«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
Sometimes early Quakers qualified unity as being spiritual and spoke or wrote of ‘spiritual unity’160 or ‘our unity in the Spirit’.161 Although this use of terms is not sufficiently defining to provide an unequivocal interpretation, it is a phrasing that seems consistent with the second account of Unity indicated above. Isaac Penington, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice, suggests the need for ‘feel[ing] the same Spirit’162 and, again ‘the same Spirit and life’.163 This suggests more than mere agreement, it is Unity that is a way of being and living together.164 Here is, in the latter, no joining of entities but a merging into and expansion on the level of Oneness.165 Self-evidently this is not a reference to physical or material unity, but rather to Unity of consciousness in spiritual experiencing.166
163 QFP, 27.13.
164 This is discussed more fully in chapter 5 and on Thomas Kelly in Appendix 1. Analogously the difference between Friends’ togetherness in F/friendship and their unity in Eternal Being is like the difference between beads strung closely together on a thread, and globules of mercury, which, once they touch, form a single pool.
165 Subsequently, in this thesis, this distinction will be maintained and where the term ‘Unity’ is employed it will be in the latter sense (profound oneness in the Spirit, singleness of consciousness in the Life), otherwise the terms agreement, concord or fellowship are applied.
166 Except in the sense in which the Church is sometimes described as ‘the body of Christ’.
89 This more profound understanding of Unity relates closely to King’s recognition that ‘There is no real unity between merely human natures’. 167 King is right to observe that knowledge, no matter the quantity, is not the means to unity. ‘It is in living unity with the power, and seed, with Christ, who is eternal and without beginning or ending, that man has life, for Christ is that life.’ Unity in the life of God through Christ is, then, for Fox true Unity that is known experientially in the self and thus united in the same living presence in others.
This second interpretation of Unity allows for an understanding that multiplicity and diversity are still part of a person’s outwardly active life; their personality, their gifts and their behaviours and involvements remain different and distinct. However, on the level of their consciousness the person is attuned perpetually to oneness with God: Oneness predominates in experience. It is the sharing in this all-embracing Oneness that opens Unity as a reality rather than as an idea. In accord with 1 Cor. 10:17, this suggests a humanity ‘united in the same mind and the same purpose’ bestowed ‘through the mind of Christ’. (1 Cor. 2:16) It is, in addition, a promise of greater knowing of God in the self and of more to be experienced that is yet to come, as shown in Figure 6 (in chapter 6).
2.6 Fox’s Quakerism in the context of Mysticism Even if not a mystic of the stature of some others, Fox’s ‘openings’ and accounts of deep experience place him in the stream of mysticism. His teaching, thus demonstrates a developed sense of mystical concern.168 The examples of ‘great’ mystics’ statements, and informative theoretical considerations, provide a wealth of material for understanding the ‘world’ of mysticism and George Fox’s place within it. It is, furthermore, unsurprising that the spiritual religion that he developed engages a contemplative practice that has mystical characteristics.
These concern: a) the focus of engagement in such practice, b) the nature of experience
167 King, Light Within, p. 154.
168 Academic researchers connect description and interpretation of experience, recognition of the purpose of spiritual practices and evaluation of stages of spiritual development. In the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries, analysis of mysticism, and Quakerism in the context of mysticism, benefits from an age and culture that afford both a long view (historical) and a broad one (geographical).
The discussion that follows only provides a sketch of examples that have significance within Quakerism and also in other mystical practices. The section is important, however, as it affords comparison between Quaker practice and other mystical practices to show how the purpose of Quaker worship compares with other approaches to spiritual development.
