A Quaker View of Gendlin’s Philosophy (review)

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A Quaker’s View of Gendlin’s Philosophy
by Harbert Rice
reviewed by Fred Koster 


This book asks: How does our Quaker process help us seek the Light Within and “That of God in every person”? Harbert Rice of Reno Monthly Meeting (PacYM) answers this question by using the philosophy of Eugene Gendlin to look at Quaker practices.

Gendlin developed his “Philosophy of the Implicit” to put forward a better understanding of living as a process. In Gendlin’s philosophy, human behavior has its roots in experience and experiencing. Historically, many philosophers have started with concepts and symbols (words with fixed meanings) and then proceeded to describe behavior according to those concepts. Gendlin does the reverse, starting with experiencing and what he calls “the felt sense” emerging from our experiencing. As Rice notes, the reader will need to allow time to take in this philosophy. However, that time is well spent, as it opens the door to a new understanding of Quaker language and the experience of sitting in silent worship.

The felt sense is a deep feeling of joy, discovery, and love. The felt sense creates meaning far beyond the words we use to describe the experience. I have experienced a felt sense in the presence of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., as he calmed the fears of everyone in a church after a major riot. Quakers experience the felt sense in a special way, likely giving rise to the bodily quaking we experience when we rise to speak in meeting. Rice finds that the felt sense in silent worship leads us to a “sense of the meeting,” a sense of the “life of the meeting.” We experience a gathered meeting when the life of the meeting is carried forward in a new way.

In the same way, during business meeting, the meeting may experience a gathering when confronting a difficult issue. The sense of the meeting then arises from the process of developing and writing a minute. This gathered sense embedded in the minute is a discovery moment of truth achieved by communal effort. Those present achieve a higher insight and more powerful felt sense – magnified as a shared sense. Using Gendlin as a source, Rice gives us a fresh look at both our meeting for worship and our business meeting.

In addition to Quaker process, Rice describes the “process” of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in prisons. Quakers began AVP in the 1970’s, but after a few years, released it from Quaker oversight. Drawing on his experience working with AVP in Nevada and New Mexico prisons, Rice describes how AVP creates a prison workshop environment where a felt sense can take place in and among prison inmates. In a prison workshop room, prisoners work through their personal histories of violence to achieve fundamental transformations in their lives. In both the meetinghouse room and the prison workshop room, each person can discover a calling to a renewed life purpose.

Rice draws on the early insights of George Fox and the modern insights of Rex Ambler (a UK Quaker) in experiencing the Light. He worries that many do not appreciate the mysterious communal felt sense that Quakers seek in meeting for worship. Perhaps this is because our comfortable modern lifestyle has little relationship to the origins of Quaker processes.

Rice reminds us that the words we use, like Light and Truth, are symbols of a deep encounter with life and that mysterious process we call “spiritual deepening.” Readers will enjoy the new dimensions that this book brings to our Light Within. You can learn more about this book online at: embudovalleypress.com

Fred Koster serves on Western Friend’s Board of Directors and is a member of Albuquerque Friends Meeting (IMYM).

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