“Sarah Blackborow (d. 1665) was a prominent Quaker minister in London during the 1650s and 1660s. She helped to establish a meeting at Hammersmith and was probably influential in the development of separate women’s business meetings. She wrote and published the tract A Visit to the Spirit in Prison in 1658. It is a good example of the kind of early Quaker writing that combined strong words of warning and admonishment with positive and joyful messages of spiritual guidance and encouragement. She also uses a feminine image of God.”
Stuart Masters has most usefully posted, on his blog A Quaker Stew, a simple summary of Blackborow’s message. A couple of paragraphs immediately struck me:
Don’t be distracted and misled. Turn away from the many and varied ways of the world and face up to God’s witness within you. Pay attention to it and live with it. Follow divine leadings and know God’s power. This is the only way to eternal life. If you are faithful, you may well experience suffering, but you will also be given the strength to endure this and be delivered from all trouble. But you must stick with it. The love of God will be with you and will comfort you. It will lead you out of the changeable ways of the world and to the eternal life. This Spirit will crucify your darkness, enabling you to break free from the things that prevent you from entering the Kingdom of God.
Sit at the feet of your Inward Teacher – If you rely on the second-hand words and ideas of other people, you are missing the real thing, which comes directly from the living God. Turn away from the teaching of others; stop worrying about your reputation and turn instead to the Light within you, which will show you the truth. If you are willing to submit to your inward teacher and accept what is revealed and what is taught, you will hear God’s voice calling you to the heavenly dwelling place. Turn to the Light of Christ, which reveals all evil and darkness. Give yourself fully to this Light, whether it praises you or condemns you. For this is your true Mother, who has conceived you and who loves you…
I woke this morning, long before dawn, full of distress at the news of the world. I could not think where to turn for some kind of explanation: the atrocities of Daesh in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, crimes against LGBT people in Uganda and Kenya, recent information on the close links between the British Legion and the arms trade, the arms industry during World War II, which I had been looking up earlier, and the war bonds sold to pay for its products, the march of profit… on and on. What did it even mean, I wondered, to pray in the face of such a torrent?
Lying in the dark, listening to the cold rain in the trees outside the window, I came to remember Sarah Blackborow’s words: “If you rely on the second-hand words and ideas of other people, you are missing the real thing, which comes directly from the living God. Turn away from the teaching of others…”
Quite suddenly the shadowed room turned to stillness, and my heart opened. I have no explanation for what happened, yet suddenly I knew beyond a doubt that I had been heard, that my pain, and far more importantly the pain of those for whom I grieved, was not wasted. The words of Psalm 56.8, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?” somehow made perfect sense.
I could not offer a factual explanation for what happened, nor defend in a law court the inexplicable peace that came to my heart, but I knew in that moment that it was “the real thing, which comes directly from the living God.” Psalm 56 concludes, “you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Whatever pain had overcome the Hebrew poet who wrote those words, he had come through: he had found trust in the midst of fear, peace in wartime.
The author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote: “It is not your will or desire that moves you, but something you are completely ignorant of stirring you to will and desire you know not what.” I had no name for the peace that enveloped me, and I could not know why it had been given to me, any more than I could deny its source, or the real and effective thing that had been done in the darkness before day.