Experimental Testimonies

In considering Quaker testimonies yesterday, the leader of our session of religious exploration asked us to check inside to see what arose as something we do in relation to what leads us.  Then we each spoke a sentence about it.

I don’t gamble.  I don’t use illegal drugs.  I wear simple clothing.  I speak plainly. This is to keep a simple mind. (I chose the last sentence to share with the group.)

I don’t think I chose these because they are negative testimonies–things I restrain myself from.  I chose them because I’ve been able to experiment with them.  I’ve found an expression of me that works best.

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Inward circumcision

In him you have been circumcised, with a circumcision performed, not by human hand, but by the complete stripping of your natural self. This is circumcision according to Christ.

Source: Colossians – Chapter 2 – Verse 11 – New Jerusalem Bible

Margaret Fell also wrote about the complete stripping of ourselves.

Friends, deal plainly with yourselves, and let the eternal Light search you, and try you, for the good of your souls. For this will deal plainly with you. It will rip you up, and lay you open, and make all manifest which lodges in you…. Therefore all to this come, and by this be searched, and judged, and led and guided.

Margaret Fell, 1656

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Lessons from Jesus coming to the big city

For inspiration and learning, I read a page or two of devotional literature as I start my morning prayer time.  In early December, I usually read some prophet–Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Close to Christmas, I start a gospel–Matthew or Luke.  I like to finish a gospel book in the Spring.  I don’t belong to a liturgical church, but I’m coming to see some truth in linking the myths and stories with the seasons around us.  So this selection of reaPalm Sunday inkdings is my personal liturgical calendar.  I’ve written about this before.

After reading the nativity story, I switched gospels this year.  Mark is spare, episodic and full of Jesus advocating for social change and a fair shake for peasants.  A couple of weeks ago, I paused in my reading of Mark to leave Jesus’s terminal week in Jerusalem until the week before Passover on my calendar.  Instead, I found Tom Head’s pamphlet, Envisioning a Moral Economy and the books of Ruth and Esther helpful for focusing.

Yesterday, I started reading these passages.  Jesus doesn’t speak much on the first couple of days.  His actions do provide a powerful message.  This time through, I’m noticing a different message each day.

I’m drawing a lot from a three year old post on the blog of my friend Paul C.  Read it!  It’s powerful. Continue reading

That all may look forward, abide in the simplicity of Truth

More than the well-known postscript of the letter from Quaker elders gathered at Balby, I can use the following these days:

Let us all, in the simplicity of Truth…. abide and dwell, and in the liberty [wherewith] Christ Jesus has made us free, stand fast; that we be not again led back into the errors of those who went before us, who left the power and got into the form, who brought in that darkness which has so long covered the face of the earth, that no footsteps may be left for those who shall come aLook forwardfter, or to walk by example. That all they may be directed [by] and left to the Truth, in it to live and walk, and by it to be guided. That none may look back at us, nor have an eye behind them; but that all may look forward, waiting in the Spirit for the revelation of those glorious things, which are to be made manifest to them.


THIS letter was presented and read at the General Meeting at Skipton, the 5th-day of the eighth month, 1659; and was by all Friends owned and approved, and agreed to be observed; and copies thereof to be sent to all Monthly Meetings.

The Prophetic Stream

Bill Taber seems to have much to say to liberal Friends with Conservative leanings.  I’ve often seen a copy of his pamphlet Four Doors to Meeting for Worship in the hands of some of my friends, or seen it quoted.  When my local meeting was giving away duplicates from our library, I picked up several Pendle Hill pamphlets and have been using them as devotional reading.

The latest to reach my coffee table is The Prophetic Stream which has yielded some precious insights.  I’ve typed several passages into my file of quotes to use for email signatures.  I also plan to pass them on to be considered for the next edition of our yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice.

Check out these three:

This lifelong Quaker, a skilled craftsman, was well past middle age when he felt nudged to begin a daily devotional reading and worship in the early morning before he went to work.  He had done this for many months with no significant change when, Continue reading

on Inward weakness

to John Woolman–about the conclusion of Chapter VII:

I’ve been learning for quite some years (It’s not an easy lesson for me.) to accept and treasure the understanding that my own efforts and strengths are minute next to what God can do in a situation.

The poverty of spirit and inward weakness, with which I was much tried the fore part of this journey, has of late appeared to me a dispensation of kindness.  ………..I was led into a deep search, whether in all things my mind was resigned to the will of God; often querying with myself what should be the cause of such inward poverty, and greatly desiring that no secret reserve in my heart might hinder my access to the Divine fountain. In these humbling times I was made watchful, and excited to attend to the secret movings of the heavenly principle in my mind, which prepared the way to some duties that in more easy and prosperous times as to the outward, I believe I should have been in danger of omitting.

