“Fellow learners”

04/14/2019 § 4 Comments

Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, who was sent to Rome for execution (by wild beasts in the arena) somewhere around 100 CE. As he travelled towards Rome, he was in contact with several Christian groups along the way. As he moved on, he wrote letters to the meetings (if you’ll allow me to call them so) that he had recently visited ( this is a kind of concern that I understand very well), and these letters constitute some of the earliest surviving Christian writings — the current best guesses suggest that this is about the same time that John’s Gospel took its present shape.  The Ignatian letters are part of the early writings called “the Apostolic Fathers.”

In his letter to the Ephesians (§3), Ignatius, who is writing about harmony in the church, says (my translation of the Loeb Library text 1912)

I am even now a beginner in discipleship, and I am speaking to you as to my fellow-learners

Although Ignatius is famous for advising his readers to respect and follow the leaders in these meetings, who were plagued by faction and disunity to varying degrees, this statement is his claim to authority:  I am a learner, I am a disciple, as you are.

No doubt, he recognized that as a bishop, from Antioch no less, and as a public sufferer for Truth, he might well be seen as a celebrated figure— though at this stage, perhaps 65 years after Jesus’ death, the movement was not so very numerous.  His statement could be seen as a rhetorical move, to build a sense of solidarity with his readers, to make them more receptive to his advice.

Yet he had just been among them, and if he had assumed a posture of command or superiority, this sentence would not have rung true at all, and closed the ears of its recipients.  The fractious nature of early Christian communities suggests that people were quite ready to see defects in their leaders, and would not be slow to reject false modesty.  One is reminded here of Paul’s self-description in writing to the Corinthians:

And brethren, when I came to you, I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Ignatius has a powerful sense of the “unsearchable depths” that were opened by the addition of Christ’s revelation to all that had come before, the re-framing of the world — the renovation of mind that is part of discipleship.  Any good researcher knows that he or she may have discovered something very cool, even revolutionary — but that that is just a beginning, in comparison with what lies undiscovered.  Isaac Newton’s famous comment comes to mind:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

But ignatius also has something concrete to say about how a fellowship of learners matters:

For I had to be prepared (literally “anointed,” prepared like an athlete for the struggle) by you, with faith, admonition, endurance, and patience (long-suffering)

Ignatius had to grow in these qualities, and he found nourishment for this among his fellow learners — even though he feels led at this moment to exhort them to live according to the mind (wisdom, or maybe will) of God — who is Christ (a statement that represents a mystical challenge).  Indeed, it is only as a member of the body that he claims standing to speak.

There are many times when one feels at odds with one’s community.  This may result from some inward discomfort or trouble of your own, or from something that is “the matter with the meeting.”  The feeling of discomfort may be evidence of some dawning insight — about oneself or the meeting — that one is needing to recognize and deal with. ( I remember a time when, in an opportunity, Bill Taber asked me how I felt in my home meeting, and I said I was feeling somewhat at odds with them.  After a long pause, he said, with perhaps a hint of a smile, ‘That can be a good thing.’)

But  reflecting this morning on Ignatius, I feel that the “problem”  can’t be left in terms of “me vs. them”.  Rather, it has to be framed as Ignatius does here, which I might put thus:

I am of you, we share a common life, and I can point to ways that I have been nourished by it.  From that shared life, and for its continued health, I need to convey something that I have been given to understand. Come now, let us reason together, with the Spirit’s help, about this thing that has been brought to our awareness.

This does not mean that eveyrone is equal in experience, that there is no progress nor accumulation of insight.  A comparison might be made by thinking about different people who happen to be walking on a popular mountain trail.  Everybody climbing along is equally a walker, can put one foot before another — but not everyone is an experienced mountain hiker.  Sometimes experience matters and the tenderfoot is glad for some advice that is distilled from a life-time of trekking.  Yet  on the other hand, the experienced walker knows very well that even on an easy trail, you can stumble if you aren’t paying attention,  or feel the need to take a break and a sip of water.

Jesus spoke as one with authority, but he stayed teachable. It is good to reflect upon  Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30):

Jesus has come to the hills near Tyre and Sidon for retreat.  A woman not of the Jews nevertheless gets to him,and asks the healer to free her daughter of a demon.

Jesus refuses in terms that strike the reader as xenophobic bitterness, “It’s not good to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.” The woman turns the cheek, does not address the harsheness of the remark, but instead says, “Even the dogs can eat the crumbs under the children’s table.”

Jesus hears the prophetic rebuke (there is an echo of Nathan’s rebuke of David 2 Samuel 12), and reverses himself, saying, “Because of this word of yours, the demon has already left your daughter.”


