come to meeting because of the silence, or because of our encounter with God? Are we silent because we are giving control to God, or because "that is what we do in meeting"? Is it most important that a message is Spirit-led, or that it is not too long, doesn't use icky words, and comes from a speaker who doesn't speak every week?

Perhaps there are ways in which the testimonies have become idols, or even Quakerism itself. I think it is helpful for us to look at why things are important to us, and whether there is Life in those things.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Conversation from the Heartland

I will be starting the School of the Spirit "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer" program in less than two weeks. Before each residency we have a number of readings. My wife Ceal was in the previous class, so I am familiar with a number of these readings, and one in particular I was very happy to read again - Conversations from the Heartland from the 10/2006 Friends Journal.

Kat Griffith tells the story of her living room conversations with some other home-schooling moms, most of which would be considered members of the "Religious Right". In these conversations, Kat learned much about them, and about herself.

I find this article particularly appropriate right now with all the rancor about health care. Someone in California recently had part of his finger bitten off by a demonstrator. About once a week I go out for Indian food with some co-workers and over the past month we have spent much of the time discussing health care. We have an interesting mix of liberal, conservative, and libertarian viewpoints, and the conversation is remarkably civil - maybe a little animated, but we tend to talk about the issues and not so much about each others' attitudes. I occasionally try to inject a religious aspect into it, and that has been interesting. I have had difficulty making the leap from "whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me" to making it the government's job. It is not that I mind paying taxes to help others, but that I can't reconcile forcing others to do the same.

In her article, Kat Griffith found that while she had initially made assumptions about people on the "Religious Right", she found they had varying opinions on particular issues. How welcoming are we of different opinions?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Earnestly Desiring Gifts

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about various spiritual gifts - prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc., and at the end, he says "you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts." I have always read that passage in the context of an individual, that is, each of you should desire these gifts. But, what about the community as a whole? Do we earnestly desire that those among us will be given the gift of prophecy (that is, do we want God to speak through others to us), or that others will be gifted with discernment, or the ability to heal?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Christ as Savior

There has been some discussion lately about Jon Watt's video of "Friends Speaks My Mind", especially around the lines:

I'm not a Christian,
But I'm a Quaker,
I've got Christ's Inner Light
But he's not my savior

I was a little uneasy when I first heard this song, and a little more concerned when a couple of young Friends missed the distinction and thought it was saying "I'm not a Christian, I'm a Quaker". Even so, I enjoyed Jon's concert very much (he came to perform for the Southern Appalachian Young Friends in Asheville), and enjoyed meeting him.

As I mentioned in a comment on Jon's blog, my reaction to questions like "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" is often to ask what the person means by that question. One could very well ask about the meaning when someone who declares "I've got Christ's Inner Light but he's not my savior".

Since Jon's song also contains the phrase "but don't blame Elias Hicks for all our problems", I thought it would be interesting to see if Elias Hicks wrote about Christ as Savior. I found a good description on page 304 of Elias Hicks' Journal. I think it illustrates the way the idea of a savior was internalized, and fits well with George Fox's description of how the Light helps you to resist temptation. Hicks wrote:

First day, the 6th of 7th month. Soon after I took my seat in our meeting to-day, my mind was opened into a view of the great need man stands in of a Saviour, and that nothing can give him so full and lively a sense thereof, as a true sight and sense of his own real condition; by which he is not only brought to see the real want of a Saviour, but is also shown thereby, what kind of a Saviour he needs. For it must not only be one, who is continually present, but who is possessed of a prescience sufficient to see, at all times, all man's enemies, and every temptation that may or can await him; and have power sufficient to defend him from all, and at all times. Therefore, such a Saviour as man wants, cannot be one without him, but must be one that is always present, just in the very place man's enemies assault him, which is within, in the very temple of the heart: as no other Saviour but such an one, who takes his residence in the very centre of the soul of man, can possibly produce salvation to him: hence, for man to look for a Saviour or salvation any where else, than in the very centre of his own soul, is a fatal mistake, and must consequently land him in disappointment and errour.

I realize that the above paragraph does not mention Christ, but elsewhere in Hick's journal (p. 330) he does make it clear that he considers Christ in this role. That's not what I wanted to emphasize, though. As I have written before, Friends experienced a transformation from the Light, in which their sins were shown to them, and the desire to do those things was driven out. I believe that is what Hicks is saying here - the Light is saving you from your sin by removing the desire to sin.

I acknowledge that there are other meanings ascribed to "Savior", in terms of atonement and such, but, it seems to me like the transformative meaning is very powerful, and something that can be readily experienced. Shouldn't this be something we desire instead of deny?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fighting My Enemies

I have been listening to the bible during my drive home from work, starting from Genesis. I remember discussing the bible with a Friend from my meeting and he told me he really didn't get anything out of it, especially not the Hebrew bible (i.e. the "Old Testament"). His characterization of it was based on the many battles and accounts of whole towns and villages being destroyed. I have to admit that I find those passages very difficult as well, even though I don't think of them as God telling us we should do the same.

The Bhagavad Gita takes place in the middle of a battlefield where the opposing armies (I think they were all from the same family) are about to do battle. There are some interpreters (including Gandhi) who take the whole war as an allegory - that it is about the battle that takes place in the soul. I had that same feeling of an allegory when listening to a passage from 2 Samuel 22.

The passage is a song of David praising God for giving him victory over his enemies. There was a section that reminded me very much of some of the experiences of strengthening I read in the journals of early Friends:

God is my strong fortress,
and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory;
your help has made me great.
You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping. (2 Samuel 22:33-37 NLTse)

This passage struck me as one of giving me inward strength, and I felt that spring of joy and hope that I feel whenever I read George Fox's account of recovering from a beating where he says "the power of the Lord sprang through me, and the eternal refreshings revived me; so that I stood up again in the strengthening power of the eternal God and stretching out my arms amongst them, I said, with a loud voice, 'Strike again; here are my arms, my head, and my cheeks.'"