Carmody and Carmody, in writing of the experience of Jesus, outline a significant
experience and suggest that:
... one could call the intimacy of the man Jesus, his full identification with his Father, mystical, if only because it seems to have gone far beyond the ordinary unions with God that human beings have reported, into a directly experiential union with ultimate reality. 169 However, it is argued here that this ‘directly experiential union with ultimate reality’ is just the unmediated depth of experience that mystics refer to, and claim as their own. It is suggested that what Carmody and Carmody perceive in the experience of Jesus could be taken as a model for the mystical potential of all mankind. When a person seeks God in the manner of the commandment (Mark 12 30-31), with all his or her heart and mind and loves his or her neighbour as the self, that person demonstrates devotion to the search for ultimate fulfilment in God – ‘beyond the ordinary unions with God’.170 The above represents a description of the life of the mystic, which also describes the life of the early Quakers and some present day Friends. More modest descriptions include Macquarrie’s suggestion that the mystic seeks a closer relation to God than most people and ‘has an intense experience of the holy, a contact with the divine, probably in itself 169 Carmody, D.L and Carmody, J.T. Mysticism: Holiness East and West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) p. 196.
170 This point is made in recognition of the Trinitarian perspective, which would argue for a degree of separation between human beings and God even in their deepest experience of union. See also William Johnston, below, on Oriental and Christian Nothingness.
The Christian interpretation that is associated both with Fox and, for example, Julian of Norwich resonates with Maurice Creasey’s claim for the Christological framework as making most sense in explaining the purpose of spiritual practice. Any effort or struggle on the part of the individual is justified in relation to the suffering of Christ for mankind.
Augustines’s clear example of the difficulties of seeking offers a model with which some Quakers can empathise:171 The way is not always easy but it is nonetheless compelling. 172 Those individuals, Quakers included, who demonstrate a tendency to mysticism engage in a life-long pursuit with all the urgent need that this involves (for example, Penington and Woolman in the past).173 Examples concerning the nature of experience provide possibilities for in-depth examination and for cross-referencing Quakerism and other approaches to mystical practice.174 The usefulness of the comparison adds depth to insights gained and to their description and interpretation. Consideration of the relationship between human effort (quest) and God’s grace (gift), with reference to spiritual practice, relate to Friends as much as to any other individuals and groups, who are engaged in mystical practices.
McGrath identifies three positions: 1) need for human kind to work towards spiritual 171 Blaiklock, E. M. (Trans) The Confessions of St. Augustine Book 3 ‘Son of tears’ ‘Way of restlessness’. Also Book 8, various ‘musings’ p. 173-184 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983).
172 See section 2.3.2.
173 The writer of this thesis had her first mystical experience at the age of 13, following which most of her life has been a spiritual/mystical engagement. This has included significant periods of retreat, silence and solitude in many parts of the world. She has also been concerned for and involved in the spiritual development of others, in the role of teacher and spiritual mentor. Most recently she has taught contemplative practice workshops based on the Quaker spiritual practice outlined in this thesis.
174 This exercise falls outside the possibility of the present research other than as expressed in this sketch of relevant issues. However, it is suggested here that such comparison and analysis would form a useful further study into the nature of mystical engagement.
92 development, 2) the grace of God as exclusive and, 3) that spiritual development is the result of human effort in conjunction with God’s grace.175 For most Quakers 3 is the norm.176 Quakers engage in their mode of contemplation in order to put themselves in the way of God’s gift; although acknowledging also that spontaneous illumination/revelation may occur. This falls outside the steady consistency of spiritual practice.177 In general, however, it is the regularity of Meeting for Worship that is held as most important for Friends, especially following Fox’s injunction to ‘Keep your Meetings’.178 The intent and purpose of spiritual practice and its resultant development of experience is to gain intimacy with what Fox terms ‘Eternal Being’, an expansive experience, which is often regarded as being beyond description.179 However, as suggested by Maquarrie, even if the experience itself is wordless, attempts can be made at verbal interpretation after the event.