“Teach by being teachable.”  There’s steady work in that Advice.



The last lesson of the incarnation: A Lenten meditation

04/05/2019 § Leave a comment

I have been reflecting on 2Cor. 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” ‡ This, it seems to me, is the kernal, the nub, of the “drama of salvation,” and it includes in highly condensed form the “mystery” — the hidden meaning — of the Incarnation.

I keep trying to word this mysterium magnum for myself. Tonight’s version is that the Incarnation is God’s demonstration that the Divine is intimately acquainted and interwoven with life as humans know it, in suffering and in joy, in knowing and in uncertainty. This is not a new formulation, but in light of the work of reconciliation, it means that part of the work that  God was doing was getting to know humans from the inside out, expressing Godself in terms of  flesh and blood.

(It reminds me of the famous passage from Woolman’s  Journal, when he’s meditating on how it came about that he was on his way to pay a spiritual visit to the Indians:  Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them.)

All through the gospel narratives, we see Jesus discovering the truth of human life as each of us does– through growth, encounter, relationship.  We are told he was tempted in all things as we are, but there was more than temptation to learn.  We see him in family, with friends and colleagues (male and female), at parties and in debate, with children, with the powerful and the powerless.   He may not have had a wife, but he was no stranger to the nature of that kind of relationship — he not only supplied wine for a wedding, but the stories of the woman at the well, the one taken in adultery, and others suggest that he was unsurprised by sexual passion and the complexities that accompany it.

By the time he gets to Golgotha, he has seen death, betrayal, cynicism, and cowardice, experienced uncertainty, fear, the descent of the Dove, the beauty of the lilies, and  the Transfiguration, when the veils of the material world were drawn back.

But I wonder if the Cross brought the last lesson, maybe the lesson that Jesus had to teach God, if I may be permitted to put it so, which is the loss of God.  I don’t think you can know what it is to be a human, what our incarnation feels like, until you have some experience of radical, fundamental alienation, the experience of being alone in the universe.  Jesus didn’t even feel that in Gethsemane, that hour of agony.

So tonight I am sitting with the notion that the Incarnation was not complete, and reconcilation was not possible,  until Jesus could finally use the Psalmist’s words to describe his own condition: My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?  A death indeed, for one who had spoken of God as “Our father,” as the rock foundation, as the elusive, powerful, multiform Breath of life, the maker and fulfiller of promises.

Having given that shout from the cross, he gave up his spirit to the Hidden One, whose face he could not see, even though he had been raised up. When Jesus had said,  “Don’t be afraid of someone who can kill your body; instead be afraid of one who can cast your soul to destruction, along with your body, ”  he had not yet felt the loss of the soul from a body that nevertheless kept on going through the motions of life.

When he did, and his identity as the Son was shaken, then the last barrier between the Light and the Children of Light came down, and the incarnation was completed.  His followers, his friends — his Body — dwelt then for a while in the darkness into which he had gone, tasting his abandonment in their measure, until the Easter Nevertheless…, and then soon the Spirit came back into the body once more.


‡The Greek word translated as “reconcile” is an interesting one. A compound (whose root verb sometimes means “transform”), it seems to connote “to change a relationship from enmity to friendship.” **

** Thus, this passage echoes many others in Paul and in the gospels:  “Repent = change your mind/come back to your senses”; “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”;  “if any one is in Christ, they are a new creation”

“It don’t get easy” : reflections on a memorial minute [1]

03/27/2019 § Leave a comment

Hannah Stratton (1826-1903) was a minister of Ohio Yearly Meeting.  A reader who knows dates will see that she was a young adult at the time of the “Wilburite-Gurneyite” separation in Ohio (roughly 1854, but it was a long process, see Bill Taber’s The Eye of Faith for an account of this agonizing time).  She stayed with the Wilburite (more conservative) group, and lived out her active, useful life during a time of cultural flowering in that community.

In a recent review of my travel journals for the past few years, I discovered that in 2010, while I was at the Friends Center in Barnesville, OH,  I made some excerpts from her memorial minute (by New Garden Monthly Meeting of Friends at Winona, OH, 4/21/04.).  The following caught my eye:

After having passed through many deep preparatory baptisms, Hannah H. Stratton appeared in the weighty work of the ministry, and through faithful obedience to her Divine Lord and Master she grew in her gift and was acknowledged a minister in the year 1869.
“After having for many years engaged in the work, she remarked to a younger friend, ‘It don’t get easy.’ In our religious meetings the weightiness of her spirit and her humble, reverent waiting for the arising of Divine Life were instructive, not daring to open her lips without feeling a renewed qualification and necessity laid upon her to stand forth in the work. Thus, her ministry partook of the savor of life, and was sound and edifying, reaching to the witness for Truth in the hearts of those who heard her…. Soon after returning [a minute for travel in 1901-2] she penned the following: ‘I feel that, as I am nearing the setting sun of life, I may be released from this awfully responsible field of labor.’

