Rufus Jones Visits Indianapolis First Friends, March 15, 2015
Dan Lee, a member of our Meeting, portrayed Rufus Jones during Meeting for Worship. Here is the text of his gift to us all.
It is my pleasure today to be back at Indianapolis First Friends. Friends from Indiana have made a great many contributions to our Religious Society of Friends and to human society. I visited Indiana throughout my life, including Indianapolis First Friends. I traveled to Earlham College at least once a year for more than 50 years and also lectured at Butler University. You also should know that a convention of Friends here in Indianapolis in 1897 helped to heal divisions between Quakers and helped define today’s Quakerism.
Some Quakers in Philadelphia and back East, with our unprogramed meetings, can be taken aback when they visit Midwestern Friends because of what they call the “lively preaching” (pause, look right at Ruthie!). But I have preferred to always focus on what we Friends share in common… First, we believe that there is that of God in every man, woman and child on earth. You’ve heard this truth called the doctrine of the Inner Light or the Inner Christ. Second, we believe people can experience and learn from God directly. Christ has come to teach his people! These truths are at the root of my life’s work in my writing and teaching about mysticism. What is mysticism, you ask? My young Friend Elton Trueblood defined mysticism as “first-hand religion.” Remember, Quakerism is a religion of experience. Your inner life informs your outer life. Service to others is an expression of God’s love!
I’m so happy to be here today. I’ve heard you describe these big plain windows in your beautiful Meeting House as “Quaker Stained Glass Windows.” That reminds me of a favorite story from “A Book of Quaker Saints” by Lucy Violet Hodgkin. A little girl asks a simple question, “what is a saint?” The girl had visited a Catholic church with her aunt that had beautiful stain glass windows depicting saints so different from the ordinary windows in her Meeting House. The little girl finally figured out the answer to her question – a saint is someone who lets the sunlight shine through.
May that Light shine through us here today.
My name is Rufus, and I was about your age a looooong time ago. You know who was president when I was born? A man named Abraham Lincoln. But I bet you some things haven’t changed. At home do any of your moms and dads ask you do listen or do things? (Ask the kids) Maybe do your homework. Or be nice to your brother or sister. Or clean your room. Do you always listen and do what you’re asked? I didn’t either. I grew up on a small farm in Maine, and when I was about 10 my parents asked me to weed a turnip patch. Do any of you have turnip patches at home? But soon my friends came by and asked me to play, so I left the turnip patch and spent the day swimming and fishing. My mother came home and saw that I had done no work. I was expecting to get in BIG trouble. Instead, she took me by my hand and led me into the house. She knelt down beside me and said this prayer – “Oh, God, take this boy of mine and make him the boy and man he is divinely assigned to be.” Then she gave me a kiss and left the room. It was then and there that I discovered the meaning of grace – of love – not only in my wonderful mother but also within God.
You see, God loves us no matter what and wants so much to be part of our lives to make us more like Him.
I was born January 25, 1863, into a home ruled by love and surrounded by natural beauty. I was not christened in a church, but I was sprinkled from morning to night with the dew of religion. We never ate a meal which did not begin with the hush of thanksgiving. We never began a day without a family gathering in which mother read a chapter in the Bible. There was work inside and outside the house waiting to be done, yet we sat there hushed and quiet doing nothing. Someone would bow and talk with God so simply and quietly that He never seemed far away. The words help explain the silence. It was a religion that we did together.
Beyond my parents, Edwin and Mary Jones, other family members nurtured me spiritually and gave me a global vision. My Uncle Eli and Aunt Sybil established Friends schools in Lebanon and in Palestine. Aunt Peace lived in the divine instruction and presence of God daily. My family helped me form my worldview.
We went to Quaker meeting twice a week. Even as a boy, I came to feel the Divine presence in the silence. It was like the swimming I did as a boy. Nobody could do it for you. You either did your swimming or your worshipping yourself, or it wasn’t done.
I taught philosophy and psychology at Haverford College in Philadelphia from 1893 to 1934 and was a professor emeritus after that. I always thought of myself as a teacher, and there is no question that I am at my happiest when I am teaching a class of youth.