With that echoing in my mind, the passage continued into David's thanks for being able to defeat his enemies. Normally, this would have been one of those difficult passages that I would be glad to get through, but today, it spoke to me in the context of those things I do wrong, especially those that I know I shouldn't do - those being the enemies:

I chased my enemies and destroyed them;
I did not stop until they were conquered.
I consumed them;
I struck them down so they did not get up;
they fell beneath my feet.
You have armed me with strength for the battle;
you have subdued my enemies under my feet.
You placed my foot on their necks.
I have destroyed all who hated me.
They looked for help, but no one came to their rescue.
They even cried to the LORD, but he refused to answer.
I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I trampled them in the gutter like dirt. (2 Samuel 22:38-43 NLTse)

I was surprise to find this such an inspiring passage, because today it spoke to me of the hope of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit - ever so gradually working on my soul, changing the way I live. Those aspects of myself that are jealous, conceited, angry, uncaring, lazy - those things can be trampled in the gutter like dirt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mary and Martha Revisited

I blogged about the story of Mary and Martha almost 4 years ago, and at the time, I wrote about Mary and Martha representing the balance between inward and outward activity. I had a somewhat different view of that story during the recent NCYM-C bible study. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is in Luke 10:38-42 and goes like this:

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

  But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NLTse)

The theme of the bible study was "The Bible as a Compass", since the overall theme of the yearly meeting was "Which Way Now?" and Brent Bill (author of "The Sacred Compass") was the plenary speaker on 6th-day evening. In the bible study, we looked at various passages in the bible according to 5 different categories. The first two categories were something like "Ideals, Goals, Highest Aspirations" and "Distractions, Detours, and Dead-Ends". I brought up the story of Mary and Martha as straddling those two categories - Mary was fulfilling her highest aspirations by sitting at the feet of Jesus and being taught, while Martha was distracted.

When I said "Martha was distracted", one very dear Friend turned to me and pleaded Martha's case saying "she was busy". If one looks at the story as balancing inward vs. outward action then my simple characterization of Martha as "distracted" would be rather unfair. But I think instead that Martha serves as a warning to not let our busyness get in the way of our listening to the teaching of the Inward Christ. That isn't to say that action is a bad thing, but that it should come as a result of the leadings of the Spirit - and that we shouldn't mistake "doing something" for "doing what we are meant to do".

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Fourth Trip to NCYM-C

This was the fourth time attending the annual gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I originally wrote "visiting" in the previous sentence, but we certainly don't feel like visitors, we are always treated like family members. As I mentioned previously, we had to come home early, so we missed a number of exciting happenings, such as the consideration of Davidson Friend Meeting for membership, the choosing of a new clerk, Brent Bill's plenary address, and the closing worship.

Before we left home, I had remarked that while I was initially so overjoyed at the freedom of being around other Quakers who embrace their Christianity so openly, I am finding that what really makes the difference for me is the intentionality of this group. I noticed this particularly in the ministry offered during the many worship opportunities.

Friends, as a religious group, seem to be more active than a lot of groups. I know that Friends at NCYM-C are involved in many causes - Earth care, peacemaking, social concerns. The intentionality comes into play in that these causes don't tend to dominate worship. It isn't just that these Friends understand that the actions come as a result of the leadings of the Holy Spirit, but that they understand that worship is the place where we corporately deepen our relationship to God so that we are able to respond faithfully to whatever it is we are called to do. Much of the ministry is centered around our faithfulness to God, around hearing what we are being asked to do, and very little to do with what someone heard on NPR yesterday, or about particular bills coming up in Congress. Yes, people have those concerns, but they are willing to lay them aside until the time comes to take them up again. You get the sense that the reason these people are here together is not because they have found people who share common concerns and ideals. They are here to commune with God together, not as individuals, but as one body united in and through God.

Coming home early was extremely difficult, it is as if I can feel the yearly meeting going on, and I have an overwhelming longing to be there. I hope it will pass when the meeting concludes tomorrow. I do still feel a peaceful calm that is very sweet. I also came home with a great quote, courtesy of Jeff Ginsberg (via her husband Eric) "Are you listening, or are you just waiting to speak?"

Home Early From NCYM-C

Ceal and I had to come back early from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). We brought two of our granddaughters with us this year - Christina and Samantha. Last weekend, three of Samantha's friends were in a car wreck. One of them, Patrick, was in a coma. Initially the doctors seemed pretty optimistic about his recovery, but thursday night Samantha got word that Patrick's brain wasn't functioning and that they were going to take him off life support. She felt she needed to be back here, so we left after lunch on friday. Within a few minutes of getting home, Samantha was already heading up the street to check on one of the others who was in the wreck and was taking it very hard.

I wrote last year about the tender nurturing we received at NCYM-C when we learned of the death of one of the teens from the SAYF program. That same nurturing enveloped Samantha and Christina this year within minutes. Many people in the cafeteria saw Samantha crying in my arms and came to help, getting them some food to go, and then coming back with us to the dorm. Mary Miller sat and talked with them while I went to find Ceal. She also checked on them from time to time. There were many others providing support in various ways.

I know this is insignificant compared to the pain Patrick's family and friends are going through, but it was heartbreaking to wake up this morning and not be at NCYM-C. I want to cry.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bible Translations

There is an interesting tradeoff in bible translation that cropped up again for me today. Some bible translations tend toward being more literal - trying to translate word for word what the original text says. Others adopt a more dynamic approach, trying to convey the meaning of the text while not always being word-for-word (it might be described as thought-for-thought). I used to prefer the more literal translations, but one of the problems there is that the closer you get to the original text, the more you need to know about the original culture, and it is very easy to miss the significance of passages. Another problem, of course, is that the word order and grammar of Hebrew and Greek is quite different from English, so the closer you get to a word-for-word translation, the more stilted the English sounds.

Lately, I have been enjoying the New Living Translation (NLT), because it tries to use English as it is spoken today. Many translations end up with a style of English that is rarely spoken, although it is still grammatically correct. For some people, it feels more like "biblish" - a separate language that is spoken by those in-the-know. I don't believe the original texts felt this way to the hearers, and the King James bible probably still sounded pretty natural to early Friends. I have felt lately that for some people, hearing the bible in a more natural sounding form of English may help lower some of the barriers that might otherwise come up in the presence of such a different usage of English. I also think there is a temptation to think that speaking differently is an indication that the words are inspired. I know some people may feel a special connection when they hear a traditional rendering of a passage - my mom is this way about the traditional King James readings at Christmas time, but, I believe that it isn't the grammatical form of the words that is the important thing - it is that they are spoken from the Spirit. This works both ways - the biblish-sounding words can still reach people for whom they sound alien if they are spoken from the Spirit. But, people still have the choice of whether to listen or not - I think it helps to navigate around some of the barriers people may put up.