In this post and the next, I reflect on some points that caught my eye.

A. Why is the work “weighty”?   We say that all kinds of service are important but it is clear from experience that each has its peculiar qualities — demands, trials, temptations, rewards, learning-curves.   The [vocal] ministry is exercised at moments of intensified awareness of the presence of God, and our own presence with Him. At such times, people are likely to be at their most open and vulnerable (or receptive) to events or impressions that either help or hinder the soul. That in itself is a realization that can make one very hesitant to break the silence.

Moreover, the instrumentality is words, and it takes just a little thought to recognize how many choices and chances come into play — timing, choice of words, tone of expression, knowing when to stop [recall John Churchman’s meditations on the variability of the organs and processes of speech for expressiveness — that sober Friend had thought acutely about what happens once you get to your feet, intending to speak “as the oracles of God”!]

Now, we Quakers assert and affirm that when we undertake speech in a religious context, and with a spiritual intent, we are doing so under the guidance, and at the instigation, of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and more particularly, we are acting as organs of the body of Christ, and serving as one means of nourishing the health and growth of that body, and thus are enacting in our measure a share of Christ’s works of teaching, encouragement, warning, way-finding.

However, though we are acting with God’s enablement and preparation, it is in and through our own “earthen vessels”.   We must trust therefore that personality and its complications can be trained and guided by the “ordering of the Holy Spirit,” and the process — its marks and its results — can itself be an important evidence of the work (or not) of the Healer and Teacher whose advocates the minister claims to be. A perspicacious Friend introducing the Life of Samuel Scott (1719–1788) wrote of the “vast variety of dispositions which are found amongst mankind [sic]”

…which the operations of grace do not destroy, but purify and direct: so that the lively in a state of nature will be found lively in a state of grace; and the zealous in nature will be found zealous in grace; but lively in a different pursuit, and zealous for the attainment of a different object. When the heavenly principle is in dominion, this variety, which in fallen nature tends to disorder, is reduced into harmony, and forms a body, or whole, inexpressibly beautiful….But when any of these temperaments predominate, unseasoned by grace, they cast a shade upon, or place in an unjust view, the ways of Divine Wisdom; the paths of pleasantness and peace.
The melancholic temperament appears occasionally to have prevailed in the author of the following Diary: which, when seasoned and regulated by grace, has been deemed the most favorable to a religious life, being in its nature fixed, retentive, and circumspect, prone to search, and anxious to ascertain, yet cautious in receiving important truths, but, when received, tenacious in retaining them; but which, in some instances, it is to be feared, produced in S. Scott sadness, where joy might well have prevailed.

But it is encouraging and instructive to observe, how, through all the conflicts and baptisms to which such a disposition appears more peculiarly liable, there lived that, which many waters could not quench, or the grave retain; and this at times in Samuel Scott beautifully broke through the dark clouds, and showed that all beyond was harmony and light; of which there is no doubt his afflicted anxious soul at length gained permanent possession, when the work was finished, and the ternpestuous waves for ever ceased to rage.

B. “It don’t get easy.” The stress, burden, difficulty of work in the ministry, of course, takes different forms for each of us, as the passage about Samuel Scott implies. Part of the minister’s (lifelong!) apprenticeship comes of reckoning with, and gradually being freed from our sins, fears, preferences, addictions, or habituated limitations.

In these departments of the work, we can be helpful to each other in obvious ways — the shy can comfort the shy, the garrulous can explore how to make their words fewer & less ready, under discipline; the knowing, the judgmental, and so on.

Once we are launched in the service, that is, once we accept that part of our own growth in faithfulness is to be intentionally active in the service of the ministry. we start to confront, experience, and have to make sense (1Tim. 4:16) of what happens — in the world, and in ourselves — when we act with intentionality and consciousness: Was I really called? Was it the right time? Was I faithful? What should I learn from the reception of what I offered? Why did I feel less peace when I sat down? Plus there all the ego needs we have, as vulnerable atoms, for approval, reassurance,  and some sense of status (or, more charitably) being valued by our community.

