Monday, October 21, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 42 - U for 'Unknown, unhonoured and unsung'

This quotation from an almost forgotten poem by a little-known Californian poet, Samuel John Alexander, who garnered one favourable review from the New York Times in 1912 before vanishing into obscurity, sums up my reason for researching, writing and sharing the history of Quakers and others.

I never cease to be amazed at how little most Friends know about the history of the Quaker movement or of the faithful lives of our foremothers and forefathers. A few names will be familiar - George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman, Elizabeth Fry - but what of the less well known? I have gained immeasurably from reading the writings, published and unpublished, of earlier Friends, from listening to these voices from the past, and I want to share that experience with others.

I know that some Friends today think that Quaker history is irrelevant to how we live our lives now but this is very far from the truth in my experience. If we can understand the shifts in emphasis over time, the differences in tradition and how they have developed, then we will be better equipped to face the difficulties of our own time. Do we worry about becoming an aged Society with no appeal to the young? - Friends in the 17th, 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries did too. Can their explorations and solutions help us now?

Our Quaker faith is based on faithfulness - to God, to our Inward Teacher, to our leadings and our testimonies - and it can help us in our struggles to hear stories of what has gone before. As Alice Hayes put it in 1723 'Truly I have thought that if I had met with the like Account of any that had gone through such exercise, it would have been some Help to me.'

Over the years, with varying levels of success, I have tried to encourage Friends to share their spiritual autobiographies as a help to others. I have also published the writings of earlier Quakers and written about their lives in many different places including this blog. All this is because I do not want these people, who I think of as my friends, to remain 'unknown, unhonoured and unsung' and also because I am convinced that they have much to say which can be a Help to us today.


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