A Mature Religion For Today
ABOUT THIS PAMPHLET:This document began as an address to Australia Yearly Meeting in 1971. It was
published that year, and reprinted twice. It was then lightly
revised, in consultation with Bridget Hodgkin and son
Stephen Hodgkin, and printed in a second Australian edition in 1988.
This third, North American, edition came into
being when the Quaker Universalist Fellowship went looking
for expressions of universalist perspectives in Quaker
writings from sources other than Britain and North America.
The text has again been lightly revised, with three
goals in view: retaining the spirit and character of the
original; casting some of the spoken words into a form more
congenial to the reader, especially by dividing some sentences
and paragraphs; and using standard North American spelling.
Stephen Hodgkin helped in this revision, also.
I have been encouraged to say a little, before coming
to the thoughts I want to share with you, on how I came
to believe that I had something worth sharing. If I had
been asked to give such an address at any time during the
last live or six years, I should have had to refuse. I was
going through a prolonged period of spiritual dryness, or
rather complete aridity, during which I lost even any sense
of purpose in life. There was nothing I could say with
any conviction or reality. I was not even interested in
seeking any meaning or fresh inspiration.
One morning this last August (1970) I woke early
and happened to go on reading a book I had begun quite
casually, not with any expectation that it would be of particular
help to me _ Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving.
I came to the section on The Love of God, and as I read it, the whole of my life
and disjointed thoughts seemed to slip into focus. It was
suddenly extremely important to be alive.
I went on living an outwardly normal life,
continuing my usual work, but for three weeks I felt lifted onto
another plane. Time, much of which I had been misusing, was
now filled to the last minute; I could tackle my too-onerous
work, which had often overwhelmed me, with confidence; I
even needed much less sleep, being too elated, apparently,
to sleep. At this stage I twice shared my experience with
my meeting, as far as I could. I only hope I was able to
convey some of the wonder of the coherence with which
everything fitted in: my new understanding of God, my thoughts
for the Society of Friends, my work, creative
relaxations, personal relationships.
My wife, Bridget, was in England when this
happened, and I had to ring her up to share it with her. When we
were connected, I was so "full" that I could not speak. For
literally fifty seconds I said nothing and was anxious lest she or
the exchange might cut me off, thinking there was no
connection. It must have been some of the most expensive silence
ever! Taking further advantage of our modern technology, I
was taping the conversation. That is how I know the length
of the silence. On playing it back later I was horrified by
my voice. This is a common experience for most of us; we
sound so different from what we expect that we wonder if
the recording can be faithful. I was horrified because,
although full of faith, love, tenderness and spiritual exaltation,
I sounded, when I found my tongue at last, like an authoritarian chairman addressing a meeting! If I
sound like that now, please forgive me, and accept that I just
cannot help it any more than I can reduce my height.
In the months since, I have, as you might say,
"sobered down." No one could live on that plane forever. I have
even occasionally felt oppressed, especially when I get too
far behind in my work. But I am sure I will not again be so
lost from the joy of life. I am speaking now after having
gone through the discipline of preparing, in several drafts,
what I want to say. I hope the process will not dim the
vividness of the insights I sensed five months ago; they are still
fresh and true for me.
THE CHALLENGE TO THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS
I have been overwhelmed with the sense that we
just do not recognize sufficiently what clarity and truth
is enshrined in the experience of the Society of Friends
over the past three hundred years. If we did, and if we
built properly on this, the Society would be infinitely more
and effective for more people. Not that we want growth
for its own sake, but because countless more people are
looking for the sort of approach which Friends can offer. We
are failing them if they cannot find us, or if, having found
us, they see only a pallid reflection of what our Society ought
That Quakerism has relevance for today may be suggested by the fact that the seven Friends who have
given the Backhouse Lectures (to 1970) have been, not
theologians or historians, but three scientists, a poet, an economist,
a philosopher, and a headmaster. That is not to say that
a theologian or an historian would not be a welcome
lecturer in due course!
