Maggie Harrison discusses the radicalism of Quakers in the 17th century and how we could be that movement today.
Maggie wrote a pamphlet called “Clothe Yourself in Righteousness, But First Let’s Get Naked!” and co-released it with Quaker musician Jon Watts’ new album. In October 2011 the pair traveled to Earlham College to share their ministry with Scattergood and Olney Friends Schools.
So when I grew up Quaker, what I figured out was that Quakerism was boring as hell. And my middle aged Quaker friends in my Meeting who I love – and they were much radder than your average middle aged person – but they too were pretty boring and mainstream.
And when you learn about a lot of Early Friends and what they did you realize how extremely “not boring” that was… they were, and we could be.
They were revolutionaries. And I wanted to believe that I could be a revolutionary too… that I could be that brave. That my faith – that my experience of the incredible majesty of this world – could move me to do something radical… to change the world.
And when I looked around at the other Quakers that I was hanging out with, who were doing good work, they were part of nonprofits, they were… you know, we took in a family of Bosnian refugees, “woo, weren’t we great?” But that’s not the revolution. That is not Earth-Quaking faith. That’s being a good person. That’s what doing what you think a good Quaker should do. And that is not enough for me.
So I was trying to figure out: what was it that they had that we don’t have any more? What were they doing that no one is doing now?
And that’s where this nakedness comes in. Nakedness was the way that they described what they were doing that made them so full of conviction, so transformed that they could do anything that they felt like they were led to do, no matter how terrifying and how inappropriate it was.
So I looked into nakedness, and nakedness goes right back to the Bible. It goes back to Adam and Eve. It goes back to God making humans and saying “they are good” when they were in their state of nakedness, and then the humans were checking things out, and they were like, “oh I really want to eat that fruit” and they tried it… and they were given the ability to make that decision, to choose away from the order, from the direction of the Spirit.
And then God didn’t actually say, “oh now, you’re bad. You should hide yourselves away from me.” Adam and Eve did. They said, “Oh my God, we’re so embarrassed. Let’s hide ourselves.” And they put on the fig leaves.
So Quakers talk about going back to that original state of nakedness, and going back to it means, “I’m not going to have fig leaves anymore. I’m not going to cover myself out of shame for the parts of me that are broken. For the things that I’ve done, the things that I think, the way I am that is out of line with what is good in this world. I’m not going to be ashamed of that, so ashamed that I don’t look at it. We’re going to take it out and we’re going to put it in the open. We’re going to tear off the clothing, the covering and let the light shine on it. And when the light shines on that, it is scary as hell. But that also let’s it be transformed.
And this was something that Quakers were doing in their meditation. It was something they were doing in the silence, in their journalling, in their talking to each other, they were saying, “Are you getting naked? Are you letting yourself be transformed? Letting all of those parts of you that are not righteous see the light?”
That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want for Quakers. That’s what I want for us, and I think that there are a lot of other Quakers that also want that.