«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
However, Friends do not place great emphasis on personal spiritual development as significant experience beyond all else. Fox’s concern with growth of measure does prevail but it is expected to inform behaviours. Quakers teach the fact of equality, social justice and political action, (testimony), as outcomes of their religion. Emphasis on levels of personal growth, described in terms of levels of consciousness, acknowledges the possibility of engagement in a spiritual practice that gives rise to such growth, but also endorses a parallel between Quaker contemplative engagement and other approaches to and explanations of stages of spiritual development, and their consequences for living.
Examples for consideration include Bernard of Clairvaux’s ‘stages of love’,185 Jan Van Ruysbroek’s discussion of active life, the interior or yearning life and the contemplative
The Victorine understanding is of particular relevance since it includes explanations termed ‘higher levels of knowing’. 189 These describe spiritual ascent within a structure of development involving six different kinds of contemplation. Whilst there is no direct connection between the Victorine scale and the levels of development shown in Table 6 to exemplify the potential of Quaker spiritual practice, a comparison is viable. It is important to the argument of this thesis in its assertion that spiritual growth is progressive and that stages are, potentially, distinguishable. The reason for emphasising this point is due to recognition that the Quaker view of equality is averse to notions of hierarchy within spiritual experience and knowledge. It is argued here, nonetheless, that this position is untenable and that the possibility of spiritual development, as growth of measure, is entailed in Fox’s preaching. It is further endorsed in other mystical teachings and records, and evident in some, though admittedly not many, Quaker writings.
Each of these explanations of spiritual development as process and path, even when different in emphasis, shares the recognition that it is possible to engage in modes of practice that facilitate growth towards the Divine. In the light of these other examples the Quaker spiritual practice, as identified in this thesis, together with the outcomes discussed, can be seen as analogous. It is thus meaningful to consider Quakerism as a mystical religion in which contemplative practice is at the heart. Rufus Jones adopted this position, asserting that Friends took readily to ‘ways of worship that encourage and assist mystical experience’.190 Although there has been much discussion about, and indeed criticism of, Jones’ view, there has also been some support for a renewed consideration and a rethinking
189 Note Chase, Contemplation and Compassion, ‘the anagogic ascent into God’, p. 82;
‘consciousness of God is a way of life’ p. 116.
190 Jones, R. The Faith and Practice of the Quakers (Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press, 1980), p. 46.
96 of his position.191 Jones claimed that Quakers were, in the seventeenth century, involved in ‘a mystical group experience of a mild and unecstatic type’. 192 Jones’s view on the mystical component of Quakerism is, to a large extent, consistent with the claims of this thesis. The argument here, which gives emphasis to explaining 1) the process of Quaker spiritual practice, as contemplative, and 2) its developmental nature, whilst it accepts relevance to the present day, at the same time questions the inevitability of a Christian interpretation. The detailed understanding of the process of Quaker spiritual practice initiated by Fox as presented in this thesis, and its systematised analysis, have the potential to be applied to or compared with other contemplative practices: as such the thesis makes a contribution to ongoing scholarship on mysticism.
This chapter has provided the framework to show how differentiated ‘threads’ of George Fox’s ministry interweave in a variety of ways. These ‘threads’ appear and reappear in a manner which gradually gives rise to a ‘tapestry’ of concerns that provide insights into a spiritual practice that, it is claimed in this thesis, became distinctively Quaker, and intended for use in Quaker Meeting for Worship. These ‘threads’ are now presented for consideration, firstly as a conclusion to the chapter; secondly to identify key characteristics of Fox’s understanding of Inwardness; and thirdly in order to indicate their relationship with reference to the spiritual practice that Fox initiated. Thus this conclusion to chapter 2 sets out to clarify the process that facilitates what Fox seems to have envisaged as the means for his followers to ‘turn within’. It will be shown subsequently that this practice is one that offers both depth and breadth of spiritual experience on the path to Unity.
The chapter has identified key characteristics of Fox’s understanding of an approach to Inwardness as settling/calming into stillness, development of silence, use of attentive presence, need for heart awareness in focus to God, importance of purity in uncluttered
97 consciousness, discernment leading to spiritual growth, and resultant unity. These terms relate to Conditions that support experience 1) settling/calming into stillness and 2) silence.
Once given or gained193 the Conditions facilitate 3) attentive presence, 4) heart awareness, and 5) focus to God that affords 6) purity. Following in this sequence there is the possibility of an intensity of Elements including 7) discernment 8) growth, and the outcome that results in, or may become, 9) Unity.194 Thus turning inward in stillness, silence and attentive waiting are necessary for personal and corporate development into u/Unity, both understood in terms of togetherness in the Fellowship of living and togetherness in Oneness of Eternal Being.
A degree of emphasis has been placed on clarifying the nature of Unity in two different interpretations in order to ensure that the significance of the practice is fully appreciated: the significance of the practice is in fact that it leads to Unity in its second and most profound interpretation. The practicalities of the first interpretation, as discussed in 2.5.1, are, it is argued, an automatic result of the second if achieved.
Section 2.6 has emphasised the fact that parallel or analogous explanations of other mystical teachings offer useful insights into Fox’s Quakerism.