Carmody and Carmody acknowledge the ‘limits of all language in the face of Ultimate Reality.’180 It is this view which correlates with apophatic theology, i.e. the view that human concepts fail inevitably as descriptions of God, the Ultimate Reality, Eternal Being. A descriptive term proposed is ‘divine darkness’, and it is this darkness that kataphatic theologians regard as infinite, omnipresent and Absolute. God is described in various superlatives and by metaphor. The ‘divine darkness’ is said to be ‘brilliant’.
179 See also Carmody and Carmody, Mysticism, ‘Ultimate Reality’, p. 10-14. In general understandings of such experience are described within the theologies of apophaticism [g] and kataphaticism [g]. The apophatic regards mystical experience as being beyond verbal expression and the kataphatic approach uses ordinary everyday language to attempt the difficult task of describing that which is often regarded as being ‘beyond words’. Each mode of interpretation finds its place within Quakerism. There are Friends, and others, who declare deep experience to be inexpressible, yet engage in lengthy verbal accounts.
180 Carmody and Carmody, ibid, p. 204.
93 William Johnston’s discussion of Oriental and Christian Nothingness provides some insight into the expansive ‘void’ of ‘brilliant darkness’ that seems beyond description to some mystics, and many Quakers. As Johnston makes clear there is considerable difference between Oriental understanding of Nothingness and the Christian interpretation of its experience. He claims, however, that there are also points of similarity. He argues that the Oriental view can be seen in terms of the sense of positivity in which, as likened to Julian of Norwich’s words, ‘All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well’.181 In addition, Johnston emphasises that the negative descriptions of Oriental Nothingness are akin to the apophatic mode of understanding. In both cases it seems that the mystic experiences may relate to what scientists of the twenty first century refer to as ‘the void that is not nothing’: this void, for scientists, is the hotbed of creation.182 Much work may yet remain to be done on the interpretation of the Oriental, Christian and scientific accounts of no-thingness. However, it does seem likely that there is analogous understanding, where experience (or knowledge, in the case of science) is described.
The strict separation of apophaticism and kataphaticism is not a requisite of Quaker theology. If distinction is made it is argued here that it is between description of deep spiritual experience per se and any post event reflections. Like others before them, and in particular the Victorines,183 the Quakers adopt a synthesis in which the nature and purpose of contemplative activity are interpreted in terms of love as allowing knowledge and the taste of the love of God. 184 181 Johnston, W. The Inner Eye of Love : Mysticism and Religion (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1981), p. 113.
182 Prof. Jim Al Khalili, asks ‘the meaning of the void’ and ‘whether we can ever truly have completely empty space’, concluding that this is unlikely, as he discusses forthcoming television programmes entitled ‘Everything and Nothing’ (Information accessed from Prof. Al Khalili’s personal website. 15.6.15).
Chase, S. Contemplation and Compassion–The Victorine Tradition, (London: Darton, Longman 183 and Todd, 2003). Concerning Love and Knowledge as spiritual categories. ‘Compassion in Victorine spirituality is that form of Christian love that expresses love of God through love of neighbour and which brings a complimentary (sic) balance to contemplation.’ p. 87.
184 See Barclay’s Apology p. 295 with reference to Bernard and Bonaventure.
94 Each of these examples, concerning the purpose of engagement in spiritual practice contributes a) to cross-referencing Quakerism and other approaches to mystical practices, and b) to aspects of their interpretation in line with different, but potentially related, perspectives.
The notion of growth of measure provides a concept that members of the Religious Society of Friends accept readily. Furthermore, they understand this growth in relation to the Light: Light that is often interpreted as known in and through Christ, available to mankind as the Holy Spirit. However, if it is understood that this Light is co-extensive with all life and living the question arises as to whether the Light itself can grow. It might be argued that it is more appropriate to consider that development is rather to do with the enlivenment, in conscious acquaintance, of that which is already present. Inwardness is enlivened through contemplative practice, and enhances perception within both inwardness and outwardness.
Table 6 (chapter 6) outlines the manner in which personal spiritual development can be described both independently of and in conjunction with behavioural parallels.