«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
Kaal, on the other hand, voicing her own Quaker views, yet inferring a wider application, writes, ‘Accepting that the Spiritual Realm exists is not based on belief in its existence but in knowing of its existence through a subjective experience of going there, by using a spiritual practice.’67 For Kaal the ‘spiritual practice’ that she identifies is the ‘Inward path’ of Quakerism, a direct line to ‘that of God within’. 68 Thus, as an experiential religion, Quakerism is, for Kaal, concerned with facilitating access to the personal within-ness of worship. She maintains ‘that we speak [to new attenders] of centring down in Meeting as if it is an easy and obvious thing to do, but it is not. It involves switching into a subtly different state of consciousness’. 69 Kaal is here writing of what is needed to ‘turn within’ (Fox’s phrase) and she argues that ‘As we travel further into the Spiritual Realm our spiritual practice needs to change and deepen’.70 She is
unequivocal in statements concerning her:
1) Recognition of an inward dimension in Quakerism
2) Description of processes of turning within
3) Acknowledgement of the importance of constancy of practice
4) Identification of states and stages of spiritual advancement.
Thus, she writes, with reference to 3 above, ‘we need to open a pathway to the Spiritual Realm, and gradually widen it and keep it clear by constant use, otherwise when we need guidance in emergency, it will be overgrown and you will not be able to get through in a
We are a mystical tradition and all mystical paths acknowledge levels and stages on the spiritual journey. We progress through these stages at different rates, so inevitably some will have travelled deeper in the Spiritual Realm and be more experienced than others.72 Throughout this thesis differing understandings and experiences of the inward dimension of Quakerism have been set alongside each other for discussion. Here there is consistency between the three Quaker competition winners of 2010 in affirming that spiritual practice, in the manner of Friends, is the core of Quaker spiritual life. It is Kaal, however, who expresses most fully an understanding of how Quaker Spiritual practice, if engaged in diligently over time, has the potential to offer spiritual advancement. She
… the Quaker spiritual practice we share is that through a process of continuing and continual discernment we open ourselves to the Inward Light, to reveal our darkness and allow the experience to transform us, and then go and act in the world from that place. It was through this practice that early Quakers achieved the heightened inner consciousness they call the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It is the mystical core of all traditions.73 The interpretation expressed above does not preclude understanding of unity, but in placing greater emphasis on accord and shared agreements in gospel order i.e. going into the world and acting, it emphasises a lesser role – that of friendship.74 Consideration of whether such a way of life is, or could be, accepted as the consequence of Inwardness through which growth of unity is an outcome requires further examination.
In considering the writing of the winning essayists of the Quaker Essay competition of 2010 it has been demonstrated that worship and action are equally important to Quakers of
73 Kaal, ibid, p. 74. Reference to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is less acceptable to some twenty-first century Quakers than it was in the seventeenth century and even throughout later periods of Quakerism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
74 Friendship, see section 2.5.1.
169 the present generation.75 It is has been stated that Best questions the reliance of Quakers on one mode of engaging in worship and maintains that it is time to rethink Friends’ worship to appeal to a broader range of ages and types of people. He does not face the question as to whether different modes of worship could in fact offer similarly profound ‘approaches to God’:76 this having been the purpose of Worship that Quakers have held fast for over 350 years. As shown, Kaal and Murgatroyd stress the foundational significance of inward, personal, spiritual experience, as in the long-standing mode of Quaker worship, to support living the Quaker Way. Kaal appeals to Friends to be diligent in the practice of discernment in which ‘we open ourselves to the Inward Light’: For Kaal, Inwardness gained in the Quaker way of worship is the priority of Quakerism on which all else rests.
It cannot be said with certainty that a consistent ‘conception of God’ emerges in these essays. Nonetheless, what can be claimed is that God within remains the underpinning of the faith and practice discussed by these essayists. Inwardness is about reaching towards the call of God. It is evident that the discursive accounts, and analyses of questions that face the Religious Society of Friends considered above, help to provide clarity with regard to contemporary concerns and understandings of Inwardness. The issues raised offer a systematic way of reviewing subjects that remain matters of uncertainty or challenge to members. However, it is argued here that they offer only part of the answer in attempts to understand Quaker Inwardness comprehensively and that the descriptions of experience that are often framed in personal, spiritual, sometimes mystical, terms complement and interact with the academic to provide fullness of understanding.
Examples are given in the next section.
5.4.2 Devotional descriptions of spiritual experience Rufus Jones, maintained that, ‘We [Quakers] are [thus] called by the very obligations of our spiritual pedigree, to be bearers today of a type of Christianity which is essentially
170 inward, spiritual and mystical’. He continued: ‘I mean a religion of inward first-hand conviction, a religion rooted and grounded in experience, a religion whose authority is as little endangered by science and criticism, as is the authority of the multiplication table, or the laws of gravitation’.77, 78 Jones referred to the mystical dimension of Quaker experience, pointing out that the current position (including the early twentieth century) spoke for a ‘consciousness of finite spirit meeting infinite Spirit, an inward testimony to the Great Companion of our souls’. 79 The apparent difference of approach, between Rowntree and Jones, one advocating intellectual enquiry the other spiritual practice, is interesting but not incompatible: Jones
The type of religion which is to prevail and which will support the individual, and nourish the ideals of the nation in these days of expanding knowledge and scientific attitude, is one of [an] experimental sort–one of inward conviction, of first-hand authority, of demonstration of the spirit and power [of God]. 80 Only by returning to ‘first-hand religion inwardly felt and buttressed on the facts of the soul’s experience, can we speak to our age with power’.81 The difference between Rowntree and Jones is more apparent than real, one of emphasis rather than substance, and Rowntree stated that, ‘In the writings of Rufus Jones, to name no other, the attempt is being made to attack the problems which remain unsolved …’ 82 There was a need as Rowntree urged, in the first period of Liberal Quakerism, to clarify the theological position of Friends. He urged this, nonetheless, not as an alternative to inward experience,
but rather as a result of ‘new birth’, writing:
77 Rufus Jones, one of the Swarthmore lecturers (‘Quakerism: A Religion of Life’, 1908), is discussed here because of his emphasis on the significance of experience, ‘the religion of inward first-hand conviction’, the extent of his influence and the importance of personal spiritual knowing expressed in experiential language. Jones, ibid, 1908, p. 19.
