Author: Breeze Richardson
I have always been drawn to Pendle Hill pamphlets. I still remember the first time I visited Pendle Hill and came upon a long hallway mounted with display racks and pamphlets as far as the eye could see (or so it seemed). Title after title intrigued me, and many of the selections I picked up that day remain on my bookshelf.
So after years of pondering how to bring Pendle Hill pamphlets more regularly back into my life, I took a moment to visit their website today hoping to discover a few titles I might order as summer reading. To my delight, I actually found something even better: PDF downloads available for immediate consumption! How wonderful.
And so I think I will begin a new task as part of my commitment to writing here on this blog, selecting pamphlets of interest and linking to them here, hoping Friends will indulge me in reading along and offering their thoughts.
“The Nature of Quakerism” was written by Howard Brinton in 1949. After clicking the PDF button it took about 15 minutes to read (with interruption – let’s be honest, with two children ages 2 & 4 it’s pretty hard to approach much of anything without interruption). The reason this title compelled me to log here and share was how eloquently it communicated nearly everything I would include in my summary of the faith tradition I have experienced for nearly my entire life. With so many interpretations and leadings, seekers and differing spiritual foundations, there are many ways Friends present Quakerism today. And lately, I have found myself in the position to better explain why I define Quakerism in the way I do.
My first smile emerged with Brinton’s explanation Friends’ primary doctrine: “the Presence of God is felt at the apex of the human soul and that man can therefore know and heed God directly, without any intermediary in the form of church, priest, sacrament, or sacred book.”
He then went on to state a flexibility of language that resonated with me: “Many figures of speech are used to designate this Divine Presence which, as immanent in man, is personal and, as transcendent, is super-personal. It is “Light,” “Power,” “Word,” “Seed of the Kingdom,” “Christ Within.” … Man’s endeavor should be to merge his will with the Divine Will, as far as he is able to comprehend it, and by obedience to become an instrument through which God’s power works upon the world.”
As Brinton elaborates on Quakerism’s primary, secondary and tertiary doctrines, I read a text that could have just as easily been written today, and it is the contemporary resonance with a document authored over sixty years ago that really compelled me to share it.
Lastly, I found Brinton’s discourse on meeting for worship and meeting for business quite aspirational (something I really need in my present moment) and his thoughts on harmony (peace making) and simplicity (absence of superfluity) clear and compelling. Perhaps what most spoke to my current condition was the notion that peace making is in part an effort not “to constrain an individual to express feelings which he does not experience.” While I fully recognize the Christianity present in both historic and contemporary Quakerism, I appreciate and strongly identity with Brinton’s focus on the commonalities of our primary doctrine in “various forms in all the great religions of the world.” It is this universalism and his notions of “an eternal gospel not exclusively related to particular historical events” that provided me language I did not so clearly have before.
Friends, what is your reaction to Brinton’s historic text? Does it relate to your experience?