Forgotten Quakerism

Friendly Fire Collective

QuakersBlake Jerome Everitt compiled some quotes from early Quakers, and about early Quakers, that bring to light the forgotten gospel of Quakerism. This one prophetic judgment from early Quaker Margaret Killam does an especially powerful job of summing up the Quaker message:

“Howl ye rich men, for the misery which is coming upon you, for the rust of your silver and gold shall eat you through as a canker….Howl ye proud priests, for the misery that is coming upon you, for ye shall run to and fro, as drunken men, and none shall be to pity you. Woe to you that have fed yourselves with the fat, and clothed your selves with the wool, and the people perish for want of knowledge;…because ye have departed out of my counsel, I will spread dung on your faces, yea I have cast dung on your faces already.”

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The Gospel Unglossed: ‘a revolution of tenderness’

Our time has been a failure. We are called to ‘the revolution of tenderness’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p48), but we largely fail to respond. Ours is the violence of indifference towards the cry of the earth, the cries of countless creatures condemned in factory farms, those of refugees, those of victims of the Western world’s addiction to arms sales, and many others.
What has this ‘post-Christian’ era proclaimed? A ‘society orphaned of transcendence’ (Erik Varden, The Shattering of Loneliness, p30). Countries gorged on the ‘filthy lucre’ of twenty-first century capitalism. A careerism so prostrate before the gods of money and pleasure that everything is licit. The pseudo-intellectual concupiscence of empty words, which the Apostle calls ‘unghostly and vain voices’ (2 Timothy 2:16) – the eloquence of irreality. A planet plagued by the pessimism of humanity’s greed for profits. A technocratic vivisection openly violating the peace of Christ every day. The maiming of hope itself: many are confronted with a fanatical secularism – itself the offal of bourgeois society – unable to create symbols and structures with the ability to invest human life, birth, death, suffering, and love with hope and meaning.
We are all responsible. It seems the thorns and briars in our hearts have put forth their barren, spiritually diseased fruits: ‘You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briars do not bear figs. A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit’ (Matthew 7:16-18). We would do well to heed the warning of James the Apostle: ‘Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches have rotted away, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. Your gold and silver are covered with rust, and this rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire’ (5:1-3). The moths and rust reside everywhere in our society; in the hearts of everyone consuming more than necessary; in the mouths of all content to blame others and avoid their own conscience; and in the minds of those possessed by the technocratic paradigm at the expense of solidarity and love among all peoples and creatures.
Despite this it’s possible that the rust clogging our personal, national, and global arteries may be dissolved in the transforming grace of self-examination and change. The locus of hope is the recognition that ‘injustice is not invincible’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, p74). As Saint Iranaeus writes: ‘By his coming, Christ brought with him all newness.’ Let us sing with joy the words of Mary’s magnificat: ‘He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down the mighty from their seats and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands’ (Luke 1:51-53). Let us become living words of a new magnificat of change and renewal. The imperative of loving one another and perceiving once again ‘Christ’s tender smile for us coming through matter’ (Simone Weil, Waiting for God, p104) in the beauty of the world is dependent on recognising that ‘the Christian must be a revolutionary’ (Camilo Torres Restrepo, Revolutionary Priest, p340).
Liberal capitalism, secularism, and materialism expel Christ from society. They are symptoms of alienation from the sacred. Theirs is a deadly vivisection exacted upon the tender body of Christ. As flesh of His flesh, it is a symptom of profound nemesism. What can meet the challenge of stasis, despair, and egoism? The sadness of these times is in direct opposition to the vision of the Gospel: ‘And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’ (Luke 24:15-17). The sadness is often unperceived; yet it pours forth its vinegar in the insatiable maw of possession, accumulation, and consumption.
Wittgenstein thought that ‘one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life’ (Culture and Value, p53). Christianity proposes a spirituality of transformation, transfiguration, dynamism, and revolution. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). Revelations poured forth in the womb of Marian stillness germinate in the revolutionary flowers of the Gospel. Openness to this transcendent creativity allows us to cry out: ‘for all my desire to live, I shall die; that I am dust with a nostalgia for glory. I am taught to let glory, by grace, lay claim to my being even now, to make it resonant with music of eternity’ (Erik Varden, The Shattering of Loneliness, p32). A shattering, visceral morality and spirituality born of kenosis (self-emptying), metanoia (turning of the heart), and resurrection (rebirth) is up to the task. The social action spawned thereby is oppositional, unsettling, provoking: ‘“These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here…They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king, named Jesus!”’ (Acts 17:6-7). It can confront the evil and injustice of current society with the words of Christ: ‘This is an evil nation’ (Luke 11:29). Not merely to condemn, but to catalyse the sacrament of renewal.
One must strive not to impede the sacramental contact between the Lamb and reality (in terms of person, environment, creature, neighbour, etc.). One must not succumb to the sacrilegious acquisitiveness of greed and self-obsession. We must resist the various forms of ‘filthy lucre’ (1 Peter 5:2) endlessly on offer in this corrupt society. Let us no longer be caught up in malicious excuses ‘for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. It is a self-destructive attitude, for “man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable”’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p130).
Let future generations look back on us and say, ‘they went from apostles of crisis, amnesia, and suspicion, to being apostles of peace, giving to us a future resplendent with hope’. Let them rejoice that we had courage enough to recognise the cancers of alienation in our midst; that we beheld the structural sins of our way of living and wept, and the tears broke our hard hearts, dissolving them in the newness of Christ. Even when we thought the doors were locked, ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”’ (John 20:26). May the hard grain of our sins and corruptions fall into the tender earth of divine mercy and become fruits of the ‘revolution of tenderness’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p48). As children of the resurrection we are children of revolution: ‘Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p132).

