We Quietist Friends have as much to learn from Evangelical Friends as they do from us – even as we explore our branching out from the same powerful roots.
I’ll leave this for now, saying only that in digging for Quaker roots, it’s possible to find yourself jolted, like grabbing onto a live wire. And who knows where that will lead.
As I writer, I can rarely tolerate having someone looking over my shoulder as I type – something newspaper reporters reminded me when they told me, as an editor, to go away so they could finish the story. (Fair enough!)
As I writer, I even hesitate to show drafts of a work to anyone, especially my wife. Only after a page has undergone multiple revisions do I bring it, cautiously, into the open. But how do I feel, having Jesus stand over my shoulder while I’m working? How can I not self-censor the work? Perhaps my cross at that moment is the effort of remaining fully honest, no matter how erotic the poem at hand or the anger within the history. After all, Jesus knows anyway. Who am I trying to fool?
One way our faith has changed me, though, is in teaching me when to sit on a problem, rather than force a solution (as long as this isn’t mere avoidance, which is a different situation). As the saying goes,
Some of the best barns in Rhode Island were designed in Quaker Meeting.
(Yes, Silas liked to enlarge it to “New England.”)
Maybe you know the postcard:
Notice, I am a Quaker. In case of emergency, please be quiet.
Some of the best headlines I’ve written have been by taking a break when I was stuck – by stepping aside to walk down the hall or to the bathroom. Release the problem, for a minute or two. And then the answer appears. No need to feel guilty, is there? A little quiet, and voila, originality or productivity, as they would say. A barn or a headline, all in the job, as we Friends know, all the same.
Our way of doing business, requiring unity but no voting, requires us to listen carefully to each other. In practice, this can be difficult, especially if someone opposed to a proposal refuses to speak up or speak fully or, perhaps more serious, refuses to attend the business sessions where the matter is being considered.
I didn’t clearly perceive this revolutionary foundation until two seemingly disconnected utterances arose in the midst of open worship a week apart. The first, from John 15:14-15, is where Jesus elevates his faithful followers from the status of servants and declares they are his friends. Among Quakers, it’s a central quotation, giving us our formal name as the Religious Society of Friends. On the surface, it’s a feel-good line of goodwill and invitation.
The second message however, based on Luke 9:23-25, is one that many ministers would prefer to avoid proclaiming. Here Jesus declares that each of his followers must deny himself and take up his own cross. The content is harsh and rebuffing. There’s no way to soften its directive:
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
It was a passage I hadn’t considered for several years, but revisiting it now came as a jolt. I wondered what was going through the minds of others in the room, especially those who had never before encountered it.
George Fox’s time of sitting “in hollow trees and lonesome places,” and his recognition that among the priests and preachers he consulted, “there was none among them that could speak to my condition,” and his eventual proclamation of “the pure knowledge of God and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing,” the vital fact remains that he was stimulated by early dialogue all the same and, once he’d experienced Divine Revelation, did not keep it to himself but was instead drawn out to others who were having similar transformations.
I would point, too, to the spiritual support he received initially from Elizabeth Hooten (who, incidentally, came in her advanced age to Dover to minister among Friends here) and later from Margaret Fell.
As Margaret Fell remembered hearing George Fox preach in 1652:
You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?
That is, meld spiritual truth into all dimensions of personal daily action and awareness, with an ideal of producing a life of integrity instead of a life of expediency.
From RELIGION TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges — the forerunner of America’s Bill of Rights — the colonial Assembly of Pennsylvania approved the purchase of a great bell for the statehouse, which is today known as Independence Hall.
In 1751, Quakers still formed the majority of the Assembly, and its speaker chose the inscription from Leviticus 25:10, which begins “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land” in its King James translation.
The bell itself was widely known as the Great Quaker Bell until July 8, 1776, when it was rung to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and became known as the Liberty Bell.
Here is Everett Fox’s translation of the text:
You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year,
proclaiming freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants;
it shall be a Homebringing for you,
you are to return, each-man to his holding,
each-man to his clan you are to return.
This, the jubilee year, introduces a revolutionary concept of redistributing all the land’s wealth every 50 years. Likewise, Penn’s Charter was a revolutionary recognition of the rights of individual conscience. And the event celebrated on this day honors a third revolution in human society. All, to be hallowed.