«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
This chapter has examined aspects of George Fox’s spiritual search and the significant features of his teaching, which both affected his emergence as the dominant leader of the Religious Society of Friends and shaped the Church it became. It has focused on Fox’s writing to show the meanings and consequences of his injunction to ‘turn within’ and the manner in which this is developed in terms of Silence and Stillness, or standing still (referred to as Conditions of practice). It was shown that these two aspects of Fox’s Quakerism were interwoven in his teaching on the spiritual life and wellbeing of Friends, both individually and in community, leading to the development of other concerns within the Quaker spiritual practice (referred to as Elements of practice).
The chapter then examined consequences of Inwardness both as personal transformation and individual concern and as social concern and corporate discernment.
Unity has been discussed in terms of two distinct interpretations. These are a) togetherness in the Fellowship of living, and b) togetherness in the Oneness of the Eternal Being.
Table, 2 above, indicates a perspective on Fox’s teaching concerning Quaker spiritual practice demonstrating that Quakerism has characteristics that can be compared to other mystical teachings and the manner in which they provide opportunities for spiritual development.
The next chapter explores the work of Isaac Penington with reference to Inwardness.
Isaac Penington has been influential throughout the history of Quakerism. His Works, and other writings, are broadly respected and the manner of his deeply devotional expressions has been particularly noted.1 This chapter introduces his thoughts on Life, Light and Love. These are discussed in 3.2.1-3.2.3, to examine his interpretation of Inwardness, and 3.2.4 outlines and examines his interpretation of Quaker worship. 3.3 analyses his spirituality in terms of his understanding of Unity. 3.4 provides a conclusion to the chapter, which is summarised in 3.5.
3.2 Penington’s Ministry
Much of Penington’s ministry on Inwardness is discussed below under headings that reflect his primary themes: Life, Light and Love. However, by way of introduction some thoughts from Melvin Keiser’s are presented as these are of significance to subsequent
argument. Keiser draws attention to the fact that:
While principally talking about knowing God, all knowing for Isaac [Penington] involves connecting beneath consciousness. …At the same time that Descartes is originating modern philosophy, grounding true knowledge in reason without prethinking awareness, and denigrating feeling as merely subjective, Isaac and other Friends are grounding knowing in feeling and sensing. Knowing is affectional. To know something in its mysterious depths is to be affected, moved emotionally, to be changed. Detached unemotional knowing is an illusion. Knowing is emergent.
Waiting in silence, knowing arises through sense and feeling into patterns of thought, not, as in modernity, through imposing frameworks on phenomena – putting Nature on the rack (Francis Bacon).2
2 Keiser, M in Angell, S.W. and Dandelion, P. Early Quakers and their theological thought (Cambridge: University Press, 2015) p. 200.
105 The significance of these words reminds us that Penington seems to have spoken and written from the ‘realm of spirit’; exhibiting a very deep level of consciousness. They also indicate that he (Penington) had an awareness that appreciated different levels of life as embraced in a divine reality. For Penington the ‘inward’ and the ‘outward’ are not two discrete domains of existence but are known on a sensory band or scale. What is suggested, in this thesis, is that there is movement between the inward and the outward, but a better interpretation is of a continuum that might be envisaged as a scale or range extending from one to the other. An even better image is found in recognition that the inward is known ultimately in the innermost depth of all else, and thus of the outward, so called: this gives a clearer idea of how it is that, in Eternal Being, everything is to be found ‘shading into mystery’. It is also a clarification of how Penington conceives of and embraces religion.
For Penington religion is situated in a level of consciousness deeper than what can [so] easily be named. Beneath understanding and will is the level of feeling, a dimension in the self of experience that is noticeable but also extends beneath the conscious threshold of what can be told or seen. Religion for Penington is to feel the divine life, so as to be transformed into a pure vessel of life and to manifest outwardly, and to interpret truly, the divine life in all we say and do.3 The manner in which attention in spiritual practice can seem to move from outward to inward, inward to outward and, finally, how outwardness can become porous to Inwardness is made clearer as description and analysis is presented in ensuing chapters.
Penington’s understanding of both religion and consciousness contribute to this clarification.
3.2.1 On ‘the Life’
Quaker theology is often concerned with descriptions and interpretations of the Light within (see section 3.2.2). However the focus selected by Keiser and Moore, in their comprehensive account of Penington’s life and work, is the Life within.4 Further, in his exposition of Penington’s spirituality and thought, Keiser emphasises ‘the life’ as
4 This text is thorough both historically and theologically; as such its relevance to the discussion of Penington’s understanding of Inwardness is considerable.
106 Penington’s central theme: this theme covers ‘the life of the Spirit, the life of selves in the world, and the full presence or obstruction of that divine life in our life on earth’.5 Keiser maintains that ‘[t]he metaphor life weaves together the multiple metaphors of Penington’s thought’.6 Penington relies on many biblical quotations in his discussion and often uses lower case when writing of life. There are, however, distinguishable occasions, in Penington, when reference is being made to Life that is divine, of God in Christ, and all mankind, as against what is found in individual human being(s). Keiser maintains that the ambiguity in Penington’s expressions is intentional in that he (Penington) implies not only intimate involvement of the divine in the human but also the indistinguishable ‘mystery of life within’. Keiser asserts that Penington’s concern was to hold divinity and humanity together in reciprocity, in recognition of the need that ‘our [human beings’] spiritual existence is lived in our bodies and our bodies are sacred space (temples of the living God;
see 1 Cor. 3: 16-17, 2 Cor. 6: 16)’.7 Another focus requires acknowledgement in discussing the relationship between human life and divine Life when links are made to Inwardness as intimate to both. This is a distinction between that which is ‘in the life’ and that which is ‘out of the life’.8 The attached terms are of the self-lived in the spirit of the divine Life and ‘the veiled self’.9
The ‘veiled self is ‘closed off to deeper reality’, the inward.10 Keiser writes:
To observe this distinction between inward and outward, spirit and letter, is to affirm different levels of consciousness. The inward and spirit are beneath what appears on the surface. The structures of outward practice and behaviour are
6 Keiser and Moore, ibid, p. 133.
7 Keiser and Moore, ibid, p. 133. In his introduction Keiser uses the upper case for Life and clarifies that God is the ‘Life that engenders life’. Within this thesis the upper case is used for Life, meaning Supreme Being/Eternal Being, or God’s Life and the lower case is used elsewhere.
