February 23, 2011

No peace without until peace within

Howard Brinton writes, in the introduction to The Guide to True Peace:

But how, the activist will ask, can we heal a sick world when we are advised to "retire from all outward objects and silence all desires in the profound silence of the whole soul" (p.2)? The answer is that there is no peace without until there is peace within.

A man who is inwardly disordered will infect all about him with his inner disorder. John Woolman, a New Jersey tailor of the eighteenth century, followed without reservation the type of religion portrayed in The Guide to True Peace, yet he was one of the world's greatest social reformers. When he went about persuading the Quakers, a hundred years before the Civil War, to give up their slaves, he did not say much about suffering and injustice. He simply pointed out to the slaveholders that they felt no inner peace.

The history of the Society of Friends shows that almost always this search for inner peace is the dynamic of Quaker pioneering in social reform. True peace comes, not by inaction but in letting God act through us. (x)

January 4, 2009

Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism

Carole Dale Spencer manages, in Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism, to describe early Quakerism as a largely coherent whole whose later schisms reflect emphasis on some components and the loss of others. While it's definitely an academic book, it is still a compelling read, and I hope this story will be told widely in more accessible forms over the years to come.

Before continuing with the review, I should note that Spencer plays to practically every bias and opinion I hold regarding Quakerism up through about the 1840s, and frequently thereafter. It's strange to me to be reading interpretive Quaker history, especially history that looks beyond the first generation, and not be spending a fair amount of time arguing with the author in my head. I find her telling of the early Quakers compelling, as well as her case for the Quietists as something better than a terrible decline. While I'm not as convinced by her doubts about Elias Hicks personally, her overall take on Hicksites makes sense to me, as do her doubts about how close Joseph John Gurney was to the heart of Quakerism. I think she's correct that John Wilbur was, as he claimed, much closer.

Where I start having doubts is in the second half of the 19th century, when the Holiness Movement per se comes through. There's a conversation worth having about forms of Quaker worship, hinted at here, but not really explored. I return pretty easily though, in her discussion of the 20th century, and overall I'm kind of dazed to agree with so much of a single telling of Quaker history, especially at this level of depth.

I suspect some potential readers will bounce off the word "Holiness", thinking that this is a plea for revival meetings. They shouldn't. Spencer's use of holiness certainly includes revival meetings (including, I think, the earliest Quaker gatherings), but it's a much richer use than that. Her use of holiness derives from the early Christian fathers, a group whose thought (as she points out) regularly parallels that of early Quakers. She emphasizes eight aspects, which she sees as integrated in early Quaker thought:

  • Scripture
  • Eschatology
  • Conversion
  • Charisma (Spirit)
  • Evangelism
  • Mysticism
  • Suffering
  • Perfection

Obviously, not all of those aspects resonate with all Quakers today, and the details of many of them changed over the course of 350 years, sometimes repeatedly. I remember being blown away by Apocalypse of the Word, largely because it was startling to me that eschatology was central to early Quakers. Talking about "perfection" seems to instantly raise alarms, whether with Quakers or with, well, practically anyone, but Spencer weaves it tightly into the story.

I'll be writing more about the book for a while to come - there are lots and lots of pieces worth pursuing, even pieces I hope someone will take up and turn into complete books of their own.

Yes, it's written academically, and can be very dense, but the content is excellent. My one real complaint (and maybe this is only my copy) is that the type seems excessively light. It's all there, but reading it seems trickier than it should be. The price ($41) isn't cheap, but fortunately it's not as astronomical as some academic publishing.

I can't recommend it as light reading, but if you're up for a detailed and valuably opinionated journey through Quaker history, it's an excellent telling.

(It's also worth noting that the latest issue of Quaker Religious Thought, #110, includes reviews by Stephen Angell, Margery Post Abbott, and Jim Le Shana, with replies from Spencer.)

January 7, 2008

A Guide to True Peace

or the Excellence of Inward and Spiritual Prayer is a small book Compiled Chiefly From the Writings of Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, and Molinos.

