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A Testament of Devotion – Thomas Kelly

April 15, 2016

ATODThe author, who died young, was somewhat of a polymath. He had links with the Society of Friends and the Congregational Church.

A friend recommended this to me as a book before its time. This turned out to be true because the writer says a lot about busyness, long before our current preoccupations in a digital age.

Modern Quakers aren’t necessarily Christians so this book would be unlikely to written by one today.

Since its first publication in 1941, A Testament of Devotion, by the renowned Quaker teacher Thomas Kelly, has been universally embraced as a truly enduring spiritual classic. Plainspoken and deeply inspirational, it gathers together five compelling essays that urge us to centre our lives on God’s presence, to find quiet and stillness within modern life, and to discover the deeply satisfying and lasting peace of the inner spiritual journey. As relevant today as it was a half-century ago, A Testament of Devotion is the ideal companion to that highest of all human arts-the lifelong conversation between God and his creatures.

I have in mind something deeper than the simplification of our external programs, our absurdly crowded calendars of appointments through which so many pantingly and frantically gasp. These do become simplified in holy obedience, and the poise and peace we have been missing can really be found. But there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark.”

Kelly was born in 1893 in Ohio to a Quaker family (members of the Religious Society of Friends). The branch of Quakerism in which he was raised had been influenced by the 19th century revivalists and worship services were similar to other low-church Protestant groups.

It is somewhat unfortunate that he uses the word ‘theocracy’. Maybe it had slightly different connotations back then.

There’s a study guide here.

ATOD 4Quotations:

“practice comes first in religion, not theory or dogma.”

We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.”

“an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.”

We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where no as well as yes can be said with confidence.”

Meister Eckhart wrote, “As thou art in church or cell, that same frame of mind carry out into the world, into its turmoil and its fitfulness.” Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories upon the face of men. It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.

You who read these words already know this inner Life and Light. For by this very Light within you, is your recognition given. In this humanistic age we suppose man is the initiator and God is the responder. But the Living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders. God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us.

ATOD 3The basic response of the soul to the Light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening. The secret places of the heart cease to be our noisy workshop. They become a holy sanctuary of adoration and of self-oblation, where we are kept in perfect peace, if our minds be stayed on Him who has found us in the inward springs of our life. And in brief intervals of overpowering visitation we are able to carry the sanctuary frame of mind out into the world, into its turmoil and its fitfulness, and in a hyperaesthesia of the soul, we see all mankind tinged with deeper shadows, and touched with Galilean glories. Powerfully are the springs of our will moved to an abandon of singing love toward God; powerfully are we moved to a new and overcoming love toward timeblinded men and all creation. In this Center of Creation all things are ours, and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. We are owned men, ready to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint.

But the light fades, the will weakens, the humdrum returns. Can we stay this fading? No, nor should we try, for we must learn the disciplines of His will, and pass beyond this first lesson of His Grace. But the Eternal Inward Light does not die when ecstasy dies, nor exist only intermittently, with the flickering of our psychic states. Continuously renewed immediacy, not receding memory of the Divine Touch, lies at the base of religious living. Let us explore together the secret of a deeper devotion, a more subterranean sanctuary of the soul, where the Light Within never fades, but burns, a perpetual Flame, where the wells of living water of divine revelation rise up continuously, day by day and hour by hour, steady and transfiguring. The “bright shoots of everlastingness” can become a steady light within, if we are deadly in earnest in our dedication to the Light, and are willing to pass out of first stages into maturer religious living. Only if this is possible can the light from the inner sanctuary of the soul be a workaday light for the marketplace, a guide for perplexed feet, a recreator of culture-patterns for the race of men.

What is here urged are internal practices and habits of the mind. What is here urged are secret habits of unceasing orientation of the deeps of our being about the Inward Light, ways of conducting our inward life so that we are perpetually bowed in worship, while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs. What is here urged are inward practices of the mind at deepest levels, letting it swing like the needle, to the polestar of the soul. And like the needle, the Inward Light becomes the truest guide of life, showing us new and unsuspected defects in ourselves and our fellows, showing us new and unsuspected possibilities in the power and life of goodwill among men. But, more deeply, He who is within us urges, by secret persuasion, to such an amazing Inward Life with Him, so that, firmly cleaving to Him, we always look out upon all the world through the sheen of the Inward Light, and react toward men spontaneously and joyously from this Inward Center. Yield yourself to Him who is a far better teacher than these outward words, and you will have found the Instructor Himself, of whom these words are a faint and broken echo.

