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Quietism as creativity?

I knew I'd read at least one history of Quakerism that was excited about Quietism rather than disparaging, and now that I'm back home I can see that it's Howard Brinton's Friends for 350 Years, which I quoted earlier on Quietism.

In Brinton's "Four Periods of Quaker History," there is no "retreat into Quietism". Instead, he celebrates the period:

The Period of Cultural Creativity and Mystical Inwardness

The period of creation was followed by a period of conservation. No religious movement has ever maintained the fire, energy, and power which accompanied its former period. The burning zeal which flames out in the market place must sooner or later become the warm glow of the household hearth. If religion is to become a genuine part of life itself, it must enter the home as well as the public square and become integrated with the routine affairs of family living.

This second period is referred to by all modern historians of Quakerism as the period of Quietism. This designation, while true, is not always correctly interpreted. It is not, as some appear to suppose, a term of disparagement.

For the quietist, worship requires a passive as well as an active phase, a negative as well as a postive way, a time of receptivity and waiting for divine guidance as well as a time for action upon that guidance. The Quaker quietists were far from quiet once they were assured of the right word or deed. Their period of withdrawal was followed by a return to activity with an increase of insight and power.

The leading spirits of this period, Anthony Benezet, Thomas Chalkley, John Churchman, Joshua Evans, David Ferris, Rebecca Jones, John and Samuel Fothergill, Catherine Phillips, Martha Routh, William Savery, Job Scott, and John Woolman, to mention only a few, were all quietists, but every one of them traveled widely in the ministry and became an active agent in some social reform. In the so-called "quietist period" the Quakers governed three American colonies and were active in the politics of two more.

In the technical meaning of the term, Quakers of the first period were also quietists, and all the usual phrases which signify Quietism, such as reference to the Light as "that which is pure" (or free from human contamination), can be found in their writings.

In the transition from the first period to the second, there was no change in doctrine, but there was an important change in behavior... (220-1)

Brinton's interest in Wilburites likely exposed him to Quietist thought at a time when many other Quakers had left it behind. He also contributed an introduction to Pendle Hill's reprinting of A Guide to True Peace, or the Excellency of Inward and Spiritual Prayer, compiled chiefly from the writings of Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, and Molinos.

For a thoroughly contrasting perspective, Walter Williams' Rich Heritage of Quakerism describes the same period thus:

Friends had settled down into a peaceable, respectable sect, proud of their past, but, by and large, feeling no moving concern to do more in the future than to preserve their "Testimonies," and keep the Society's membership in good order.

Where now the call to repentance which earlier Friends had sounded out? Where the compelling passion to tell the whole world of a living Savior?

Had not the Society of Friends been raised up to herald and exhibit to a sinful world and to careless professors of religion the transforming power of the gospel? Could Friends henceforth be satisfied to enjoy close-knit fellowship with a carefully selected group of nice people without concern for mankind in general? We must seek to discover in a later chapter what was hindering the progress of Friends. (120)

As Brinton's writing may seem biased toward Quietism, Williams' writing is distinctly tilted toward evangelicalism, and the questions are definitely leading.

I suspect we could have the same conversation today about modern Quakerism. As is probably obvious from my enthusiastic postings on Quietism, I think Brinton has a point that modern Friends would do well to consider deeply, but it'll doubtless be a long conversation.

I'll have more fuel for that conversation soon enough, as the Quietist writings resonate deeply for me.