With time one can learn to see this kind of thing coming over you, and develop some disciplines for getting atop them [O Lord, make haste to help me!], but certainty or confidence cannot rest on one’s own strength, alertness, or experience.  The dependence is on the One whose life we want to serve. So I can feel (in my measure) what Hannah meant when she said, “It don’t get easy!”

Echoes and challenge

03/25/2019 § 2 Comments

This is not a blog post, really, but a scrap from my reading, and an echo.

My prayer life, such as it is, is frequently engaged with the question or possibility of unity among Friends (one tiny tiny piece of the big puzzle of human flourishing). This is coming back to me with some poignancy, as I am working on a revision of my book on Gospel Ministry, and reflecting therefore on the little that I understand of the gospel life.  For any who want to work in parallel with me, I am holding these two pieces (among others) alongside Romans 14.


First, Here’s the scrap from my reading:

The so-called “second letter of Clement to the Corinthians” is one of the writings called the “Apostolic Fathers.”  The edition I have conjectures that this is not really a letter, but a sermon from the early second century.

In chapter 14, we find this:

So, brethren, in doing the will of God, our father, we will be of the first church, the spiritual church, created before the sun and the moon.  But if we do not do the Lord’s will, then we are described by this scripture:  ‘My house has become a den of thieves.’  Therefore, let us choose the church of life.

remembering that “church” still has the connotation of “gathering”.

The echo:  This brought to mind Margaret Fell’s account of her first encounter with George Fox:

he went on and said, How that Christ was the Light of the world and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this Light they might be gathered to God, etc. And I stood up in my pew, and I wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the Scriptures, and said, ‘The Scriptures were the prophets’ words and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed and had it from the Lord’. And said, ‘Then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves’… I saw it was the truth, and I could not deny it

noting that the foundation of Fox’s message is the teaching of John’s gospel, about the nature of the Light and the challenge to be gathered with the prophets, the apostles, in the light of Christ.

And then I thought of Romans 14.

and 1 Corinthians, chapters 1 and 2.

To be continued, I expect.

The healing of Jairus’s daughter and the parable of the talents

03/19/2019 § 2 Comments

I was reading Matthew 9 the other day, and a detail in the story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter caught my attention, and has stayed with me. Jesus is brought to where the girl is lying, and he says to the people in the room, “She is not dead, she’s only sleeping.” Not for the last time, he is not taken seriously, but he keeps his focus on the girl’s health, and returns her to her family. In the version in Mark 5, she begins to walk around, and Jesus makes sure that her family feeds her.

This has taken hold in my mind, not as yet another sign of Jesus’ authority, but as an enacted parable, demonstrating a lesson Jesus teaches more than once:  You must learn to see, to hear, with spiritual senses. It’s a thing I have written about before (e.g here and in my little studies of verbs of seeing in John’s Gospel– you can find them by searching in the blog on “seeing”).  When you learn to see with the spiritual eye, or hear with the spiritual ear, the world is revealed in different colors, and hitherto invisible meanings are available to you, and opportunities for service and for joy open before you that you were unaware of before.  When Jesus makes the troubling assurance that his followers, his friends, will do even greater things than he has done, isn’t this “seeing with new eyes,” (or rather the eyes of the first creation, when Wisdom moved as God’s fellow worker in delight)  the key that unlocks, and opens to that enlarged life?

When a disciple tells Jesus that he can’t follow Jesus’ call yet, because he must bury  his father, Jesus counters that “God is the God of the living: Let the dead bury their dead.”  He must be speaking of spiritual death and spiritual living.  His disciple has started on the path of new life, and he cannot tarry even a day or two in the journey before him, or he may slip back into the unseeing state from which he had been awakened (like Jairus’s daughter).

Now recall the warning, prompted by the parable of the talents (or the “ten minas” in Luke),  that those who have, will receive more, and those who have not will lose the little they have.  The servant who hid away the value entrusted to him, fearing to lose it, is rebuked by the master who gave it to him, because he did not put it to work.

I can only reconcile this to the rest of the Gospel message by understanding it as another example of spiritual sight or blindness.  The servants who took the money and multiplied it saw it as an opportunity for growth, a gift from the master’s abundance, which became for them a way to increase their substance.    The timid servant saw it only as an inert thing, rather than a seed, and did not work with it while he had the freedom (and the master’s trust) to do so.

When, as a child, I heard the parable of the talents, I strained to understand how I was to  know what to do— or even how to know what my talents were.  Or when Jesus says “Those that have ears to hear, let them hear!” — could I hear?  If I couldn’t, how could I become able to do so?