We can learn from and be inspired by previous generations of Friends, from George Fox onwards, but
our vision and our expression of it must not be limited by
theirs. We do not want what has been called Quakerwasm
instead of Quakerism. This capacity to keep up-to-date is
illustrated by the fact that the collection of Quaker writings known
as Christian Faith and Practice in the Experience of the
Society of Friends1, the nearest thing we have to a statement of
our beliefs, is not a static set of words handed down from
the seventeenth century of George Fox, but is
revised periodically, most recently in 1925 and 1959.
My belief in the potential of the Society of Friends
is not founded on conceit or complacency; much of the
treasure is indeed potential, not actual. There is a constant
challenge to us to make the most of our opportunities, both so that
we may become more complete persons ourselves and so
that our Society may prove powerfully attractive to those
drawn to it. It is, perhaps, not likely to become a mass
movement, but we should not be limited in our expectations of its growth.
I am consciously speaking of the Society as it
might and should be. It is composed of very human members
constantly fail to live up to their aspirations, so that
the Society in practice does not always achieve these heights.
If we know what it should be, however, we are more likely
to approach that ideal.
The Society is not an end in itself, but a means to
help those associated with it to find fulfillment. But in seeking
to make the most of the Society we are more likely to find
that fulfillment. We need such a framework, as it is a very
rare person who can go far along the spiritual road in isolation.
What is then so distinctive and precious about
the Society of Friends? Very briefly, I would suggest the
following as some of its chief characteristics:
- It is based on the experience of the presence of God, not on acceptance of statements about
God. This experience comes directly to each of us,
not through any intermediary. There is that of God
in every person.
- We seek for truth, from whatever quarter it may arise, so that our understanding of God,
our faith, is never in conflict with our reason.
This keeps Quakerism a modern and mature religion.
- We build on the good in people, not denying people's capacity for evil, but believing that
they are more likely to reject evil if we have faith
in their capacity to be true to the best in themselves.
- Our faith has an impact the whole of our lives. The worlds of the spirit and action are
one; ours is not a "Sunday religion."
- The Society is universal in the sense that no one who is drawn to our meetings and to
our understanding of life is excluded because of
their particular background or present beliefs.
- We are not drawn to the Society for our own salvation, but to play our part toward a
world. We begin by making our own meeting a group of caring people, caring for each other
and then for the wider world.
I am not now going to develop each of these
points systematically. I am not trying to give you yet
another straight description of the Society of Friends, when this
has already been done well by others. I propose to pick out
certain aspects of what, as I see it, it means to be a Friend today,
in a way which may challenge us all to make our Society
still better, a means of helping us, and many more outside it,
to live fuller lives.
FRIENDS AND THE CHURCHES
Many Christians in the churches would endorse all
or most of these six statements, but I doubt that any
church could accept them as a sufficient basis for its existence.
For many years this has made me uneasy about our links
with the ecumenical movement. We are not a small, rather
odd, worthy, and oh so respectable sort of cousin of the
bigger churches. We have an entirely different approach to
religion. This does not require hostility to the churches, but we
should be hoping that they will come our way, rather
than emphasizing our need to understand and share theirs.
This sounds terribly conceited from a member of such a tiny
group against the millions of the organized churches, but I
can only say what I believe to be true. I admit, however, that
I have deliberately overemphasized my point to make sure
it is taken.
There are very many sincere adherents of the
churches with whom, as individuals, Friends can feel very close
indeed. My uneasiness relates to their organized churches. I
cannot believe that anyone who has in some measure
experienced the presence of God and has remained faithful to
experience can insist that acceptance of
particular theological ideas or forms of words is a necessary sign
of inward grace, however important these may be to that
person in his or her life. These creedal forms may, it is true,
serve as the basis of membership of the Christian "club," but if
it is insisted on for this purpose Friends are likely to
be excluded from the club.2
I hope that what I have said about our
relationship with the churches will not be taken as a regressive
and rearguard action against the generally welcomed growth
in ecumenical spirit. I know that many very experienced
Friends give much time and loving thought to means to break
down barriers in the service of the one God.
We can and should work with the churches in
many ways. My concern is that as we work in unity with
the churches we should not falsify our position by
suggesting that we shall ever participate in union.
