Imagination & Spirit. A Contemporary Quaker Reader

Edited and Introduced by J. Brent Bill

Friends United Press, 2002 | ISBN 0-944350-61-5

Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.


This collection is a hardy effort to make the Quaker experience accessible to those outside the tradition and to let Friends themselves appreciate the nuances of that experience. Seventeen modern writers, either within the Quaker Christian tradition or near its fringe, are here represented in this balanced reader, if we include also J. Brent Billís competent introduction and C. Michael Curtisí friendly Foreword. In this there is a nice blend of fiction and nonfiction, a fluid mix of themes—prayer, lifestyle, the arts, sex and marriage, hunting Godís will, plain-speaking, simplicity, activism, peace, discipline, and unprogrammed worship. Some of the writers speak on themes from a Quaker perspective, as in the case of nonfiction pieces by Thomas Kelly, D. Elton Trueblood, Douglas V. Steere, David Yount, Richard J. Foster, Scott Russell Sanders, and Irene Allen. Others present the Quaker experience through the medium of fiction, as we find in stories by Elizabeth Gray Vining, Elfrida Vipont Foulds, Jessamyn West, Daisy Newman, James A. Michener, Jan de Hartog, Thomas J. Mullen, and Philip Gulley.

While not presented as an omnibus, this reader has a comfortable breadth, inclusive without sprawling: from depictions of past events (as in the excerpt from Michenerís Chesapeake and his treatment of the Puritan persecution and executions of Mary Dwyer, William Robinson, and Marmaduke Stevenson in 17th-century Massachusetts) to modern pictures of faith and practice (as found in Sandersí essay on "Silence"); from pastoral (as in Kellyís "Holy Obedience") to discernment (as in Truebloodís "A Contemporary Christian Delusion"); from serious stories (e.g., de Hartogís "New Mexico 1973" and the excerpt from Allenís mystery Quaker Testimony) to the whimsical (as rendered so well in Westís playful "Music on the Muscatatuck").

While some collections are flea markets, with more stuff than order, Brentís is nicely arranged and not unlike walking into a friendís living room. He has taken care to touch on many issues that still occupy both the emotions and the intellect of the contemporary Quaker. We see this, of course, in Steereís "Dialogue of Prayer and Action," Mullenís sweet piece on marriage in "I Take Thee Nancy," and Yountís "The Gift of Simplicity." Foster manages to covers much of this territory in "The Spiritual Disciplines." It is also visible in Fouldsí tale "A Ridiculous Idea," about our search for lifeís path, and the excerpt from Viningís powerful Virginia Exiles, dealing as it does with Quaker pacifism and conscientious objection during Americaís Revolutionary period. And it is visible in Newmanís story about the Quaker wedding ceremony, from Indian Summer of the Heart, and Gulleyís two reflections on our relationship to our neighbor, in "A Time to Hate" and "Tasting Tears."

The collection does not cover the entire breadth of the Quaker experience, and Brent freely admits this. He chose his writers, he says, by their publication record, but the real undercurrent of his choice is a commitment to the Christian faith—and this itself helps to make the book a standout among other collections of Quaker literature. For Friends who read widely, the authors in this collection will be very familiar; for those who aspire to be widely read in the Quaker tradition, this book will indeed be a reliable guide.


Quaker Books for Friends (Vol. 5, No. 2): "Imagination & Spirit. A Contemporary Quaker Reader"
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Copyright © 2003 by Merle Harton, Jr.  All rights reserved