          Journal of John Woolman

It’s a reassurance that you’ve found that same experience worth making the underlying theme of this chapter.

Note to John Woolman on Chapter VII

 Dear John

In your accounts of 1760, I’m reading:

Being two days in going to Nantucket, and having been there once before, I observed many shoals in their bay, which make sailing more dangerous, especially in stormy nights; also, that a great shoal, which encloses their harbor, prevents the entrance of sloops except when the tide is up. Waiting without for the Chart of Nantucketrising of the tide is sometimes hazardous in storms, and by waiting within they sometimes miss a fair wind. I took notice that there was on that small island a great number of inhabitants, and the soil not very fertile, the timber being so gone that for vessels, fences, and firewood, they depend chiefly on buying from the Main, for the cost whereof, with most of their other expenses, they depend principally upon the whale fishery. I considered that as towns grew larger, and lands near navigable waters were more cleared, it would require more labor to get timber and wood. I understood that the whales, being much hunted and sometimes wounded and not killed, grow more shy and difficult to come at.

I considered that the formation of the earth, the seas, the islands, bays, and rivers, the motions of the winds, and great waters, which cause bars and shoals in particular places, were all the works of Him who is perfect wisdom and goodness; and as people attend to his heavenly instruction, and put their trust in him, he provides for them in all parts where he gives them a being;

and as in this visit to these people I felt a strong desire for their firm establishment on the sure foundation, besides what was said more publicly, I was concerned to speak with the women Friends in their Monthly Meeting of business, many being present, and in the fresh spring of pure love to open before them the advantage, both inwardly and outwardly, of attending singly to the pure guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therein to educate their children in true humility and the disuse of all superfluities. I reminded them of the difficulties their husbands and sons were frequently exposed to at sea, and that the more plain and simple their way of living was the less need there would be of running great hazards to support them. I also encouraged the young women to continue their neat, decent way of attending themselves on the affairs of the house; showing, as the way opened, that where people were truly humble, used themselves to business, and were content with a plain way of life, they had ever had more true peace and calmness of mind than they who, aspiring to greatness and outward show, have grasped hard for an income to support themselves therein. And as I observed they had so few or no slaves, I had to encourage them to be content without them, making mention of the numerous troubles and vexations which frequently attended the minds of the people who depend on slaves to do their labor.

Journal of John Woolman

I’m trying to figure out what you’re getting at.  Continue reading

The conversation with John Woolman recommences

Last spring, two groups in my meeting began some conversations with each other and with John Woolman.  After reading a chapter and responding to it in our journals, Friends would meet periodically to discuss what we’d read, how we’d reacted and how we can change our lives to be more congruous with Quaker testimonies.  There’s some more info about it in an earlier post.

The other two Friends in my small group moved away last summer.  The second group is starting to meet again and I’m joining it.  We’re reading Chapter IV.

If John Woolman reads this, I hope he’ll respond.  If you’d like to answer for him, or respond out of your own experience, please do. Continue reading

To John Woolman on John Locke & John Adams

This morning I came to see what seminal work the Friends were doing in 1755–1758.  You relate it well in Chapter Five of the Journal.  I notice that you and the editorial committee have brought together many of the entries you made on the scruples of Friends about war–particularly about paying taxes to support it.  Some of these events are taken from events that happened before the close of the previous chapter.

This grouping that has been done has been juxtaposed in my mind with the biography I’m currently reading about John Adams, the Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress that convened in Philadelphia less than a decade later.  From Adams actions I came to see how they were learning to put the understandings on natural law of John Locke and other thinkers from the century before yours into plans and resolutions about government and its role in the lives of men. Continue reading

Further conversation with John Woolman

We passed on to Manoquacy, Fairfax, Hopewell, and Shanando, and had meetings, some of which were comfortable and edifying.

Just some?  I wonder about the others.

“…comfortable and edifying…”  That’s an interesting phrase.  My meeting is doing some threshing and visioning lately.  We’re trying to find out what manner of gathering we want and are led to be.

There’s often a choice laid in front of us between comfort and challenge.  Do we come to a fellowship to be with those we identify with to be comfortable?  Or do we seek a measure of “spiritual dissonance,” so we can be challenged to grow?  What measure of challengIsaac Andrews house, Haddonfield, NJe and dissonance?

….we……made a general visit to the meetings of Friends on the western shore of Maryland……..  Continue reading