ESR MA student Tracy Davis completed this essay for her Quaker Mysticism course with Carole Spencer.

Quakers are mystics. Friends testify to a communicative Creator who is both transcendent and immanent, present among us, even within us. Our practices of silent waiting worship, corporate prayer, or verbal sharing in message or songs of admiration and gratitude, create an intentional inviting environment for awareness of the guidance and action of the Holy in our personal lives, in community and in all of creation. Dorothee Soelle understands that: The basic conviction of Quakers wasand isthat God reveals Godself without respect of persons’” (Soelle 2001, 173). God continues to reveal that which is real directly to any person or sincere group of seekers, no exceptions. Positive energy within a group enhances our perception of the brightness of the Light because humans respond to and open up their hearts more when nurtured in acceptance, respect and encouragement. As it should be mysticism is, indeed, at the center of Quaker praxis, both personal and corporate.

You can read more from Tracy here: http://esrquaker.blogspot.com/2014/12/quakers-are-mystics.html

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Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 5, 2014 at 1:29pm

In an attempt at establishing a brand my monthly meeting emphasizes our mystic roots.  Check out the following link: http://nyym.org/manhasset/whatisaquaker.html

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 5:46am

Hello, Tracy and Carole!

Have you come to terms with the crumbling of the Rufus Jones' "Quakerism is Mysticism" paradigm over the last fifty years?  Jones's mystical interpretation of the origins of Quakerism lost credibility for lack of historical evidence to support his thesis that Quakerism arose as an English manifestation of continental mysticism.

This raises two critical questions: how are you defining mysticism, and what makes a religious experience mystical rather than something else?  And how would you respond to those who challenge Jones' thesis?

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 10:21am

I think we have to be wary of defining those of us today who find Quakers as our best fit for our spiritual journey in terms of historical "Quakerism".  Just as the bible is a "living" book that meets the needs of generation after generation, a religious society should be capable of being an integral part of one's spiritual journey.  George Fox and the early Quakers  no doubt moved under the power of the Holy Spirit in ways similar to many other spiritual revivals.  Fortunately he established a system that could remain a conduit for the Holy Spirit that would allow living water to flow to anyplace that did not clog that conduit or pipeline with tradition.  I don't know if branding Quakers as Mystics is traditionally sound but it speaks to my particular meeting.  I think each individual meeting has to look at it's geographic community and recognize what role the Holy Spirit is calling it to play in helping the light overcome the darkness in that community.

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 10:43am

Hello, James!

Would you care to attempt answers to these questions?  "This raises two critical questions: how are you defining mysticism, and what makes a religious experience mystical rather than something else?"

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 11:22am

I'm defining mysticism as direct communication with God.  As broad a definition as I can think of off the top of my head.  I think the answer to the second question depends on one's definition of religious.  Giving to widows and orphans is religious so giving to them would make that a religious experience.  However it's not communicating directly with God, although it is most probably following his wishes or direction.

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 12:15pm

James:

Your definition would make all direct communication with God a mystical experience.  

This would make the prophets mystics, and Jesus Christ Himself a mystic.  It invites the use of the "mystical grid", with its attendant assumptions and concepts, as the comprehensive way of understanding Divine-human interaction.

It strips the Christian's direct experience of God of its uniqueness.  The Christian's interaction with God is only a subset of mystical experiences which are available to people of any other religious tradition, or even perhaps of no religious tradition at all. Christ then becomes one among many options available to spiritually minded people for relating to God.  He loses His role as unique mediator between God and humanity.

This would mean that sincere spiritually-minded people would be universalists; any specifically Christian aspects of their religious life would be understood as cultural trappings, and nothing more.

Have I understood where you are coming from correctly?

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 12:18pm

By the way, I am not trying to lure you into some kind of rhetorical trap.  I am simply thinking aloud about what you believe!

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 1:40pm

As an aside I would like to point out that the drawing at the beginning of Tracy's essay does not depict traditional Quaker practice accurately.

The ministers gallery shows women seated on both the men's and women's sides.  It implies, among other things, that there were no male ministers.  The facing bench on the floor level shows only men, implying that there were no women elders.

The Friends in the youth gallery (the balcony) show male and female mixed seating.  I don't know how much sex segregation was practiced traditionally in the youth gallery, but the folks depicted are apparently adults, even older adults by the appearance of the beards.

In the "olden days", men Friends of traditional outlook were not usually bearded.  They are uniformly bearded in this drawing.

I recently purchased a book about Lucretia Mott.  I think it is supposed to be a children's book.  A drawing of a meeting for worship (I guess that's what it was) is similar to the one depicted above, but it shows two women operating a spinning wheel as a part of the meeting experience!!  I guess the artist thought that someone should be "doing something" instead of "just sitting there" waiting for the Holy Spirit to stir the waters!

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 7:20pm

"Direct communion with God" would seem to entail something that need only fit into God's categories, not necessarily ours.

It seems legitimate to call that 'mystical'; it doesn't seem helpful to say that such interaction has to be an example of what we call 'mystical'; what we call mystical would be an example of that. And so would what we call 'prophetic'.

Whether or not only 'Christians' properly got it -- shouldn't be dependent on Christian sensibilities, but on God's grace -- of which there seems to be ample, yes?

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 6, 2014 at 7:36pm

Hello, Forrest!

How would you distinguish between the mystical and the prophetic?

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