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The Spirit of the Quakers

The Spirit of the Quakers

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Spirit of the Quakers
    Book Description:

    Who are the Quakers, what do they believe, and what do they practice? The Religious Society of Friends-also known as Quakers--believes that everyone can have a direct experience of God. Quakers express this in a unique form of worship that inspires them to work for change in themselves and in the world. InThe Spirit of the Quakers, Geoffrey Durham, himself a Friend, explains Quakerism through quotations from writings that cover 350 years, from the beginnings of the movement to the present day.

    Peace and equality are major themes in the book, but readers will also find thought-provoking passages on the importance of action for social change, the primacy of truth, the value of simplicity, the need for a sense of community, and much more. The quoted texts convey a powerful religious impulse, courage in the face of persecution, the warmth of human relationships, and dedicated perseverance in promoting just causes.

    The extended quotations have been carefully selected from well-known Quakers such as George Fox, William Penn, John Greenleaf Whittier, Elizabeth Fry and John Woolman, as well as many contemporary Friends. Together with Geoffrey Durham's enlightening and sympathetic introductions to the texts, the extracts from these writers form an engaging, often moving guide to this accessible and open-hearted religious faith.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17501-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Geoffrey Durham
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book is an anthology, a selection, a pot-pourri. It is also a narrative. Readers who care to take it in order will discover, I hope, that it forms an introduction to the faith and experience of members of The Religious Society of Friends.

    The extracts in this book cover the three and a half centuries that Quakers have been in existence. During their formative years they produced a huge body of written work in a short time, some of it of great importance to their future development. For that reason, I have included a good deal of material produced...

    (pp. 15-18)
    (pp. 19-40)

    If ever there were a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, it must surely be the Quaker Meeting for Worship. While it is certainly true that some people are able only to see its fundamental components – a circle of people saying little or nothing, followed by a handshake at the end – for many more, it proves to be life-changing. To them, Quaker meetings provide direct religious experiences of a kind that other groups use symbols to express.

    Robert Barclay, the seventeenth-century Quaker who was the first to attempt an analysis of...

    (pp. 41-49)

    As we have seen, Quakers have no creed. There is no dotted line that a newcomer has to sign, no statement of belief, no exam. They do not proclaim a better life for you if you follow them. What Quakers offer is a journey: a voyage of spiritual discovery undertaken with friends, which is reflected in turn in their journeys. They offer a faith which is based on personal experience, and which contains no dogma.

    It follows from all this that Quakers are unlikely to take kindly to a rule book, or to an agreed prescription for the maintenance of...

    (pp. 50-70)

    It was customary among Friends during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to write religious autobiographies. They called them journals, though they bore little resemblance either to diaries or to the practice of ‘journalling’ which is common today. They were often quite short and were intended for publication as a record of the spiritual development of the writer. There was rarely much in the way of personal detail – spouses and children were often left out entirely – because what mattered was to set down the author’s journey in the spirit from infancy to the present.

    Journals often appeared in diary...

    (pp. 71-89)

    One apparently minor event which took place over 350 years ago still has the power to move Quakers profoundly.

    It happened in 1652, as the fledgling Quaker movement was beginning to take wing. George Fox, iconoclastic and inspirational proclaimer of Truth, attended a church in Ulverston – he would have referred to it as a ‘steeplehouse’ – and proceeded to stand up on his seat in the middle of the service. He asked if he could speak to the congregation. The priest gave him permission and here is part of what Fox said, as reported forty-two years later by his...

    (pp. 90-108)

    Quakers in the twenty-first century are often reluctant to talk about the Divine. Many use the word ‘God’, but others prefer ‘the Light’, ‘the Truth’, ‘the Seed’ or ‘the Spirit’. All these words were used constantly by early Friends, but they had quite specific meanings for them, none of which, as far as we can tell, exactly signified ‘God’. Those original Quakers had discovered something which they urgently needed to express: that everybody can have a direct experience of the Divine, that they had no need for priests or intermediaries of any kind. In order to explain that weighty message...

    (pp. 109-125)

    Mary Penington (1625–1682) wrote her journal (variously calledExperiences in the Life of Mary Penington and Some Account of the Circumstances in the Life of Mary Penington) about five years after she became a Quaker and a full twenty years before she died. It is entirely unlike the journal of George Fox in that she had no interest in proclaiming her Quakerism to the world. Nor did she want to chronicle the important events of her life. She wrote it just for her friends and family to explain to them the spiritual journey that brought her to the Quakers...

    (pp. 126-149)

    In the first of theAdvices and Queries(see page 42) we are asked to ‘take heed to the promptings of love and truth’ in our hearts and ‘trust them as the leadings of God’. Such promptings and leadings cause Quakers to tread entirely different paths from one another. The sheer range of Friends’ interests – from prison reform to the conquering of disease, from conflict resolution to radical journalism – can be quite startling; and the number of fields of work they are involved with at a local level is no less remarkable. The actions of Quakers, whether at...

    (pp. 150-166)

    No exposition of the Quaker way can ignore the heritage of skill and expertise – to say nothing of resourcefulness – which Friends draw on in their role as peacemakers and resolvers of conflict. A cursory glance at the list of four Quaker testimonies might prompt a casual observer simply to put ‘peacemaking’ into the pigeonhole marked ‘peace’, and leave it at that. But equality, simplicity and truth (as clearly shown in Adam Curle’s paragraph above) are all part of the process and excite the endeavours of Quakers to be of value.

    The Alternatives to Violence Project, to take just...

    (pp. 167-183)

    John Woolman (1720–1772) was a Quaker from New Jersey, a unique personality who insisted on allowing himself to be led by the spirit in everything he did. He knew instinctively that, as he put it,’conduct is more convincing than language’ and he practised his Quakerism without compromise. In letting his life speak, he was an example to us all.

    Three small illustrations will, I hope, hint at the detail and breadth of his vision. When he travelled to England by boat, he refused a cabin, preferring instead to live with the crew:’I was now desirous to embrace every opportunity...

    (pp. 184-198)

    A Quaker Meeting is just that: a meeting of bodies and souls. It is the people who worship there week after week; who take part in discussion groups, business meetings, weddings and funerals; who switch on the lights and lock up at the end; who do the announcements and make the tea; who just turn up once to see if they like it. Children are as valued as grown-ups, and as much part of the meeting as their parents. People who have joined The Religious Society of Friends are considered no more important than those who have not. No one...

    (pp. 199-214)

    Pierre Ceresole’s journal is unlike the other three quoted at length in this book, because its author never imagined that it would be seen by anyone else. In its original form it consisted of more than a hundred small notebooks – he always had one crammed into his back pocket – which were used for random jottings, scraps of arguments, prayers, discussions with God, descriptions of plants and flowers, explorations of his fears (‘above all, fear of myself, fear of being inadequate’) and philosophical enquiry. Key idioms, phrases and prayers often appear again and again over the thirtysix years he...

    (pp. 215-231)

    Quakers try to be ‘open to new light from whatever source it may come’ (Advice 7 on page 43) and that principle causes Friends to differ widely in their beliefs. There are, as we have seen, both theist and nontheist Quakers. But there are also Quakers who are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. Some Quakers are Roman Catholics. And if that seems bewildering, it is important to recall that Friends have no creed; they offer a spiritual journey without religious certainties.

    I personally believe that there is a quality in the bareness of Christian Quakerism, which may act as a...

    (pp. 232-242)
    (pp. 243-244)