This phrase was a question asked by George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, during the 17th Century and seems to be still pertinent today. During this last semester, I studied the Reformation period and wrote my summary essay on George Fox. I included the context of the time along with his life story. I found it quite impactful and decided to share pieces of it here with you.
Outside of Quaker circles, George Fox is not widely known. His life was one of seeking out God and then faithfully following the God he discovered. As he sought out God and lived out his life as faithfully as he knew, people were impacted. What he discovered about God’s character changed how he viewed, lived around, and ministered to people. Even though we haven’t heard much about him in Evangelical Christianity, his thoughts have impacted what we hold true about God.
To understand Fox’s story, we first need to look at the context of the time in which he lived. The 17th Century wasn’t a time when religion was neglected. In fact, religion was generally on everyone’s minds. People talked about doctrine and the practice of living out one’s faith. They argued over the rightness and the wrongness of minute points of doctrine, religious understandings, practices of worship, and proper dietary restrictions. When a public meeting on religion was offered, people attended in crowds. Many came to enjoy the debates and to judge for themselves the validity of the arguments presented.(1)
We see arguments throughout Church History, one side claiming rightness over another. This time, in particular, was a time when people believed in religious liberty for themselves but were unwilling to grant it to others. Intolerance ruled when it came to understanding God and living a life of faith. People felt it not only their right but their duty to enforce their own convictions on one another.(2)
Quakerism, as a movement, started during the English Civil War, when religion was breaking away from the institutional church, the economy was suffering from inflation and depression, and there was a political revolt against the Stuart Monarchy. British historian Christopher Hill is quoted as saying “the world turned upside down.” Quakerism was a response to this tumultuous time. William Penn suggested that Quakerism was “primitive Christianity revived.” It is thought of as a way of life in contrast to living out a set of beliefs, theology, or doctrine. As Fox and his followers shared what they felt were God’s revelations for them and the world, they faced many trials with the religious and legal authorities.(3)
Let’s enter Fox’s journey as he started seeking answers to tough questions. He attended the local parish with his parents until he was 19. At this time, he stopped attending because he became more confused and acted on his feelings of spiritual unrest. He could not understand why religion did not make “bad” people “good.” Those in the church talked about faith and God, yet they looked just like the world. Fox started going around seeking answers from the different streams of Christianity. No one could speak to his “condition.” With no answers that met his questions, he left his friends and family to wander for three to four years. He sensed this move to be commanded by God.(4)
During this time, he read Scripture and sought God. He continued to ask ministers and professors questions and discussed with them his findings. They would reason with him but did not have answers for what he was seeking. God met him in his questions but outside of the leaders of the church or academia. He called these new understandings from God, “openings.” In a world dividing between Protestants and Catholics, he sensed God tell him that all Christians were believers, born of God. Also, he sensed that it wasn’t an education that qualified one to be a minister of Christ in contrast to this commonly held belief.(5)
Understanding that God did not approve of men as ministers due to education and that God did not dwell in specific buildings, brought a freedom to Fox that opened a way to discover God outside of both of those culturally approved means.(6) In anguish at times, Fox continued seeking answers from God to appease his soul hunger. In this place, he sensed God met him and wrote this oft-quoted phrase.
And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.(7)
In this place as a “heart hungry seeker,” Fox became a “joyous finder.” Other seekers who desired a satisfying experience with God listened to Fox and joined together in small groups. Next time we will discuss more of Fox’s message to a culture being greatly influenced by defining moral rightness and wrongness.(8)
(1) Walter R. Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism (Newberg, Or.: Barclay Press, 1987), 13.
(2) Ibid., 24.
(3) Wilmer A. Cooper, A Living Faith: An Historical Study of Quaker Beliefs (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1990), 2.
(4) Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, 3-4.
(5) George Fox, George Fox, an Autobiography (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903), 66; Punshon, Portrait In Grey, 41, 74-75.
(6) Ibid., 76.
(7) George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, ed. John Nickalls (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 11.
(8) Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, 5.