And too close an identification with the
Church would suggest to those who are still outside the Society, and find the Church unable
to meet their need, that the Society's beliefs and outlook
must be so similar that they can dismiss the Society as well.
WHAT FRIENDS BELIEVE
Church members, and perhaps others, may ask
what Quakers do believe, since they are so free from
creedal statements. Though there are many pointers, there is
no complete answer to this question. We are bound together
as like-minded people in a common search for the truth of
the world of the spirit, strengthened by the sense that
we sometimes find.
Conceptions such as God are by their very nature
so intangible that words must fail; it is easier to describe
what God is not than what he is. Even to use the words
he will alienate some and will conjure up wrong images
for others. Nevertheless, just as Pierre Lacout had to find
words to express his belief that "God is
silence,"3 it seems necessary to say rather more.
I have found Erich Fromm very helpful, though he
is not a Friend, or even a theist. In his section on the love
of God in The Art of Loving4 he contrasts the earlier
matriarchal conception of God, whose love is unconditional and
all-protective, and the patriarchal conception of a father who
is just and strict, rewarding or punishing, with the
mature religion in which God ceases to be personalized in
these ways and becomes a symbol of those good qualities
with which he is normally associated, such as love, truth
and justice. Fromm goes on to say that "the logical
consequence of monotheistic thought is the negation of all
theology, of all knowledge about
God."5 He also contrasts the West's
basing of religion on thought, following Aristotle, with the
Eastern approach based on experience, an approach shared
by Western mystics such as Meister Eckhart. Emphasis
on thought leads to dogmas, intolerance and
heresy-hunting, in the effort to crystallize what cannot be crystallized.
In the Eastern approach "the love of God is an intense
feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the
expression of this love in every act of
The idea of God as ground of being is meaningful
for many Friends, but for most this would not conflict
with Jesus saying, "God is
spirit."7 All these expressions
avoid any personalization of God. Yet I cannot think of God
as non-personal. This force, the spirit of God, within, yet
beyond us, does support us in pain, anxiety or bereavement,
It encourages and inspires us in the search for truth,
sustains us through the necessary but monotonous or less
creative activities of daily life. It heightens our joy in beauty,
whether of nature, music or art, or in personal relationships.
it is greater than we are, we respond to what we
recognize as caring for each of us. We simplify by calling this
The characteristics of this power are surely
personal, so I can't say it. For lack of anything better, I have used
he, while trying to avoid in my mind any correspondence with
a physical being, or thinking of him as male any more
than female. When we have difficulty comprehending what
this God is, we can look to the picture given us by Jesus.
His references to my Father were necessary to the thought
modes of the time, and to draw a sharp contrast with the
Jewish image of a God of justice rather than of love. Nowadays
we need to use the word Father with care, if we are not to
limit unnecessarily our conception of that spirit which is God.
One thing is certain. I am not speaking of a
man-centered religion, or even one where God is made in
the human image. It is very much a God-centered religion,
but centered toward a God not cramped by definitions
which will satisfy some but estrange others, toward a God each
of us finds in our own experience.8 It is the same God. It is
our approach and our response which differs, just as each of
us will respond differently, and perhaps differently on
different occasions, to a symphony, a poem, or a great work of art.
We must admit that there are dangers, at least for
some, in the freedom of the religion I have sought to outline.
People who are emotionally unstable may be swept off their
feet, instead of finding surer ground. This danger is probably
the main source of criticism of our Society by the
churches: that there is no objective standard, no rein on the
individual's thoughts, whims or even their mental imbalance, as in
the well-known case of James Nayler.9 A great protection
against this danger is the corporate experience of worship
together and the loving guidance of fellow members of the
Society. The exercise of this guidance is certainly demanding,
for those who need to offer, and those who need to accept
it. But the more religiously mature both are, the more likely
it is that this speaking of truth in love will enrich and
One of the main themes in that unofficial but
widely welcomed booklet, Towards a Quaker View of
Sex (1963) was the need for a deeper morality than that established
by contemporary mores, however they are defined. It points
to the need for a morality "that will enable people to find
a constructive way through even the most difficult
and unproductive situations... Morality should be creative.
