We moved home on the 21st of last month. Coming here to this little house has been a great joy to both of us, but it has not been without the odd hiccup. From the point of view of this blog, the fact that we still don’t have a landline connection has been the main one. We do have a temporary internet connection over the mobile network, though, and that will have to do till next week, when our ISP promises the final work will have been done.
In the meantime, I have been struck by a passage from Edgar B Castle (1961) in Quaker Faith & Practice 26.69:
There is no easy optimism in the Quaker view of life. Fox had no illusions about sin; but he asks us to deal with it in a new way. When early Friends likened God’s gift to a ‘Seed’ they did not think of it as growing inevitably into a noble tree. They were fully aware of the influences that might arrest its growth. Fox never regarded the conquest of sin as a casual undertaking. But with astonishing psychological insight he laid the whole emphasis of his method not on the sin but on the light that revealed it. By implication he was criticising those who were so obsessed with the fallen state of man that they stayed their eyes on man’s wickedness rather than on the means of his redemption. To contemplate evil is a poor way of becoming good… Fox assures his friends that light will come on conditions. These conditions were well laid down by Isaac Penington in the darkness of Reading gaol: ‘We were directed to search for the least of all seeds and to mind the lowest appearance thereof, which was its turning against sin and darkness; we came by degrees to find we had met with the pure living eternal Spirit.’
The practice of minding ‘the lowest appearance’ of the Seed involves a steady discipline. We must face the austerity as well as accept the joy of life if we are to grow. The method of this discipline is beautifully and most practically suggested in George Fox’s oft-repeated instruction, ‘Mind that which is pure in you to guide you to God.’ Here Fox displays a deep psychological insight, born of his own personal struggle. We are to use the little that we have to make it more. We are to tend the small Seed and help it to grow.
I think this humility, this readiness to acknowledge the “lowest appearance”, is one of the most precious gifts of any spirituality; and yet, perhaps appropriately, it is one of the least readily recognised.
In Quaker Faith & Practice 20.22 there is a lovely passage from a sermon by Luke Cock (1657-1740), a Yorkshire Quaker minister and butcher, which illustrates this perfectly:
My Guide led me up another lane, more difficult than any of the former, which was to bear testimony to that Hand that had done all this for me. This was a hard one: I thought I must never have seen the end of it. I was eleven years all but one month in it. Here I began to go on my knees and to creep under the hedges, a trade I never forgot since, nor I hope never shall. I would fain think it is unpossible for me to fall now, but let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
We can’t know what testimony we may have to bear, or in what company, till it is given to us; but as long as we are prepared to go on our knees and to creep under the hedges, we shall probably be OK. But that way is often cold and muddy, and the prickles left by hedge-trimming stick in our knees dreadfully…