Howard Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years
Adult Education Reading Group
Santa Monica Quaker Meeting
May 15, 2016 at 8:30 a.m.
Clerked by Kim O’Brien
Here are the passages that we will consider:
Excerpts are from Howard J. Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years, Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 2002:
“Friends have hesitated to analyze or even to put into words the ineffable experience of worship. Nevertheless, much which is helpful in the meeting can be learned from books of devotion. The worshipper sits down in silence. He seeks to compose his wandering thoughts. How shall he begin in order that his worship may not become a dreamy reverie? Perhaps by repeating a prayer, or a verse of scripture or poetry. As he progresses, he may be able to offer a prayer of his own which merges with thoughts which have to do with the routine problems of his daily life. He must not fear to express selfish desires, for, above all, he must be sincere. He may find that these desires, when expressed before God, assume a different form, proportion and direction. After a time something may come before his mind, a past event, a future possibility, a saying or occurrence in the Bible or elsewhere on which his attention becomes fixed. This focus of attention is now seen, not in a secular, but in a religious context. It is viewed in its eternal rather than its temporal aspect.
The will and feelings of the worshipper become stirred as the thought before him glows with life and power. He no longer feels that he himself is searching, but that he is being searched through. There is a growing sense of divine Presence. Truth is not thought about, but perceived and enjoyed. It may be that a point is reached at which the worshipper finds that he must communicate to the meeting what has come to him. Or, he may resolve to act at some time in the future in accordance with the Light which he has received. If he waits quietly and expectantly with the windows of his soul open to whatever Light may shine, he may lose all sense of separate existence and find himself aware only of the greater Life on which his own is based. The sense of union with God may come unexpectedly. This occurs more often than is generally supposed, for it is frequently not recognized for what it is. Such complete self-forgetfulness cannot easily be reproduced in memory. There is the lower self-forgetfulness of sleep which cannot be remembered at all, and there is, at the opposite pole, the higher self-forgetfulness in which every faculty of the soul is intensely awake, with the result that consciousness is widened to include that which is beyond thought and memory” (Brinton, pp. 90-91).
“The method of laying the responsibility for ministry on the congregation as a whole rather than on a person or persons specially prepared and delegated for it obviously involves serious difficulties. The ministry in Quaker meetings has always been, and will continue to be, a problem. Persons unqualified because of shallowness of experience or failure to attain the highest motivation take advantage of the liberty. George Fox warns against preaching in a `brittle, peevish, hasty, fretful mind.’ (Ep. 131). Some even fail to understand the religious character of the meeting and introduce subjects more appropriate to a forum or lecture platform than to a group that is gathered to wait upon the Lord. Some, who have undoubtedly received a gift in the past, may have outlived it and not be aware of their loss. Too much ministry may lead to overdependence on the spoken word. Joshua Evans remarks in his Journal:
`At our meeting lately we had the company of four Friends who were ministers. It occurred to my mind that in a season of drought we looked to the clouds for rain. Sometimes many clouds produce but little rain, so when divers preachers are in the gallery and the minds of the people turned towards them and not to the Bishop of souls, disappointment often happens.’
In the parable of the sower, some seed did not grow because it fell on hard ground. The ground may have become hard because so many were tramping up and down to sow seed” (Brinton, pp. 110-111).
“The pioneering quality of Quaker social work is large due to the character of the meeting for worship. Silent waiting worship permits a fresh and direct facing of facts under conditions in which the conscience becomes sensitized. There is no screen of words and abstract concepts between the soul and reality. Music, sermons, prayers, responses, all such spiritual exercises may be received passively or with a resistance of which the recipient is often quite unaware, but that which arises from within is closer to the springs of the will. The worshiper finds a certain condition in the outside world presented to his mind at the very time at which he is seeking God’s guidance for his actions. The horizontal human relationship become correlated with the vertical divine-human relationship in such a way that certain actions appear to be required independently of any human opinion or demand. A concern develops and with it a sense of uneasiness over a situation about which something needs to be done. This uneasiness persists until the required action is undertaken either successfully or unsuccessfully. If unsuccessful, the Friend who had experienced the concern can at least feel that he has lived up to the measure of light and power given to him. Needless to say, all meetings for worship are not sources of inspiration; many are unfruitful due to drowsiness or inertness. Also it must be remembered that the spirit of creative worship may be fruitful at unexpected times and places outside the united gathering” (Brinton, pp. 177-178).