God is primarily Creator, not rule-maker... the responsibility
that [this] implies cannot be accepted alone; it must
be responsibility within a group, whose members are
equally committed to the search for God's
ARE QUAKERS CHRISTIAN?
One of the most frequent questions asked at
discussions on the Society of Friends is whether the Society is
Christian. The easy answer is "Yes," and one can point to
numerous quotations and statements which justify this. I too
would reply, "Yes," but it depends on what you mean by
Christian. I see the Society as a Western-based group built on
the mystical approach more commonly found in
Eastern religions. It is based on experience, not on thought.
These are not mutually exclusive; learning can enrich
experience, but it is not a prerequisite. There are many people
of profound mystical experience in the Western
churches, despite the formidable theological thought structures of
those churches. And thought and words are necessary
for intelligible, helpful communication from even the
most experienced mystics.
I believe, however, that Quakerism will often have
more in common with true seekers outside the churches
with some official spokesperson of the churches. The
essence of the Quaker faith is the personal experience of
each member. "You will say, Christ sayeth this, and the
apostles say this: but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of
Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou
speakest, is it inwardly from
But this God within us would be a poor and
primitive thing if we relied on our own thoughts to recognize him.
We need the help and guidance of others. Some at least will
be helped by Eastern mystics, some by the great
Roman Catholic mystics. But I believe that everyone can be
helped by the life, teaching and person of Jesus,
imperfectly recorded and transmitted as are our accounts of him.
I believe he so pre-eminently showed us what God is
and should mean to us, as to warrant our calling our
Society Christian. We follow him above all others.
I should, nevertheless, be grieved if this
statement prevented anyone from joining the Society because
that person was unwilling to be called a Christian. I should
be equally grieved if it should shock, or keep out of the
Society, those for whom the bodily resurrection is the key to
the Christian message. If both of these have charity to
accept that theirs is not the only
truth12, they should be able to join in the experience of worship with those whose
thoughts are nearer those I have been indicating. I hope the
Society can in some measure be a bridge between the East and
This does not mean that I am advocating a
syncretic religion, where everything goes. Quakers would not wish
to adopt all characteristics of some Eastern religions, and
I would not expect anyone who is fully satisfied with the
finer expressions of Buddhism or other faiths to turn
to Quakerism. Anyone coming to the Society needs to
accept that its whole frame of reference has been in the
It may be asked whether I am really seeking to
interpret what the Society of Friends is, or whether I am trying
to make it conform to my own views. Part of the answer
may be that for me, and I believe for many other Friends,
there is no other group even approaching in outlook what we
hold to be important. If we had to start a new group, it would
be remarkably like the present Society of Friends!
I have not the time now, even if I had the capacity,
to offer a thorough analysis of the Society's thought on
the nature of Christianity. But I would suggest that it
is significant that most of the phrases that spring first to
one's mind as characteristic of the Society's outlook do not
refer specifically to Christ. I am thinking of "Inner Light;"
"Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in
everyone;" "What canst thou say?" James Nayler's "There is a
spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil
" One phrase I
use as frequently does refer to Christ: "There is one, even
Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." But I use it
more because this was a part of Fox's whole thought form
than because of any theological implication.
THE MEETING FOR WORSHIP
This constantly repeated insistence on experience
as central to the life of the Society is nothing new; all
Quaker writers are likely to emphasize it. It is, in particular, the
key to our meetings for worship, which in turn are at the
heart of our Society. If they fail, we shall be impoverished,
and new inquirers will find little to attract them. These
meetings are meaningless if we do not believe that we can
experience in them the presence of God. But do we act on
the implications of this belief? Do we really come each
week "with heart and mind
prepared,"13 and not as a habit, but
in the joyful and confident expectation that we shall be
by our time together? Do we help newcomers enough to
use the time best? Some will immediately feel at home in
our meetings, realizing that this is what they have been
longing for. But these are not the only ones who may later wish
to join us. Sitting in quietness for an hour, possibly
without any words, is such an unusual experience in this age
that not everyone can accept it readily. There are many
admirable introductions to the meeting for
worship.14 We should be familiar with these, both for our own enrichment and
to enable us to recommend the one or two likely to be
most suitable for a particular newcomer.
