As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill… and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea… and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
– George Fox 1652
The job of a Quaker pilgrimage is to re-connect us with eternal truths, lucidly lived.
I was a great-grandmother by the time I found my way to the hall where Quaker faith and practice began. In May 2017, walking through Swarthmoor Hall’s stone entryway, I felt rooted and grounded in Love. I never would have made it there, though, without Connie McPeak Green’s caring guidance and sturdy companionship.
She and I set out to find our Quaker roots with a rental car and a do-it-ourselves itinerary, but navigating Cumbria’s narrow roads frazzled me. I hit a pothole on our first day, got a flat tyre and had to call the AA for roadside assistance. Self-doubt quickly followed.
Manager Jane Pearson welcomed us home to the Hall that day with a gift of immeasurable grace: would we like to walk ‘In Fox’s Footsteps’ with seasoned guides? We would! Connie re-booked our travel plans and we joined Gordon Matthews and Sasha Bosbeer on a ‘1652 Quaker Pilgrimage’.
It was quite the challenge to climb Pendle Hill. Readers who’ve done it know about shale embedded in dirt, uneven steps marching upward at a forty-five degree angle. My old body needed divine assistance. A breath prayer gave strength: ‘Mercy’ as I lifted one boot and hefted it up; ‘Grace’ each time I planted that boot on a higher stone.
The view was worth the effort, a shiny line of North Sea visible in the haze.
After a picnic we settled onto Pendle Hill’s uneven turf for worship. Resident Friend Jan Shimmin sat back-to-back for support. Shared silence on common ground became a ‘sticky’ experience for me, a muscular Quaker glue, bonding strangers into community on the first day of the pilgrimage.
I could not have anticipated the power of Light and Love that emerged as we walked on Firbank Fell, explored Sedbergh and Kendal, gazed at the Quaker Tapestry, saw Marsh Grange, picnicked on the seaside bluff where Margaret Fell grew up, enjoyed a morning with Ben Pink Dandelion at Clitheroe Meeting, shared an evening with Rex Ambler at Swarthmoor Hall, conversed with British Friends in historic Quaker Meeting houses, and gathered in worship at Sunbrick burial ground – ten Friends from three nations atop the unmarked bones of some 200 forbears denied burial in church-owned ‘consecrated ground’.
The job of Quaker practice is to repeatedly lure us toward direct experiences of Light, to remind us how it feels to be one with Love.
I landed in England unsure whether my ‘convinced’ status was enough to qualify me as a true Friend. I brought doubts. I wanted help strengthening my conviction. My heart opened at Swarthmoor Hall. My mind cleared. I can never be a ‘birthright’ Friend, but, then, George Fox and Margaret Fell weren’t either. Original Quakers all started out ‘convinced’. This, for me, was ‘a great opening’.
At Swarthmoor Hall clear light filters through diamond-shaped leaded-glass windows into rooms where Margaret Fell and six daughters planned missionary journeys and corresponded with far-flung Friends. Beams infused with expectant silence sheltered us as we worshipped in The Great Hall. George Fox’s bed and travelling trunk sat just overhead, in an upper room, as did a cradle in which Margaret Fell might have rocked her babies to sleep.
I’ve come to view the ‘cradle of Quakerism’ as a crucible of light, or maybe a chalice. Transformative spiritual and social changes took shape and continue to shine. Staff and volunteers, resident Friends, event guides and guests all contribute to the energy field of living love at Swarthmoor Hall.
As Gregory Orr put it in his poem ‘Let’s remake the world with words’:
as Wordsworth said,
Remove “the dust of custom” so things
Shine again, each object arrayed
In its robe of original light.’
Following ‘In Fox’s Footsteps’ is a graced way to robe old doubts in original light. And in the end, isn’t that what we ask of a pilgrimage – that it reconnect us with eternal truths, lucidly lived?
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