Dennis Dorwick. New South Wales Regional Meeting.


I love footnotes. The British historian, Roy Porter, has published two editions of his book, The Enlightenment. The first, of 752 pages, is filled with footnotes rich with wry wit, offering the gentle reader untidy but fascinating threads always present in a mind such as Porter’s. The second edition, of 112 pages, Porter’s charming, collegial and important footnoted asides are quite absent.

On opening a new book I often work from the outside-in and so with Guiton’s Early Quakers I began with the index (P), an extensive bibliography (PP), a chronology, a useful glossary and, count them… six appendices! (PPP). For those of us who enjoy the academic chasing of hares, this is the book to have. It is a tribute to Gerry’s diligence and love for this unruly material. The Early Quakers were indefatigable writers and at least one of us has followed in their paths.

Guiton wisely begins with a scene-setting chapter entitled “Overview: Seeking a common language”. It is worth the reader taking time to savour and mull when reading this. I was entranced by the dance between the vast world of the past and the scholarly desire to clarify. Here we also find the work of brave copy editors who seem to have kept all their newly-born footnotes in reasonably good order.

Sometime during my student years I read Mortimer J. Adler’s 1940 classic, “How to Read a Book”. It continues to rattle around in my mind. Adler wrote, “Even when you have been somewhat enlightened by what you have read, you are called upon to continue the search for significance.”

So, in Adler’s words, how might we Australian Friends read this book? Given the sometimes knotty academic writing I found I needed a good dictionary. Consider, for instance, this from the Overview (p18):

“The peace testimony…emerged with its sometimes military, theophanous, theopoetic, and anagogical language, its apocalyptic dynamic and spiritual urgency, its anxiety and anger, along with its heartfelt plea for God’s peace, justice and reconciliation.”

Given my fascination for words, I was not going to let this prevent me from wrestling some understanding from this passage.

A lone reader might find this daunting. So again the question arises “How might one read this book?”.

During 2010 Catherine Errey and I lived in San Francisco where we became sojourning members of the SF Friends Meeting. Once a week a group of Friends gathered around a table, shared a meal, and read…aloud, line by line the entire Journal of Elias Hicks[1], an early American Friend. It took more than a year but helped bind us together with the experience of early Friends.

Might there be a group of Friends in your Meeting who could foregather once a week in such a way?

While the Overview seems necessary and rich, I found the Epilogue with which Guiton closes the book a more useful summary of the basic understandings which underpin the early Quakers’ faith. The final section, Rediscovering the Core, begins ““the Kingdom of God or Covenant of Love (or Peace) as it has come down to us through the early Friends is worthy of our close attention, whether we are Quaker or not. The Covenant can give rise to spiritual insights, provide a valuable focus for prayer, meditation and worship, sustain Leadings and Concerns and can help forge an agreed religious language that does not descend to a uniformity of thought or a specific ideology.”

This is a book worth reading. Mull, struggle, argue, sit in silence but read it Friends.

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