The power of the meeting for worship comes from
the fact that each meeting is essentially a fresh
experiment, and any experiment can fail. But the successes should
so outnumber the failures as to be the norm.
Paradoxically, success is more likely if we think of the weekly meeting
not so much as the pinnacle of the weeks religious activity
but as an important incident in our continuing life with
God, which may be reflected too in other unprogrammed times
of quiet worship with one or two others as occasion offers.
We should be able to rescue something, an hour of quiet in
this hectic, noisy world, even from the meetings which
seem relative failures. The fault, of course, may only have been
in us; others may have found them very rewarding.
We often refer to a speaker as inspiring, or to
writing as being inspired. But since communication is a
two-way affair, it is surely just as important that the hearer or
reader be inspired. Much the same is true of great music, where
all three _ composer, interpreter, and listener _ need to
be inspired. If we are casual in our listening to music, or
are tone-deaf, no performance can mean much to us. The
same is true of our reading of the Bible or any other
potentially helpful work. Unless we are really trying to share
the experience of writers, much of what they are trying to
say will escape us.
Inspired listening is also important in our Quaker meetings, though here sometimes we also need
an imaginative charity to get at what is being said by a
speaker who may well be inspired, but is less gifted, or trained,
to convey profound truths than the great composer is to
bring out the music that grows within. If an inspired speaker
can have inspired listeners, they will all come very close to
the source of that inspiration.
We could well deepen the quality of our meetings
for worship by deepening other gatherings. Instead of
fully programmed study weekends and summer schools, we
could have some times together, preferably residential, based
on the spirit of worship, meditation, or retreat, on a theme
such as prayer, or the meeting for worship, without set
addresses. As many as possible would have prepared themselves
with thoughts and readings which could be used, if this
seemed right, as the period ripened.
Owing to human frailty, the numbers coming
together can affect the quality of worship. When speaking of
numbers I am referring to those aged fifteen or more, accepting
that younger ones can readily be carried by the older group.
In saying this, I am not unmindful of the real spiritual
insights which can come to very young children, or of the
enrichment which comes to a group from the sense of an
enlarged "family" worshipping together.
At one extreme, we all know the wonder of times
"where two or three have met together in my name." At the
other, there can be times of profound experience at London
Yearly Meeting, for example, with several hundred present. I
would suggest, however, that as numbers increase, so do
the hazards to the quality of worship. If we were all
perfectly seeking in utter humility to know the presence and the
will of God, numbers should not matter. But in a larger
group there are at least two dangers. There are likely to be
people who are accustomed to breaking the silence and
who, in a larger group, should be, but are not always,
more sensitive than usual about speaking only when they
really must if they are to be faithful to the spirit. The other is
that some present may feel they can be "passengers,"
hoping that somehow the meeting will give them
strength, encouragement and joy without their making much
effort. The quality of a meeting as a whole, as well as the
response any individual member feels, is undoubtedly dependent
on the contribution brought by each one present. Although
one can certainly not say that there is any ideal size, my
belief is that for regular meetings, as distinct from
special occasions, it is easier to maintain the quality of
worship with about twenty to forty, or perhaps up to fifty or
sixty, than with larger groups. Modern group theory
endorses Jesus' choice of a group of twelve disciples.
Incidentally, though I know I have been using the
word worship, I wonder if other Friends are sometimes a
little worried about the use of the term meeting for worship.
I am not too worried, because I have lived with it so long I
don't think much about it. But how does it strike the
newcomer? What is worship and how often do we do it in our
meetings? Meeting is a fine and important expression, conveying
just what we are doing: meeting with each other and God.
Praise and thanksgiving, the larger part of what most people
would understand as worship, may be helpful steps for some of
us in bringing ourselves in tune with the infinite, but they
are surely only steps toward that experience of oneness
with the spirit to which we aspire in our meetings. To drop
the words for worship may make some fear that we shall
think in human-centered terms because meeting
is such a common word: we meet trains and have public meetings for
very secular purposes. In many cases the fear could be
overcome by referring to Quaker Meeting if the context does not
clear enough what we mean. German Friends do not
speak of worship; their meetings are referred to as
Die Andacht, or "thinking upon." If
meeting by itself is unacceptable, is it too late for someone to come up with an appropriate
word out of the richness of the English language?