Such practice of inward orientation, of inward worship and listening, is no mere counsel for special religious groups, for small religious orders, for special “Interior souls,” for monks retired in cloisters. This practice is the heart of religion. It is the secret, I am persuaded, of the inner life of the Master of Galilee. He expected this secret to be freshly discovered in everyone who would be his follower. It creates an amazing fellowship, the church catholic and invisible, and institutes group living at a new level, a society grounded in reverence, history rooted in eternity, colonies of heaven.

“Our professional status, our social obligations, our membership in this or that very important organization, put claims upon us. And in frantic fidelity we try to meet at least the necessary minimum of calls upon us. But we’re weary and breathless. And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, with our having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to a soul of wide caliber. The times for the deeps of the silences of the heart seem so few…

“We haven’t been able to say No to them, because they seemed so important. But if we center down, as the old phrase goes, and live in that holy Silence which is dearer than life, and take our life program into the silent places of the heart, with complete openness, ready to do, ready to renounce according to His leading, then many of the things we are doing lose their vitality for us…There is a re-evaluation of much that we do or try to do, which is done for us, and we know what to do and what to let alone.”

“The Inner Light, the Inward Christ, is no mere doctrine, belonging peculiarly to a small religious fellowship, to be accepted or rejected as a mere belief. It is the living Center of Reference for all Christian souls and Christian groups–yes, and of non-Christian groups as well–who seriously mean to dwell in the secret place of the Most High. He is the center and source of action, not the end-point of thought. He is the locus of commitment, not a problem for debate.”

ATOD 2.jpg God “gives us the royal blindness of faith, and the seeing eye of the sensitized soul, and the grace of unflinching obedience. Then we see that nothing matters, and that everything matters, and that this my task matters for me and for my fellow men and for Eternity. And if we be utterly humble we may be given the strength to be obedient even unto death, yea the death of the Cross.” God “gives us the royal blindness of faith, and the seeing eye of the sensitized soul, and the grace of unflinching obedience. Then we see that nothing matters, and that everything matters, and that this my task matters for me and for my fellow men and for Eternity. And if we be utterly humble we may be given the strength to be obedient even unto death, yea the death of the Cross.”

“nothing matters; everything matters”

“This amazing simplification of life comes when we “center down… Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing. It is the Eternal Goodness calling you to return Home… It is the life beyond fevered strain. We are called beyond strain to peace and power and joy and love and thorough abandonment of self. We are called to put our hands trustingly in (God’s) hand and walk the holy way, in no anxiety assuredly resting in (God).”

“Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within that illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories on upon the face of (humanity.) ”

“ the Holy Now is not something which we, by our activity, by our dynamic energy, overtake or come upon. It is a now which is itself dynamic, which lays hold actively on us, which breaks in actively upon us and re-energizes us from within a new center. …The Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self- centered effort, that is self-originated effort, and let the Eternal be the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.”

“Life becomes simplified when dominated by a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire.”

“Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power.
It is simple, It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant…We need not get frantic. (God) is at the helm.
And when our little day is done, we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.”

“For over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by … we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center!”

“Thus we have begun to live in guidance. And [we] find He never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness … for after all God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God … we need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well”

Our learnedness creeps into our sermons with a clever quotation which adds nothing to God’s glory, but a bit to our own.

Theological quarrels arise out of differences in assumptions. But Holy Fellowship, freely tolerant of these important yet more superficial clarifications, lives in the Center -and rejoices in the unity of His love.

the church itself has largely gone “this-sided,” and large areas of the Society of Friends seem to be predominantly concerned with this world, with time, and with the temporal order. And the test of the worthwhileness of any experience of Eternity has become: “Does it change things in time? If so, let us keep it, if not, let us discard it.”

I submit that this is a lamentable reversal of the true order of dependence. Time is no judge of Eternity. It is the Eternal who is the judge and tester of time.

But it is a particularization of my responsibility also, in a world too vast and a lifetime too short for me to carry all responsibilities. My cosmic love, or the Divine Lover loving within me, cannot accomplish its full intent, which is universal saviourhood, within the limits of three score years and ten. But the Loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities. For each of us these special undertakings are our share in the joyous burdens of love.

Thus the state of having a concern has a foreground and a background. In the foreground is the special task, uniquely illuminated, toward which we feel a special yearning and care….. We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to….; I wish I might emphasize how a life becomes simplified then dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire. We get distracted by the intellectual claim to our interest in a thousand and one good things, land before we know it we are pulled and hauled breathlessly along by an over-burdened program of good committees and good undertakings. I am persuaded that this fevered life of church workers is not wholesome. Undertakings get plastered on from the outside because we can’t turn down a friend. Acceptance of service on a weighty committee should really depend upon an answering imperative within us, not merely upon a rational calculation of the factors involved. The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within. And we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility.

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