Letters - 23 and 30 December 2022

From Process of revision to A testimony for Beryl Hibbs

Process of revision

By these pickers and stealers – hey, caramba! – I thought within Quakerdom that Friends believed an author’s fingerprints, her breathing, perspiring presence too, were ‘still a thing’ going on behind, within, over and above all typescripts and printed texts! No ‘death-of-the-author’ for us, no no – all is contextual, inflected with personal intention and unconscious bias, all is merely human, and hallelujah! for that. What, are we to sit quietly, unprotestingly, anonymously while the Revision Committee’s ‘pretty diverse bunch’ (‘Brought to book’, Rosie Carnall on the process of revising Quaker faith & practice’, 2 December) engage in ‘writing exercises’ and disappear, extinguish themselves and all their diversity, self-immolate before the dangerously sloping shoulders of a faceless figure – the ‘voice of the book’? Heaven forfend. Sounds dangerously like: ‘The Bible says…’ No, the Bible doesn’t say. Flesh and shed blood, I should venture.

Yikes! Lord ha’ mercy, and what on earth can this mean: ‘contains passages that are not by a particular person’? Homogenisation, standardisation, collectivisation? Really? Writing by algorithm, is it? Have you heard the ‘voice’ of George Fox’s Journal? Despite his editors’ sterling efforts to make elegant his prickly, ill-educated divagations and denunciations, here stands George – awkward, irascible, boastful, rambling, bloody-minded. A firebrand! Not cooking on a moderate heat for fear of curdling, certainly not. ‘Comfortable’, ‘clear’, ‘accessible’? Please, no.

Friend Sarah Ruden has much to say about that in the introduction to her new translation, The Gospels (dedicated to the Quakers). Even prayers are authored, (poignantly). (And shouldn’t we have a Quaker prayer book?) ‘The Bible’ is in fact (gloriously) an anthology (not to be dismissed with a grudging concession to ‘include some anthology material, but we need to write the core text ourselves’!). Core text? I think our editors might be a tad more ’umble, my Lord.

No inoffensive Quakerese, let us make the plea. Comfort the afflicted; afflict the comfortable. Delight in the Word, and in the word, too. Our Quaker gospel is a scandal, you’ll see!

Jonathan Wooding

A testimony for Beryl Hibbs

Cumberland Area Meeting is to write a testimony to the grace of God as shown in the life of Beryl Hibbs, who died on 18 November.

We would welcome contributions from Friends who knew Beryl and who worked with her at any time, within and beyond the Society of Friends.

She lived a life rich in inspiration and the power of the divine, in which she served the Society and the wider world.

We hope to capture and record this service.

Jane Holmes

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