But we have to do, I came to see, with a living God (whatever God may be!), ” the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.”  The same Jesus who sets such paradoxes also says that we need to become (again) as children, being born afresh from above, trusting that for the soul’s life, our divine parent, being spirit, has placed us in a spiritual environment in which we may inquire, confident as a longing baby is, that we will be given nourishment, not mockery (not a stone but bread).

The key, Oh when we have the simple heart, is to ask, and we will receive the bread for this day’s work;  knock, and and we will be enabled to see within;  seek, and we will see a way towards our desire.  If you long for the Kingdom of Heaven, then long for it, accept and use the gifts that come from the Giver,  and do not worry about the rest.    Fear not, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom, to place us there, giving us the senses to see, act, and dwell there, exiles no more.


Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation gave unto me another smell than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness; being renewed into the image of God by Christ Jesus, to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell. The creation was opened to me; and it was showed me how all things had their names given them according to their nature and virtue. (George Fox)


Nurturing ministers Case study #3: Encouraging an experienced traveler

03/14/2019 § 2 Comments

John Griffith (1713-1776), born in Wales, emigrated with his elder brother to Pennsylvania There he established home and work, began a family, and found himself called into the ministry. His journal is full of interest.

When his wife died, leaving him with small children, he placed these with relatives for care and upbringing, because he felt that his calling to the ministry was about to require him to be free to move as called. In 1747, he was led to return to Great Britain. He had an adventurous voyage, during which his ship was captured by a French privateer, and the ship’s company was taken prisoner to France.  Eventually, after a brief captivity,  John arrived in England.  He visited his mother and siblings, but spent much of two years traveling in England, Ireland, and Wales.
In the course of his labors in Yorkshire, Griffith and his companion were hosted by David Hall and his wife, where he was refreshed, while having opportunities to minister to Friends and others in the region, until he was called elsewhere. A few days along, he received the following letter from David Hall.  It is worth taking a little time over, so I reproduce it here in full.

Dear Friend John Griffith
In the sweet spirit and fellowship of the everlasting and glorious gospel of peace, I hereby kindly salute thee, and thy dear companion and fellow-labourer, in the acceptable work thou art now engaged in; not forgetting his worthy consort, Margaret, when thou seest her.
Be not at all discouraged on any account, for I trust thy good Lord and master, whom thou serves, who made thee willing to leave thy outward habitation, and little ones, and to traverse the rugged ocean with thy life in thy hand, as an ambassador in Christ’s stead, to preach glad tidings of good things to the meek; to call upon and rouse the indolent and careless; to direct the straying sheep unto the fold of rest; to raise the drooping ones, that are now too low, and endeavour to bring down the lofty, that are too high, to the true centre, even the midst of the path of judgment: in short, to bring unto us the pledges of thy master’s love and thine, and to receive ours; who, after he had in his wisdom and counsel, suffered thee to be taken captive for the trial of thy faith, in mercy ransomed thee as an evidence of his power, will never leave thee nor forfake thee.
I have unity with thy spirit, gift, and with the manner of the administration thereof. I intreat thee, dear brother, keep to thy steady bottom way. The present state of the church loudly calls upon us, for the entire resignation, faith, hope, charity, and patience of the ministers of the gospel.
The diversities of gifts, operations, and administrations, from the one spirit, are beautiful and ferviceable: as the stars in the firmament are not all of one magnitude; have not all one station nor degree of lustre, but are each ornamental and serviceable, in their respective places and seasons. The Lord bless thee, be thy shield and exceeding great reward in time here, and in eternity hereafter.
Now as the apostle, in a paternal way, adviscd his son Timothy, to drink no longer water, but use a little wine for his stomach’s sake, and his often infirmities, I desire, as thou servest not an austere man, or hard mastcr, but the most merciful and bountiful King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, thou wilt take due care of thyself, and rightly consider thy constitu­tion. Do not drive on too fast in this cold climate, and season of the year. I consider, nets are not always to be spread and cast into the sea, but sometimes to be mended and repaired.
Thou finds the good seed lies low in many bosoms, and many meetings ; experience teaches thee, that where and when our master suffers, who said, ‘Where I am, there shall my servant be’,  we ought to be content to suffer with him; that when he reigns, we may also reign with him: shall the servant think to reign, when and where his Lord and master suffereth?
There are, my dear friend, thou knowest, times of sitting at the king’s gate ; a safe, honourable, and profitable situation, previous to advancement. They that are faithful in this low, safe sitting, in due time receive a call from the king to put on his royal robes, mount his horse and ride around, which is a high dignity and a high day; yet those so favoured, must not expect always to sit in that saddle, nor always to be cloathcd witb that royal apparel, but as certainly dismount, as ever they mounted and must by no means forget the road to the honourable king’s-gate, and their honourable seat there.
We should be glad to see thee here once more. Pray write to us. My wife joins with me in dear love to thee, and those above-mentioned.

