Mysticism: The 'Engine' of liberal Quakerism (anonymous article from a Quaker library)

Rufus Jones (1863-1948) helped to shape the modern soul of liberal Quakerism that was first birthed unintentionally by Elias Hicks in 1827, to then be matured by the influence of the Progressive Quakers of the later 1800’s, and then ripened into a more universal mystical religious experience due to the influence of Rufus Jones in the first half of the twentieth century.

In 1917 Rufus Jones helped found the Nobel prize-winning American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) as a vehicle for Quakers to provide humanitarian relief around the world.  In 1927, one hundred years after liberal Quakerism first began with the “Hicksite Quakers”, Jones visited India to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and tour the birthplace of the Buddha.  Upon experiencing ‘that of God’ outside of Christian spiritual traditions, he formulated a new approach to Quaker missionary efforts - that of giving humanitarian aid to people while having no need to also convert people to Christianity.  And thus an appreciation of spiritual universalism became widely accepted by liberal Quakers.

Rufus Jones became a well-known Christian mystic who experienced his Quakerism as a direct mystical experience with the Inner Light that guided his every action.  This was much like the very earliest Quakers in the mid-1600’s before the Quaker movement under George Fox’s direction soon adopted a strict discipline and practice that was expected from all Quakers until the mid-1800’s. 

While alive Jone’s mysticism and influence thrust the liberal Quaker tradition solidly into the family of mystical world religions; along with Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Sufi Islam, Kabbalah Judaism, among others.  All of these religious traditions, including liberal Quakerism views ‘becoming one with God or the Absolute’ as possible in order to live an enhanced human experience.

While not every liberal Quaker would accept the “mystic” label for himself or herself, many would agree that Jesus was perhaps the first Christian mystic, and his oneness with the Universal Source was a model of how best to live.  Modern liberal Quaker thought and practice clearly has mysticism as its ‘engine’, giving power to the movement. 

Consider a selection of mystical thought from Rufus Jones which helped to shape the modern liberal Quaker experience:

"The essential characteristic of mysticism is the attainment of a personal conviction by an individual that the human spirit and the divine Spirit have met, have found each other, and are in mutual and reciprocal correspondence as spirit with Spirit."

"We shall not rebuild our shattered world until we recover our faith in eternal realities; we shall not do that until we discover Spirit within ourselves."

"It seems to me tremendously important that Jesus is as truly a revelation of man as he is a revelation of God. We see at last in him what man was meant to be. We have seen God revealed in Jesus. I wish now that we might learn to see the divine possibilities of man revealed in Jesus."

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I'll have to read more of Rufus Jones.  I was able to purchase a reprint of Anne Conway's work,'The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy'.  What strikes me as I read your post is how convergent it is with Conway's sources.  For example, she studied Kabbalah; in fact she begins her treatise with a number of quotes from the Kabbalah (I understand she studied under someone who was trained in 'Lurianic Kabbalah).  As I have never studied this region of Judaism, I don't know exactly what that means, other than it is a symbolic presentation of mystical understanding.  I am genuinely intrigued at the possibility that Anne Conway had more than just a passing impact on early Quaker thought.  At the very least early Quaker thought was congenial to her Platonism, which is rooted in Plotinus's version.  Plotinus is the root of western mysticism.  All of these connections have, I think, created a splendid quilt.

Yes! Indeed. Thanks, as always Jim, for your insights.

Wikipedia has a brief, but good, article on Anne Conway:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Conway_(philosopher)

Jim and Howard,

On the matter of comparative studies, It is compelling to me that while the comparative endeavor, in the context of mystic experience, can demonstrate mutual influence; there is also the persistent recognition (resulting from the comparative endeavor) that the mystic impulse pushes the experiencer independent of particular influence from others. That is, comparative studies results not so much in demonstrating mystic experience as mutual influence but rather that the impulse itself as the influence and the words of the mystic as testimony to shared experience or impulse and fellowship known and sustained independent of others. For me personally, the impulse came first independent of the testimony of others. Jones speaks to this also. What do you think?