While the literal approach has the problem of not conveying enough context, the dynamic approach has the problem of conveying too much. That is, if there are multiple ways to read a text, a translation might not convey the various options. I ran into this today with the NLT in its translation of 2 Peter 1:19, which reads:

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.

The NET bible translates it this way:

Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The King James Version reads:

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

Notice that the NLT has taken the "prophetic word" or "word of prophecy" and turned it into "the message proclaimed by the prophets". I think this is probably the typical protestant interpretation of this passage, but for Friends, possessing the prophetic word is not having the scriptures available, but being able to speak the prophetic word directly by the Spirit. I believe the NLT version of this verse does not allow for that interpretation, while other translations do, and I believe the Greek text allows it as well.

In his journal, George Fox relates an encounter with a priest in Nottingham that illustrates how Fox interpreted this particular passage:

When I came there all the people looked like fallow ground, and the priest, like a great lump of earth, stood in his pulpit above: he took for his text these words of Peter, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that he take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts." He told the people this was the scriptures, by which they were to try all doctrines, religions, and opinions. Now the Lord's power was so mighty upon me, and so strong in me, that I could not hold; but was made to cry out, "Oh! no, it is not the scriptures;" and told them what it was, namely, the holy spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the scriptures, whereby opinions, religions, and judgments were to be tried; for it led into all truth, and so gave the knowledge of all truth.

As Friends, I think we need to be especially aware that our understanding of the bible often differs from the traditional protestant view, and that despite the best efforts of the translators, various bible translations do tend to carry along the doctrinal views of the translators. While we must still rely on the Holy Spirit for illumination of the text, I think it helps if the text does reflect the original inspired message.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What's wrong with evangelism?

You don't have to read much of the writings of early Friends to see that evangelism was an integral part of their life. Since "evangelism" is an overloaded term, let me explain what I am talking about. The word "evangelism" derives from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (EUANGELLION) which means "Good News". The word "gospel" means the same thing, coming from the Old English form of "good story/message". For Friends, the gospel was not simply a message because they understood by experience Paul's description of the gospel as "the power of God unto salvation". Preaching the gospel was Spirit-led, Spirit-filled preaching that awakened people to the Light of Christ within them - to turn them from darkness to light (a phrase from Paul that George Fox often quoted).

I would guess that many modern Friends are very uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism, and perhaps for a number of different reasons. If this does make you uncomfortable, why? Maybe you could ask yourself that and sit with it before reading further.

These are some of the potential objections that come to my mind:

  • Religion is a personal thing, I don't want to push it on anyone
  • Friends don't proselytize
  • I don't want to be like those other religious groups
  • It is disrespectful of other religions
  • I'm afraid/embarassed

    I would like to hear of others. The reason I am bringing this up is to contrast it with our attitude towards the political process. By using the political process to do the things we think need doing, we are essentially imposing our will upon those who don't have enough votes. While one's religion is a matter of choice, and with Friends it has always been a matter of the individual making the choice to turn towards the Light, in the political arena, the minority doesn't really have a choice. The voice of the majority is backed by the law enforcement of the United States government (or whatever country you may be in). While I was at SAYMA last week, I heard Friends talking about our "window of opportunity" to get things done before the congressional elections start next year. I heard discussions about the effective ways to contact various government representatives, and about lobbying at the state level in addition to the national level. Why can't we also have discussions about opportunities to spread the Good News? Why don't we hear more statements like "many were convinced", as George Fox wrote numerous times in his journal?

    Ceal and I had a long discussion about this one evening, and she asked me what someone could have said to me when I was 20 that would have reached me. I have to admit that I don't know. But, I also understand that it isn't the words themselves that are the important thing, but that they are spoken from the Spirit. Early Friends often spoke of their being a power behind their words, and I believe that power could have reached me, too.

    No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.
  • Monday, June 15, 2009

    For the beauty of the earth

    We were at the SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association) annual gathering this past weekend. On first day morning, I was walking up the road to get our van from the parking lot. I wasn't aware of how busy my mind was, just thinking of what we needed to do that day. Suddenly, as I walked past one of the most beautiful views on the campus, I became aware of the quiet beauty of the mountains and the rich, lively green of the trees, bushes, and grass. I felt a stillness come over me that was such a contrast to what I had just been feeling.

    View from Warren Wilson College

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 7

    This is a continuation of a previous post.

    Friends experienced feelings of peace and a sense of divine love through the Light. John Gratton wrote that “The sense of his love, and the experience which I have of his goodness, tenders my poor heart, and bows my spirit before him; and I hope you partake with me, and will also feel with me beyond words or writings.” This divine aspect of love was also felt between one another. Elizabeth Chester wrote of her husband Edward:

    He would often say, he felt more of the love of God than he could express, and he much desired stillness and retirement, saying, he knew the worth of a quiet habitation. I felt him in that love of God, which surpasses the love of all things here below, in which we were joined together by the Lord

    Isaac Penington wrote than when some Quakers first reached that of God within him, it stirred up love towards those Friends:

    As I remember, at the very first, they reached to the life of God in me, which life answered their voice, and caused a great love in me to spring to them ... And this was the effect of almost every discourse with them; they still reached my heart, and I felt them in the secrets of my soul; which caused the love in me always to continue, yea, sometimes to increase towards them

    Stephen Grellet wrote of divine love enabling him to speak to others:

    I proceeded in it in much lowness of spirit, keeping close to my heavenly guide. He so condescended to me, that on coming into a family, a feeling of Divine love clothing me, I was enable to communicate my concern for them, so as, in many instances, to reach the witness for Truth in their hearts. Many of these opportunities were favoured seasons, and proved visitations of love and mercy to the people. Most of them received us, and our books, with tears of gratitude.