I am thy truly affectionate friend,
David Hall.


I see several points in this letter that are good to reflect on, as we consider the renewal of a vibrant Friends ministry for our times.

  1. David Hall gives affirmation of Griffith’s calling to travel, and of the way he has carried out the task assigned.  It’s one thing to set off with the unity of your meeting.  It’s quite another to be out there in the exercise of the gift over a period of weeks or years, and stay clear that you are on the right path.  Friends traditionally got this kind of “check in” in various ways.  If a minister came within the bounds of a meeting, and felt led to visit families, she would ask for clearness from the local ministers & elders.  If she were just appointing a few meetings, and “taking meetings in the way” (that is, attending regularly scheduled meetings for worship that come up along the way), she would make a local meeting aware of her presence and concern, but not normally need approval — the letter from the home meeting(s) providing enough warrant, unless something out of the ordinary took place.   Hall here gives Griffith the assurance of a Friend “well grown in the Truth” that all seems well with the traveler.
  1. Hall also provided an affirmation of the importance of diligence and dedication (consecration) to the work, of which there was such need — and still is.  He spoke appreciatively of Hall’s following his leading, which was proving arduous, and pointing out how iimportant such a service is. Moreover, by pointing out the basic lesson that the gifts poured out by the spirit of Christ are diverse, and the diversity is a strength and a source of joy to the spiritual eye.  So he is urging Griffith in his work to keep close to the gift he is given, because it has a beauty and appropriateness of its own.
  2. Yet Hall also advised Griffith to remember that every worker must rest and be renewed or healed from their labors.  The fundamental point is that this work is not to be carried out in one’s own strength, nor in violation of the constraints of our condition.  Be diligent, by all means, and be earnest to do all that is possible — but do not push so fast and hard that the instrument (the person) is made unfit for further service.
  3. Hall sees and names a need  for fresh and diligent workers, based on the low condition of the spiritual life in many.  “Low” might mean then what it means now:  a complacency with  one’s condition, and a coolness in one’s relationship to the spiritual community.  This is often manifest as an unteachableness — an unwillingess to receive warning, instruction, or invitation from the Spirit, whether directly or through some other means, such as a rightly-employed minister.  “All we like sheep are gone astray, every one to his own way.”
  4. Hall reminds Griffith of a core piece of the minister’s work, which is to feel for where the Seed is suffering, to partake of (be baptized into) that suffering, and then offer what is given at Christ’s direction for the healing of the people, and the removal of the oppression.  Thus, the minister must be listening and get self (prior conceptions, prejudices) out of the way, so as to see, in truth, the condition as it is opened to him.  This is why ministers were advised not to consult with people in the meeting about issues or concerns, until the minister has had a chance to worship with the ecommunity, and feel how its life is.  After such an entry into reverent, simple attention, and an offering of what arises from the Spirit, then the minister might enter into conversation — carefully — if he or she is asked to provide insight into a problem in the meeting, or even help in a dispute.  But:
  5. Hall again stresses the importance of waiting to be called to undertake any or all service, and this is particularly important for the traveling Friend, away from her home context, tired perhaps from weeks of travel and intense attentiveness.  But this is not just about carefulness, caution, circumspection:  keeping close to the Guide is also a reliable source of joy and refreshment, whether in waiting or in going an errand on behalf of Love.

What a sympathetic and deeply experienced voice Hall reveals here, and how fully he has considered John Griffith’s condition, and desired to be serviceable both to the man and to the One who has sent him out — Speed the work!


For Friends in Europe or British Isles, August workshop

03/08/2019 § 2 Comments

I am leading a workshop at Glenthorne (in Grasmere, Cumbria) on the first weekend in August.
Here is a link to Glenthorne’s website, and here is a short description of the workshop:


Friday 2nd – Sunday 4th August – A Language for the Inward Landscape
Led by Brian Drayton
From the beginning, Quakerism developed ways to describe the fresh, often subtle spiritual experiences of individuals and of meetings: the words they used gives an insight to traditional Quaker spirituality and into the Spirit’s motions in our own day. It can also help us better understand the rich store of Quaker literature and past lives. We will delve into this language and our own spiritual lives and Meetings. Brian has travelled extensively among Friends and published several widely-used resources including  A language for the Inward Landscape (2015), On living with a concern for Gospel ministry (second edition to appear in 2019), and Pendle Hill pamphlets Getting Rooted and James Naylor Speaking.
12 places: £250

“Feel after the pure life”: a letter from Joan Vokins to Friends

03/08/2019 § 2 Comments

This an extract from a letter sent in 1669 by Joan Vokins to Friends.  It is taken from a book of her writings entitled God’s mighty power magnified, published in 1691 after her death.  (You can find it here).  I have lightly edited the punctuation for easier reading.