The Lamb’s War and dietary non-violence

The existence of the meat and dairy industries preclude humanity’s love for the earth and its creatures being a total and visible reality. As human beings we carry ‘the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, p85). What right do we have to interfere and impose our will to violence and our dynamic of dominion? Pope Francis continues: ‘We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that “not one of them is forgotten before God” [Luke 12:6]. How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm? I ask all Christians to recognise and to live fully this dimension of their conversion’ (p85). Acts of brutality and oppression against creatures are nemesistic violations and defacements of God’s radiant Image within them.

 

‘The Lamb was always on the offensive’ wrote John Punshon. Refusing to consume meat and dairy is one of the weapons of the Lamb’s War. Through it we absolutely reject this organised and systematic evil. Every slain creature bears the imprint of the Eternal Lamb. What meaning does the Peace Testimony have if those who talk about it feed on the fruits of slaughter? Is it possible to practice humility and insist on habits requiring the annihilation of millions of lives? Shouldn’t our witness include standing with those slain like the Eternal Lamb and against those who kill and benefit therefrom? Shouldn’t we reject, with repugnance, what Oscar Romero called the ongoing ‘humiliation of the Lamb’ enacted by the world?
In stillness and silence we are nourished so that we have the strength to know and reject this hypocrisy of the human heart. It marinates in its own wrath, convinced of its goodness. It connives with the disease of violence, forsaking mercy for its own appetites. It imposes a covenant with death where in fact should be a covenant with life. I am thinking of those pretending compassion and love whilst consuming products of cruelty and brutality. We say with St. Paul: ‘I will eat no flesh whilst the world stands, because I will not hurt my brother.’ All creatures are our sisters and brothers, as Saint Francis of Assisi recognised centuries ago.
Our refusal is part of a self-transcendence which insists not on imposing its appetites but on effacing them where they cause death and destruction. Our affirmation is of life neither curved in on itself nor chained to destructive habits of consumption.

 

If we are to maintain the covenant of peace, then let us reaffirm with courage: ‘It is impossible to love and to be just unless one understands the realm of force and knows enough not to respect it’ (Simone Weil, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, p67). Lewis Benson summed it up perfectly: ‘When we walk contrary to the customs of the world, our behaviour should indicate that our singularity is a consequence of hearing a word that comes from God’ (The Future of Quakerism Part 3).We may then ‘witness the crown that is immortal that fades not away, from him who to all your souls is a friend, for establishing of righteousness and cleansing the land of evil doers, and a witness against all wicked inventions of men and murderous plots, which answered shall be with the light in all your consciences, which makes no covenant with death, to which light in you all I speak, and am clear’ (George Fox, Journal, p493).

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Meetings

Following the pattern of early Quakers, our Meetings for Worship will take place outdoors. A distinctly Quaker sense of transcendence, stillness and silence, is enhanced by direct communion with the Divine in the openness of the landscape. The stained glass window of nature offers us refuge as we are searched by the Light. Its receptivity will nourish our own. We will meet at cliffs, on the top of Downs, in hidden caves, at streams, and by the sea. When asked about his rejection of the monopoly of man-made buildings – and the implied hierarchy – in spiritual sensitivity, James Nayler replied: ‘God is no respecter of places’. Let us follow his example and reject a Divinity that speaks only from consecrated buildings and authoritarian pulpits. ‘Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?’ (Acts 7:48-49).

To be Lamb-centred means not to violate the beautiful humility of the Franciscan sine proprio (non-appropriation) and the apatheia (detachment) of the Desert Hermits by confining our sense of the sacred or imposing our tyrannies upon God.

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‘And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Revolutionary Quakers

I was attracted to Quakerism by the fiery radicalism of its earliest vision. Non-violent, confrontational, they offered an alternative to the nascent capitalism and greed of seventeenth-century England. Theirs was a faith and practice rooted in stillness, silence, and listening to the Inward Lamb. I began attending Meetings and reading everything I could about the earliest Quakers. As a newcomer I assumed the spirituality and practice of modern Quakers remained in harmony with its original vision. I was devastated to realise that this was not the case. Modern Quakerism has severed ties with the brilliant insights of the earliest Friends of Truth.
Revolutionary Quakers, based on the Isle of Wight, seeks to provide an alternative Quaker way – one which keeps pace with the spirit and practice of early Quakers – and to challenge the status quo of modern Quakerism.

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