Wednesday, September 23, 2009

of love and irritation

A couple of weeks ago I attended a funeral Mass for Tina, a woman who had been afflicted with Down's Syndrome. She defied what I had thought to be conventional wisdom about that impairment by attaining a long and largely independent existence. With support from care-givers and a community of similarly-disabled people she lived on her own and earned her own livelihood. Her self-knowledge was substantial. She wished she could have been tall and slender; recognized that she must carry art supplies with her so, as she said, she could keep her hands busy; and explained her stubborn streak as an inherited Irish mulishness.

She was well and deeply loved by family, friends, and those professionally responsible for helping her. She also could irritate others, so much so that her care-givers would fairly quickly burn out. One of the eulogists who spoke at the Mass gave some insight into both the love she attracted and the — not really incompatible — prickliness of her personality, prickliness that made her somewhat difficult. She, the eulogist, said a care-taker asked to move on but relented on hearing how much she herself, her presence and care, meant to Tina. She saw how much affection Tina had for her and I think she also realized that she reciprocated this affection.

One of Tina's sometimes-irritating traits was her outspokenness. She had little fear of speaking her mind regardless of social inhibitions and the likelihood that embarrassment and hurt feelings might result.

The conjoining of mutual expression of affection along with unwelcome public outbursts reminds me of events in the life of George Fox. He thrived during the middle of the 17th century England when religious controversy had stirred up large numbers of noisy and intrusive eccentrics. And although almost all of them disappeared from sight, he was founder of an enduring sect, the Society of Friends, called Quakers. His was a message of love, but, as with Tina, he had little fear of irritating others.

There are many traits which make this plain. Like other Quaker men, he refused to defer to his social betters by doffing his hat or using the formal "you" in place of the informal "thee." He also, like Tina, would speak his mind plainly in public places, whether outdoors in the marketplace or inside churches ("steeple-houses" as he called them).

The following extracts from his Journals are among his best descriptions of his freedom from reserve. The account follows his release from prison (one of many arduous imprisonments that he and co-believers suffered). He is afoot, as usual, and, wandering northward from London, finds himself outside Lichfied. He says:
Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still, for it was winter; and the Word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the Word of the Lord came to me again, saying, "Cry, 'Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!'" So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, "Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!" It being market-day, I went into the market-place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands, crying as before, "Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!" And no one laid hands on me.

As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood.

When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace, and, returning to the shepherds, I gave them some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire of the Lord was so in my feet, and all over me, that I did not matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I should or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do; then, after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again.

The next day I went to Cranswick, While I was here, there came a great woman of Beverley to speak to Justice Hotham about some business; and in discourse she told him that the last Sabbath-day (as she called it) there came an angel or spirit into the church at Beverley, and spoke the wonderful things of God, to the astonishment of all that were there; and when it had done, it passed away, and they did not know whence it came, nor whither it went; but it astonished all, -- priest, professors, and magistrates of the town. This relation Justice Hotham gave me afterwards, and then I gave him an account of how I had been that day at Beverley steeple-house, and had declared truth to the priest and people there.

I went to another steeple-house about three miles off, where preached a great high-priest, called a doctor, one of them whom Justice Hotham would have sent for to speak with me. I went into the steeple-house, and stayed till the priest had done. The words which he took for his text were these, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Then was I moved of the Lord God to say unto him, "Come down, thou deceiver; dost thou bid people come freely, and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds a year of them for preaching the Scriptures to them. Mayest thou not blush for shame? Did the prophet Isaiah, and Christ do so, who spoke the words, and gave them forth freely? Did not Christ say to His ministers, whom He sent to preach, 'Freely ye have received, freely give'?"

The priest, like a man amazed, hastened away. After he had left his flock, I had as much time as I could desire to speak to the people; and I directed them from the darkness to the Light, and to the grace of God, that would teach them, and bring them salvation; to the Spirit of God in their inward parts, which would be a free teacher unto them.

{George Fox, shod; source:}

{Market Square in Lichfiled with church in background; nearly a century after Fox's visit, Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, and the statue is of his biographer James Boswell; source: Herbaltablet's photostream on flickr}

My source for the journal entry: GEORGE FOX - An Autobiography CHAPTER V. One Man May Shake the Country for Ten Miles 1651-1652.

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