“Whatever God had, at any time heretofore, thought fit to command in particular cases, is consistent with him still.”
1662… London, England
King Charles II’s ‘Quaker Acts’ forbid Quakers to meet in England.
In an act of enforcement, the Bull and Mouth Meeting is broken up one Sunday morning by the King’s men. Friends are beaten up “so badly that blood flowed in the gutter… one Quaker was killed, many many injured”.
In response, Solomon Eccles (a member of Bull and Mouth Meeting) “stripped down to his altogether and put a basket of burning coals on his head and marched naked through the Smithfield Market in London as a visible sign of the spiritual nakedness of the culture and the fire and brimstone that would rain down on such an evil society”.
On occasions like this one, Early Quakers were sometimes called to strip off their clothes and (much to the dismay of passers by) walk naked through the streets. While relatively uncommon, it was defended by the Society of Friends as legitimately based in scripture. “Going naked as a sign” was a powerful wake up call, standing in contrast to the spiritual state of mainstream society.
2005… Guilford College, North Carolina
The practice of streaking (running naked in groups) at this small, southern, Quaker, liberal arts college has become so commonplace that there is a weekly club devoted to it. Rising tension between the divided student body causes the administration to take a stance, clarifying their policy that it is not against school rules. These sons and daughters of 1960’s flower children rejoice in their freedom to disrobe.
Jon Watts (an active streaker in his day) first heard about going naked as a sign when researching the Early Friends for his 2006 Senior QLSP thesis at Guilford College: A Few Songs Occasioned. The stories of Solomon Eccles and others provided inspiration to delve further into nakedness – physical and otherwise – as a concept and a practice.
2009… Earlham School of Religion, Indiana
Maggie Harrison writes a paper called “Clothe Yourself in Righteousness… (But First Get Naked!)”, exploring the theological roots of going naked as a sign. The paper quotes Margaret Fell, George Fox, William Penn, Isaac Pennington and many other Early Quakers on the concept of nakedness.
2009… Woolman Semester, California
After much begging and cajoling, Jon gets his hands on a version of Maggie’s paper. The songwriting begins to flow as Jon reads and processes her research into the theology and practice of going naked as a sign. The songs become surprisingly personal as Jon moves from the study of spiritual nakedness to the practice of it.
Present Day… Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Clothe Yourself in Righteousness is (finally!) written and ready to be recorded. It is time to seek funding and create a plan that will allow the project to reach it’s full potential for personal and group transformation.
Smithfield Market. Early in the day. The crowd parts around him and the people fall away. Mothers cover childs’ ears for fear of what he’ll say.
He says “I’m naked because we all are and God sees through this mess. Your identity’s a farce – before birth and after death you’re not a banker or a lawyer or a well-to-do man. You’re just another beggar with outstretched hands.
And you could fill them up with beauty. You could fill them up with joy. You could fill them up (when times are rough) with the glory of the Lord.”
-From “Clothes Yourself in Righteousness”