There has been some new interest lately in the quaking that earned the first Friends our nickname. (Of course, experiences of trembling or quaking in worship happen today in churches associated with the holiness or pentecostalist movements. But truly, pentecostalism is not a group I'm familiar with at all.) A few weeks ago, the front page of QuakerQuaker included a blog completely dedicated to exploring physical, bodily quaking as an element of renewal in modern-day Quakerism. (Scott Martin's The Ecstatic Quaker) While not everything in his recommendations is true to my own experience, it was very thought-provoking.
Liberal Friends (like me) find the Inner Light to be a useful and treasured name for a central experience. But early Friends had a really nuanced understanding of the Inner Light --the Inward Light, the Light of God shining inward into our souls-- which took account of how sometimes becoming more enlightened can be a painful experience, when it involves becoming aware of parts of ourselves we should change. How many of us have struggled, and taken good refuge in the Comforter we found shining inside?
Poem for John Banks of 1654, from 2008
there’s something you have to know first
huddled on the bed (usually)
or on the dorm room floor,
or the dark library stacks,
or my armchair,
That fear, unseen, no reason, no warning,
and sometimes the knowing it was coming was the worst part
because I was completely at the mercy of that overgripping passionate fear.
Twitches first, then shudders, now in a ball wrapped in covers, now flailing in the dark.
My friends whom I trusted told me the way out was through,
but I kept getting stuck.
Discovering over and over that my body existed, and the one feeling it was feeling was fear.
And what was it like for that Quaker, young man my age, in the dawn of his age?
When no one had invented all that -ology of psych.
That John Banks, he used the words of his age to describe....
“...and the same day at evening... I was smitten to the ground with the weight of God’s judgement for sin. ... Great was the warfare and combats that I had with the Enemy of my soul, who... did what in him lay, to betray me from the simplicity of the Truth, that was begotten in me, and to persuade me to despair... I had passed through great tribulation, in weeping and mourning in woods and solitary places, alone, where I had often desired to be.”
They were quakers!
It sounds to me like the same experience.
He wrestled with the Enemy. He found Truth begotten in him.
And if "sin" is condemning himself when he simply needed to unite Love and Truth....
and if I had to try so hard to remember to be gentle with myself.....
but away with these negotiations.
We look back at that age, and say they received spiritual gifts a hundredfold, an outpouring unstoppable of the water of life.
We think they had some secret.
Did we not both quake? Were we not both smitten to the ground, and despairing?
Do we not both have the same dawn to thank, the same grass and wind?
The same Spirit?
What does this mean for us?
(The quote by John Banks is found in Early Quaker Writings, edited by Hugh Barbour and Arthur O. Roberts, page 183, in selections from "The Journal of John Banks." See especially footnote 34: "Physical seizures of this kind were fairly common among early Friends, along with the more usual quaking.")