Thanks for this discussion thread. 

Here's a reading of a work by a mystic I've brought up before, Maurice Nicoll, a Scottish Jungian who trod in the footsteps of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky:

https://youtu.be/do_MckpQHO4

I find a lot that's Quakerly in his psychological commentaries (published volumes I actually bought at our Quaker meetinghouse, part of a fundraiser for Ramallah Friends School).

Regarding Rufus Jones, there's a film documentary about the guy I review here:

http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2014/01/rufus-jones-luminious-life-mo...

Back to the "Russian mystics" with thoughts about liberal schooling:

http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2016/10/ethnic-schools.html

Hi Keith:

The question of influence is a hot one in academic circles these days.  In Plotinus studies there is a dispute about whether or not Plotinus was influenced by Indian sources, such as the Upanishads.  The primary evidence for this is that Plotinus attempted to travel to India with an entourage of the Emperor Gordian.  His plans were cut short when Gordian was assassinated and Plotinus had to cancel his journey and make his way to Rome.  This indicates that at some point Plotinus was aware of Indian thought and was attracted to it enough to travel a great distance.  But we don't know if he actually studied any Indian works, such as the Upanishads, while in Alexandria.  Most western academics dismiss the idea of influence arguing that Plotinus was a follower of Plato and that is sufficient to understand his teaching.

In regard of Conway, the Cambridge Platonists, and the early Quakers there does seem to be evidence for influence, or at least a mutual exchange of ideas.  The specifics are not clear to me.  It would take some dedicated research to uncover connections, and I am not situated to do so at this time.  But I do find it kind of tantalizing.

This mystic 'impulse' to me is a kind of being drawn away from the world of sensory appearances to a prior-to-perception, prior-to-mind, reality.  It is a beyond, prior to name and form; and at the same time that upon which all things depend for their existence.  This beyond is at the same time present in the heart of all of us.  And, through grace, turning to this light and lead us to this eternal Presence and Source.

My own case differs a little from yours.  My first experience of this presence was perceiving it in someone else.  It was only later that I uncovered its presence in my self: this was through the practice of contemplation and interior silence.  

Best wishes.

Yes Keith, I had your same thought yesterday after reading Jim's comment regarding Anne Conway.  I think the individual experience is part of the whole energy of the Universe, and it is indeed an experience that the individual 'owns'.  Yet, it unites each individual with all.

What the first decade of Quakers in the 1650's did well, and perhaps later twentieth century/early twenty-first century liberal Quakers have also done well (to varying degrees), is allow independent spiritual seekers come together in community to share their independent spiritual experiences with one another.  This strengthens the mystical experience for each seeker, helping each to go deeper into it as they live their daily lives.  Comparisons can serve that purpose too, as long as one experience is not considered better than another, and one experience is not used as a mediating experience that substitutes for ones own spiritual experience.  The mystical experience is tailored by the Light (our Source) to the individual as a 'draw', if you will, to bring each individual from where they are in their ego nature to a spiritual unity with the divine (the Light, the Universe, God;  i.e., pick your label).

This is why it is helpful for a liberal Quaker meeting to understand the importance of the individual mystical experience to a liberal Quaker meeting's mission.  Although that terminology "mystical" wasn't available to Jesus, it is very clear from his explanations of his own experience, that he was a "mystic" (in modern lingo) and he was advocating the mystical experience for others.  He was advocating 'Oneness' with the divine because he knew this would change the individual human experience for the better, as well as the whole human race's experience.

Unfortunately, there are some liberal Quaker meetings that have digressed to varying degrees to ego control and formalities and a desire for uniformity in the forms all people use to navigate daily life (i.e., politics, structures, leadership, etc.) - bringing these into the life of the meeting, making them the focal point.  That's an old story that first started happening in the later 1600's among Quakers.  None of these forms are 'evil' in of themselves; but to view them as the basis of unity within a liberal Quaker meeting is to miss the great misson first advocated by Jesus for the western world (and all humankind): a union of Spirit between each individual and the Energy of Light that is the Source of existence - an experience of the true nature of existence.

