Our Life Is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey by Marcelle Martin reviewed by Carol Chatfield
The title of Marcelle Martin’s newly published book, Our Life is Love, echoes Isaac Penington’s well-known 1667 quotation, “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand . . . ” Martin’s book is about the transformative path taken by fervent men and women refined by the fire of truth, and the tender help from one another they receive along their way. It is the sharing of the many struggles and rewards experienced by early seekers of the Spirit, as well as contemporary followers of the Light.
The author presents a framework of ten elements to this spiritual path. Seekers move through the elements on their journey, starting with their unenlightened longing for God and continuing to Perfection at the end of their travels. Perfection is an enlightened and transformative application of God’s love to the needs of the broken world. The full ten elements are gathered under three headings: 1. Awakening, 2. Convincement, and 3. Faithfulness. “Awakening” includes the elements of Longing, Seeking, and Turning Within. “Convincement” encompasses Openings, The Refiner’s Fire, and Community. The last grouping is “Faithfulness,” and it entails Leading, The Cross, Abiding, and Perfection. Martin illustrates each element using stories from men and women in a variety of occupations and from the differing branches of the Religious Society of Friends. One half of each element’s stories are from the mid-seventeenth century, and the rest are stories from our modern time.
For example, in the section on The Refiner’s Fire, Martin includes these modern stories: Elise Boulding writing about a spiritual crisis after returning to suburbia from India; Sandra Cronk on “the difficult process of seeing and letting go of old ways,” and Parker Palmer writing about his most difficult descent into depression after realizing he was not living his life the way God meant for him.
I like the way Martin includes inspiring stories from everyday people. Such stories teach us that new spiritual paths are always available; they are not solely found in Quaker history. Some of these paths involve situations and technologies that are only found in today’s world, not in the seventeenth century! For example, Arthur O. Roberts, writing on parenting as a spiritual refinement, mentions a nuclear submarine; Linda Caldwell Lee mentions a phone call and refrigerator.
I felt inspired by the book and connected with it particularly because of Martin’s inclusion of Elise Boulding’s One Small Plot of Heaven. Boulding was a member of Boulder Monthly Meeting while I was an attender there in the 1980s; she was a visionary, and I was fortunate to take part in one of her “Envisioning the Future without War” workshops. I am glad that Martin has helped make Boulding’s writing known to more people.
Several pages at the conclusion of the book describe the author’s own spiritual journey and the ways in which the ten elements manifested themselves in that journey. With this personal sharing, Martin models what the title of the book is about: living a life of love, living as an expression of minding Truth. Martin also provides us with a section on recommended resources as well as a page of questions for reflection after each chapter.
It may seem a lofty goal to bring the inspiration of early Friends to us in today’s world, but Martin achieves this goal by using impassioned writings from contemporary Quakers as well as from the founders of our faith. Thus, this book will be helpful to new and experienced seekers alike, people who are looking for down-to-earth descriptions of Christ’s powerful spirit. It also provides an inviting way for newcomers to examine their own spiritual paths and to wonder where in the ten-element path they might find themselves. Quaker meetings wishing to sponsor a study group will find this book to be a ready resource. This is a real gift Marcelle Martin has given us: the fruits of her devoted, in-depth yet broad, research into everyday Quakers’ writings.
Marcelle Martin served four years as Quaker Studies teacher at Pendle Hill, and she has authored two Pendle Hill Pamphlets: # 366, Invitation to a Deeper Communion and # 382, Holding One Another in the Light. She wrote the 2009 Michener lecture pamphlet, Deeply Rooted. While writing Our Life is Love, Martin was Mullen Writing Fellow at the Earlham School of Religion. She has led many workshops at retreat centers and Quaker meetings across the country and keeps a blog at A Whole Heart (awholeheart.com). ~~~
Carol Fey Chatfield is a twenty-year member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting (PYM).
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