I don't remember how exactly I found it, but I ordered this a couple of years ago and frequently carry it around with me. (It's a tiny book, and looks like it's available online as well.) Pendle Hill reprinted it in 1979, from a 1946 reprint they did with Harper & Row, and there's an introduction by Howard Brinton. It looks like the original was compiled around 1813, by a pair of Quakers, working from the materials of the Catholic Quietists.

Of the three, Molinos seems to be the most extreme, while Guyon and Fénelon are considered 'semiquietists'. I've written about Fénelon's letters before. (It's probably notable that Quietism was condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church in 1687, and still raises sparks in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia.)

I'd be curious to hear if other people are reading this little book, and what they see in it. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism that explains a lot of where this material came from as well.

The last chapter, "On Perfection, or the Union of the Soul with God", is what grabbed my attention again. When I'd first read it, it seemed too lofty a suggestion to make:

The most profitable and desirable state in this life is that of Christian perfection, which consists in the union of the soul with Infinite Purity, a union that includes in it all spiritual good; producing in us a freedom of spirit; which raises us above all the events and changes of this life, and which frees us from the tyranny of human fear; it gives an extraordinary power for the well performing of all actions, and acquitting ourselves well in our employments; a prudence truly Christian in all our undertakings; a peace and perfect tranquility in all conditions; and, in short, a continual victory over self love and our passions. (109)

And then this ties back to the discussion I've had lately around deification:

"Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The soul, remaining in its disorderly will, is imperfect; it becomes more perfect, in proportion as it approaches nearer to the Divine will. When a soul is advanced so far that it cannot in anything depart therefrom, it then becomes wholly perfect, united with, and is transformed into, the divine nature; and being thus purified and united to Infinite Purity, it finds a profound peace, and a sweet rest, which brings it to such a perfect union of love, that it is filled with joy. It conforms itself to the will of the great Original in all emergencies, and rejoiced in everything to do the divine good pleasure.

The Lord draws near to such a soul, and communicates inwardly to it. He fills it with himself because it is empty; clothes it with his light and his love, because it is naked; lifts it up, because it is low; and unites it with himself.

If you would enter into this heaven on earth, forget every care and every anxious thought, get out of yourself, that the love of God may live in your soul, so that you may be enabled to say with the apostle: "It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives within me." How happy we would be if we could leave all for him, seek him only, breathe after him only; let only Him have our sighs. Oh, that we could but go on without interruption toward this blessed state! God call us to do so and come to him. He invites us to enter our inward center, where he will renew and change us, and show us a new and heavenly kingdom, full of joy, peace, content, and serenity. (114-6)

I think I'll be carrying this book around with me for a while.

August 22, 2006

Quietly wait for the salvation

In a conversation about nearby verses, I found this quote from Lamentations, 3:22-31:

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off for ever. (KJV)

I only wonder why he "sitteth alone." The rest feels like a good fit for Quakerism generally, Quietism particularly.

August 2, 2006

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.

July 24, 2006

John Woolman as Quietist

I mentioned John Woolman earlier as a strong figure in the age of Quaker Quietism. (Marshall Massey noted a number of others I need to learn about as well.)

While Woolman's Journal seems to involve nearly constant motion, as Woolman crisscrossed the American colonies ministering to Quakers, Native Americans, and others, the motivations for all of that action, discussed at one point in Chapter VII, are decidedly Quietist:

The poverty of spirit and inward weakness, with which I was much tried the fore part of this journey, has of late appeared to me a dispensation of kindness. Appointing meetings never appeared more weighty to me, and I was led into a deep search, whether in all things my mind was resigned to the will of God; often querying with myself what should be the cause of such inward poverty, and greatly desiring that no secret reserve in my heart might hinder my access to the Divine fountain. In these humbling times I was made watchful, and excited to attend to the secret movings of the heavenly principle in my mind, which prepared the way to some duties, that, in more easy and prosperous times as to the outward, I believe I should have been in danger of omitting. (124)

Fénelon would doubtless have approved of Woolman's concern that a "secret reserve in my heart might hinder my access to the Divine fountain." Woolman is constantly studying his motivations and actions to ensure that they correspond to God's desires, not his own, and when he finds the two have parted he strives to connect with God once again.

