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Encounter with Silence: Reflections from the Quaker Tradition
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on February 20, 2003
"Encounter With Silence" is a most impressive, if not original, outline of the Quaker tradition which dates back to the middle seventeenth century.
The book, written by Quaker John Punshon and controversial theologian Matthew Fox (who gives a useful introduction from his experience of Quakers), aims to outline the distinctive practices involved in Quakerism and does so most effectively because Punshon is able to write so well from the experience of his own life. He shows how silence aims to produce recollection in those who encounter it and the existence of historical precendents for the Quakers before the seventeeth century. Punshon understands effectively how the first Friends saw convincement (being reborn as a Quaker).
Punshon then focuses on unprogrammed Quaker worship and the manner in which it occurs through believers coming together in silence to pray. He is very effective in focusing on the enviroment created by the simplicity of worship so evident in Quakerism, and he does a useful job of understanding the way in which Quakerism has evolved into the present.
The next part of the book looks at the Quaker testimony and the way in which Punshon was attracted to Quakerism and the meaning of this "Testimony" which is expressed, Punshon feels, through one's life rather than though the Testimony's words.
The remainder of the book aims to deal with the way in which Quaker ethics can be expressed in everyday life. Punshon shows very well who a Quaker meeting can be used to avoid distractions from everyday life, but he spends a lot of the book explaining how one still has to "know how to feel". The book then turns to the meaning of ministry and the rhythm of the unprogrammed meeting.
Punshon does an effective job at remembering what he has learnt throughout the book, especially with repect to the various pieces of Quaker ministry. He does a very good job about explaining how ministry comes to people, and how harmony comes to a religious community.
The next piece focuses on the way in which Quaker principles are applied outside of worship, with examples relating to decision making and being faithful ("if you are faithful in little you will be faithful in much"), and how Friends do not seek to avoid conflict in their opinions. The last few chapters of the book are focused on how Quaker principles are applied in daily life.
Whilst none of Punshon's these are original, they are still a very good read.
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on May 30, 2000
An excellent apologetic for the Quaker approach to faith. Although Punshon is not well known, he is an outstanding and eloquent writer -- one of the best writers on religious issues I've encountered since Thomas Merton. He makes a strong case for an approach to faith that is grounded both in contemplation and prophetic action; two areas that are often seen as mutually exclusive.
The book is succinct and to the point and will enhance your understanding of Christianity even if Quakerism is not your interest. Punshon takes a common sense approach to much of much of Christian doctrine and even manages to make sense of the sometimes mystifying (to the nonChristian) belief in the divinity of Christ. Especially recommended to agnostics or struggling Christians although it should be noted that Punshon is equally critical of the liberal and conservative wings of the Quaker movement. END
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