During my four years at Swarthmore, it never occurred to me that Quakers might have a sense of humor. However, judging from the recently posted YouTube video “What Does George Fox Say?” (a parody of the viral Ylvis production “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)”), a younger generation of Friends has a penchant for comedy.
The parody, in which a silent Quaker meeting morphs into a costumed song and dance history of the origins of the Society of Friends, is exceptionally clever — but it was the content that, to use a Quaker phrase, “spoke to my condition.”
What George Fox, the founder of the Society, said was “I saw that there was an ocean of death and darkness but flowing over it was an infinite ocean of light and love.” And “The Lord does not dwell in these temples but in people’s hearts.” And “Be still and cool in your own mind and spirit and you will feel the principle of God.”
The message was so New Age, and the medium so MTV, that I questioned the accuracy of the quotes. So I consulted the Source of All Extant Knowledge, Google, to make sure this rendition of Friendly principles wasn’t Quaker Lite for GenX.
It wasn’t. The lightly edited quotes were spot on. George Fox, aside from a Puritanical distaste for art and worldly pleasures (he was, after all, a product of his time) sounded remarkably like the contemporary gurus who speak of Oneness, Transcendence, and Enlightenment. He even, according to one of his acquaintances, possessed a disconcertingly “penetrating gaze,” a popular accessory among modern day spiritual teachers.
I was shocked. Could it be that if I’d gone to Sunday meeting regularly as an undergraduate I would have been spared my subsequent years of spiritual seeking? Could I have skipped all that meditating, chanting, dervish-whirling, and studying Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, (surely the most deliberately obscure spiritual text ever written)? And all that listening to audiotapes designed to balance my cerebral hemispheres, plus risking permanent tinnitus by taking “gong baths” to raise my vibrations? Not to mention the sweat lodge and smudging ceremonies I’ve tried here in New Mexico. Verily, I have been quite thorough in my efforts to penetrate the veil of illusion and view the Face of God.
But while I tried everything, I never drank anyone’s Kool-Aid. Those four years at Swarthmore taught me the value of an inquiring, healthy skepticism and sound research.
Unfortunately, I honed those rational, analytic skills at the expense of my intuition and creativity. It wasn’t Swarthmore’s fault; the college’s emphasis on intellect and academic excellence was simply too much for this undereducated, undisciplined kid from Alabama.
Seeing what's right in front of you
But the counterbalance, had I been sufficiently mature to recognize it, was there all along. It lay in the moment of silence and private reflection required at the beginning of weekly collection, a college-wide convocation featuring (sometimes) inspiring speakers; it was there in the elegantly simple meetinghouse on the campus, where I might have connected to my inner light had I been less obsessed with finishing my seminar papers and worrying about where to go to graduate school.
But to all things there is a season. My youthful impertinence and lust for adventure precluded anything as orthodox as a disciplined practice of Quaker principles. My path to illumination, like that of many of my contemporaries, required an excursion into Eastern mysticism and New Age folderol. I’m heartened to see that the young Friends who produced this video had the good sense to find what they needed without leaving home, as well as the perspective to realize that while the Spirit may “talk in a still small voice of Love and Truth,” it can also laugh.