Marcelle Martin, who was for many years the resident Quaker Studies teacher at Pendle Hill, returns to the Wallingford campus on Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m., to read from, discuss and sign her new book Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey. The event is free, and the public is invited to come hear Marcelle in the Barn at Pendle Hill, 338 Plush Mill Road. Marcelle, who lives in Chester and attends Swarthmore Friends Meeting, recently told the Swarthmorean about the book the book’s subject, and the way she came to address it.
How did you become interested in researching 17th century Quakers?
In 1984 I began to have powerful spiritual experiences. To better understand what was happening to me, I began to read the Bible. I also read books about mystics and others through history who have had a sense of direct guidance from God, including Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, and Sojourner Truth. I was especially interested in the early Quakers because they were a whole community of people with a mystical sense of connection with God and a prophetic calling to share the truth they discovered in a way that changed society. George Fox and Margaret Fell, two of the first Quakers, are especially well known, but the early Quaker movement was about a whole community filled with the Spirit. It had many gifted leaders and inspired traveling ministers.
The first Quakers were bonded together in a faithful and courageous way that enabled them to live differently from the world around them and change it for the better. Studying their spiritual journey helped me to better understand my own experiences and what they might be leading me toward.
What are the ten essential elements you have identified in your Quaker antecedents?
In studying what the first Quakers wrote about their spiritual experiences, I recognized the ten elements that appeared in most of their accounts [nine are]: Longing, Seeking, Turning Within, Openings, The Refiner’s Fire, Community, Leadings, The Cross, and Abiding. The Quaker spiritual journey leads gradually toward the tenth element, which early Friends called Perfection (perfect faithfulness “in one’s measure”).
Do Quakers today face new or special challenges in their spiritual journeys?
In most cultures, it has always been difficult for human beings to focus on the spiritual dimension of life because the physical and social dimensions are so compelling. The first Quakers lived in a time, however, when nearly everyone believed in the spiritual realm, and they were closer to the realities of illness and death. So people in their society talked frequently about spiritual matters and ultimate questions. Many Quaker beliefs that seemed shockingly radical in the 17th century have been incorporated into society. However, today our culture is very secular and we are comfortably cushioned from ultimate questions, so there is less encouragement and motivation to focus on the spiritual journey.
Also, the first Quakers lived in a time when being in a committed relationship to the faith community was more normal and necessary. Today our culture is so individualistic that many Quakers find it difficult to wholeheartedly engage in the community dimension of the Quaker spiritual journey. We also find it hard to accept that faithfulness can require sacrifice and sometime lead us through places of difficulty or suffering (“The Cross” element of the spiritual journey). We tend to be in our heads so much that we also find it difficult to really open up to the tremendous divine healing and transforming power that is available through the heart.
How long did it take you to complete the book?
I began the research for this book sometime around 2004. For many years, I lived alone for two months every summer in an old stone farmhouse in Chester County, time I dedicated to research and writing. When I was finishing my research, I spent three years in Richmond, Ind., near Earlham School of Religion. I was the Writing Fellow at ESR for a year. When I shared my research there, I got lots of questions and feedback about my ideas from professors and students at the seminary. Once I started writing the book, it took three years to complete. That included a year of studying the spiritual experiences of Quakers in our time.