Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mother Margaret and her friends

A bit of free association this morning - we've been reading and discussing Michael Birkel's delightful
Pendle Hill Pamphlet #398 (2008) "The Messenger That Goes Before: Reading Margaret Fell for Spiritual Nurture."

Which got me thinking about what-all thoughts and ideas were "in the air" back then.  I picture George Fox tromping around on his own, with a well-read Bible under his arm, and Margaret Fell living at Swarthmoor with a nice big library...  The political scene was pretty intense all around, and which party you favored at what time could land you in prison or worse, depending on what you did about it.  Yikes!

I happened upon this lovely paragraph by one of my Quaker heroes, Arthur Roberts:

"Many early adherents were drawn from Seeker communities of Northern England. These Christians, disillusioned with monopolistic state religion, whether Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, or Independent, had been meeting informally for Bible study and prayer. George Fox forcefully articulated their criticism of the institutional church for its secondhand faith, sin-excusing doctrine, hireling ministry, and compromise with political powers. People responded eagerly to his proclamation of a new Day of the Lord in which the true church is being recovered and kingdom righteousness effected through Christ's presence and power."

Nice!  I love the idea of folks in time of turmoil getting together to read and reflect (tilling the soil so to speak) and then being ready for a word from someone who "speaks to their condition."

And then I got to thinking about John Milton, who was a contemporary of Fox & Fell, he of "Paradise Lost" -- Wikipedia says that toward the end of his life "Milton had come to stand apart from all sects, though apparently finding the Quakers most congenial."  Huh.  I wonder whether his poetry was known among the early Friends?

Well.  This sonnet by Milton is really speaking to me today, especially the end, which I'd heard all my life but never knew the context:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Amen!  thank you, F/friends!

Susan J.