My dear friends, dwell in humility… (Woolman)

At Camas Friends Church, we’re reading through the journal of John Woolman, a Quaker minister and abolitionist from the 18th century. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the values we often unknowingly impress upon our children. Many of the activities we engage our children in have some kind of underlying “theology” or value-system they propose. By entering into these things, we enter into those narratives and are often shaped by them. We are not always aware of these invisible “forces,” that’s the nature of culture, nor would we necessarily be happy or ready to give them up if we realized this. Yet, many of these values and narratives we enter into are counter the narrative of the Gospels. Woolman found this to be true in his own time with the keeping of slaves. Many people engaged in these activities and practices without ever questioning the underlying stories were shaped by. Today I read through chapter four of his journal and was pleased to come across this letter he wrote to Quaker meetings in North Carolina, and his concern for the “dangerous snares” we often set for our children in this manner.

TO FRIENDS AT THEIR MONTHLY MEETING AT NEW GARDEN AND CANE CREEK, IN NORTH CAROLINA: —

DEAR FRIENDS,

It having pleased the Lord to draw me forth on a visit to some parts of Virginia and Carolina, you have often been in my mind; and though my way is not clear to come in person to visit you, yet I feel it in my heart to communicate a few things, as they arise in the love of truth. First, my dear friends, dwell in humility; and take heed that no views of outward gain get too deep hold of you, that so, your eyes being single to the Lord, you may be preserved in the way of safety. Where people let loose their minds after the love of outward things, and are more engaged in pursuing the profits and seeking the friendships of this world, than to be inwardly acquainted with the way of true peace, they walk in a vain shadow, while the true comfort of life is wanting. Their examples are often hurtful to others; and their treasures thus collected do many times prove dangerous snares to their children….

…While I write, the youth come fresh in my way. Dear young people, choose God for your portion; love His truth, and be not ashamed of it; choose for your company such as serve him in uprightness; and shun as most dangerous the conversation of those whose lives are of an ill savour; for by frequenting such company some hopeful young people have come to great loss, and been drawn from less evils to greater, to their utter ruin. In the bloom of youth no ornament is so lovely as that of virtue, nor any enjoyments equal to those which we partake of in fully resigning ourselves to the divine will. These enjoyments add sweetness to all other comforts, and give true satisfaction in company and conversation, where people are mutually acquainted with it; and as your minds are thus seasoned with the truth, you will find strength to abide steadfast to the testimony of it, and be prepared for services in the church.

John Woolman’s Journal Chapter 4, 1757 

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

One thought on “My dear friends, dwell in humility… (Woolman)”

  1. Thanks for posting this Wess. We have much to learn from John Woolman even 250 years later. Much of what he says is very valid for today. One of the things that I did notice on my further study of his Journal was the time he needed to “re-tire” (Dare I use a pun intended as in re-tread) to his home and spend time with fFriends and family between journeys. Much of his Journal has been edited to reflect his journeys, but a good deal of his “work” and effort came from the time he spent tending the orchard, teaching “school,” making a living, etc.

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