Remembering Rufus Jones
Anne Udy, New South Wales Regional Meeting
There is a misunderstanding about my connections with Rufus Jones. He was not a lecturer at my university, but at Haverford, the other Quaker-founded university, located a couple of stops away from Bryn Mawr on the train called the Paoli Local.
My memory is not to be counted on as I have recently discovered several times. But I do not remember ever actually meeting Rufus Jones. I did and still do feel that he had some impact on my life, although I do not know how I came to that conclusion at the time.
When I began at Bryn Mawr I went with a new friend to the church she wished to attend—an extremely high Episcopal (or Anglican) church. The service included sprinkling of water and genuflexion (to me always unexpected). I was technically an Episcopalian but LOW Episcopalian which is quite different to the high church. I certainly did not fit in the church my friend wanted to attend.
For some reason I chose to try going to Haverford College for Quaker Meeting.
Here was a situation the direct antithesis of a helpful space for a Quaker Meeting—a huge tiered university lecture hall with seats rising high on three sides and a stage at the bottom for the fourth side. The elders sat on the stage. Even though there were a good number of people there, we looked scattered. We did not begin to fill even a tenth of the available seats.
I kept going. The quality of the atmosphere was such that I found myself in a depth of silence (without any thought or effort on my part) that took over and enveloped me. BUT how could that be managed in this space which was about as far away from a decent Quaker Meeting space as I could imagine? It was, indeed, a mystery to me. And it has remained a mystery for many years. However, I somehow connected this atmosphere with one of the elders whose name was Rufus Jones.
I do not remember anything like a coffee time after the meeting. I don’t know, really how I would have met him. We came, sat in the Meeting and then went home. I knew which one of the elders he was and noticed that he spoke fairly frequently.
Recently I spent two weeks in hospital. I had with me a book by Douglas Steere which began uncovering the mystery about the atmosphere of the Haverford Meeting.
The book was not about that but just happened to point me on to other sources which lead to my greater understanding of the situation.
I discovered that at Haverford there were over the years —in addition to Rufus Jones — two other Quaker lecturers. All three men had a profound understanding of the use of silence. They all not only lectured but also interacted with the students individually, joined them in study groups and organised occasional retreats.
One of these lecturers was Douglas Steere. He was involved with just about every Friends ecumenical outreach, including being the official Friends observer at the Second Vatican Council. He travelled extensively on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee and was the initiator for the formation of the Ecumenical Institute of Spirituality. He was a faculty member from 1928 to 1964.
The other one was Thomas Raymond Kelly, who wrote my all-time favourite devotional book, A Testament of Devotion. Rufus Jones said about this book that it was one of the few great devotional books which he could recommend “along with the best of the ancient ones”. He also was thoroughly involved with multiple Friends organisations.
Thomas Kelly began teaching at Haverford and relating to the students in 1936. He died in 1941.
The Haverford meeting benefitted hugely from the presence of these three men. In addition, I believe increased strengthening of the depth of the meeting came because more and more of the people in attendance (such as the students) were growing in their ability to use the silence well. The influence of the three men through their close involvement with the students may have accomplished more than their actual presence.
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Rufus Matthew Jones was born in 1863. On both sides forebears were Quakers for generations. Thomas Jones and his wife Thankful had come from Wales to Massachusetts in 1690.
From the time Rufus was big enough to wield a small axe he helped cut wood, drove cows to and from pasture, milked them, helped with hoeing, weeding, threshing, & haying. There was work pressing to be done, even so, time was taken for daily Bible reading and silence. This must have impressed upon the boy its importance. When occasionally silence was broken by one speaking simply and quietly to God, he may have at some level realised both the reason for the silence and the communion that was sought and experienced in it. Unconsciously he acquired a conviction of the reality of the “unseen world impinging on his world of things”. It became the basis of his mature faith.
He said, “Almost nothing was said in the way of instructing me. It was not a narrow, rigid set of dogmas from which the developing mind reacts. God was an indwelling Spirit. The life in our home was saturated with the reality and practice of love.”
Rufus Jones records an instance of his mother’s discipline that not only reveals his own normal boyish sins but sheds light on the quality of his mother and her sureness of touch. He describes the hot summer day, the turnip patch choked with weeds, and the task which his parents set him before they drove off to Augusta for the day. Along came a band of his friends, with tackle and bait, urging him to go fishing with them. They promised to help him with the weeding — after they came back. It was late when he returned and with a pang he saw his mother watching his approach.
“Mother in silence took me by the hand,” he wrote, “and led me to my room. I knew what I deserved and expected to get it in full. But a miracle happened. Mother put me in a chair, kneeled down, put her hands on me and told God all about me. She interpreted her dream of what my life was to be. She portrayed the boy and the man of her hopes. She told God what she had always expected me to be, then how I had disappointed her hopes. ‘O God,’ she said, ‘take this boy of mine and make him the boy and man he is divinely designed to be.’ She bent over, kissed me and went out and left me alone in the silence with God.
In September 1879 a tall, thin, eager country boy who had never before ridden on railroad train, steam boat or horse car traveled by all three of those conveyances and arrived at the school which is now known as the Moses Brown School. It was then a co- educational boarding-school, one of the best of that distinctive type developed by Friends during the nineteenth century.; The scholarship which he was given covered all expenses.
In spite of his haphazard preparation in rural schools Rufus was well able to take his place with others of his age. He joined the Latin class reading Caesar, took up Geometry enthusiastically, began Greek. Weak in science, he entered the class in Natural Sciences — astonished to find that the world was not made in six days and man did not begin with Adam. Through the guidance of a wise teacher Rufus made this hurdle without difficulty, and found his religious faith more secure when it matched with facts.
His grandmother, Susannah Jepson Jones, through her mother, Peace Robinson, was descended from the great John Robinson of Leyden, who said to the Pilgrims as they left Holland, “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from His word.” “Grandmother Susie” added to her practical ability, as her grandson testifies, “breadth of mind and depth of heart, and a culture whose source and origin nobody could explain.”
Rufus Jones’ literary style is clear, warm, lighted by his inimitable humour and penetrating shafts of insight. His memory was faithful to homely details as well as to the reaches of the spirit. Though I do not remember specific witness by Rufus Jones, I’m sure his speaking was the same.
In 1882, when he just 26 years old, he wrote a book which eulogised his uncle Eli and aunt Sybil. But Rufus Jones’ life and work seem to be contrary to theirs. My feeling is that a few years later he could not have written as he did at 26.
Eli and Sybil Jones regularly went travelling around the world leaving their children with friends and relatives. Their main purpose was to convert people to their faith. They did set up a school (perhaps more than one) but there was a lot of pushing for conversion.
At one stage a three-year-old, in tears, begged her mother not to leave her. At another time they left behind a one-year-old baby.
Rufus Jones’ later books were about Mystical Religion, Practical Christianity, Atonement and Prayer, etc. He always respected the beliefs of others and did not try to change them.
He played a crucial role in promoting Quaker principles of peace, social justice, and religious tolerance. He became a prominent figure within the American Friends Service Committee. His travelling was for further humanitarian work and conflict resolution. He was actively involved in promoting international peace and understanding. He met and spoke with the Dalai Lama. He traveled extensively, delivering lectures and fostering connections between different religious and cultural groups—always working to bridge religious and cultural division.
He was a special person and no doubt with others was responsible for the Haverford Meeting being full of silence which was especially enveloping.