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.


  1. I've read that post/idol story somewhere else--maybe Howard Brinton? It's a great one and it's really stuck with me. There are many times when I stop and wonder whether I'm worshiping a hitching post!

  2. Terrific "post" :). Yes, I wonder how much we make a ritual or idol of the silence or of the testimonies. The silence is not there as an aesthetic; it's there so we can listen to God and be transformed, as individuals and as a body. The testimonies are not ends in themselves, but point toward how Jesus wanted us to live.

  3. Thanks, Mark, for pointing this out. I pray that more of us will take time to step back and reflect on what practices and preferences have become idols, and be willing to put them in their proper place.

  4. I guess I don't see silence as a "dead thing." I experience it as the living fabric upon which God weaves his/her message for each of us and sometimes for all of us, when one is inspired to rise and give vocal ministry.

  5. Hi Martin, Diane & Raye,
    This is something I that has helped me a lot in keeping my focus on God, and in figuring out what is important. I hope I will keep it in mind this week.

    Maybe you and I understand the silence differently. I see it arising out of our willingness to "give over" and listen to God. I think that when we lose that connection and just think of the silence as silence and make that our goal, that becomes idolatry.

    I may be silent for about a week, I'm leaving for my first residency at School of the Spirit shortly. Thank you all for the great comments!

    With love,