Quaker joy and hope: how can I keep from singing?

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Quaker hymn: how can I keep from singing
JOY! A Quaker Witness
(Conrad Lindes)

How Can I Keep From Singing

Pete Seeger (note by Bob Shepherd)

I learned the following hymn from a Pete Seeger recording. (Pete Seeger pictured at the left.) I've always loved folk music and I found the words of this song somewhat uplifting. I am of Quaker ancestry myself, and a considerable component of the Quaker witness through history has been the commitment to peace and to social justice, the commitment to the gospel ideals of reconciling the world -- in the here and now, not in some far off heaven in the clouds. Pete Seeger is not a Quaker himself, but certainly in some sense is a 'fellow-traveller,' and shares many of the same values of social justice and making the world a better place. The jacket blurb indicated Seeger got the song from his friend Doris Plenn, of Quaker heritage. The song was an old Quaker hymn.

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.
Lao Tzu

My life flows on in endless song:
Above earth's lamentation,
I catch the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comfort die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it.

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his--
How can I keep from singing?

Pete Seeger loved the music and the inspirational or idealistic tenor of the song, but his version removes the theistic reference and adds a social justice note to it.
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When Friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Elaine C. Huber, referring to an earlier period of Quaker history, says: " The sense of joy and enthusiasm that pervades the lives of these early Quakers cannot be explained in any ot the ordinary ways in which we define human happiness. They had little material security, they suffered ridicule from their fellow citizens, and they lived under the constant threat of imprisonment. What they did possess, though, was a sense that they were participating in the creation of a new order. [Rosemary Radford Ruether, ed. Women of Spirit. p 172]

Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but earnestness of soul.
[Hannah More : Practical Piety]
liberty bell
Gwyneth Walker

Joyous even in trial

Elaine C. Huber writes: "So many Quakers suffered in prisons [in England], sometimes dying at the hands of sadistic jailers, that in 1659 ome hundred forty-four Friends petitioned the House of Commons begging to take the place of those then in prison so that prisoners who were weak or ill could be released." [Rosemary Radford Ruether, ed. Women of Spirit. p 159]

Huber relates one Quaker's suffering: "Arrested at the home of a friend in 1657, an Englishwoman named Dewens Morrey was taken before the justice to face her accuser, the parish priest of Hawkechurch . When she inquired what evil she had done the priest said, 'A woman must not speak in the church.' Her punishment is recorded in a volume called First Publishers of Truth: 'So in conclusion they ordered her to go back to Hawkechurch that Night, and there she was to be whipt until the Blood did come, which was done the next Morning Early, she receiving many Cruell, bloody stripes.' For a woman to speak aloud in church was indeed a punishable crime, and the verdict for Dewens Morrey was 'guilty,' yet she and hundreds of other Quaker women continued to defy ecclesiastical authority by their public preaching and thus helped shape the current of [the] religious history [of the socalled puritan revolution of seventeenth century England]. [Rosemary Radford Ruether, ed. Women of Spirit. p 156]

Throughout English history all major religious groups had reserved public preaching for men. But Quaker women were encouraged to listen for the voice of the Spirit and follow its leading, even into the pulpit. Thus the "outspokenness" of Quaker women. [p 172]

Tom Paine refers to the Quaker mistress of King George III. Disparaging the Quakers for their pacifism and neutrality, their failure to serve their country patriotically, Paine threw in the story of Hannah Lightfoot, a Quaker, with especially bitter attacks on her Quaker husband for cuckolding himself for the king's wanton indulgence.

According to wiki, George III admired the simple goodness of the Quakers and there is an old story, first published in 1770 but much embroidered in the nineteenth century, that, in amusement, linked his name as an extremely shy teenager of fifteen with that of the Quaker Hannah Lightfoot, eight years his senior, who ran away from her husband in 1754 and disappeared. The King, then Prince of Wales, is said to have organised her abduction at or after her marriage to Isaac Axford in 1753

The Quaker tendency toward radicalism or at least of "pushing the envelope" is well known. Some of it stems no doubt from the rejection they already operated under from the more "respectable" denominations. Already outcast, they perhaps had greater openness toward ideas that the more fearful would have rejected out of hand. Including, notoriously, the equality of gender roles among Quakers, in meeting, at least comparatively speaking. [See more on radical Quaker women.]