…Dear hearts, it is in my heart to stir you up to feel after the pure life, if haply you may find it. Whilst the fountain is open, be ye not negligent., nor unfaithful ; but be faithful and obe­dient, that so through the faith that purifies the heart, you may draw. water at the fountain of life, and feel its recourse into your souls,  the virtue whereof makes the souls of the obedient fruitful and increasing in God’s love, and in their unity with each other.

But where the current is stopped, and the life hath not its free course, there death is over the soul, profess what they will ; yea, though they may life in the very form of truth.

Therefore, dear friends…I do exhort you all to be diligent, to keep your meetings, and assemble yourselves often together.  Let not the gain of the perishing things hinder you of the gain of that which will never perish; for verily there is none can witness a free recourse unto the fountain of life, but those whose hearts are gathered out of the perishing things ; and such do partake of the living springs, which do greatly refresh their im­mortal souls; and it is more to me than I can ex­press.

Therefore, dear hearts, think not your time long, neither let the world hinder, but keep your meetings frequently, there to wait with sincere hearts ; for those that so wait, never lose their reward.  Therefore be ye encouraged to wait upon the Lord, that in the pure refreshing life your souls may come to have an habitation, the which to know a dwelling and abiding in, is more precious than words can demonstrate.

Let patience have its perfect work in your hearts, that all prejudice may be kept out; for where envy and strife is, there is confusion. Therefore, dear friends, it concerns you all to dwell in the patience, and in the wisdom that comes from above, which is first pure, then peace­able, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

And so the God of peace establish your hearta in his everlasting truth and righteousness for ever. Amen.

I am your unfeigned Friend,  J.V.

This to be read amongst Friends.  The 3rd of the 11th month, 1669

If thou see the pure in bondage: a letter from William Dewsbury on practical christianity

02/24/2019 § Leave a comment

Dear Friends, meet often together in the Name and fear of the living God, and take heed of Words; see that the Witness speaks, which will cut down your own wills, and it will minister to the Wit∣ness in others, to the slaying of their wills; and take heed of watching over one another with an evil Eye, to spy out one another’s weakness, and declare it to others, and discover their nakedness; thou that art here art cursed Ham, and the Wrath of God will be revealed upon thee,

but watch one over another with a pure sin∣gle Eye, and if thou see the pure in Bondage in any one by the deceit, whisper thou not behind their back to others; but let the Witness in thee which sees the deceit, and suffers with the pure that is pressed down by it, let it declare and witness forth the minde of the living God against the deceit, and it will cut it down, and the pure holy Seed will be set at Liberty, and thy Con∣science will be kept clean unto the Lord in discharging thy Duty; and so will thy Captivated Brother or Sister be restored again forth of the Hand of the Destroyer, and then thou wilt have union together in that which is pure for ever in the Lord.

And the eternal God of Power keep you all his dear Children in his pure wisdom, to walk faithfully with him, and one with another, and the blessing of the Lord God almighty be with you all for ever, Amen.

How the Other People pray

02/18/2019 § 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, during the now-infamous encounter between the Omaha leader Nathan Phillips and the Catholic kids from Covington High School, I came across a thread of comments on Facebook, one of which ridiculed the idea that someone drumming and chanting could be called “prayer.” The comment’s language was dismissive; others on the thread agreed with the statement.

To borrow some George Fox language, these statements “struck at my life,” and I felt disgust and pain at the tone and the content of the comments. All the more, since some of the people on the thread, at least, seem to be commenting from the point of view of people who seem to think they know what “real” prayer is. In this post, a few reflections.

I was raised in a liturgical tradition (the Episcopal Church), which nourished me in many ways — including through the liturgy and the beautiful language of the prayers in the Common Prayer book (1927 edition!).  Some passages still come to mind, and are both comforting and meaningful, and I still sometimes read my old prayer book for devotional purposes.

