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but now am found

Douglas Gwyn's Seekers Found may actually be a more important book, though that's difficult, than his earlier Apocalypse of the Word.

The main arc of the story addresses a hard question in 21st century religion, even as it tells the story of a strand of 16th and 17th century religious development, from Reformers Caspar Schwenckfeld and Sebastian Franck through English reformers, Ranters, Seekers, and Quakers.

In many ways, the book reminds me of two blog posts I've thought about for a long time now, both looking at the current state of Quakerism:

Martin sees a problem because "the appearance of tolerance and unity comes at a price: it depends on everyone forever remaining a Seeker." Zach, on the other hand, looks for "a community that would be the spiritual/ethical incarnation of the 'scientific' ethic - that is, the practice of seeking the truth together, basing our beliefs on evidence, and forever remaining open to new truth."

Gwyn reflects on the present, but most of the book is an examination of the past, studying various kinds of seeking that grew out of the wrenching shift in religious belief during the first two centuries of the Protestant Reformation - and how at least one group was found, found itself, found God, during the peak of that upheaval in England.

There are lots of reasons to read this book. Those who think Quakerism emerged fully-developed from the mind and spirit of George Fox, or wish it didn't, may be fascinated to see Quaker ideas developing over a few centuries, with some precursors coming very close to Quaker positions. Those who see Quakerism as a practice supporting spiritual seeking may be surprised that it was a finding, a shift away from seeking, that actually created Quakerism and gave it the strength to endure for a few centuries more.

I'll be writing more about this book - there are too many choice passages and stories in it to resist - but for now, I'll restrict myself to this one quote:

Experienced as both a light of revelation and a seed of new being, the living Christ within fulfilled many of the expectations that had once flourished among both Seeker types, but only by way of a desolating cross to the willful imposition of such hopes. All idolatrous projections upon both past and failure were to be offered up to the consuming fire of this apocalypse within.

In sum: early Quaker preaching confirmed many beliefs of both Seeker types; but it also razed the false consciousness with which both Seekers types held their beliefs and projected their hopes. (303)

A consuming fire is quite a thing to find - and to be found by.


What I thoroughly disliked about the book was Gwyn's misundertanding--which evidently was far deeper and more widespread among typical Americans than I'd ever realized--of the spritual renewal of the 1960's. Lately I've been rereading Stephen Gaskin--and remembering that period, which for those of us actually in the movement was very much a time of both seeking and finding. All Gwyn evidently knew of us was the ignorant fears of those who'd gotten their impressions from hearsay, media distortions, and encounters with kids who'd thought they should imitate the worst of what they'd heard.

It's been taking most of us a very long time to digest what we were given in that period! I've always felt that the early 1600's were similar in many significant ways, so that a man who'd missed the point of our burst of revelation wasn't necessarily the best guide to theirs! But I should probably take another look at the book, because I've found much of value in Gwyn's previous writings!

I can't say I was that fond of what Gwyn had to say about the 1960s - but then I was born in 1970, and maybe that aspect just doesn't resonate with me.

The stories he tells of 1520-1700 feel a lot more enlightening, and I wasn't alive then either, though.

Am I the only one who has difficulty trying to divine what my good friend Doug is saying (he and I were the brilliant floor- mopping team at Pendle Hill some years ago) - could someone tell me in plain simple (Quakerly?) language what he is saying? I'd read his books if I thought I had a chance of understanding what he is saying. Sorry, Doug - God bless you all the same!