Why do Primitive Quakers cling to tradition? Is it a comforting way to be with one another and speak and practice comforting, known, already practice methods of socializing? I do not know where Primitive Quakers feel that "tradition" leads them and would very much like to understand how what feels very much like a "retro" approach is helpful in one's spiritual life which, I always assumed, meant exploring spiritual insights which had not been achieved before.

The idea of returning to a previously achieved spiritual experience in order to re-experience it is new to me. Or, have I misunderstood?

-- Jean Yeager

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I've never heard of  "Primitive Quakers" before. Could you describe who you mean?

Hello, Jean!

Some of my wife's relatives belonged to the Primitive Friends, and there is one as yet unpublished minister's journal written by one of them, tucked away in the archives at Haverford College.  But the old line Primitive Friends no longer exist as such.

Your framing of the issue of the uses of tradition among Friends feels prejudicial.  The words "Primitive" and "cling" give the matter a rather negative slant.

I have "tried" (i.e., evaluated)  the spiritualty of contemporary unprogrammed Friends, and find most of it impoverished.  Remove God and Christ from Quaker spiritual experience and, IMHO, one doesn't have much.  I don't find many "spiritual insights which had not been achieved before."

For several years I belonged to a very traditional meeting of Conservative Friends.  There was in their worship a spiritual depth and living Quaker tradition I have found nowhere else.  They communed with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and this fellowship touched my soul.  Worth clinging to, I would say!

My impression is that you speak of a tradition you have neither experienced personally, nor explored intellectually.  Try immersing yourself in some of the ministers' journals and other writings from this tradition, and you will find the answer to your question for yourself! 

Jean, it's me again!

By the way, I grew up about 70 miles from Rutland, at Port Henry NY.

The Champlain Valley was once a hotbed of Orthodox Quakerism.  Joseph and Huldah Hoag of Charlotte VT were leading figures there.  Seven of their ten children became Friends' ministers. An issue of the (Philadelphia) Friend from back in the 1800s' gives Huldah's account of a meeting for worship she participated in, and the spiritual intensity was amazing.  I could find the citation, but do not have it in hand.

The Journal of Joseph Hoag might be a good one for you to take a look at.  It is readily available in reprint form.

Yet again!

For a more contemporary exploration of George Fox and the early Friends, try Lewis Benson, None Were So Clearhttp://www.bookfinder.com/search/?ac=sl&st=sl&ref=bf_s2_a1_...

Lewis was a Hicksite Friend who was searching for spiritual direction and meaning, and found his way through his study of George Fox and the early Friends.

Dear William,

Thank you for your responses. They are helpful and enlightening.

It has been my experience that Quakerism has a set of cultural "rituals" that are drawn from "tradition"– as you say the "living Quaker tradition".

Your evaluation of other meetings as having lesser "spiritual depth"or the fact that you in one instance you did not experience greater "spiritual insights" were helpful in my trying to understand  your statement that these Meetings were "impoverished".

I am a believer that individuals and groups are on pathways of development. Do you feel that this idea of a "pathway" is something which can go along with your experiences in Quakerism? Toward the end of your reply you suggest that I "try immersing myself in the journals of ministers from a specific tradition" as a means of finding an answer to my question. I think this seems to confirm my original feeling regarding the role of tradition in Quakerism.

Pathways of development of Spiritual capacities suggest that one struggles with authentic, original failures to generate Spiritual intensity on one's own or within a group so that you build capacities as you go along.

Hello, Jean!

I vowed that I would stop posting on this topic for the rest of the day.  So much for my resolve!!!

I am not sure I understand the import of your remarks, but the idea of a pilgrimage along a spiritual pathway sounds good.

Joseph Hoag's journal would not be my first choice for suggested reading, but I picked it as a suggestion for you because it is so thoroughly Vermont!!

I need to get ready for a trip to the city (a major expedition), so I had better sign off for now.

Best wishes to you!