    Friends found that dwelling in the Light gave them a peace that was contrary to the spirit of war. George Fox often said that it took away the occasion of all war, as he does here:

    for dwelling in the word, it takes away the occasion of wars, and gathers our hearts together to God, and unto one another, and brings to the beginning, before wars were

    Friends also felt a peace in doing what they were led to do. John Woolman wrote:

    As I was favored to keep to the root, and endeavor to discharge what I believed was required of me, I found inward peace therein, from time to time, and thankfulness of heart to the Lord, who was graciously pleased to be a guide to me.

    Friends experienced a sense of peace and love from the Light unlike anything they knew of. John Gratton wrote:

    And Oh the peace that flowed in my heart! as Christ promised, not as the world giveth, who cry peace, peace, when there is no peace at all experienced. But, praises to the God of my life, his peace hath he given to me and many thousands in this day; that peace the world does not know, neither can they take it away from us, glory to the Highest for ever. Oh! the love and life that flows here, and springs from the Fountain of living waters, in whom all our fresh springs are. Feel it reader, in thyself, hast thou not seen it gush out of thy rocky heart?

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 6

    This is a contination of a previous post.

    One of the most fascinating experiences of Friends has been that of leadings – especially those that seem unexpected or out of place. George Fox relates a story in which he was led to take off his shoes in the middle of winter and proclaim against the city of Lichfield until he felt clear and was able to leave:

    As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went by my eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile of Lichfield; where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep. Then I was commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still for it was winter; and the word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the word of the Lord came to me again, saying, “Cry, wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, “wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” It being market day, I went into the market place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands, crying as before, “wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” And no one laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market place appeared like a pool of blood. When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace;

    Stephen Grellet relates a well-known story of a man who felt led to worship alone in an abandoned meeting house:

    The following interesting circumstance was there related to me by John Carter, a near relative of the Friend who had been an instrument in raising up that meeting from a decayed state, and on that account had called it Spring meeting. A number of years ago, it had become much reduced, through the unfaithfulness of some of its members, and the death of others. A young man of the name of Carter became religiously inclined, so as to feel disposed to open the meeting house, and to repair there, though alone, on meeting days. He had continued to do so for some time, when one day, a great exercise came upon him, to stand up and audibly to proclaim what he then felt to be on his mind, of the love of God, through Jesus Christ, towards poor sinful man. It was a great trial of his faith, for nothing but empty benches were before him. He yielded, however, to the apprehended duty, when, shortly after having again taken his seat, several young men came into the house, in a serious manner, and sat down in silence by him. Some of them evincing brokenness of heart. After the meeting closed, he found that these young men, his former associates, wondering what could induce him thus to come alone to that house, had come softly to look through the cracks of the door at what he was doing, when they were so reached by what he loudly declared, that they came in. Some of them continued to meet with him, and became valuable Friends. The meeting increased by degrees to the size it now is.

    While Friends were often led by immediate insights, at other times they felt a concern pressing upon them as a weight, which seemed to grow heavier. This was often referred to as being under the “weight of a concern”. If Friends ignored this concern, or willfully disobeyed it, the weight would continue to increase until they could bear it no longer. David Hall writes of one such incident of unfaithfulness in his journal:

    For on the 22nd of the same ninth month, a great weight seized me, to go through the town of Skipton, and call the inhabitants thereof to repentance, which concern and burthen grew heavier and heavier towards the middle part of that day, so that I could rest in no place; however, keeping it to myself, I went to meeting, it being our week-day meeting, where I was in great distress, having not given up to the concern. After meeting I returned home, and remained under the same anxiety of soul. Next morning came, and the same concern fell again weightily upon me, growing heavier and heavier, as before, insomuch, that I went out of the school into a place apart to crave the Lord’s assistance in the discharge of my duty. The weight growing intolerable, I privately laid the matter before my father, who, at the hearing thereof, broke out into tears, and calling my mother into the parlour, acquainted her therewith, whereupon she fell upon her knees in humiliation before the Lord, to implore his aid; and at her rising up she encouraged me, saying, – Be not cast down. We all three wept.

    Friends often found that they had insights into another’s spiritual condition. As George Fox described it: “The Lord hath given me a spirit of discerning, by which I many times saw the states and conditions of people, and could try their spirits.” He relates many of these kinds of experiences in his journal, such as this one:

    There came also at another time a woman, and stood at a distance from me. I cast mine eye upon her, and said, “Thou hast been a harlot,” for I perfectly saw the condition and life of the woman. She answered, many could tell her of her outward sins, but none could tell her of her inward. Then I told her, her heart was not right before the Lord; and that from the inward came the outward. This woman was afterwards convinced of God’s truth, and became a Friend.

    Stephen Grellet relates the story of Comfort Hoag, who, in the midst of sailing for Europe, had a revelation that they would be returning to America:

    About forty years ago, Comfort Collins, then a Hoag, having surrendered herself and her all to the Divine will, under a sense of duty to go to England on religious service, with the unity of her friends, embarked for Europe, accompanied by Sarah Barney. After they had been out at sea about a week, as they were sitting together in the cabin, in solemn silence before the Lord, Comfort said to Sarah, “The Lord has accepted my free-will offering to his Divine will to go to Europe, and now he releases me from this service; and, as a proof of it, he will bring us back again to the American shores.” Sarah Barney told me that the communication was attended with so much solemnity, that she could not doubt that it was of the Lord. Without exchanging a word with one another, they continued a considerable time in silence, when they heard the captain of the ship speaking with his trumpet to another ship, stating that he was under the necessity of returning to port, as his vessel had sprung a leak, which the Friends knew not before. Thus were these women brought back, and from that time they felt themselves entirely released from the service of travelling in Europe.