Seeking above all else to "hear the voice of the Spirit" (to open the eyes to the Inner Light of "Christ"), Quakers were ripe for bold forays into uncharted territory. In one case a group of intensely "seeking" Quakers just north of Manchester saw their silent prayer interrupted by a Spirit-filled woman, Sister Jane, walking up and down trembling. She would declaim the word of God before the group of rapt "Seekers." Because of their dancing and weeping, their crying out and ecstatic utterance in strange tongues, they were known as the Shaking Quakers. See more The Shaking Quakers

Charles Darwin noted from an evolutionary standpoint how detrimental the Inquisition, as well as France's persecution of Huguenots, Camisards (etc), had been. When you destroy the boldest, you are eliminating the best of your citizens, the best genetic qualities.

An example is the feminist movement, almost wholly Quaker in its earliest phase. The Seneca Falls leaders were preponderantly Quaker gals. Seems ironic, with their modest bonnets, plain apparel, and "thee" and "thou" -- yet they literally transformed history. They went on to launch abolitionism, then (later) temperance, which was anti-male in the sense of being a radical feminist "woman's" movement, and successful, despite the enmity from their immigrant allies who were barely learning Democracy themselves.

Quaker women had a tradition of outspokenness from the very beginnings. Margaret Fell became a mother of Quakerism and she did not shy from the role of "valorous helpmeet" to George Fox, even when it meant that her husband benignly stepped aside and allowed (and encouraged) his wife to shine. For early Quakers, in their need, she became the wind beneath their wings. Then in the USA, Quaker women continued their mantle of "strength" within ministry and equality in the family.

Also see Mothers of Feminism in America: Strong Quaker Women by Margaret Hope Bacon. The Valorous Helpmeet Role. Divine Feminine.

Within the Quaker Society, the charismatic Elias Hicks was regarded as a very gifted speaker, with a strong voice, great poise, and dramatic flair. After Woolman, Hicks was one of the early abolitionists among the Friends. He spoke against slavery often and worked tirelessly on behalf of abolition. His 'Observations on the Slavery of the Africans' (1811), which argued for a boycott of slavery-produced goods, represented one of the earliest social reform boycott efforts in the United States -- no doubt influencing Thoreau and others. New York state, at Hicks's instigation (among others), abolished slavery within its borders on July 4, 1827.

ALSO: please see The Quaker Influence on Emerson by Charles Daniel Gelatt

Ralph Waldo Emerson, was once asked by a relative if he were a Swedenborgian. Emerson replied: "I am more of a Quaker than anything else. I believe in the 'still, small voice,' and that voice is Christ within us."
Free Love and the Utopians
Hicks stressed that basic urges, including all sexual passions, were aspects of human nature created by God. "He gave us passions -- if we may call them passions -- in order that we might seek after those things which we need, and which we had a right to experience and know," he claimed in his 1824 sermon, "Let Brotherly Love Continue." It would appear that the Quaker concept of "God within" (another name for the Inner Light) appeared subsequently in the theory of the Sexual Openness and the Free Love philosophies of utopian movements of visionaries like John Humphrey Noyes, Charles Fourier, as well as the Shaker leader Ann Lee.

Many of their utopian ideals were clearly heretical, departing from time-honored Church dogma. Free love was sanitized with the phrase "spiritual wifery" -- but it was open marriage nonetheless, often including a love feast of communal mates. Perfectionism centered on individual cleansing and catharsis. Immortalism held out the promise of eternal life in the here and now. The ancient Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura was no longer sacrosanct, but only a guideline. Instead of the concept of a pure revelation, frozen in time (the Bible), these seekers regarded God as "with us" still, a Holy Spirit ever-present to teach and guide and reprove. In other words, the inner light of Christ within us, the hope of glory.