Bill Rushby

P.S. Pilgrimaging to Joseph and Huldahs' graves on Cemetery Road between North Ferrisburg and Monkton Ridge has been a family favorite when we were back home in Port Henry.

Good Morning Jean:

I'd like to suggest looking at traditional Quakers (I prefer the term 'traditional' to 'primitive') from the perspective of other religious traditions which have retained their form over centuries.  There are a surprising number of such groups.  One that I am familiar with is Buddhist monasticism, which has retained its basic structure and practice for 2500 years.  One can also look at Amish and some traditional Mennonite groups.  Some forms of Christian Monasticism would also be good examples (e.g. Carthusians). 

I am wondering if you would describe these groups as 'retro'?  I think of this as a modernist prejudice.  I have coined a word for this kind of thinking; I refer to it as 'chronocentrism'.  I mean by this that modernity tends to think of itself as more advanced, as knowing more, and as being more insightful than those in the past.  I think the basic divide here is that traditionalists do not share this view of modernity.  But if you do view the past as lesser, then it makes sense that one would regard groups that retain practices from the past as also lesser.  But if one does not share that view, that is to say if you do not regard the present through a chronocentric lens, then the past becomes a resource rather than something to be overcome and put aside.

Modern Quakers (both liberal and evangelical) tend to regard the Quaker past as something that was overcome, or something that held back progress.  From thhis perspective retaining plain dress, plain speech, and other traditional Quaker customs is anti-progress.  But if one views the present time as a decline, if one does not see modernity as an improvement, then one views these practices as resources, or tools, that will assist one in overcoming the worldliness and decline that the present represents.

Personally, I am inclined to view the present as a decline in humanity's state.  I think 500 years from now historians will look at the 20th century as a dark age of destruction and malevolence.  I know the arguments for the idea of progress, but I just don't think they are valid.  So from my perspective the reforms that Quakers underwent in the 19th and 20th centuries are part of that overall cultural decline and not something to be celebrated.

I suspect this doesn't make much sense.  I mean no disrespect to any Quaker branch or tradition; but that's how I see things at this time.

Best wishes,

Jim

P.S. I read the Journal of Joseph Hoag and I think it is a good resource.  It can be a little tedious when he goes into the minute details of his travels.  But it offers insight into the mind and heart of a traditional Quaker who lived to see the beginnings of the schisms that rocked the Quaker community.

Hello Jean,

It might be helpful to think of Primitive (relative to the first Quakers) as essentially experiential. After all, the first quakers gathered around a shared experience not a shared tradition (they actually rejected all the traditional forms they once followed), in the same way as those who directly experienced the coming of the Comforter at pentecost. They gathered around an experience not a tradition. Primitive is not looking back it is experienced Presence in this context.

Keith Saylor speaks my mind. I believe that the Presence - meaning experiencing intense Spirit presence - is the purpose of Meeting.

Do we Quakers now gather around tradition more than Presence?  Do we "believe" customs and "tradition" are the method by which Quakers  meet spirit - and the quality of our Spiritual Intensity depends on how "traditional" our personal beliefs are? "

What about freedom? Does a worshipper need to be "free" in order to seek the Presence (and possibly fail)? Or should conformity to the expectations and experiences of another be out guide?

Jim,

Even though I find MUCH spirituality and joy in the modern liberal Quaker tradition, I just loved your post here (see the italicized below).  It is the first explanation I have read as to why conservative Friends draw lines that us liberal Quakers don't have - except perhaps the line we draw of "love one another". 

I would never have had such a wonderful, fulfilling life filled with spiritual depth, Spirit-led experiences, and most importantly - immense coverings of love - if it weren't for me stumbling into a liberal Quaker meeting some 30 years ago.

Your awesome post reminds me that if I don't understand why someone has chosen a particular religious path, it boils down to the fact that I just don't understand - period.  In the end, it is indeed all about each of us and what resonates in our hearts to draw us to the divine.  That's the objective , isn't it?