But in the course of my spiritual journey,  I pondered what Jesus taught about worshipping God “in spirit and in truth,” and wondered what Paul meant by praying continually.  Encountering Merton, I heard about contemplative prayer, and that led me to other mystics.  When I came among Friends, I drank in the early Quaker insistence that prayers written by others (including the Psalms) were an expression of the authors’ conditions at the time.  They might be instructive, but they ought not to be used as my own, unless on a particular occasion they spoke my condition in a way that was truthful.

I found compelling the Quaker trust that God would lead a gathered people in the worship that they require  — the teaching (inward or outward), prayer, spiritual songs, etc, that Christ, the head of the church, our shepherd and bishop, led us into. The most important, the central fact of this, is the gathering in the presence of the Lord.  This is the one thing needful.

This felt deeply consonant with the gospel teachings, truthful, and liberating.

Now, I love music and group singing, I appreciate and can be moved by drama and the other arts used in liturgy — just as I am moved by poetry, natural beauty, and more.   But these are not worship.  They can sometimes set the table, or even arise from worship,  but they are not the thing itself.  So I enjoy a meeting that sings together on a First Day — but for me, it’s a transitional act, and not a substitute for the time of open worship under Christ’s leadership.  To my mind, true worship is encounter, conversation, meeting, with the living God, who thundered from Sinai, sent the prophets, and spoke through the voice of Christ — but before all that he walked in the garden with us, calling and speaking in the cool of the day. He came to us, and it was natural that we should be together.

Or again, I liken worship to what happens when you put a piece of iron in the forge, and turn up the blast.  When the metal is withdrawn from the fire, at a red or orange heat, it is malleable and plastic.  LIttle taps can correct superficial flaws, or straighten out unwanted bends or twists.    Under heavier blows, the skilled smith can transform the piece into a very different shape — that one piece might be shaped (or reshaped) to be a poker, a knife, a chisel, or a piece of a decorative screen or handrail.  When the metal is cooled, it is ready to do its work;  if the master intends to reshape it, then it must be made soft and pliable again, and cease from its  prior tasks, until the repair, the embellishment, the tempering,  or the re-shaping is complete. Worship is a time in which, with grace, we can be freed from our habitual selves, and be available to the creator again: “Behold, I will do a new thing, says the Lord.”

Well, that’s where I am, for what it’s worth.  Before going on, I will recount a humorous tale.  In case there are any nonQuakers reading this, I  provide a few contextual bits.

A Hicksite (who worshiped in the traditional Quaker style with no pre-arrangement and lots of silence) was friends with another Quaker of a different tradition (Gurneyite, many of whom in the late 1800s adopted a different mode of worship, with a designated preacher, congregational singing, etc. ) in his town.  The Gurneyite’s meeting, as they experimented with their worship, decided that they needed to buy an organ for the meetinghouse, to help support the hymns.  The two met on the road, and the Gurneyite, knowing that his friend would not be in agreement, nevertheless told him that he was going about fundraising for the organ.  The Hicksite looked at his Gurneyite friend for a while, and then put his hand in his pocket for some money, saying “Well, if thee must worship the Lord with machinery, I’d like thee to have the best.”

I have spoken of what “worship” means to me.  I will not, however,  judge others’ methods of worship, and though drumming and chanting is unfamiliar, it is pretty common in the human condition.  Prayer wheels, poetry, bells, rosaries (Christian, Buddhist or other), organs, electric guitars, pulpits, altars, fires burning incense or ghee or sacrificial animals — people have always wanted their worship to have a physical, sensual, and symbolic component, and to mark out some sacred space in time and awareness.

In every case, the machinery, the art, or the story-telling can be distracting, manipulative, or mere routine: the intent or focus is lost, and the ritual can become empty— giving the appearance of worship without the substance.  Even Quaker “silent” worship, which was discovered as people felt no life in the customary churches, can be empty, if we do not come with hearts and mind prepared.  The point is, is there two-way communication, and the chance of radical surprise?  After all, isn’t it supposed to be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God?

Yet God is not to be limited, and the possibility of true worship, true encounter,  is always there even in the most ornate of rituals (as many can testify!!!), because God is present and always calling us to relationship, encounter, reconciliation.  He comes to teach, to heal, and to baptize with fire and the holy spirit.  If those can happen for you in your form of worship, if they are live possibilities for you, then the worship, too, will be alive, and not solely a human performance.


P.S.  I cannot help adding here a note from the Quaker sage, John Woolman, as he was on his way to meet with a people whose ways and worship were alien to him.  Stuck in a dripping tent, in a rainstorm along the way through the forests, he took the time to ask himself (my words) “What am I doing here?!!”

 I was led to think on the nature of the exercise which hath attended me. Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them.


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