One of my favorite hobbies is running because it provides fresh air and a very quick, affordable workout! And yet over the years, I have succumbed to various running injuries of which my initial approach is to try to push through the discomfort in hopes it will heal on its own. This last round I found myself with a tight hamstring that, despite all kinds of stretching, would not subside. So, I threw on some Icy Hot type substance, put on a leg wrap, turned up the grit, and hit the road. It was the next day I felt that the hamstring injury moved to my back with a zing that would not disappear.
Treating running injuries over time has enabled me to befriend a wonderful Physical Therapist, name Kathleen. Kathleen is a true gem, who puts me back together like Humpty Dumpty after each injury. Sometimes she can fix the issue and have me back running within the week, yet other times it takes a bit longer. On this round, she discouraged me from running for a while, but I developed some restlessness and so out of almost sheer necessity to burn some energy and move my body I decided to bust out some push-ups and heavy core work two days later. Sometimes stubbornness pays off; sometimes it bites you in the butt. Literally. In this case, it was my sacrum (lowest part of the spine) that shot pain through my body right before my foot went numb.
The numbness had me pretty concerned, especially heading into a week of vacation in another state. Although Kathleen worked miracles on my back and got everything to a comfortable position, the foot numbness remained. Nevertheless, we packed the car and headed out on the road. The sitting did it wonders but the restlessness built up and I managed to push too hard, mess up my sacrum again, and send my back into muscle spasms while on vacation.
Not one to let a good, sunny vacation go to waste, I limped around Legoland loading my body with two Ibuprofen every 4 hours. As a general rule, I prefer water, eating healthy, fresh air, and a good night sleep to taking any kinds of medication. However, since I would not have access to PT for a week, I was not finding any comfortable sleeping positions, and I could barely move, I rolled the dice with the Ibuprofen.
The discomfort continued. It was frustrating and out of my control. No matter how hard I tried to push, I could not go fast. I encountered forced sabbath. The idleness created more restlessness and frustration, but I could not go for a run (or even a very brisk walk) to blow off the steam. The discomfort caused a complete break in my regular rhythm. I had a choice - I could continue to try to push hard (and make it worse), or I could choose to let go and be vulnerable to a process - to relax, to go slow, to trust others do some heavy lifting, to heal.
We started our road trip home on Good Friday, and it was a long day of driving. Toward the 7th hour in the car, I could feel the sacrum bone shooting discomfort into my muscles. I tried rolling a tennis ball while sitting in the front seat to loosen the tightness. I sat there in agony, rolling the ball, trying to find a position that would ease the pain. And I started reflecting on the day. Good Friday. The profound historical significance of the day hit me. As I was meditating on the circumstances of the moment a Hillsong United song, So Will I, poured through the radio with the line, “If you gladly chose surrender, so will I. If you gave your life to love them, so will I.” And I broke. Tears flowed forth. Surrender. What a place of vulnerability. Letting go, ceasing to push, releasing the illusion of control. Navigating life, embracing the opportunity to do the next right thing, which might not be “more of the same.”
Two days later, on Easter Sunday, I spent some time reading about the Paschal Triduum (the period of time from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday), which is also referred to as Triduum Sacrum. In a great moment of irony, my eyes fell back on those words, Triduum Sacrum. Sacrum! Could this be connected to the sacrum bone that was healing in my own body? A quick Google search helped me learn that the sacrum part of the Latin Triduum Sacrum, indeed referenced the bone, and it was known as the “holy bone” because the sacrum was, in ancient times, the part of the animal surrendered in sacrifice! Some even believed it was where a person's soul resides. Further reading revealed that the Greek word for the sacrum literally meant “strong bone.” Indeed there was a history of strength and surrender tied to that bone.
Sometimes we encounter problems that we experience as very frustrating and inconvenient, and yet sometimes I wonder if these problems actually have a place in our lives. Through the whole process of injury and recovery, I learned that sometimes discipline and strength are needed to push harder doing more of the same, but sometimes that same discipline and strength is needed for surrender. Strength and surrender seem paradoxical, but they work together. It takes great strength and temperance to surrender. And yet there are times in which it is only through the surrender we can emerge stronger. And maybe, just maybe, it is in the temperance and paradox that one might run well and truly thrive.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!