To some extent, discussion of such an intense and deeply profound experience, as Inwardness, in terms of Conditions and Elements is a simplification that is questionable. It is justified here as offering a means to clarify aspects of the experience in order better to understand the processes and states under discussion. Thus, using the methodological approach outlined in 1.5.2, the list in Table 2 has been collated from relevant texts. It offers the possibility of ‘check-marks’ from which the very density of experience becomes fathomable by identifying and confirming the relationships between significant concepts. Once acknowledged these concepts are used to show how the interiorisation of spiritual practice has the potential to progress. Drawing out the consequences of the concepts separately and in combination 193 In this thesis recognition is given to the fact that for Quakers Inwardness, as a profound spiritual experience is, in the main, gained through Meeting for Worship. (See Table 1, Meeting for Worship). It is acknowledged, however, that such experience is sometimes ‘given’ spontaneously and unexpectedly, as in Christian terminology ‘by grace’; See also Casey, M. Sacred Reading: the Ancient Art of Lectio Divina (Missouri: Liguori Publications, 1996).
194 All further reference to Conditions and Elements as explained and used in this thesis are given upper case to distinguish from use of terms with different or more general meanings.
98 allows for building the theoretical perspective that informs ongoing discussion. This same process is used in chapter 3 on Penington, chapter 4 on Barclay and chapter 5 on the modern period. Summary charts in chapter 6 demonstrate the fact that these concepts are crucial to understanding the consistency of Quaker spiritual practice since its inception in the seventeenth century as discussed in this thesis.
The texts identified for analysis, from Fox, Penington, Barclay and representatives of the twenty/twenty-first centuries are replete with information in view of which selection of quotations has been written into the main script, then designated for placement within the relevant tables. The purpose of examination in these subsequent texts is to consider how well matched Penington and Barclay, and then authors of the modern period, seem to Fox’s initial teaching. It was the intention therefore to consider whether the work of these authors actually corresponds with the concepts identified in Fox. This was found to be so.
If alternative concepts had seemed more important in their teaching, these would have been noted and discussed. However, in the course of the research it became clear that the approaches to gaining Inwardness, recognised as significant for Fox, were also the ones that Penington, Barclay and writers of the modern period articulated, even when on occasions expressed in different language. Of interest is the fact that although Barclay’s work is stringently academic he emphasised the experiential dimension of spiritual practice.195 For Penington matters of ‘the heart’ are voiced as of particular significance but not at the expense of the other concepts listed. In the case of the twenty/twenty first century, although the table has shown the same Conditions and Elements of spiritual practice, it has been necessary to extend headings to encompass Testimony and Political Involvement as held within the consequences of Inwardness. Tables 2-5 have been supported by the inclusion of quotations. The difficulty was in selecting appropriate results from the abundance of choice rather than its scarcity. Thus the informative samples are written into the main text, and merely placed into the charts for ease of reference.
The proposition that results from this chapter is that Fox’s injunction to ‘turn within’ attaches specific Conditions and Elements that may be sequential and consequential in the spiritual practice of Quakers. In addition, it is suggested that the process discussed, its
195 See chapter 4 on Proposition 11 of the Apology.
99 development and ultimate state are attainable through Quaker spiritual practice. The theoretical proposition is tested against the writings of Penington, and Barclay in chapters 3 and 4, and later Quakers in chapter 5. It is acknowledged, however, that the outcome and achievement of Unity is dependent, for any individual or community of worshippers, on regularity, frequency and depth of engagement with spiritual practice.
Table 2 lists the Conditions and Elements identified in Fox’s teaching on Inwardness from which it is deduced that he indicated their necessity, at certain stages or phases, within Quaker worship. Listed vertically, Conditions for worship experience are: 1) Settling/calming into stillness, waiting 2) Silence. Elements of worship experience are: 3) Attentive Presence, 4) Heart Awareness, 5) Focus to God, 6) Purity, 7), Discernment 8) Growth and 9) Unity. These Conditions and Elements have emerged as noteworthy in the writings of Fox. The number of references and degree of emphasis that Fox places on these Elements is indicative of their significance in his teaching. Whilst it is not suggested that these are the only features of importance, it is nonetheless the case that the Conditions and Elements discussed demonstrate a continuity of concern that is worthy of emphasis.
Additionally, as will be seen in chapters 3 and 4, they recur in the work of Penington and Barclay.
The order of Conditions and Elements, as noted, is not intended to be prescriptive, it does however offer a logical sequence. To put the argument in reverse order, it is worth indicating that Unity is only attainable if Growth, that is spiritual growth, both arises from and generates Discernment that demonstrates significant clearness. Many Friends will know from their own experience that without a pure heart, Purity that can sustain God Focus, any Discernment will be elusive.196 This is why Attentive Presence in Silence and Stillness is essential. Here is an outline which provides a framework for understanding what Fox seems to have intended for a Quaker spiritual practice that could provide not only individual spiritual development but, possibly more important for the early Quaker project, lead to a sense of oneness among the family of Friends. It is acknowledged, however, that Stillness and Silence could seem better placed in reverse order for some 196 Purity is probably best understood here in its simplest and most straightforward interpretation as one-pointedness in uncluttered and clearly focussed spiritual concern.
100 worshippers: this might also be the case with Growth and Discernment. Nonetheless, the order is justified as explained above. For Fox Quakerism was, and for present day Quakers remains, a church and community within which ‘Unity in the Eternal Being’ could become a reality. The chapter has shown the manner in which Quakerism, following Fox’s introduction to spiritual practice, has the potential to lead into Unity and also demonstrates parallels with some other mystical practices.
Analysis of writings of later Quakers in chapter 5 results in the table of Conditions and Elements being supplemented.
16 Fox, ibid, p. 144; See also chapter 6 relating to ‘wakeful sleep’, better termed ‘awareness in sleep’ in the context of this thesis..