Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 17, 2001
Quaker mystic introduced to a wider audience
Rufus Jones: Essential Writings Selected with an Introduction, by Kerry Walters. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2001. 160 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"How brilliantly all of existence is illuminated by divine light! In such a magic lantern world, surprises - happy accidents - are just around the corner. That light not only exists beyond us. It lives within each one of us.
"The 'light within' is no abstract phrase. It is an experience. It is a type of religion that turns away from dry theological notions and insists instead upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons in their own souls and in their own personal lives."
Rufus Jones wrote this in An Interpretation of Quakerism.
Jones was an American Quaker mystic. He was also a reformer, a man of loving kindness and a social prophet. He had significant influence during the first half of the 20th century in his own Christian community but has not been well known beyond it.
Orbis is to be commended for introducing readers across the ecumenical sprectrum to this modern spiritual master. Jones amply satisfies those desiring a richer interior life.
The lived experience of the inner light is the starting point for all of Jones' religious writings. In that, he is a natural spiritual descendant of Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux and Ignatius of Loyola.
Jones was raised in a strongly religious Quaker home and much influenced by a saintly aunt described as "a Franciscan type of person."
For many years he was editor of The American Friend and worked tirelessly to reconcile disparate Quaker factions. While still in mid-career he suffered the deaths of his wife and son. Later in life he helped co-found the American Friends Service Committee, an international relief and development agency. Jones' mysticism was therefore deeply personal but it found expression communally and in service to others.
Not unlike Teilhard de Chardin, Jones was convinced that we live in a God-saturated cosmos in which all aspects of reality are woven together by the presence of the Spirit.
Jones' "affirmation mysticism" celebrated the sacramental discovery of God revealed in the finite itself. Nothing now can be unimportant, he said. There is more in the least event than the ordinary eye sees. Every situation may be turned into an occasion for transforming our stubborn human nature to gain a nearer view of God. Many modern spiritual guides have effectively picked up and developed this germane idea.
Christ did not set out specifically to found a church, according to Jones. He brought a little group of men and women into a personal experience of God. To genuinely participate in Christ's life one needs to be part of his "beloved community." The Church is the here and now of Christ's life in the world and makes Christ real in the present.
Jones did not advocate a private, subjective spirituality in and of itself. The divine light must be interpreted and transmuted into social movements dedicated to the love and service of the poor. The kingdom of God is something we do, not somewhere we go.
Many people are spiritual but churchly words don't reach them. He encouraged Christians to avoid belief statements in favour of speaking simply out of their own faith experience.
In this, he anticipated witnesses like Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier. "Preach the gospel," St. Francis is reputed to have said. "If necessary, use words."
Readers more accustomed to reading Catholic spirituality may find Jones a bit quaint and stilted in places. Yet, this sleeper of a book offers a helpful introduction to one of Protestantism's leading modern mystics.
Jones represents an early 20th-century expression of two millennia of Christian spirituality and his Quaker mysticism is now a resource made available to all. He anticipates modern questions and helps the reader better understand what many current spiritual writers are saying.