8 Keiser and Moore, ibid, p. 136.
These distinctions in terminology have consequences for interpreting how Penington understands L/life. There are three in particular to be discussed.
a) Implications of upper and lower case in discussion of L/life 12
b) Understanding the term L/life as metaphorical in Penington
c) Comprehension of Inwardness, as distinct from or as a dimension of outwardness, in the interpretation of L/life.
These are considered in turn.
Penington wrote of life as follows: ‘the life God was, and is, and is to be all in all for ever’.13 He also wrote of ‘Pure Being itself’,14 ‘the invisible life in visibles’,15 ‘I am that I am’,16 God as the ‘spring of life’17 and ‘the infinite eternal Being’. 18 In all of these references there is the implication of Life, God’s Life, as the creator, and sustainer of all life: the Life of God is written about as that which authors and engenders all other living forms.
11 Keiser and Moore, Knowing the Mystery, p. 136. See also chapter 6 on states of consciousness and expansion of Inwardness.
12 It is acknowledged that typesetting issues may affect publication, when this is so matters of theological distinction are not in every case clear.
13 Penington, Works ii, Works (4 Volumes) Glenside PA: Quaker Heritage Press, 1997 transcribed from the edition of 1863, p. 252.
108 Keiser makes it clear that, for Penington, the Life of Pure Being (God) and the lives of all living forms are enmeshed. However, if the Quaker understanding concerning the possibility of unmediated experience of God is accepted, it is questionable whether Penington means to use the related terms as metaphors. Penington’s experiential theology reads as a description of his personal knowing of the Reality and realities of Life and living. In Penington the use of terms is, therefore, elaboration of an experiential understanding of the Reality and realities of Life and living rather than metaphor. He (Penington) wrote of the growth and development of his state, which Keiser refers to as a process of spiritual awakening into ‘wholeness’.19 Penington expresses, with no degree of doubt, the importance of the life (using, surprisingly, lower case) that reigns ‘in power and great glory’. His terms are Christian, even when his own increasing growth of measure engenders an understanding of the means of entry into the Life within that has universal connotations. This is ‘“the more” of Being that holds ultimate meaning’.20 He entreats others to, ‘... [W]atch to feel the savour of life in thy heart day by day, and therein to feel leadings and drawings from life, suitable to thy state; for in this savour, and in these drawings, rises the true light, which leads into the way of life’. 21 Here, then, Penington affirms that there is the possibility of new life, a new way of
living, since all five senses are ‘new made’:
Life gives it [life and living] a feeling, a light, a tasting, a hearing, a smelling, of the heavenly things, by which senses it is able to discern and distinguish them from the earthly. And from this the Measure of Life the capacity increaseth, the senses grow stronger: it sees more, feels more, tastes more, hears more, smells more. Now when the senses are grown up to strength, … doubtings and disputes in the mind fly away, and the soul lives in the certain demonstration and fresh sense and power of life.22 19 Keiser and Moore, Knowing the Mystery, p. 124.
20 Keiser and Moore, ibid, p. 147.
21 Penington, Works, ii, p. 395.
22 Penington, to Friends of Both Chalfonts, Works ii, p. 494. Keiser speaks of ‘the spiritually enlivened physical senses’ (personal communication by e mail 4.2.12). See also ‘Touched and Knit in the Life’ Barclay’s Relational Theology and Cartesian Dualism (on the senses natural and supernatural) Quaker Studies 5, No. 2, (2001), p. 141-161.
3.2.2 On ‘the Light Within’ Life and Light are often linked in Penington but sometimes written about as though they are distinct. However, there are many occasions when Penington wrote of the Life as ‘the light of men’ clarifying that ‘the life is the light of men, and the light comes from the life, and is quick, piercing, quickening light, conveying warmth and life... into the darkest
hearts...’23 He wrote:
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, he is the image of his substance, the exact image of this light, the light of the world, who is to light the world into this substance. So that as God the Father is to be known as light, so Christ the Son is also to be known as light. He is the only begotten of the Father of lights, the only image wherein the eternal substance is revealed and made known. And he that receives this image, receives the substance; and he that receives not this image, receives not the substance.24 These words of Penington expand on John 1:5 that ‘… the light shineth in the darkness …’ God’s Life is thus seen to engender and support all life of living beings, it is the enlightener of all that is. This view is given further expression in Penington’s The Ancient Principle of Truth: or the Light Within Assured. Here Penington addresses the ‘ministries’ of the Gospel (Light, Righteousness and Spirit) all of which humankind is called on to witness.
Interpretation of Penington requires examination of his words in different contexts and via different expressions. The density of his writing, and the frequent lack of a distinguishable linear argument, creates difficulties for the scholar, but the repetition of terms, issues and concerns within his articulation of experiential theology is rich and rewarding once considered. It is necessary to acknowledge significant factors, as, for
example, that Penington: