John Greenleaf Whittier

The American Quaker poet is less well regarded today because his language often sounds old fashioned.  What is interesting is how this traditional Quaker Christian shows the openness of Quakers to spiritual guidance now, and how having a Christian path does not mean denigrating either other Christians or other faiths.  Two quotes I like from the long poem Miriam, one on fundamentalism, the other on our attitude to other people.

Why mourn above some hopeless flaw

In the stone tables of the law,

When scripture every day afresh

Is traced on tablets of the flesh?

By inward sense, by outward signs,

God’s presence still the heart divines;

Through deepest joy of Him we learn,

In sorest grief to Him we turn,

And reason stoops its pride to share

The child-like instinct of a prayer.


Now I find the ‘He’ and ‘Him’ teeth-gritting and painful, and I have to ‘get behind the words’ of the latter bit, but every time I think about fundamentalism, this comes back to me.

Miriam  is partly about whether following a Christian path means you dismiss the paths of other Christians and other faiths.  Whittier in the poem says

and I made answer: ‘Truth is one;

And, in all lands beneath the sun,

Whoso hath eyes to see may see

The tokens of its unity.

No scroll of creed its fulness wraps,

We trace it not by school-boy maps,

Free as the sun and air it is

Of latitudes and boundaries.

‘Wherever through the ages rise

The altars of self-sacrifice,

Where love its arms has opened wide,

Or man for man has calmly died,

I see the same white wings outspread

That hovered o’er the Master’s head!


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