Thank you for the ministering you have given me (and perhaps others) through your insightful post.  I learned much!
 
Jim Wilson said:

Good Morning Jean:

I'd like to suggest looking at traditional Quakers (I prefer the term 'traditional' to 'primitive') from the perspective of other religious traditions which have retained their form over centuries.  There are a surprising number of such groups.  One that I am familiar with is Buddhist monasticism, which has retained its basic structure and practice for 2500 years.  One can also look at Amish and some traditional Mennonite groups.  Some forms of Christian Monasticism would also be good examples (e.g. Carthusians). 

I am wondering if you would describe these groups as 'retro'?  I think of this as a modernist prejudice.  I have coined a word for this kind of thinking; I refer to it as 'chronocentrism'.  I mean by this that modernity tends to think of itself as more advanced, as knowing more, and as being more insightful than those in the past.  I think the basic divide here is that traditionalists do not share this view of modernity.  But if you do view the past as lesser, then it makes sense that one would regard groups that retain practices from the past as also lesser.  But if one does not share that view, that is to say if you do not regard the present through a chronocentric lens, then the past becomes a resource rather than something to be overcome and put aside.

Modern Quakers (both liberal and evangelical) tend to regard the Quaker past as something that was overcome, or something that held back progress.  From thhis perspective retaining plain dress, plain speech, and other traditional Quaker customs is anti-progress.  But if one views the present time as a decline, if one does not see modernity as an improvement, then one views these practices as resources, or tools, that will assist one in overcoming the worldliness and decline that the present represents.

Personally, I am inclined to view the present as a decline in humanity's state.  I think 500 years from now historians will look at the 20th century as a dark age of destruction and malevolence.  I know the arguments for the idea of progress, but I just don't think they are valid.  So from my perspective the reforms that Quakers underwent in the 19th and 20th centuries are part of that overall cultural decline and not something to be celebrated.

I suspect this doesn't make much sense.  I mean no disrespect to any Quaker branch or tradition; but that's how I see things at this time.

Best wishes,

Jim

P.S. I read the Journal of Joseph Hoag and I think it is a good resource.  It can be a little tedious when he goes into the minute details of his travels.  But it offers insight into the mind and heart of a traditional Quaker who lived to see the beginnings of the schisms that rocked the Quaker community.

Your post, Keith, (in italics below) reminds of the reason the Progressive Quakers and liberal Quakers found their own path.  They were, and are,  looking for a renewal of the present experience just as the very early Friends experienced.  So, it is understandable why liberal Friends view their present experience as duplicating that of early primitive Quakers, regardless if it doesn't match the traditions of those early Friends.  To imitate modes of long dead Quakers seems idolatrous to many liberal Friends - a trading of a living experience for one long gone. 

However, after reading Jim Wilson's post, I like to think that conservative Friends view these past modes and lines (if you will) more as a tools that help them on their spiritual journey to reach a deep place.
 
Keith Saylor said:

Hello Jean,

It might be helpful to think of Primitive (relative to the first Quakers) as essentially experiential. After all, the first quakers gathered around a shared experience not a shared tradition (they actually rejected all the traditional forms they once followed), in the same way as those who directly experienced the coming of the Comforter at pentecost. They gathered around an experience not a tradition. Primitive is not looking back it is experienced Presence in this context.
Greetings Jean, I have never really felt like I have been "clinging to tradition" but I can see how we could fall into not listening to the spirit and just following the ebbs and flows of traditions that have been passed down through the years. Of course some of the "tradition" that we do follow as Conservative Friends is the bedrock of our faith. Fundamental things are what I am thinking of such as Christ, salvatition, the Holy Spirit, worshiping in the silence guided by the spirit and so on. All of these are fundamental to me as a Quaker and do not hinder me but give me freedom. I hope I am on the right track Jean as to answering your question. I have enjoyed the other thoughts that Friends have shared.
Have a great day Jean,
Shane

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