    William Edmundson received a revelation that he was going to be robbed:

    About this time a singular exercise fell upon William Edmundson, as he was attending a fair on business at Antrim; by which he was instructed in the benefit of faithfully attending to the secret intimations of the divine Monitor, saying, “this is the way, walk in it,” even when he might not see immediately the intention of the Almighty in thus leading him by a way that he knew not. Returning with his brother late from the fair, they proposed to lodge at Glenavy, six miles on their way homeward; but before they arrived there, William was introduced into a great exercise of mind, accompanied with an intimation, the source of which he believed to be the divine Spirit, that his shop was in danger of being robbed that night, but that he was to go back towards Clough; and being much perplexed under the apprehension of danger to his property on the one hand if he went not home, and on the other hand not knowing wherefore he should be required to go back to Clough, he cried earnestly to the Lord, to be preserved from following a delusive spirit, and that he might be directed what course to pursue. On which he received a clear intimation, that the same power which required him to go back, would preserve his property from harm. Lodging at Glenavy, he slept but little; but in the morning, not daring to disobey so clear a command, he let his brother proceed homewards, while he went himself to Clough. On reaching his home, he found that on the night when the foregoing exercise came upon him, the shop-window was broken down by robbers, and fell with such violence on the counter as to awaken his family, and the thieves being frightened ran away. “So,” says he, “I was confirmed that it was the word of the Lord, that said, ‘that which drew me back should preserve my shop;’ and I was greatly strengthened to obey the Lord in what he required; for I was much afraid, lest at any time my understanding should be betrayed by a wrong spirit; not fearing the loss of goods, nor sufferings for the truth, its testimony being more to me than all other things.”

    Continued in Part 7.

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 5

    This is a continuation of a previous post.

    While unity is the foundation of Quaker business meetings, it is hard to understand the idea without experiencing it. Friends wrote of “being of one mind” or being united. George Fox and others would say that their hearts had been knitted together, echoing a theme found several times in the bible. William Hunt wrote of a moving experience that evokes both tendering and unity in a way that suggests that hearts are broken in order to be united:

    “sat under a cloud of thick darkness, in which he felt the mystery of iniquity work in a wonderful manner; after which the Lord, in everlasting kindness to his pained children, was pleased to raise the seed of Zion and exalt her horn in the midst of her enemies, so that we had many comfortable meetings, and our hearts were much broken and sweetly united."

    Isaac Penington spoke of being knit together, and the experience of the meeting being of “one mind”:

    Unity in the spiritual body, which is gathered into and knit together in the pure life, is a most natural and comely thing. Yea, it is exceeding lovely, to find all that are of the Lord of one heart, of one mind, of one judgment, in one way of practice and order in all things,

    John Burnyeat wrote of the power in meeting and how it united every one:

    Thus growing into this experience of the goodness of the Lord, and of the sweetness, glory, and excellency of his power in our assemblies, we grew in strength and zeal for our meetings more and more, and valued the benefit thereof more than any worldly gain; yea, it was unto some more than our appointed food. Thus continuing, we grew more and more into an understanding of divine things and heavenly mysteries, through the openings of the power which was daily amongst us, which wrought sweetly in our hearts, which united us more and more unto God, and knit us together in the perfect bond of love, of fellowship and membership.

    Appearing before a New Jersey court in 1830, Samuel Bettle testified about the Quaker way of business and the unity experienced by Friends:

    Our mode of deciding questions is peculiar. It is intimately connected with our religious principles and doctrines; when an individual or a religious assembly is gathered into a reverent, inward, waiting state of mind, that we are sensible at times of the presence of the invisible and omnipresent One – qualifying the heart for secret communion and approach unto God. Hence, the Society believe, and it is one of their peculiar and distinguishing doctrines that there may be secret approach to and worship of God, without any ceremonial outward act or service; and in our meetings for business, we also hold that it is needful to experience the same power to qualify us for right discernment and to restrain our own spirit and will; and we do believe that when our meetings have been thus in degree influenced, there have been wisdom and judgment better than our own; consistent with the prophetic declaration respecting the blessed Head of the Church, that “He should be a Spirit of judgment to those who sit in judgment.” With these views, and a corresponding practice, our Society has been favored to come to its decisions and conclusions at its various meetings, with a remarkable degree of harmony and unity. These conclusions, thus prevailing in a meeting, or, in other words, this sense of the meeting, is often attained to with very little expression; and the member acting in the capacity of clerk records this sense, feeling or conclusion of the meeting. And it has never been come to by a vote, or the opinion of the majority; no question is ever taken by a reference to numbers, or votes, or a ma jority, or anything like that. It is obtained upon religious principles, which we understand very well, but which it is difficult to explain. We have got along in this way for near two centuries very well.

    Continued in Part 6.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Sowing in Tears

    They who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
    They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest. (Psalm 126:5-6 NLTse)

    Ceal and I were sitting in prayer this morning here at SAYMA, and I suddenly had an insight about this verse. I had always thought of it as saying "you may be suffering now, but God will make it better". This morning, I understood it in the context of the humbling and tendering of the Holy Spirit, as I just recently posted about. In allowing ourselves to be brought low, and tendered, even to the point of tears, we find at the end of it, great joy in the deeper connection with God and with one another.

    Friday, June 5, 2009

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 4

    This is a continuation of a previous post.

    Friends frequently wrote of being humbled by the Spirit, or that their hearts were made tender. While being humbled can be part of one’s individual transformation, it was also something that was experienced as a community. Friends frequently wrote of being humbled, tendered, or brought low, sometimes accompanied by tears.

    John Churchman shared a typical description of being humbled:

    That humbling time had at Flushing was of singular service to me, being thereby made willingly subject to the divine openings of truth, the motion of the eternal Spirit and pure word of life, in speaking to the several states of those who were present in the meetings, and life came into dominion, and the power thereof overshadowed at times, to my humble admiration;

    John Woolman wrote often of being humbled, tendered, or brought low, and in this instance, he gives a hint of the struggles he went through:

    At length, through the merciful continuance of heavenly visitations, I was made to bow down in spirit before the Lord. One evening I had spent some time in reading a pious author, and walking out alone I humbly prayed to the Lord for his help, that I might be delivered from all those vanities which so ensnared me. Thus being brought low, he helped me, and as I learned to bear the cross I felt refreshment to come from his presence, but not keeping in that strength which gave victory I lost ground again, the sense of which greatly affected me.

