Whitsun, 1652. George Fox came into Sedbergh. A countryman, skilled with horses and sheep, interested in birdsong and medicinal plants, he was an early environmentalist. He once said ‘Leave all the creatures behind you as you found them’. He had discovered the power of silence in a world of wordy abstractions, and been touched by the 'inner Christ', the guiding light within. He wanted to liberate folk from the control of  a conservative priesthood with its demand for tithes and obedience to the status quo.

When he walked up Firbank Fell with friends they entered the chapel to hold a meeting, but he sat outside in silent waiting. For him the whole earth was sacred. As more folk gathered, perhaps 1000 of them, he moved to stand on the rock outcrop. And then he spoke. He wrote later that he had ‘directed all to the Spirit of God in themselves’.  He delivered a message that brought together these independent-minded northern folk who wanted a new experience of spiritual life. Together they founded the Society of Friends, which still holds together without personal power or hierarchy. The Friends listen to one another, listening out for the still quiet voice of a deeper reality.

Fox was a ‘think for yourself’ man in an age of ‘do what your betters tell you’. Maybe nowadays he’d warn against  handing over our minds to the influencers and the mesmerising chatter of the media. My favourite saying of Fox? ‘Be still and cool in thy own mind’.

Written by Pamela Coren, Brigflatts Quaker Meeting

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