With this month’s reading we have reached the part of Quaker faith & practice to which I find myself most often turning. One of my favourite passages is from Emilia Fogelklou (The great Swedish Quaker theologian and writer is describing (in the third person) an experience she had at the age of 23. She was never the same again.):
But then one bright spring day – it was the 29th of May 1902 – while she sat preparing for her class under the trees in the backyard of Föreningsgatan 6, quietly, invisibly, there occurred the central event of her whole life. Without visions or the sound of speech or human mediation, in exceptionally wide-awake consciousness, she experienced the great releasing inward wonder. It was as if the ‘empty shell’ burst. All the weight and agony, all the feeling of unreality dropped away. She perceived living goodness, joy, light like a clear, irradiating, uplifting, enfolding, unequivocal reality from deep inside.
The first words which came to her – although they took a long time to come – were, ‘This is the great Mercifulness. This is God. Nothing else is so real as this.’ The child who had cried out in anguish and been silenced had now come inside the gates of Light. She had been delivered by a love that is greater than any human love. Struck dumb, amazed, she went quietly to her class, wondering that no one noticed that something had happened to her.
In silence, without rite or symbol, we have known the Spirit of Christ so convincingly present in our quiet meetings that his grace dispels our faithlessness, our unwillingness, our fears, and sets our hearts aflame with the joy of adoration. We have thus felt the power of the Spirit renewing and recreating our love and friendship for all our fellows. This is our Eucharist and our Communion.
As I wrote elsewhere:
God is not strange, or other. God is the ground of being itself – as Paul said, quoting Epimenides, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28). There is, as George Fox famously remarked, “that of God” in each of us.
Most of us do not yet know our own essential nature. Maybe we can feel the pain of limitation and the unease of contraction and the longing for liberation beyond self, but we cling to what’s familiar…
It is wise to know our own depths, to plumb and explore them, to allow our hearts to break open, to allow our minds to investigate that which they would rather deny, to allow ourselves to contemplate impermanence, to take death in – our own and the deaths of those we love…
Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Aging
There is nothing difficult about all this, and these experiences are not somehow reserved for professional mystics or particularly holy people. All that is needed is, as Isaac Pennington explained (Qfp 26.70), to,
Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.
We need only to be still, and rest in the Presence in which all things hold together (Colossians 1.17), and “the great Mercifulness” will lift us up into the Light.