The Dawn Valcour Community, a spiritualist - free love commune in Vermont and New York, rejected the rigid Victorian family structure and challenged traditional Protestant definitions of love and marriage. The community was founded at Colchester VT, and Valcour Island NY. John Wilcox and Oren Shippman were its founders. Wilcox distributed a prospectus that described the colony as the head centre of advanced spiritualism and free love. The colony was to flourish on his 800-acre farm on Valcour Island as well as a farm on the mainland. In August 1874 a dozen people visited the community. The entire experiment lasted little more than a year. Jeff Meyers writes that their utopian ideal in some ways foreshadowed the "peace-loving, flower-toting hippies of the '60s who thought free love meant lots of sex with lots of people." Despite the fact that these early day utopians abandoned their dream for peace after such a brief effort, their communal idea was not all that far-fetched.

"They were basically trying to carry out an idea that a lot of communities in the 1840s had tried," said Dr. Altina Waller, a former chair of the History Department at Plattsburgh State University.

"These groups were trying to withdraw from the world to set up a utopian community," she added. "Most had already died when these people came to Valcour. That's why the local people made so much fun of them. If they'd come 40 years earlier, people might have taken them more seriously."

Waller, now head of the History Department at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., learned of the Dawn Valcour Society during her 12-year tenure at Plattsburgh State (1983-1995).

Although short-lived, the society did follow the basic premise that the woes of modern society would eventually lead to the downfall of humankind, she said.

"I don't think we should necessarily dismiss them as nuts," she said. "They were responding to the industrialization of the 19th century, the terrible inequities, the poverty and suffering that modern society had created."

Wilcox declared: "Today, three-fifths of the wealth of this nation is wrenched from the hands of those who produced it and is gathered up into the hands of those who never toil."

A lot of attention was focused on a young woman, sarcastically called the group's "female superintendent" by the media. Twenty-seven-year-old H. Augusta White would be a central figure in the successes and short-comings of the Dawn Valcour group.

Sarah Grimké
The Grimké sisters were born into a slave-holding family of considerable wealth, but white women in those days were little better than the black slaves themselves. To elucidate, Lynne Olson writes (as a for instance) of the pain and humiliation of countless Southern white wives, upon discovering that their husbands were forcing themselves upon slave women. A wife might pour out her fury, jealousy, and pain in a diary or journal, but she usually didn't dare confront her husband openly. For as cosseted and supposedly hallowed the white Southern belle famously was, her legal status, in the final analysis, was not much different from that of a slave woman. Declared slavery apologist George Fitzhugh in 1854, "Wives and apprentices are slaves, not in theory only, but often in fact." A wife had no rights to speak of -- no rights over her property or her children, no right to vote, no right to participate in public life. She was, in effect, the possession of her husband, barred from education, prevented from entering business or the professions. "In truth, woman, like children, had but one right, and that is the right of protection," Fitzhugh wrote. "The right to protection involves the duty to obey ... if she is obedient she stands little danger of maltreatment."

A white woman's reward for her submission was to be idealized beyond measure, to be pictured as the quintessence of ethereal loveliness ..." [etc] The simple fact is, sex has always been inextricably entwined with race and racism. "At the heart of the American race problem the sex factor is rooted, rooted so deeply that it is not always recognized when it shows at the surface." declared James Weldon Johnson, the noted black poet writer and civil rights leader. [see] "The race situation will continue to be acute as long as the sex factor persists." ['proposal']

Sarah Grimké was a gifted and perhaps one might call her even a "brilliant" young woman. But she was not particularly respectful of the conventional expectations of the day, which held women almost as much of slaves as the black people in bondage. One time, Sarah's father told her she could have been the greatest legal scholar in the country -- if she had only been born a boy!

