By Joanna Godfrey Wood. Christian Alternative Books (Quaker Quicks), 2021. 88 pages. $10.95/paperback; $5.99/eBook.
As Quakers, lifelong or convinced, how often do we ask ourselves the penetrating question “Why am I a Quaker?” or perhaps had the question asked of us by others? In this small but intricate book, Joanna Godfrey Wood attempts to answer the question for herself and, in doing so, lovingly provides both answers and new questions for many of us. She skillfully explores the very roots and beginnings of Quakerism through the words and works of Margaret Fell. The exploration of Fell’s writings and her place in the history of Quakerism is felt as deeply personal by the author, and the reader senses its impact and meaning in each page.
Wood shares her own thoughts, questions, and memories with readers in a way that draws you in, as though you are a close friend with whom she is sharing her very soul. By sharing her own spiritual journey and insightful inquiry in this way, she helps us understand our roots and sheds light on our being and purpose as Quakers today. Her pointed questioning of current Quaker behaviors and attitudes challenges us in a way that frees us to see ourselves as perhaps we really are and moves us to more positive intention and action.
As a convinced Quaker for over 40 years, I found myself drawn to the initial question and captivated by the reverence and admiration that Wood clearly feels for Margaret Fell, generally acknowledged as “the mother of Quakerism.” She remarks how “the words passed through my center and I found that I could ‘hear’ Fell’s voice speaking to me loudly and clearly.” Wood’s in-depth study of Fell’s writings provides the reader with a keen and clear look at this important figure, long overlooked and underappreciated, in our rich Quaker history. Her adaptation of Fell’s words, written some 350 years ago, brings clarity and real understanding to what has been often lost in the dusty annals of history.
As Wood seeks to answer her own questions about what made early Quakers “work so fiercely and steadfastly to establish Quakerism in the mid-seventeenth century,” she wonders “[w]hat had they discovered?” and why it was so important, and seeks to have us “rediscover these things for ourselves.” Through a detailed examination of Fell’s words—adding her own insightful interpretations and thoughtful queries—Wood uses four basic principles of Quaker thought and testimonies of simplicity, truth, equality, and peace to organize the book, attempting to understand the essence of spiritual and divine Truth: what it meant to be a Quaker in the 1600s as well as what it means to be a Quaker today.
For those seeking to understand our Quaker legacy and the pioneering woman who birthed our practice yet are “still exploring the unknown and the unknowable,” Joanna Godfrey Wood has provided a thoughtful guidebook and way forward that is rich with inquiry and understanding for individuals and meetings everywhere.
Claire J. Salkowski is a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md. She worked in public and private schools before founding Free State Montessori School and worked there for 35 years before working overseas. Also an author, university instructor, teacher trainer, and program director, Claire is currently an educational consultant and restorative circle practitioner.