Thursday, October 23, 2014

George (Fox) and Me

Well before I read the story of George Fox's trials and tribulations as a young man, I did my own wanderings. Fox, for the uninitiated, was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. Mine tended to be from church to church, seeking some person or Divine force to heal me. These travels always corresponded with a severe period of clinical depression, which scared me with its ferocity and longevity.

This is why some modern-day scholars have postulated that Fox may have been a manic depressive like me. When churches proved insufficient for me, I visited friends and acquaintances, often showing up unannounced. Almost everyone was responsive and concerned, never seeing me as an imposition, which I appreciate to this day.

When I lived in Atlanta, close to a decade ago, I began attending an Episcopal church. A man around my age gratefully showed me the ropes. He opened the hymnal to the right page and showed me the proper way to take communion. After attending for a month, I peered down at the order of service. Printed at the bottom was an invitation to be anointed by a priest. At the end of the service, I was guided into a smaller room than the sanctuary, one usually used for silent prayer or contemplation.

The priest was a kindly blonde Australian woman in middle-age who asked me the nature of my sin. I was desperately afraid to voice it, not wishing to give the cursed part of me additional power over me. She asked three times, then smiled and opened a circular container full of oil and wax. With an index finger, she anointed me on my forehead in the sign of a cross. I left, believing my troubles would soon depart. They did not, entirely, but I was sure I felt a change. At least I had made an immediate connection with another person, and hopefully God in the process.

I'm not equating myself with George Fox, but I do notice similarities between his life and mine. Here is how a sympathetic source describes Fox's deeds and acts.

For this reason, he [Fox] left his family Drayton-in-the-Clay in September 1643, to seek the Lord in isolation without being drawn into conversations with anyone; he left any town where he began to be recognized and drawn into conversation. While in Barnet, Fox would alternately shut himself in his room for days at a time, or go out alone into the countryside. As he continued to seek, he experienced very troubling temptations. He thought intensely about Jesus' temptation in the desert, which he compared to his own spiritual condition, but drew strength from his conviction that God would support and preserve him.

He fasted much and walked alone all night in the countryside; during these walks he experienced most of his revelations from Christ. At times, he attracted the attention of various religious scholars, but he rejected them because he did not feel they lived up to the doctrines they taught. Fox did seek help and advice from priests, but "found no comfort from them," as they too were unable to help or even give advice with the matters that were troubling him.
One priest in Worcestershire advised him to take tobacco (which Fox declined) and sing psalms; another, in Coventry, was helpful at first but lost his temper when Fox accidentally stepped off the path onto a flower in his garden; a third priest/physician suggested that bloodletting would help him; but they could not draw a drop of blood from his body or head because he was so dried up from his griefs.
Disillusioned by the inability of the priests to help him and still subject to the spiritual temptations, he returned home in June 1644. But there was no help to be found there either. Fox's family and friends offered either marriage or military service as a solution to his troubles. He left to travel in isolation again, but never as a vagabond; he always had money, even enough to give some money to the widows on Christmas (he knocked on doors to find them) and for money to poor newly married couples.

May we be resourceful and helpful to the George Fox we encounter, especially when we are least expecting it. In 1 Thessalonians it is written thus: "Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don't really need to write you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."

Children of the light, children of the day, let us shine goodness and mercy upon those who wander and thirst for righteousness. George Fox's story is ours, too. There is a seeker inside each of us, even if the topic differs from person to person. Something about the human condition depends upon wandering. We are hobos being shuttled in boxcars towards a greater purpose we may not yet understand.

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