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Quakers . . . . . and Integration

God is love

Most of them were not even Quakers

Deep in my Heart

They risked their lives, their fortunes, their reputations

These Women of Valour - they were mostly young women, from good homes. They had comfortable lives in "better" neighborhoods, many were getting good educations. And they sacrficed it all, or risked it all. They dared to take a stand 'cause it was "right." They dared to believe in a New World Coming. They dared to believe that LOVE is better than hate. And their idealism cost them. Cost them money, cost some of them their lives (Viola Liuzzo). Cost most of them social standing. Cost them their reputations. They were called communists, leftists, sluts, trouble-makers, whores, nigger-lovers, pinkos, etc. .... *

Yet they helped change the world. (These Women of Valour)

We Are Our Brothers' Keeper

Quakers, Shakers, Utopians -- and Free Love

Douglas Saylor writes:

The 19th century was a time for re-examining gender roles. There was a free-love movement, and religious minority groups were often accused of unorthodox sexual practices. The community at Oneida, New York, was the most well-known of the Free Love communes. Free Love was first and foremost a movement committed to marriage reform, seeing marriage as a partnership of equals, and wanting to liberalize divorce laws. Some Free Love advocates promoted serial monogamy. Having broken away from the Quakers, sects like the Shakers condemned marriage and procreation; this commitment to celibacy was one reason their movement died out. The Mormon practice of polygamy was also reviled by those with traditional beliefs. New family structures were advocated and practiced by many minority religious sects. The Fox sisters and A.J. Davis had close friendships with Abolitionist Quakers. Spiritualism became associated with liberal ideals like Abolition and women's suffrage; the women's suffrage movement was dogged by charges of sexual misconduct. In the minds of some, women seeking equality with men surely had loose morals. While not all liberals were Spiritualists, all Spiritualists were liberal. In the same way, while not all Spiritualists were advocates of Free Love, all advocates of Free Love were Spiritualists.

see That Terrible Question - Free Love

Quakers - the great heretics

You don't even have to call us Christians - we're only 'Friends' (John 15:15)

The 'Great Heretics' - Quakers - Dissent is actually needful and patriotic
The Light Within - the transcendent power of Conscience
Black Friends - the connection examined
Quakers in American history - and some famous friends
Friend Samuel Wetherill and the Free Quakers "breakaway"
North Carolina Quakers - dissenting faith transplanted to new soil
West Jersey Friends - the Quaker story Painfield NJ
Probity, sobriety, absolute truth-telling - Quaker man of business
Quakers and Capitalism - why not the interest of yore?
The heresy of perfection - scandalous inner cleansing
Religion is beyond all speech - Mahatma Gandhi
Listening from the heart - Gandhi, St Francis, the Unitarians
I am the Lord of the Dance -Sydney Carter's classic hymn
Communes, utopian, spiritual wifery - idealism, pacifism, etc
"Mormon" Jacob Cochran and the Immortalists - spiritual wifery before the Mormons
Quaker apophatic mysticism - a contemplative "soft" spirituality that quietly dissents from hard dogmatism
The "CRIME" of compassion - and women who were guilty of it (hoc si crimen erit, crimen amoris erit)
Walt Whitman, "almost" Quaker - Visions of Spiritual Democracy (all religions, old & new, are there)
Cochranites - Society of Free Brethren & Sisters - their "Spiritual Wifery" cult
John Humphrey Noyes - Oneida commune - free sex in a state of grace
Oneida Perfectionists of the charismatic John Humphrey Noyes - "Complex Marriage"
Ida Craddock : sexual mystic, theosophist & martyr for freedom
Oliver Crowder : The New Israelite - Plural Marriage and divine revelation
Mind Thy P's and Q's (the expression deconstructed) Phineas Quimby NOT SO FAST
Blaming the Woman - men using warped theology to justify misogyny
The Non-violent struggle for Integration - nine American heroines
Intentional Communities - utopians, pacifists
Draw the Circle Wide - Let this be our song no one stands alone, standing side by side
Famous Quakers - some notable Quakers you may know from history

God is love

Seeking Sacred Silence

William Penn wrote: "True silence is to the spirit what sleep is to the body: nourishment and refreshment."

Traditional Quaker services, known as Meetings, take place almost completely in silence. A group of people sits in a room in silence for an hour. Someone may speak briefly or the entire hour may pass without a word being spoken.

In his book, Holy Silence, J. Bryant Hill writes, "Though no outward words were spoken, no formal prayers recited, no music played softly in the background to set a mood, God had worked His way into the deepest parts of our hearts. ... Quaker silence encourages us to relax into the love of God until we hear the Spirit's voice whispering softly in our soul's ear.

