Thursday, November 05, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - O for Open

Advices and Queries poses the question  - Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? (A&Q 7). We are asked whether we are open to the healing power of God's love (A&Q 2) and whether we try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? (A&Q 3). We are also reminded that when experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit (A&Q 21).

For me being open is not always a comfortable state. Routine, doing things in the same way at the same time, can be comforting. The familiar is cheering and I am not always looking for the new and different. My main experience of making myself open comes in meeting for worship. There I try to be open to whatever comes, even if it is disturbing to my settled view of life and people. That kind of openness is a sort of love and acceptance of difference.

Sometimes, if I can be open, things that have puzzled me may resolve themselves, the way ahead may become clear. To use the old Quaker phrase, way will open. George Fox called the revelations which sent him out into the Quaker way his openings and although it is still possible to have that kind of experience today being faithful and open in small things may be enough to be going on with.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - N for Emilia Fogelklou Norlind

Emila aged 14
Emilia Fogelklou was born in 1878 in Skane, Sweden, into a large family. Her childhood was spent in the countryside which, together with the influence of her grandmother, had a great effect on Emilia's spiritual development. She would climb up on the garden gate to gaze at the sea or the sunset and lose herself  'in endless beholding.' However, when she was twelve the family moved to the town when her father got a better job, and although she found it difficult at first Emilia appreciated the intellectual stimulation of her new school.

In 1896, when she was eighteen, Emilia went to teacher training college for three years and then took up a succession of teaching posts. She enjoyed the work but felt under-qualified, especially in her chosen subject of religion. She was oppressed by the failure of her search for the reality of God and felt despairing and like an empty shell but then in 1902 she experienced something that was for her the central event of her life. While sitting quietly under trees preparing for her class she says 'she experienced the great releasing inward wonder. It was as if the "empty shell" burst. All the weight and agony, all the feeling of unreality dropped away. She perceived living goodness, joy, light like a clear, irradiating, uplifting, enfolding, unequivocal reality from deep inside.'[QF&P 26.05] Whatever happened to her after that she never lost the certainty of the reality of God that came to her that day.

She enrolled in the University of Uppsala in 1906, first taking a liberal arts degree and then studying theology. She also began to publish books and to write poetry. Her reading and also her life experience led her to grapple with the 'woman question'. In 1909 she became the first woman in Sweden to be awarded a degree in theology. This distinction led to a great deal of misunderstanding and hostility as it was apparently difficult for many to see why anyone would take such a degree unless they intended to enter the ministry and this path was still closed to women at the time.

Emilia next travelled to England, France and Italy in order to study religious movements and in 1910 she attended her first Quaker meeting. In 1911 she returned to Sweden and took up a teaching post. She was uncomfortably aware of the difference in salary between men and women staff and tried to make a stand on the issue but with no success.

Emilia (centre) at The Hague in 1915
During the First World War, although Sweden remained neutral, Emilia became involved in the international effort that women were making for peace. She attended the Women's Peace Conference in The Hague in 1915 from which emerged the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom and through this work again came into contact with Quakers.

Emilia continued to support herself by teaching and writing but in 1920 she became ill with eye trouble which forced her to stop her research work. Her mother was ill and Emilia went home to care for her, only to find that her sister was dying of cancer. These sorrows all brought Emilia to a low ebb but then  she met Arnold Norlind, a distinguished scholar and geographer with whom she had been carrying on a friendly and literary correspondence for several years.

Emila and Arnold
They agreed that what they felt now had slowly become more than friendship and they were married in 1922, when Emilia was 44 and Arnold 39. Their years together were happy but full of anxiety about Arnold's health. He had been diagnosed as having tuberculosis of the throat and there were several crises. In 1920 they were encouraged to hope that he was cured but in fact his disease had entered its final phase and Arnold died early in 1929.

They had lived a life full of books and writing and after the first devastating shock of grief Emilia's way forward came through writing Arnold's story. She continued to teach and write and was also becoming more involved in Quakerism. She joined a group in Stockholm which met for silent worship and in 1931 she applied for membership as a foreign member of London Yearly Meeting and was accepted. In the same year she published a book about James Nayler that led to her being invited to take up a fellowship at Woodbrooke in Birmingham. She spent a year there in 1933 researching a book on William Penn and in 1939 she visited America and spent some months at Pendle Hill.

Travelling to America was one way in which Emilia tried to get over one of the greatest disappointments of her later years. In 1938 she was encouraged to apply for the post of professor of history and religion at Uppsala university. Not only was she passed over in favour of a man younger and less qualified than herself but because her main expertise was in the psychology of religion rather than history the authorities felt it necessary to publicly declare her incompetent to hold the post. This led to a loss of income as her lecturing work dried up.

The outbreak of the Second World War however meant that Emilia put her personal worries aside and engaged in practical work for peace. She helped to set up the IAL (International work camps) and as soon as the war ended was involved in relief work in Germany. Working in Hamburg she wrote in her diary, ' Now I feel I've got work. All daylight hours are filled and [I feel] an almost constant inner joy, right through the thickening darkness out there...I walk in a whirlwind of life, and I reach out for more'.

Emilia aged 90
As she grew older Emilia became a well-known public figure in Sweden. Her writings were very popular and she was still called upon to pass on her wisdom. She longed to retire quietly but her public was reluctant to let her go. When she was past ninety she was troubled with increasing deafness and longed to die. 'Hope to be out of school soon' was one of her frequent expressions. At the last a severe fall and broken hip meant that she had to go into hospital where she suffered on untill she died in 1972 at the age of 94. Even in her last uncomfortable weeks, a friend said, she 'influenced people to the very end just by existing, without words'.

Emilia Fogelklou Norlind is buried beside her husband in a quiet village churchyard. On her headstone are three words in Swedish meaning - There is light still.

For many years most of Emilia's writings were only available in Swedish but extracts are now available in translation and there is also a biography of her, translated into English by the Swedish author.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - M for Mistaken

One much repeated 'Quaker saying' among British Friends is 'Think it possible that you may be mistaken'. It even appears at the back of Quaker Faith and Practice in the 'Index of well-loved phrases' where it is only attributed to A&Q or Advices and Queries.

The sentence certainly appears as part of A&Q and indeed also in the Advices in Christian Faith and Practice, the former version of Britain Yearly Meeting's book of discipline. So it has some pedigree as a 'Quaker saying' but who originally said it?

In fact it comes from the era of early Friends but not from a Quaker. The original, fuller, version was written by Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1650 imploring them to step away from their pledge of allegiance to the royalist cause. His words were 'I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken'.

I can see the difficulty for the modern reader of 'the bowels of Christ' although in contemporary usage this was not biological but meant 'the pity or tenderness of Christ'. It is understandable that this part of the phrase should be omitted but I think it is a mistake not to acknowledge Cromwell as its author.

Is it a less powerful phrase if it cannot be truthfully claimed as a Quaker saying? I think not and even if taken out of context it can still give us food for thought. However I hope that in any future edition of Quaker Faith and Practice in which it appears as a well-loved phrase we will give Old Noll his due.