    William Savery writes of humbling in relation to the convincement of a young man:

    30th. Had a meeting at George Dillwyn’s lodgings: about thirty attended, among whom were two candidates for the priest’s office; it was a humbling time, and one of these young men was much broken, and all his former fabric destroyed; he seemed like a man in amazement, that he should have found the truth in so simple a way and so unlocked for, and we endeavoured to strengthen his exercised mind.

    Tears often accompanied this humbling and tendering. In his journal, Samuel Bownas wrote of observing these tears as a child:

    Many Friends were in prison at Appleby for attending that meeting, whom my dear mother went to visit, taking me along with her, and we had a meeting with the prisoners, several Friends from other places being likewise there by appointment. I observed, though very young, how tender and broken they were; and I was very inquisitive of my mother, why they cried so much, and thee too, said I, why did thee? She told me that I could not understand the reason of it then, but when I grew up more to man’s estate I might.

    William Sewel wrote of another account of tears, and also of the trembling and shaking, and that although some did experience trembling and shaking, Friends did not think of it as something everyone should do:

    Now because in those early times, among the many adherents of this persuasion, there were some that having been people of a rude and dissolute life, came so to be pricked to the heart, that they grew true penitents, with real sorrow for their former transgressions; it happened that they at meetings did not only burst out into tears, but also were affected with such a singular commotion of the mind, that some shakings of their bodies were perceived; some people naturally being more affected with the passions of the mind, than others: for even anger doth transport some men so violently, that it makes them tremble; whereas others will quake with fear: and what wonder then, if some being struck with the terrors of God did tremble? But this being seen by envious men, they took occasion from thence to tell, that these professors of the light performed their worship with shaking; yet they themselves never asserted that trembling of the body was an essential part of their religion, but have occasionally said the contrary; though they did not deny themselves to be such as trembled before God; and they also did not stick to say, that all people ought to do so, however thereby not enjoining a bodily shaking.

    Thomas Shilltoe writes of many being moved to tears at the close of yearly meeting:

    after which the Yearly Meeting was adjourned to Short-creek meeting-house, in which not a few of our company on this solemn occasion were bathed in tears; some of the youth amongst others.

    Continued in Part 5.

    Sunday, May 31, 2009

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 3

    This is a continuation of a previous post.

    Friends experienced a power and strength through the Light. Some of this power wasin form of transformation – the power to overcome sin. Some of this power and strengthening was in the form of healing. Many other times, it was in the form of being given the courage and ability to stand in witness to the Inward Light. In his journal, George Fox relates an amazing story of strengthening and healing:
    When they had haled me to the common moss side, a multitude following, the constables, and other officers gave me some blows over my back with their willow rods, and thrust me among the rude multitude; who having furnished themselves with staves, hedge-stakes, holm or holly bushes, fell upon me, and beat me on my head, arms, and shoulders, till they had deprived me of sense; so that I fell down upon the wet common. When I recovered again. I saw myself lying in a watery common, and the people standing about me, I lay still a little while, and the power of the Lord sprang through me, and the eternal refreshings revived me; so that I stood up again in the strengthening power of the eternal God and stretching out my arms amongst them, I said, with a loud voice, “Strike again; here are my arms, my head, and my cheeks.” There was in the company a mason, a professor, but a rude fellow, who with his walking rule-staff gave me a blow with all his might just over the back of my hand, as it was stretched out; with which blow my hand was so bruised, and my arm so benumbed, that I could not draw it to me again; so that some of the people cried, “He hath spoiled his hand for ever having the use of it any more.” But I looked at it in the love of God, (for I was in the love of God to them all that had persecuted me,) and after awhile the Lord’s power sprang through me again, and through my hand and arm, so that in a moment I recovered strength in my
    hand and arm in the sight of them all.

    The ministry of early Friends was often described in terms of power, not necessarily in terms of one being a powerful speaker, but that there was a power that accompanied the words that answered the witness of God in others. Richard Hubberthorn wrote to Margaret Fell that:

    The Lord is gathering in many in this city daily; there are many meetings full and large, where there is any to declare the Truth
    amongst them; and they that are great in the earth, the power of Truth shines through them, and is drawing them in daily. The priests confess that there is such a power amongst us, that none who come to us can escape; and they exhort people not to come to us.

    George Fox relates several incidents in which the Lord’s power was so great that the very room seemed to tremble. In this incident, he also shows the feeling of deadness when someone else prayed outside of that power:

    After this I went again to Mansfield, where was a great meeting of professors and people: and I was moved to pray; and the Lord’s power was so great, that the house seemed to be shaken. When I had done, some of the professors said, “It was now as in the days of the apostles, when the house was shaken where they were.” After I had prayed, one of the professors would pray; which brought deadness and a veil over them. Others of the professors were grieved at him, and told him, “it was a temptation upon him.” Then he came to me, and desired that I would pray again; but I could not pray in man’s will.

    Isaac Penington wrote that ministers “must abide in the power, keep in the power, feel the motion, virtue, and assistance of the power, in all their work and service.” He also wrote that there was strength in remembering one’s experiences of the Light:

    Keep thine eye and heart upon the preciousness of what thou feltest. O remember, how fresh, how warm, how living it was; how it reached, how it overcame, how it melted! The remembrance of this, cleaved to in the mind, will be a strength against the temptations and subtle devices of the enemy.

    When Friends wrote of the power of the Lord being “over all”, it often referred to the Inward Light having power over those gathered against Friends. William Edmundson, whose conversion we saw earlier, relates this story of rescue:

    The bishop seeing this, was amazed, and bid two of his waiting men take me into the buttery*, and make me eat and drink. They took me by the arms down the stairs, and bid me go into the buttery to eat and drink. I told them I would not eat or drink there; but they urged me, saying, I heard their lord command them to make me eat and drink. I asked them if they were Christians at that house. They said yes; then, said I, let your yea be yea; and your nay be nay, for that is Christ’s command. I said, I will not eat or drink here, and you take no notice of it, being accustomed to break your yea and nay. They stood silent and let me go, for the Lord’s power astonished and was over them all.