Meister Eckhart said: Nothing resembles the language of God so much as does silence.

Christpher New Notes #524

RAGING FIRE of the holy spirit :: the Burnt Over District

The burned-over district was the religious scene in the western and central regions of New York in the early 19th century, where religious revivals and Pentecostal movements of the Second Great Awakening took place.

The term was coined by Charles Grandison Finney who in his 1876 book Autobiography of Charles G. Finney referred to a "burnt district" to denote an area in central and western New York State during the Second Great Awakening. The name was inspired by the notion that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no "fuel" (unconverted population) left over to "burn" (evangelize, revive).

When religion is related to reform movements of the period, such as abolition, women's rights, and utopian social experiments, the region expands to include areas of central New York that were important to these movements.

Religion in the Burnt Over District
Western New York still had a frontier quality during the early canal boom, making professional and established clergy scarce, lending the piety of the area many of the self-taught qualities that proved susceptible to folk religion. Besides producing many mainline Protestant converts, especially in nonconformist sects, the area spawned a number of innovative religious movements, all founded by laypeople during the early 19th century.

These include:

  • The Latter Day Saint movement (whose largest branch is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Joseph Smith, Jr. lived in the area and stated he was led by the angel Moroni to his source for the Book of Mormon, the golden plates, near Palmyra, New York.

  • The Millerites. William Miller was a farmer who lived in Low Hampton, New York, who preached that the literal Second Coming would occur "October 22, 1844." Millerism became extremely popular in western New York State, and some views remain active in church organizations affiliated with Adventism.

  • The Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York conducted the first table-rapping séances in the area, leading to the American movement of Spiritualism (centered in the retreat at Lily Dale and in the Plymouth Spiritualist Church in Rochester, NY) that taught communion with the dead.

  • The Quakers, notably the Hicksite branch, were very active in the burnt over district. Particularly they were active in defending Native Americans as well as in abolitionist work, including the underground rail road (UGRR).

  • The Shakers or Shaking-Quakers were very active in the area, with their first communal farm establishing in central New York (Lebanon). Extraordinary spiritual manifestations occurred beginning in 1837.

  • The Oneida Society was a large utopian group that established a successful community in central New York that subsequently disbanded. It was known for its unique interpretation of group marriage which had mates chosen by committee and offspring of the community raised in common.

  • The Millenarians (generally) believed ardently in the imminent "Second Coming" and the thousand year reign of Christ. This messianic "expectancy" affected several groups and seemed literally to pervade the upstate New York area of those times. The belief was known as chiliasm and there was considerable overlap among numerous sects and churches.
In addition to religious activity, the region including the burned-over district was famous for social radicalism. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the early feminist, was a resident of Seneca Falls in central New York where she and others in the community initiated the Seneca Falls Convention devoted to women's suffrage.

The larger region was the main source of converts to the Fourierist utopian socialist movement. The Skaneateles Community in central New York was such an experiment. The Oneida Society, likewise in central New York, was also considered a utopian group. Related to radical reform, upstate New York provided many members of Hunter Patriots, some of whom volunteered to invade Canada during the Patriot War.

The area also produced innovative religious movements that were founded by clergy, such as the Social Gospel, a primary leader of which was Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester.

Another Quaker hymn - Lord of the Dance

Although Quakers have been branded as almost cult-like or heretical, is that necessarily true? Because of their emphasis on christ within (the holy spirit or Inner Light), Friends were regarded suspiciously as perhaps Deists, or radical individualists. Why would you need a priest or state church to tell you what is PC (theologically kosher) if everyone has the holy spirit of the Christ in him or her?

Tom Paine denied Quakers were even Christian. (merely Friends). Their gathering places were not technically Churches (merely Meeting Houses -- or at first, fields, woods, barns). Some Friends did not so much see Christ as a Saviour (Hypostatic Union of the Theanthropic man), but rather something even better, ONE OF US. He is the Lord of the Dance, showing us the way.

In his song, Sydney Carter appeals to us to see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ, he says he means not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other lords of the dance. But Jesus is the one he knows of first and best. He sings of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Seeking Sacred Silence

White Jesus With Angel
But was Jesus' Complection Negro?

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