Keith Saylor said:

Jim and Howard,

On the matter of comparative studies, It is compelling to me that while the comparative endeavor, in the context of mystic experience, can demonstrate mutual influence; there is also the persistent recognition (resulting from the comparative endeavor) that the mystic impulse pushes the experiencer independent of particular influence from others. That is, comparative studies results not so much in demonstrating mystic experience as mutual influence but rather that the impulse itself as the influence and the words of the mystic as testimony to shared experience or impulse and fellowship known and sustained independent of others. For me personally, the impulse came first independent of the testimony of others. Jones speaks to this also. What do you think?
Hello Howard. It is amazing to me how pertinent and relevant your words are to my most recent blog post! It is exhilarating to glean in a modern writer the heritage of living inshining anointing that sustained many of the early Quakers who were led to lay down their conscience in the face of those other early Quakers who who led them back into that which God had led them out of.



Howard Brod said:

Yes Keith, I had your same thought yesterday after reading Jim's comment regarding Anne Conway.  I think the individual experience is part of the whole energy of the Universe, and it is indeed an experience that the individual 'owns'.  Yet, it unites each individual with all.

What the first decade of Quakers in the 1650's did well, and perhaps later twentieth century/early twenty-first century liberal Quakers have also done well (to varying degrees), is allow independent spiritual seekers come together in community to share their independent spiritual experiences with one another.  This strengthens the mystical experience for each seeker, helping each to go deeper into it as they live their daily lives.  Comparisons can serve that purpose too, as long as one experience is not considered better than another, and one experience is not used as a mediating experience that substitutes for ones own spiritual experience.  The mystical experience is tailored by the Light (our Source) to the individual as a 'draw', if you will, to bring each individual from where they are in their ego nature to a spiritual unity with the divine (the Light, the Universe, God;  i.e., pick your label).

This is why it is helpful for a liberal Quaker meeting to understand the importance of the individual mystical experience to a liberal Quaker meeting's mission.  Although that terminology "mystical" wasn't available to Jesus, it is very clear from his explanations of his own experience, that he was a "mystic" (in modern lingo) and he was advocating the mystical experience for others.  He was advocating 'Oneness' with the divine because he knew this would change the individual human experience for the better, as well as the whole human race's experience.

Unfortunately, there are some liberal Quaker meetings that have digressed to varying degrees to ego control and formalities and a desire for uniformity in the forms all people use to navigate daily life (i.e., politics, structures, leadership, etc.) - bringing these into the life of the meeting, making them the focal point.  That's an old story that first started happening in the later 1600's among Quakers.  None of these forms are 'evil' in of themselves; but to view them as the basis of unity within a liberal Quaker meeting is to miss the great misson first advocated by Jesus for the western world (and all humankind): a union of Spirit between each individual and the Energy of Light that is the Source of existence - an experience of the true nature of existence.

Keith Saylor said:

Jim and Howard,

On the matter of comparative studies, It is compelling to me that while the comparative endeavor, in the context of mystic experience, can demonstrate mutual influence; there is also the persistent recognition (resulting from the comparative endeavor) that the mystic impulse pushes the experiencer independent of particular influence from others. That is, comparative studies results not so much in demonstrating mystic experience as mutual influence but rather that the impulse itself as the influence and the words of the mystic as testimony to shared experience or impulse and fellowship known and sustained independent of others. For me personally, the impulse came first independent of the testimony of others. Jones speaks to this also. What do you think?

Also apropos, mentions Quaker Meeting:

http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2017/01/i-robot.html

Kirby Urner said:

Back to the "Russian mystics" with thoughts about liberal schooling:

http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2016/10/ethnic-schools.html



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