    * buttery - A storeroom for liquors

    Continued in Part 4

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Friends and Politics

    I have written before about my difficulties with some Friends' attitudes towards the political process and how aligning with political parties fosters a spirit that is not loving towards all. I occasionally encounter a similar sentiment when reading early Friends' writings. For example, this passage from Isaac Penington speaks to me:

    This spirit must be kept out from among you; this aspiring spirit, this lofty ruling spirit, which loves to be great, which loves to have dominion, which would exalt itself, because of the gift it has received, and would bring others into subjection; this spirit must be subdued amongst Christ's disciples, or it will ruin all. The Lord gives grace and knowledge for another end than for men to take upon them to be great, and rule over others because of it. And he that, because of this, thinks himself fit to rule over men's consciences, and to make them bow to what he knows or takes to be truth, he loseth his own life hereby; and so far as he prevails upon others, he doth but destroy their life too.

    I think that in a democracy, this idea of ruling over people's consciences and making them bow to what one knows or takes to be the truth extends to the voters. One group tries to get enough votes so that others will bow to their will. You can certainly see a warlike spirit amongst political parties, especially when agreement with another party's issue is considered treason.

    London Yearly Meeting had this advice in relation to civil government:

    Advised to walk wisely and circumspectly towards all men, in the peaceable spirit of Christ Jesus, giving no offence or occasions to those in outward government, nor way to any controversies, heats, and distractions of this world, about the kingdoms of it; but to pray for the good of all, and submit all to that divine power and wisdom, which rules over the kingdoms of men. 1689

    The journal entry that resonated the most me was by Elias Hicks:

    They were both instructive edifying seasons; wherein I had full opportunity to relieve my mind, being, through gracious assistance, led in the clear openings of the divine light, to set forth the great danger of mixing in with the spirit of the world, which leads to strife and contention, and the promotion of parties and party animosities in civil governments: all of which have a direct tendency to engender war and bloodshed, and are therefore inconsistent for us, as a people, to touch or take part with, or to suffer our minds to be agitated thereby; as it always has led, and always will lead those, who are leavened therewith, out of the meek spirit of the gospel, which breathes "peace on earth, and good will to all men."

    I love the phrase "meek spirit of the gospel". It evokes the humble spirit that I often sense when reading John Woolman's Journal, and I find myself turning to that journal when I feel like my ego is riding roughshod over everyone and everything. Woolman had a way of expressing his leadings without demonizing others. I think this fits well with the experience of humbling and tendering that I hope to post about soon.

    Thursday, May 21, 2009

    Epistle 10 in Modern English

    In a comment on a previous post, Ali Reid wondered if there was a Modern English version of George Fox's Epistle #10, and whether it would have the same power. I thought I might give it a try. I realize that adding capital letters in certain places is more of an alteration, but I think it emphasizes the references to God and the Divine Seed:

    To Friends, to stand still in trouble, and see the strength of the Lord.

    The tempter comes in the form of anything you are addicted to. And when he can trouble you, he has the advantage, and you are lost.
        After you see yourselves, stand still in That Which is Pure
                and mercy will come.
        After you see your thoughts and temptations, don't think, just submit,
                and power will come.
        Stand still in That Which Shows and Discovers
                and strength will immediately come.
        Stand still in the Light, and submit to it
                and the tempter will be hushed and gone
                and content will come.

    When temptations and troubles appear, sink down in That Which is Pure, and your troubles will be hushed and fly away. After you have seen yourselves, your strength is in standing still. Whatever addictions you see in yourselves – temptations, corruption, uncleanness, you think you will never overcome them. Your earthly reason tells you that you will lose everything. Don't listen to it! Stand still in the Light that shows you your addictions, and you will receive strength from the Lord, and help beyond all your expectations.

    Then you will grow up in peace, and no trouble will move you. David fretted when he looked out, but when he was still no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out and abroad, that's when troubles move you. But keep your minds on that Spirit that existed before the letter and you'll learn to read the scriptures the right way. If you do anything by your own will, you tempt God, so stand still in that Power that Brings Peace.
        George Fox

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 2

    This is a continuation of a previous post.

    Healing may have played a bigger role among early Friends than we know. There was once a text by George Fox called the Book of Miracles, of which we now have only an outline, and details pieced together by Henry Cadbury. In this book, Fox recorded over 150 incidents of people being healed, although much of what we have of this book looks like this:

    And there was a man ... tailor ... bed-ridden ... And Daniel Baker
    who went ... crutches ... never wore them afterward.

    From the small amount of information available in the outline, Henry Cadbury was able to find other sources containing the same information. For example, the following account came from a Fox manuscript referred to as the Trickett manuscript:

    His mother had a dead palsy [and had little use of one side and she often did fall down and then could not help herself, and had been so many years. And George Fox came to see her, and at night she fell down, and he was moved to take her by the hand, and it immediately left her, and she arose and could] go about her business.

    There are other accounts of George Fox healing people:

    George Fox says, in 1653 he was at a meeting where Richard Myer was, who had been long lame of one of his arms. “I was moved of the Lord to say unto him amongst all the people, ‘Stand up upon thy legs,’ for he was sitting down; and he stood up, and stretched out his arm that had been lame a long time and said, ‘Be it known unto you, all people, that this day am I healed!’ He soon after came to Swarthmore meeting, and then declared how the Lord had healed him.”

    In 1675 as he was travelling north to Swarthmore from London, at Cassel “A woman brought her daughter for me to see how well she was; putting me in mind, that when I was there before, she had brought her to me much troubled with the king’s evil [scrofula], and had then desired me to pray for her. Which I did, and she mended upon it. Praised be the Lord”

    Other Friends participated in these healings as well. Fox relates an encounter with Nathaniel Batts in which he acknowledges that Friends had healed a woman:

    He asked me about a woman in Cumberland, who, he said, he was told, had been healed by our prayers and laying on of hands, after she had been long sick, and given over by the physicians: he desired to know the certainty of it. I told him, we did not glory in such things, but many such things had been done by the power of Christ.

    If you are interested in healing, Richard Lee is giving a workshop on it at the FGC Gathering again this year, and hopefully there will be a daily Meeting for Healing in the afternoon. These meetings for healing at the FGC Gathering are very intense and deep, I highly recommend them. If I was going to the Gathering this year, the meetings for healing would be the thing I would look forward to the most.