PRAYER AND EXPERIENCE
I should define what I mean by prayer and
experience. In referring to prayer, I hope that no one will think that
I mean by this a mere repetition of some set form of
words, however inspired or however helpful such words
may sometimes be. I will use prayer to mean any opening of
the heart to God. It may be a brief, ejaculatory
thanksgiving, such as, "Oh God, it's good to be alive!" It may be a
longer period of personal preparation, meditation,
intercession perhaps, or contemplation.
Others have written on the forms and meanings
of prayer in a mature religion.15 One of these, Harold
Loukes, gives us a fuller definition:16 "Prayer is not words or
acts, but reaching down to love; holding our fellows in love,
offering ourselves in love; and being held by, being caught up
in, love. It is communion, an opening of the door, an
entry from beyond. This is the point where secular language
fails, for this cannot be spoken about at all; it can only be known."
Thomas Kelly has written inspiringly of life lived at
two levels simultaneously. He was an active practical man,
and also a modern saint. What most impresses me in his
writing is its authority. You cannot doubt that he wrote of what
he knew in his own experience. "This practice of
continuing prayer in the presence of God involves developing the
habit of carrying on the mental life at two levels. At one level
we are immersed in this world of time, of daily affairs. At
the same time, but at a deeper level of our minds, we are
active relation with the Eternal Life. I do not think this is
a psychological impossibility, or an abnormal
By experience I do not mean only the profound
and often sudden and unexpected flashes of insight which
come to some people and give them undoubted assurance
and continuing joy. William James calls those who have
had this experience the twice-born. Though this phrase
reminds us of Jesus saying that we must be born again, James
does not suggest that those who have been fortunate enough
to have this experience are any better than the once-born
who have reached similar depths by a less dramatic and
more consistent life lived in the presence of
There is, in fact, little difference in the needs of
the twice-born and the once-born, since the former needs
the continuing experience of life with God just as much as
the latter. The twice-born have not had a once-for-all
experience, on the spiritual capital of which they can live for the rest
of their lives. Both the twice-born and the once-born
would probably agree that the religious life is ordinary life lived
at a deeper level. Experience is not words, nor, except
very rarely and to a very few people, is it visions. It is the
readiness to be responsive to what early Friends called "leadings;"
we find that as we respond to what we sense to be right for
us, still greater truth and insight is given to us. If we ignore
or even fight against these leadings our life becomes
poorer and our vision dimmer. It is the opening of doors which
we can go through or can pass by. It is the building of a
strong thread of life instead of having it raveled and made
useless. This experience is not only for a few rare mystics; it can
be for everyone.
THE MEETING AS A CARING COMMUNITY
A Meeting needs to be a caring community but not
a cozy one. "By this shall all men know that ye are my
if ye have love for one to
another."19 Caring may and should begin within the community, but it will inevitably
extend beyond it. What is caring? It is the product of prayer. If
you take time to think about other people you will often
find ways in which the relationship between you can be
improved, to your as well as the other's benefit. This will not
necessarily lead to any action or words, either immediately or at
all. The other would often react against an overt invasion
of their privacy. But it does lead to a sensitivity which
will enable you to respond to any need which may arise, to
see where you have failed and to prevent you sitting in
judgment on others. You find that you are "coming to know each
other in that which is eternal." This is very different from
the chatty, tea-drinking friendliness which sometimes
maligns the fundamentally precious word
fellowship _ not that I object to friendly talk or drinking tea!
The development of this caring community is
naturally aided by the community being relatively small. This
fact, taken with my earlier reference to the size of
worshipping groups, indicates the need to be alert to the possibility
and desirability of establishing new meetings as soon as
the community is big enough.
Caring is not at all patronizing. An older person
can care for the apparently irritating and certainly noisy
child, as the child can care for the older person; the activist
and the contemplative can care for each other.