Related to my teaching, I also loved to read and write. I wrote more than 50 books over my lifetime, a good number of them I should say are here in the library at Indianapolis First Friends. Some of my books were for children, such as “Small Town Boy” about my childhood in Maine. I also wrote about Quaker history and thought, religious philosophy and mystical religion.
In “The Double Search,” published in 1906, I wrote about how God longs to be reunited with us as much as we long to be reunited with God, and that Christ represents the fulfillment of this double search.
In my book “The Inner Life,” published in 1916, I wrote about the importance cultivating a Christ-like inner spiritual life that would then influence your outer life. The words of Jesus such as the Beatitudes provide a peephole into this inner world.
Early in my career I taught Oakwood Seminary Quaker School in Union Springs, New York. It was here that I became engaged to my first wife, Sarah Coutant. She was also a teacher but because she suffer from bronchitis for years she had to give that up, though she provided great help for me editing my texts. It was a great tragedy in my life when she died of tuberculosis. We had a son, Lowell, together, and I endured a second almost unbearable tragedy when he died unexpectedly at the age of 11 of diphtheria.
I was blessed to marry Elizabeth Cadbury, from the famous Quaker chocolate-making family, and we had a daughter, Mary Hoxie Jones. It was during this time that I moved to my home at No. 2 College Circle Drive at Havorford, Pa., where I would live the rest of my life.
Friends were very much divided in American through much of my life. I tried to heal the wounds from those divisions by seeking to find unity in our beliefs and practices. As Quakers, we are guided by the Inner Light of Christ but that also includes a call to duty.
In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, I worked with Henry Cadbury to establish the American Friends Service Committee to provide ways for young people, Quakers and non-Quakers, who were conscientious objectors to provide relief and humanitarian work as an alternative to military service. After the war, AFSC responded to Herbert Hoover’s call to feed starving German children. At one time, AFSC provided a daily meal to 1.2 million children.
In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee and British Friends Service Council accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Quakers worldwide for work during and between the world wars to help starving children and to help rebuild Europe.
Another highlight in my life was when I traveled to Asia and met with Gandhi, visited the birthplace of the Buddha, and gave lectures in China.
One of my most memorable experiences came in 1938 after “the Day of Broken Glass” in which the Nazi terrorized Jews. I accompanied two other Quakers to Germany to meet with Gestapo to ask for better treatment for the Jews and to see if the American Friends Service Committee could be allowed to help alleviate suffering. The Nazi officers read our document and listened to us and said they would leave to consult and would return in 25 minutes with an answer. We three Quakers sat with bowed heads in silent meditation and prayer – the only Quaker meeting ever held in the Gestapo!
The Gestapo officers returned and said, “Everything you asked for will be granted.” I asked the officer for a written record of this, and he said that was not necessary because every word spoken in the room had been recorded. We were glad then that we had keep silent as to leave no other record! The meeting did open the door for relief work including the emigration out of Germany of many Jews.
As I sought to reunite Quakers I returned again and again to the experiences in the 1600s of George Fox, whom I called a mystic. In 1919, I wrote a children’s book about George Fox and the Quaker faith. I’d like to move us into silent worship today by reading a few lines from “The Story of George Fox”.
‘Religion for George Fox was a way of living, not merely something written in a book. It begins with a vital experience of the living God, who is near at hand, dwelling, moving, working, speaking in man’s heart…. God’s Kingdom comes as fast as people like us turn toward the true light and love it and follow it and do it…. God is always speaking to men, always sending out His light and love, always revealing His will. God is as near the soul as is the air to the bird.
This was the central teaching of George Fox…. This idea, this “truth,” Fox always called it, made him believe in the infinite preciousness and worth of every person in the world. Close behind the human face was the holy habitation of God…. It made him believe, too, that woman was in every way man’s companion and equal. One was not more precious or more exalted than the other….
Fox gave new importance to silence in worship. If God was near the soul, as Fox kept saying God was, then one way to discover him and to hear His voice speaking was to become quiet and still, so that God could be heard. When we wish to hear an important message over the telephone we prepare for it by hushing all conversation and unnecessary noises in the room. We give the message a chance to reach us…. So, too, with the greatest of all messages, we must prepare for it.’
Let us know practice communion in the manner of Friends.