“High in the Himalaya, eyes filled with divine love, Jesus appeared to the great master, Babaji.
“ ‘The lights on the high altar of my church,’ he said, ‘have been growing dim. Though still lit on lower altars of good works, the noble taper of inner communion with the Lord burns low, and is ill attended. Let us together, united in Christ love, set lights ablaze on that high altar once again!’ ”
Wherever, whenever mankind has longed to know God, there in that moment has taken place this divine meeting of East and West, of Babaji and Jesus Christ. In stillness, in silence, when the heart is open in yearning, there comes the power of Babaji-Christ to speed the soul’s journey to God.
My father was deeply immersed in the Society of Friends during his college years at Haverford. The essential practice of the Quakers—divine friendship with all beings, inner communion with The Light Within—stayed with him during the challenging years of marriage, fatherhood, family, and business and social responsibilities. Always he addressed me as “Friend.” Every evening after family dinner he would walk slowly along the nearby country roads, alone and meditative. Later he would retire to a room built of solid stone, there to sit in silence, listening inwardly.
He had great reverence for William Penn who, like my father, held firm to his inner life in the midst of an intensely active outer life. William Penn was born October 12, 1644, into an England racked by political and religious discord, social unrest, and civil war. At the age of eleven, he experienced God’s indwelling presence: He knew, with utter certainty, “that there was a God and that the soul of man was capable of enjoying His divine communications.” From earliest childhood he had a rich inner spiritual life; he gravitated naturally to solitude and, as soon as he could read, meditated deeply on the Bible, his reading often leaving him “ravished with joy.” In those early years, he later wrote, Christ “visited my soul” and “spread my sins before me, reproved me, and brought godly sorrow upon me, making me to weep in solitary places.” Christ’s visitations continued into his sixteenth year; for the rest of his life he felt an intense sense of direct connection with God’s spirit, punctuated with spiritual “ravishings.”
His early life grounded in inner communion, thirteen-year-old William was moved to tears by the words of the itinerant Quaker missionary Thomas Loe as he spoke of the Inner Light within each soul and of each soul’s divine destiny to know and commune with that Light. Ten years later, William Penn was imprisoned in the Cork city jail, together with eighteen others, for he had himself joined the Society of Friends and so opened the door to the intense persecution directed at Quakers—fines, jailings, seizures of goods, even public whippings.
William Penn’s “convincement” (as Quakers call conversion) came about through the same Thomas Loe of a decade earlier. When Loe began to speak, William Penn wept, and rose to his feet in the assembly, for it “seemed to him as if a voice said stand on thy feet, how dost thou know but somebody may be touched by your tears.” When arrest came and the magistrate, impressed by the prominence of the Penn name, offered to let young William go, he refused the offer, instead insisting that he share whatever punishment the other eighteen received. It was at this moment that he truly committed himself—professing his faith not only to fellow Quakers, but also to the civil authority, and so to the world at large. It was, once again, Thomas Loe, now on his deathbed, who put the final seal of blessing on the life direction of this, his young disciple: “Dear heart, bear thy cross, stand faithful for God, and bear thy testimony in thy day and generation, and God will give thee an eternal crown of glory that none shall ever take from thee.”
The year of William Penn’s convincement was the culmination of three years of unrelieved horror in England. 1665 brought the bubonic plague, the deadliest visitation in the three centuries of its recurrence in Europe. A quarter of the population of London perished. 1666 brought the great fire that destroyed the closely packed tarred wood and thatch buildings of the city, leaving 200,000 homeless. 1667 brought the Dutch fleet sailing up the Thames, wreaking havoc on the English fleet and sending shock waves of terror through the people. Public imagination saw enemies everywhere, and none so ready at hand as the Quakers, bowing to no civil or religious authority, “quaking” before none but the Lord as the Light Within. 1668 found him imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of blasphemy—he had written a pamphlet defending the central beliefs of Quakerism. Threatened with life imprisonment if he did not recant, William Penn held firm: “My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no mortal man.” Released six months later, he travelled widely, always under threat of imprisonment, speaking out against religious persecution and for liberty of conscience, visiting Friends in prison, bringing comfort and encouragement.
Granted a royal charter for an American colony—given the name Pennsylvania by the King—William Penn turned his energies to the New World, as one Quaker historian described it: “not only to provide a peaceful home for the persecuted members of his own society, but to afford an asylum for the good and oppressed of every nation, and to found an empire where the pure and peaceable principles of Christianity might be carried out in practice.” Here too were to find safe haven other persecuted lovers of God: Mennonites and Amish, Dunkards, Moravians. Penn created the most humane and liberal constitution of the day, established harmonious and respectful relationships with the Delaware native peoples, encouraged the emancipation of slaves, and in every way sought to make Pennsylvania a holy place, a place of devotion, faith, divine service—above all a place where each soul could commune inwardly with God free from civil and religious persecution.
In the years of his retirement, Penn lived quietly in seclusion, writing “Some Fruits of Solitude,” moral and spiritual maxims drawn from his decades of devotion and service: “The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and Kisses the Gentle Hand which led him into it.” From the calm center of his seclusion, Penn reaches out, Quaker philosopher to the end, to share his gentle, hard-won wisdom. Robert Louis Stevenson, a century later, picked up the little book in a San Francisco bookstall, carried it with him wherever he travelled, finding it a direct message from heaven, the answer to the spiritual torment that had brought him to the edge of despair: “Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be Lovely, and in Love with God and one with another.”
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing