From John Woolman (1741)

I went to meetings in an awful frame of mind, and endeavored to be inwardly acquainted with the language of the true Shepherd. And one day, being under a strong exercise of spirit, I stood up, and said some words in a meeting, but not keeping close to the divine opening, I said more than was required of me and being soon sensible to my error, I was afflicted in mind some weeks, without any light or comfort, even to that degree that I could take satisfaction in nothing. I remembered God and was troubled, and in the depth of my distress he had pity upon me, and sent the Comforter. I then felt forgiveness for my offence, and my mind became calm and quiet, being truly thankful to my gracious Redeemer for his mercies. And after this, feeling the spring of divine love opened, and a concern to speak, I said a few words in a meeting in which I found peace. This I believe was about six weeks from the first time, and as I was thus humbled and disciplined under the cross, my understanding became more strengthened to distinguish the language of the pure spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart, and taught me to wait in silence sometimes many weeks together, until I felt that rise which prepares the creature to stand like a trumpet, through which the Lord speaks to his flock. John Woolman (1741)

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 29, 2020 at 2:46pm

The metaphors John Woolman used suggested that this is about what he felt was required for a sufficiently-pure Divine/human collaboration.

I've read a great many criticisms of other Friend's messages that suggested, basically: "If this [message] was him speaking then it had to be only-him, not God." That is not at all logically valid.

I've experienced a range of leadings to speak. At one end of that range, coming up from almost dream-state worship with a question and a sense that it must be shared, immediately, in the specific form I'd received -- that message inspired one visiting Friend to her practice of many years since, something I myself hadn't thought of at all. At the other end, waking up in the middle of the night at Yearly Meeting with a certainty that I was going to need to talk about homelessness that morning. I certainly wasn't figuring out what to say, though I'd been writing on the subject for some time... What I was receiving was confirmation that this wasn't just something I'd arrived at on my own; I would be required to speak.

Certainly I've sat through many Meetings wishing I had the 'go-ahead' to address one subject or another. That didn't some, and so I sat... wondering if this might be constitute hiding one's talent under a bushel. I suspect we have collectively fallen into that error -- while at the same time failing to realize how much we've clung to mistaken and destructive ideas that God would have corrected, if only we'd been open to that. (But simply thinking I should speak about something, without such a cue, has been uniformly disastrous.)

Where Anne once wrote about dancing with a 'dancing master' as a metaphor of God's ways of leading us; I say there are two inappropriate approaches to that situation: to rigidly ignore our Partner's cues -- or to collapse utterly to the floor.

Comment by William F Rushby on 4th mo. 30, 2020 at 7:49pm

Forrest:  I get frustrated by your comments oftentimes!  You make rather bold but questionable assertions (e.g. traditional Quaker understanding of inspiration calls for one to be zombie-like) and when challenged to explain, you don't offer an explanation in so many words.  Instead, you offer "free association" (In free association, psychoanalytic patients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during the analytic session, and not to censor their thoughts). which immediately raises other questions (e.g. "The metaphors John Woolman used").

By implication, you have called John Woolman a zombie and someone who uses "metaphors" in the aforementioned comments (from his journal, I guess) rather than speaking frankly.   Am I reading you right?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 12:16am

I have directly said that John Woolman's model of what 'being led by God' looks like put him in an unnecessarily passive role in the process, ie feeling that having his own will "dead" was the necessary and optimal condition for following God's will . I'd call that condition he aspired to "being like a zombi under remote control" (I doubt this was ever God's intention and hope that Woolman never actually 'achieved' it.)

You demanded explanations so I gave examples of what 'being led by God' is like for someone who doesn't share your view of how that has to be. Such an attitude will naturally elicit frustration until you've allowed more space for the many ways God and other people do in fact interact.

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 5:33am

Good morning, Forrest!  Your straightforward explanation makes sense!  And the metaphor of one's will "dying" is apt.  I don't think that "dying" to one's own will began with the Puritans and I don't think it makes one zombie-like, nevertheless I understand what you are saying (for a change!).

The issue of the role of one's personality in "speaking as the 'oracles of God'" is an important one and complex for those of us who believe in what I have termed "oracular ministry."  (I addressed it to some extent in "Ann Branson and the Eclipse of Oracular Ministry in Nineteenth Century Quakerism," published in Quaker History in 2016.  I view the role of the oracular minister as functioning as an ambassador more than a puppet.

IMHO, the alternative is to turn a meeting for worship into an exercise in group dynamics.  Your "still small voice" model seems to fall somewhere in between, and I would not rule that out as being ego-driven rather than God-inspired.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 1:55pm

The notion that our personal will is intrinsically evil began with the Puritans, was retained by Barclay -- and clearly underlies the practice of trying to eliminate our wills.

If God were a distant foreign country, an ambassador would be appropriate. The more we recognize God at work within us and around us, the less we see a need for any such thing.

We come to Meeting so we can encounter God, as we can also do alone at home. The advantage of doing this with a group is not that we gain infallible pronouncements through each other; but that the collision with other people's certainties can help us sort out what God is teaching from whatever habits of thought may have blinded us to that. And more readily to love each other, as often happens despite ourselves.

We don't need an egodectomy. The more we try for that, the better our egos get at hiding from us (but not, alas, from others.)

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 2:15pm

Forrest, thanks for your witty response!  Prophets are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God.  Sometimes, they are given an explicit message to deliver.  At other times, they are commissioned to speak for God without being given an explicit message.

If we wonder why God needs spokespeople, we need only look at the Biblical narrative to find out.

"We don't need an egodectomy. The more we try for that, the better our egos get at hiding from us (but not, alas, from others.)"  The church is supposed to keep us from hiding inflated egos, and the Society of Friends has an abundance of them!

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 3:12pm

The Kingdom of God is not a distant foreign country either. It's the ongoing divine response to the prayer, "Thy kingdom come [here]; Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven."

Our response to that at work within us does not come from subjecting ourselves to rules (or from opposing them either.) But we're permitted to tinker with the rules where they aren't fulfilling their purpose.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 5th mo. 1, 2020 at 4:15pm

I keep returning to the quote from Woolman and his testimony to his literal experience of the operation of the spirit upon his conscience. I own and embrace his witness as I experience the same continuously in daily life in my relationships and interactions with people. It is a blessing to be in such fellowship with another. To be drawn out of reflective or notional thought and to be guided and informed through the direct and literal and living operation of immanent, self-sustaining, and everlasting being itself in itself is a different way of relating to people and circumstances which is not of the nature of will or thought.

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 2, 2020 at 9:12pm

Hello again, Forrest!

I don't know why the "distant foreign country" notion is pivotal to your response to my "ambassadorial model" of the prophet.  I attempted to respond to your claim that the traditional Quaker understanding of Divine inspiration calls for 0ne to become "zombie-like".

I claimed that the inspired prophet is comparable to an ambassador, one who has been commissioned by God to speak and act for him.  the "distant foreign country" notion seems to be beside the point!  Prophets in the Bible typically spoke to their own faith community rather than a foreign one!  And they did not enact a puppet model of serving God, which your "zombie" image appears to do. 

The "Kingdom of God" is a whole study in its own right.  Wikipedia offers an essay which addresses that concept in detail (see  I think we have enough to deal with already without delving into that concept.

I propose that John Woolman is a case study in the model of the prophet as ambassador and by no means was he a puppet or zombie.  

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 2, 2020 at 9:21pm

Hello, Keith Saylor!

You wrote of "a different way of relating to people and circumstances which is not of the nature of will or thought."  Help me to grasp what you are saying.  And how does it fit John Woolman's life and ministry?


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