Is It Dangerous to Let Teenagers Read Thomas Kelly?
On Sunday, there wasn’t a First Day School program at our Quaker meeting, so our boys were going to be with us all through meeting for worship. I pulled out the two little books that were in my purse and offered them to my 13 year old son: a very small print King James Bible or Thomas Kelly’s The Eternal Promise. He chose TEP and proceeded to actually read it. At that point it occurred to me to worry, “Am I going to regret this?”
Have you read any Thomas Kelly? (1893-1941) His more famous book is A Testament of Devotion. He writes about Quakerism and the religious life as if he was serious about it. Back in the late 1930’s he had some kind of mystical experience after a professional heartbreak in the middle of his career. Then he wrote several classic essays on religious experience: “The Blessed Community,” “The Gathered Meeting,” “The Simplification of Life,” “Have You Ever Seen A Miracle?”, and “Holy Obedience.”
"I have in mind something deeper than the simplification of our external programs, our absurdly crowded calendars of appointments through which so many pantingly and frantically gasp. These do become simplified in holy obedience, and the poise and peace we have been missing can really be found. But there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one's personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity's whisper, walking with a smile into the dark."His lines about a life lived in accordance with a divine center, that takes no time, but yet all our time, are quoted in many Quaker books of Faith & Practice. If you are even a little bit religious, it is wildly inspiring to read Thomas Kelly’s words about the need and desire to give ourselves fully to God, to live a life of uncompromising devotion.
But teenagers don’t have enough knowledge or experience of life to know that Kelly can’t possibly mean it, that nobody really lives like that, that his kind of passion is excessive.
That made me ask myself how much I have let myself think that the world doesn’t really work that way, that nobody really lives like that, that he can’t really mean it.
And then I wondered how much trouble would I be in? How would I be held accountable for the life that I do lead if the young people in my life caught on to that thrilling vision?
Maybe we should encourage more young people to read Thomas Kelly.
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