78 Jones, ibid, p. 20.
For Rowntree the need was for an operative and personal renewal, in relation to which theoretical reflection was essential. However, the theoretical position was not a substitute for the experience, which as Jones indicated, necessitated Inwardness as the significant process of experiential knowing.
For Caroline Stephen (1834–1909), writing at about the time that Rowntree describes as the ‘history of an inward revolution’, this is a matter of rational mysticism. 84 She explains: ‘I speak not only as believing that there is a school of the inner, or “interior” life,
but as having in my measure been consciously under that discipline’.85 She continues:
The essence of the mystical faith is the belief of an actual spiritual intercourse between us human beings and the Father of our spirits–an interchange of meaning as real as that which takes place between one human being and another. In other words, “he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him”. 86 Stephen expresses a very clear understanding of the potential effectiveness of both individual and corporate Quaker worship. She recognises the relationship between individual discernment and that of the group.
In Rowntree, Jones and Stephen, there is growing understanding that it is possible to speak of the ‘Light within’ in a reasoned manner, in terms reflecting modern knowledge, and thus in a manner ‘relevant to the age’. The latter arose from ‘a new interpretation of our universe and of its history’ and also the rejection of a doctrine of ‘Biblical infallibility’.87 The ‘Light Within’ became amenable to description in a language that
For some liberal Friends Inwardness began to be described in less Christian, and devotional terms, than those of early Quakers. However, in Quaker worship, Inwardness remained, as previously discussed in the expression of Stephen, a turning of the mind to its ‘own consciousness’ in and through a silent practice, process and state. Silence was, ‘the sine qua non of Quaker worship’ in Britain and it remains so.89 Quaker Faith and Practice90 includes, arguably, the most comprehensive collection of expressions of experiential understandings of Quakerism relevant to the present time. 91 The fact that this is the most recent version of the publication indicates the Society’s acceptance of its relevance, even though it does not contain passages arising after 1995 and many are considerably earlier.92 Four sections of QFP contain statements that are of particular relevance to twenty first century understandings of Quaker Inwardness. These are chapter 2 on ‘Approaches to God’ (5.4.2i), which includes matters of Worship and Prayer; chapter 19, ‘Openings’ (5.4.2.ii); chapter 26 entitled ‘Reflections’ (5.4.2iii) and chapter 29: ‘Leadings’ (5.4.2iv).
Each of these sections offers differently focused expressions about experience of 88 Stephen, Light Arising, p. 13.
89 See chapter 1. Also Bauman, Let your Words be Few, p. 124.
90 Edition of 1995, hereafter QFP [g].
91 Of particular note is the fact that the chronological spread of these expressions ranges from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The selected passages are thus not only representative of the entire history of Quakerism but also, continuing to be used in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, deemed to be of continued relevance within the Society’s teaching. Thus the significance of the message of selected passages has a place in this examination of Inwardness within the Quaker faith and practice of modern-day Friends. All references in this chapter are taken from the 1995 Edition of QFP.
92 The suggestion of Meeting for Sufferings to begin revising it, QFP, was not shared by Britain Yearly Meeting in 2014. However, in 2015 an eighteen months reading/discussion has been initiated.
Each of the selected chapters of QFP is considered separately and, then discussed together. The words of William Penn (1694) serve as an introduction:94 If you would know God and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means he has ordained and given for that purpose. Some seek it in books, some in learned men, but what they look for is in themselves, yet they overlook it. The voice is too still, the Seed too small and the Light shineth in darkness. They are abroad and so cannot divide the spoil; but the woman that lost her silver found it at home after she had lighted her candle and swept her house.
[26.44].95 There could not be a more pointed instruction to seek ‘at home’ i.e. ‘within yourself’. As a seventeenth century expression of the manner in which Friends might seek Truth: the notion of ‘the Light’, consistent with seventeenth century thinking, is qualified as ‘the Light of Christ within’. Subsequent inclusions from QFP indicate some shifts in terminology without negating a broad understanding of Inwardness already considered as that which Quakers continue to approach in their worship, both corporately and individually.
The four chapters of Quaker Faith and Practice identified are considered sequentially.
5.4.2i ‘Approaches to God’: Worship and prayer (Chapter 2 QFP) Five main themes emerge in this chapter of QFP. They are grouped here under the following headings: Stillness, Silence, Heart awareness, Inwardness, and Links to God 93 Other chapters of Quaker Faith and Practice also include relevant passages but in the main their concerns are more practical relating to the administration and organisation of the Society.
94 Brackets used in this chapter are normal curved bracket for the date of the passage, and square bracket for its location in QFP.
95 The final part of this passage is given here as it is relevant to consideration of growth of Inwardness and the notion of perfection for Quakers. It reads as follows: ‘Do you so too and you shall find what Pilate wanted to know, viz., Truth. The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world and so a light to you that tells the truth of your condition, leads all that take heed unto it out of darkness in to God’s marvellous light; for light grows upon the obedient. It is sown for the righteous and their way is a shining light that shines forth more and more to the perfect day’.