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The True Quaker Yellow Brick Road.
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The True Quaker Yellow Brick Road.

I was led to a deeper insight into Quaker procedures when it was announced to our Meeting that the Clerk (=Chairman) of Meeting for Sufferings had been 'led to write to Harry and William'. This led me to realise the great goodness of god, who realised that to wait for the authorisation of an assembled Meeting for Sufferings would mean that the letter arrived too late for their hour of grief.

The trouble with god's attitude is that, knowing the greenness of Quakers and himself, he should have considered the ecological impact of so many Quakers assembling at York. He should have led the Clerk to all of the York meeting's conclusions, not just grudgingly conceded his divine intervention in the urgent matter of the letter to Harry and William. Why did god allow the York meeting to take place at all? Why did he deny their full appreciation of the royal funeral that day in the comfort of their own homes, or in the Mall?

These leadings of the mind led me to the concept of the Quaker Yellow Brick Road. True Quakers struggle along the Yellow Brick Road, sure of their destination. Reasoning and study may keep them to the True Way, or may lead them astray. God plays the role of the Good Witch, whom he very much resembles. When the Quaker community has strayed, possibly due to eating of the Tree of Knowledge (Genesis 2.9,17) there is a flash of magnesium, the Good Witch god reappears, and redirects straying Quakers back onto the Yellow Brick Road which heads for Elysium, the goal of Quaker Rightness.

Research and honest discussion is all well and good, but only in moderation. Should it appear to lead the group astray, or lead the group into other than prayerful discourse, Presto! The Good Witch god appears. Through gnosis, that is, through the direct line from god, which clerks of meetings have in most abundance, through their apostolic succession, thinking and research which is clearly not leading the Right Way, can be pre-empted.

It has recently been pointed out that the whole system collapses should a dissident Quaker be guided by god to try to get other Quakers to continue to consider the matter in hand more rationally. Here we run into trouble. One Quaker has been guided to trample on rational procedures - study, assembly of the facts, technical discussion based on those facts, leading to consensus - but is suddenly confronted by a lesser Quaker who has been guided by that same god to try to get the group to continue on a rational, unprayerful, informed path. However, such a problem will always be resolved by realising that, through the apostolic succession, the Clerk of the Meeting (possibly aided by those in the committee who have received her blessing) takes precedence over any guidance of the dissident by the same god. The exciting thing about this system is that, eschewing the divisive, unprayerful process of the vote, reasonably rare (only when really needed) recourse to direct leading by god will ensure that we always keep on course along the yellow brick road, to our predestined destination, particularly regardless of those who have sought to usurp the divine purpose by studying the facts of the matter in hand. Always, priority goes to the most guided (=chairman), and interference by unprayerful experts is prevented.

We see the wisdom of god in leading us to exclude the vote, and so ensure prayerful focus on god's yellow brick road. Clever chap, god; obviously the one to follow. Between the two extremes; between the democratic vote and god's leadings, lies a dialectic. We have chosen, and ensured the uninterrupted continuity of god's will. ".... it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure ... in making a free decision for themselves. .... ....they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them.... .... as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself .... .... I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if anyone deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi." - Grand Inquisitor, Karamazov, Dostoevsky.

When I played very amateur cricket, wicket keepers were poor. This led to the Long Stop, well behind the keeper, with the job of saving the boundary from a loose ball. Study of the matter in hand might lead to a loose ball, destination unknown. In any case, 'notions' are unprayerful, as we saw in Genesis. It is clear that when god leads the chairman to pre-empt the committee, he is using the long stop. What is sad is that we have all this time failed to realise that, having the long stop as last resort, to stop any risk of deviation from the yellow brick road, we need no troublesome study, research, discussion and expertise merely to stay on the road. We can use our long stop as First Stop, thus being fully led by god. Why do we make any attempts at all to usurp god's guidance, by all this potentially divisive study and discussion, which always threatens to become unprayerfully acrimonious, and does nothing to reinforce the apostolic succession. Quite the reverse.

The reason why we have retained the apostolic succession is that, lacking it, god's guidance might appear to come through two vessels giving opposite results. The apostolic succession enables us to dismiss divisive guidance coming via a minor committee member. In the case of Harry and William, the idea of god stooping to lead a lowly member of Sufferings to write to them is absurd. God (technically the demiurge), of all people, is conscious of hierarchy, since he is at the top, and gains most by it. To maintain his own position, god could not have led other than the chairman (=clerk) to write to the princes on behalf of Meeting for Sufferings. Here, we see clearly why we had to retain the apostolic succession, so that gnosis should be properly channelled, and not allowed to create division, whatever god intended. He has no right, through double messages, to create division where none is needed.

Lacking the ultimate sanction of the vote, it is remarkable that the Quaker Way has never led to oligarchy. This shows us the supreme power of prayer. Further, given its remarkable track record, even a temporary lapse into oligarchy at some future time could be swiftly ended by the power of further prayer. Such a lapse could only have followed a temporary reduction in our prayerfulness, which would be our sin.

The error the animals made when they revolted in Orwell's Animal Farm, was both to exclude the vote, and, worse, to exclude prayer, from their deliberations..

Henceforward the farm was to be known as 'The Manor Farm' - which, he believed, was its correct and original name. .... Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Even when keeping the vote, the dreadfully painful way the Anglican church makes decisions, for instance on women clergy or homosexuality, contrasts strongly with prayerful Quaker deliberations. Here is clear evidence of the superiority of Quaker prayer over the vote. Aided by the awe-inspiring power of Quaker prayer, our central committees will always function better than those of other churches, and of the animals, and more in line with god's intent. What Anglicans lack is Quaker prayer. The vote, with or without anglican prayer, proves a poor substitute.

Although worth writing, the last paragraphs demonstrate an unquakerly adherence to the concept of democracy with its unquakerly underpinnings including the vote. When they repudiated the vote, Quakers showed a robust indifference to such protection. Experience shows us they were right to place full reliance on unbridled prayer to keep us on the true path. Also, should god find it more convenient in the future, we enable him to guide the Society through a prayerful oligarchy rather than a democracy, with its well-known weaknesses and uncertainties. He might guide us to a better form of church government, and again enable us to be an example to the world, as we have been in the past. I dream of a House of Commons soaked in prayer. By all accounts, if M.P.s gave up only half the time they spent on legislative detail, that would be a helluva lot of prayer, leading to a helluva lot of divine guidance!

Footnote. I am intrigued by the recent introduction of the title "Meeting for Worship for Business", which has replaced "Preparative Meeting." I feel that here we see that the primary purpose of a Quaker 'business' meeting is to enable prayerful leading, preferably through the chair, by god, whereas the old title indicated thought, research, the welcoming of expertise and further division and loss of control by god. We are gradually, prayerfully, coming to realise the full potential of looking to god's guidance, avoiding unprayerful thought, study and discussion of the matter in hand.

Ivor Catt, 121 Westfields, St. Albans AL3 4JR, England 20sep97


(How are the Mighty Fallen by Ralph Hill. A Quaker dissident, ex-elder etc., Ralph resigned but continues to attend. He and others joined Ohio Yearly Meeting, and had their first extension YM in Derbyshire a year ago.)

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