July 22, 2006

Meeting with quiet

"Quietism" seems frequently a term of disparagement in Quaker histories. It's easy to get excited about the adventures and struggles of early Quakers. After the Glorious Revolution (well, glorious for Protestants) brought toleration for Quakers, and they found safe homes in Pennsylvania and other colonies, Quakerism seemed to lose much of its energy. Rather than proclaiming that Quakerism is true Christianity that everyone should be following, Quakerism turns more and more into a separate sect, retreating from the world.

Part of the disdain seems to come from Quakers simply growing calm relative to their early days of evangelism. John Woolman stands out in the period between Fox, Penn, and Barclay and the schisms of the 19th century, but otherwise I don't tend to hear a lot about 18th century Quakers in modern conversation.

Howard Brinton was fond of emphasizing the value of Quietism, which means much more than just a period of relative calm among Quakers. It has ties to Roman Catholic Quietist thought from the 17th century, notably that of Miguel de Molinos, Archbishop François Fénelon, and Madame Guyon. It was inspired by the mystical traditions of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but was found by the Catholic Church to be heretical in 1687.

Brinton wrote in Friends for 300 Years that "The works of Madame Guyon, Fénelon and Molinos, valuable guides in the life of prayer, could at one time be found in almost every Quaker library," though Margaret Hope Bacon contests that in a footnote in Friends for 350 Years. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism which goes into much greater detail.

I just found a copy of Fenelon's Spiritual Letters, which appears to be the same book as the currently-available The Seeking Heart, though paginated differently. Many of the letters by this Catholic Archbishop feel distinctly Quakerly, like this one, which fits well with the Thomas Kelly quote I posted yesterday about being "prayed through":

110. "Teach us to pray"

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; Thou only knowest what we need; Thou lovest me betters than I know how to love myself.

O Father! Give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask. I dare not ask for either crosses or consolations; I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee.

Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.

Teach me to pray; pray Thyself in me.

This is strong stuff, as Quietism calls for silencing the self, not just at Meeting - though it led to a lot of quiet meetings - and listening for what God wants rather than what we want. Fénelon doesn't urge complete retreat from the world, but certainly calls on his readers to step away from the world's expectations. Sometimes this takes him places that I think will trouble modern readers, who might see ignorance or passivity, but which had echoes in Quakerism:

29. To prefer love and humility to learning.

People cannot become perfect by dint of hearing or reading about perfection. The chief thing is not to listen to yourself, but silently to listen to God; to renounce all vanity, and apply yourself to real virtues; to talk little, and to do much, without caring to be seen. God will teach you much more than all the most experienced persons and all the most spiritual books. Do you need to be so learned in order to know how to love God and deny yourself for His love? You know much more of good than you practise. You have much less need of gaining fresh knowledge than of putting in practice that which you have already acquired.

53. Gentleness and humility.

Your remedy for wandering thoughts and want of fervor will be to set apart regular seasons for reading and prayer; to mix yourself up in outward matters only when it is necessary; and to attend more to softening the hardness of your judgment, to restraining your temper, and humbling your mind, than to upholding your opinion even when it is right; and finally, to humble yourself whenever you find that an undue warmth concerning the affairs of others has led you to forget your supreme interest, Eternity.

"Learn of me," Jesus Christ says to you, "for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Be sure that the grace, inward peace, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit will be with you, if you maintain gentleness and humility amid all your external perplexities.

I'll be posting more of Fénelon and hopefully some of the other Quietists over time. If you're impatient for more, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library has more about and by Fénelon.