    Continued in Part 3

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 1

    I am doing a workshop at SAYMA this year entitled "Experiences of the Light Among Early Friends". I thought it might be useful to just look at experiences rather than discussing doctrine, and to compare those experiences to what we experience today. I have attempted to categorize these experiences for the purpose of discussion, but there is much overlap between them. The topics I intend to cover are:

  • Repentance and Transformation
  • Healing
  • Strengthening and Power
  • Humbling and Tendering
  • Unity
  • Guidance and Insight

    I am writing up the the material into a handout, which I will post here as I am able to, starting with the section on Repentance and Transformation:

    There are numerous accounts among early Friends of dramatic conversion (convincement) experiences, where they suddenly came to repent. The Greek word in the New Testament commonly translated as repentance is metanoia, which more literally means “to change one’s mind”, and for many Friends, repentance wasn’t a sudden regret for one’s past deeds, but an inward recognition and acceptance of the Spirit within them - a change of their mind and their understanding. There followed a transformation, sometimes fast, sometimes gradual, in which the person found themselves inwardly purified and they gave up their old ways. This often involved repentance in the traditional meaning, as the Inward Light revealed one’s sins. There are several important things to note about the way early Friends experienced repentance and transformation:

  • The repentance often came about as a result of the preaching of Friends, and sometimes out of other forms of witness. It was not as much what was said, but that it was spoken from the Spirit and answered that of God in the hearer.
  • Transformation came about by the working of the Inward Light on one’s soul.
  • Friends believed it was possible to lead a sinless life as a result of this transformation.
  • The emphasis wasn’t on feeling guilt for one’s sins, but on living a sinless life.

    The convincement of William Edmundson is a good example of this repentance and transformation:

    He soon sold off his stock of goods; and going over to England to purchase a fresh supply, he heard of George Fox and James Nayler being in the north; and feeling a great desire to meet with them, he went to a place where James Nayler was, and had an opportunity of hearing him discourse of the things of God’s kingdom, and the work of regeneration. And though James’s words were not many, yet they were so powerful, and so fully reached and answered the testimony of the divine witness in his own mind, that his heart was opened to receive the word preached, and to confess that it was indeed the truth. He was now brought into great exercise of spirit; his former ways were “hedged up;” and many things to which he had been accustomed were shown to him in the Light of Christ, to be incompatible with the purity and entire obedience to which he was called. He flinched not however from the hand of the Lord, for his sins were set clearly before him, and he felt that he must be purged from them through judgment. And returning shortly to Ireland, the Lord’s hand was mercifully laid upon him, while at sea, producing great wrestlings and conflicts of spirit; under a strong temptation to land his goods clandestinely and avoid paying the duty; but this he was enabled to withstand. He landed at Carrickfergus; and rode twelve miles to his own home. His brother meeting him at the door, offered the usual salutation, probably bowing and using the empty complimentary phrases so ready in the mouths of men of the world. The Lord’s power that instant so seized upon William, that he could not join in what he now saw to be vanity; and he was broken into many tears. His wife and brother were amazed at the change, but made no opposition.

    It wasn’t the content of the words that reached William, but their power, and that they answered the divine witness (i.e. “that of God”) within him. After that, he experienced the Light showing him his sins, and over time it changed him.

    George Fox described this process in one of his epistles. Note how often he reminds us not to try to do anything when we see our sins, but to wait in the Light:

    To Friends, to stand still in trouble, and see the strength of the Lord.

    Friends,Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, etc. then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you. David fretted himself, when he looked out; but when he was still, no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out, abroad, then troubles move you. But come to stay your minds upon that spirit which was before the letter; here ye learn to read the scriptures aright. If ye do any thing in your own wills, then ye tempt God; but stand still in that power which brings peace. G. F.

    Repentance and transformation was not always such a sudden thing, however. John Woolman describes his transformation as more of a gradual process, spanning much of the first chapter of his journal.

    This series of posts continues.
  • Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Some Quotes from Isaac Penington

    I have been reading Isaac Penington lately while doing research for a workshop I am giving at SAYMA this year. I am reading "Selections from the Works of Isaac Penington" (printable at, but there is also a great little Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#29) called "The Inward Journey of Isaac Penington" that is well worth reading.

    In a chapter on Christ and Government, Penington cautions against a "lofty ruling spirit, which loves to be great, which loves to have dominion, which would exalt itself, because of the gift it has received, and would bring others into subjection". I really love this phrasing:

    For it is not so much speaking true things that doth good, as speaking them from the pure, and conveying them to the pure: for the life runs along from the vessel of life in one, into the vessel of life in another; and the words (though ever so true) cannot convey life to another, but as the living vessel opens in the one, and is opened in the other.

    I take this as saying that it isn't the words themselves that are important, but speaking them from the Spirit.

    Later in the same chapter, he talks about not believing particular truths just because others see them, or doing various practices just because you see others do them:

    Therefore the main thing in religion is to keep the conscience pure to the Lord, to know the guide, to follow the guide, to receive from him the light whereby I am to walk; and not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths; but to wait till the Spirit make them manifest to me; nor to run into worships, duties, performances, or practices, because others are led thither; but to wait till the Spirit lead me thither.

    He also cautions against judging others in their spiritual practices:

    Even in the apostles' days, Christians were too apt to strive after a wrong unity and uniformity in outward practices and observations, and to judge one another unrighteously in these things. And mark; it is not the different practice from one another that breaks the peace and unity, but the judging of one another because of different practices. He that keeps not a day may unite in the same Spirit, in the same life, in the same love with him that keeps a day; and he who keeps a day, may unite in heart and soul with the same Spirit and life in him who keeps not a day; but he that judgeth the other because of either of these, errs from the Spirit, from the love, from the life, and so breaks the bond of unity.
    And here is the true unity in the Spirit, in the inward life, and not in an outward uniformity.

    While we may think of that "outward uniformity" as referring to programmed worship or outward sacraments, I believe it applies just as well to our unprogrammed worship. Sitting in silence can be just as much an "outward uniformity" if all we are doing as a group is sitting in silence. It is the communal seeking and experience of the Spirit that is the heart of unprogrammed worship. The silence is merely our assent to be guided by God.