FAITH IN ACTION: Social and International Concerns
Since ours is an everyday religion, it will be
reflected in the work we do, our home life and our relaxations.
We are likely also to be active in what rather slightingly may
be called good causes. At one extreme this stems from
tradition and a sense of duty; at the other, from an overwhelming
in life which makes one want to make all things new for
the benefit of humankind. In either case we need to watch
this tendency. Friends are very properly concerned about
peace; the rights and welfare of Aborigines; race relations
more generally; conservation and anti-pollution; poverty
in underdeveloped countries in an era of affluence;
poverty nearer home, especially among old people. I could go on.
But Friends do not need to set up an organization
to deal with each of these problems. In most cases we can
act as other citizens would, and work through
community organizations. And each of us must not think, "Because
I feel that this one or these two or three causes are the
most important to me, other Friends are letting me down if
they don't join me in this major effort." The Society should
and often does find means to learn about its members'
concerns, whether within or outside the Society, whether in daily
work or volunteer service. Members support one another
by understanding and sympathy, sometimes financially, and
_ if they use the term _ by their prayers. Most important,
we should not so devote ourselves to these good causes
that our lives lose the richness of inspiration and
imagination. These too demand time. In the words of one of the
greatest Quaker pacifists, the Swiss Pierre Ceresole, "Pacifism is
the fruit, not the root, of Quakerism." Or, to change the
metaphor slightly, cut flowers will surely die. Our Quaker
forebears warned us against excessive "creaturely activities." This
was not a derogatory term; it distinguished practical affairs
from the development of our spiritual life.
Despite what I have been saying, it is often
rewarding if a large proportion of a meeting can come together for
a common purpose, whether it be in a silent vigil for peace,
or in a working-bee to spring-clean the meeting house.
Such unity in action is very good. It is more likely to
occur, however, in special isolated efforts like those
than in plugging away at an important objective year
in, year out. And most worthwhile objectives need this
constant and continuing effort. The occasional demonstration, or
letter to the Prime Minister, or statement to the press, can
be important and can arise "in the life," but they will not
often miraculously and immediately achieve the change in
the situation which they seek. There is the need for
the concerned individual or small group to give this purpose
a high priority in their lives, to be the conscience of the
Society in this matter, and to tell the rest of us when we can
do something to help.
I hope the Society may be a community to which
- acknowledged Christians seeking an alter-native to their present church;
- the searching humanist who comes to feel that there may be some power outside
ourselves but who reacts violently against set forms
and rigorous theology;
- the rationalist who begins to see that it
is possible for a power to exist beyond the
possibility of reasoning proof, but not in conflict with reason;
- someone from another culture who can respond to our approach.
There was a great advance in the Society at the turn
of the last century, in what was known as the
Manchester movement, led by such figures as John Wilhelm
Rowntree in England and Rufus Jones in America. It may be that
we are called to another rethinking of our position now,
faced as we are by a revolution in thought by those
with the established order. Whether they would accept
the term or not, I believe most young people today are
genuinely seeking a meaning in life, and I believe too that the
Society of Friends could help many of them find it.
Jesus spoke in the words understandable in his
day. We risk making our churches and meeting houses
into archaic survivals, without appeal to or significance for
the modern generation, if we go on using the thought forms
and words which were central to the amazingly
powerful evangelical revival of the nineteenth century. We still
have much to learn in methods of making known what we
have to offer in terms which have appeal today. We are not
trying to convert people to Quakerism, but to make it available
to those who have a natural affinity to our outlook. For
many of them, the word Quaker, if it means anything, signifies
a quaint historical group of people in top hats and
poke bonnets. Others hold slightly more favorable images: a
relief organization, a manufacturer of porridge oats, or
an outmoded puritanical sect, quite out of touch with
Writing in 1902, William James could say of the founding of Quakerism by George Fox: "In a day of
shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual
inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel
truth than men had ever known in
England."20 Can we not ensure that James' description is as true of the Society today?
We need to make clear that this religion of veracity does
not flout our knowledge or experience, but is enriched by
being consistent with them.
