In this episode, we talk about George Fox’s letter to Lady Claypole (Oliver Cromwell’s daughter), found in section 3I in Traditional Quaker Christianity. He tells her to “be still and cool in thine own mind and spirit,” because she was “very sick and troubled in mind.”
Consequently, content warning: discussion of mental illness.
Be still and cool…
Micah contrasts Fox’s advice to “be still a while from thy own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in thee, to stay thy mind upon God, up to God” with how someone experiencing distressing thoughts would be handled in meditation. He says in meditation, you’re trying to empty your mind, so you try to let go of those distressing thoughts and all other thoughts. In contrast, Fox advises that she fix her mind upon God.
Mackenzie notes that Fox says to be still and cool and then “thou wilt feel the principle of God.” There’s a sequence suggested there. Often we talk in terms of still and quiet, as well. So, perhaps part of the advice is on not trying to skip ahead. Quiet the unwanted thoughts, then it’ll be possible to concentrate on God.
We talked about prosperity gospel in episode 14. It’s sometimes referred to as “health and wealth,” but we mostly only talked about the wealth side. Here’s where the health side, specifically mental health, comes in. This can easily veer into the same pattern much of Christianity has had of equating illness with sin. Micah points out that in the Gospel of John (chapter 9), the disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused a given man to born blind: his or his parents’? Jesus answers that nobody’s sin caused his blindness. So, there is a repudiation of that karma-style idea of “you sinned, therefore you get sick” in Scripture. We talk about how sins for which there is wide culpability, like environmental destruction, contribute to illness and death. Micah gives the traditional Christian explanation of sin being loose in the world.
Fox continues with instructing her to pay more attention to God than to the negative thoughts. His reasoning is one of fixation. This can be likened to when you sit in meeting for worship and get distracted, then next thing you know you’re thinking “don’t think about balloons. Don’t think about balloons. Don’t think about balloons. Oh no! I’m thinking about balloons!”
Is Fox’s advice good? If it’s a spiritual problem, sure. But how do you know whether it’s spiritual or chemical? Maybe cover both bases: talk to someone you trust in a spiritual sense and to someone who went to school for psychology or psychiatry.
PS: It was James Parnell, not Edward Burrough, who “was led to go to Cambridge” after finding out two Quaker women were being held prisoner. Made that mistake in the episode.