I should like to finish with a poem which seems to
me to sum up much of what I have been saying. For
it emphasizes the need for each of us to discover the truth
for ourselves, to go on seeking, and to be faithful to the
truth we have found.
THE SEARCHER'S PRAYER
by Ruth Fawell
You know well how the search for reality
Goes on throughout our lives,
How truth must always find new language,
Help us while we walk the pilgrim way
Of searching and re-searching
To hold fast to what we know of truth,
To heed the promptings
Of truth and love
In our own hearts
And in the world around us
Which only grow in us
As we obey the given light,
And dwindle as we disobey.
Strengthen us, we pray you,
To live them out
This day and every day,
So that our wills are fortified
By your will,
By your love,
And our fragments of truth
By your truth.
(In these notes, FHSC is shorthand for Friends
Home Service Committee, London)
1. Published by London Yearly Meeting of the Society
of Friends, but used by Australian and many other
2. We are relieved that at its 1970 meeting the
Australian Council of Churches declined to accept a
new constitution which would require member churches
to subscribe to a creedal statement. Faced with a
similar situation in Britain, London Yearly Meeting had to
cease to be a full member of the British Council of
Churches, which did adopt such a formal basis for membership.
In Search for Reality in Religion [Swarthmore Lecture,
Allen & Unwin, London, 1965, p. 70], John Macmurray
says: "The central conviction which distinguishes the
Society of Friends... cannot be defined in terms of
doctrinal beliefs; what makes us Christians is an attitude of
mind and a way of life; these are compatible with
wide variations and with changes in beliefs and opinions."
3. God is Silence, FHSC, 1970.
4. The Art of Loving, Unwin Books, London, Sixth
5. ibid., p. 54.
6. ibid., p. 60.
7. John 4:24 (N.E.B.)
8. As William Penn says in Fruits of the Spirit, 1.519:
"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout
souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has
taken off the mask, they will know one another, tho' the
divers liveries they wear here make them strangers."
9. James Nayler was a contemporary of George Fox.
Fox recognized Nayler's gifts, but also his weakness.
Nayler allowed himself to be led on a horse into Bristol
admirers crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy," and casting
down their garments before him. Not surprisingly, he
was convicted of blasphemy and savagely punished
according to the ways of the seventeenth century. He came to
see his error, and shortly before his death he wrote a
most powerful and beautiful description of the spirit in
which he sought to live.
10. Towards a Quaker View of Sex, FHSC, 1963, pp. 40-41.
11. Attributed to George Fox by his wife, Margaret Fell
Fox, and quoted by A. Neave Brayshaw in The Personality
of George Fox, Allenson, London, 1933, p. 16.
12. As Advices IV of our Advices and Queries
say: "Think it possible that you may be mistaken," a saying I
naturally accept too, however sincerely I advance these views.
13 Advices and Queries, Query 7.
14. Some useful sources:
Thomas F. Green, Preparation for Worship. Swarthmore Lecture, 1952. Allen &
Unwin, London, reprinted by FHSC.
Howard E. Collier, The Quaker Meeting: a personal experience and method described
and analyzed FHSC, 1949, reprinted 1956.
L. Violet Holdsworth, The Silent Meeting.
Swarthmore Lecture 1919, Allen & Unwin, London.
A. Neave Brayshaw, The Quakers: their story and message.
George Gorman, Introducing Quakers.
15. E.G., Phyllis Taunton Wood, Prayer: a progress.
FHSC, 1965. Frederick J. Tritton, Prayer in the Present
Age. FHSC, 1967.
16. In Quaker Findings (Studies in Fellowship 29).
17. Reality of the Spiritual World. FHSC, 2nd ed., 1948,
18. See William Littleboy, The Appeal of Quakerism to
the Non-mystic. 1916; reprinted by FHSC, 1950. On the
very first page he explains that each one of us, including
the "non-mystics" of his title, is a mystic in the true
meaning of the word.
19. John 13 35 (A.V.)
20 Varieties of Religious Experience. Originally
published 1902, reprinted Mentor Books, New York, 1958, p. 25.