By Brian Drayton. Inner Light Books, 2021. 115 pages. $30/hardcover; $15/paperback.
Then, how important is the “foolishness of preaching,” how important the testimony in deed and word of those who are more experienced in the journey, more practiced in the cycles of seeking, finding, and living up to (and not beyond) our measure of the Light?
Brian Drayton is an accomplished practitioner of the “foolishness of preaching.” He is a recorded minister in New England Yearly Meeting and has long encouraged unity and witness among Friends.
For several years, I have been sharing a weekly “Midweek Meditation” with an old-fashioned email list. Each is a brief quote from a living or dead Quaker that is intended not for discussion or analysis, but to help recipients find a moment of inward calm and re-dedication to faithfulness in the midst of their daily lives. In a very similar way, Drayton has assembled a book of letters he has sent to a variety of Friends meetings that can serve as a springboard for personal or community contemplation.
Many of the messages in this book were written following a personal visit in the ministry. Writing such letters as an accompaniment to a traveling ministry is an ancient practice. It was common among early Friends—George Fox’s epistles are among the most prominent—but the tradition, of course, goes back even further to include the epistles in the Bible. This is a ministry, but it rests on a very different basis than vocal ministry. Whereas in a meeting for worship, a minister speaks in the moment without preparation, good letters are the product of reflection and often of careful preparation. As Drayton mentions, they may arise from a realization that more needed to be said. They may fill out a vocal message with a fuller explanation of things that had only been alluded to. They may also be the further thoughts of the speaker—things that only later became clear.
Other messages in the book were originally addressed to a group of Friends in advance of their gathering and raise issues or concerns that the coming meeting might benefit from considering. Often they are a call to faithfulness, to prayerfully discerning what work God has for those assembled, and for carefully and prayerfully planning how to fulfill that call—how to do no more and no less.
Some readers may be put off by the explicitly Christian language that Drayton uses. Don’t be. Nor do I advise trying to translate it into words that feel more congenial to you. This is a book you should allow to challenge you. Listen to the words Drayton has chosen—not to an interpretation that may feel easier for you to accept.
When I first read it, I was disappointed in the lack of good titles for the messages, a table of contents, or an index. I wanted to be able to quickly and easily find a message related to something I might be thinking about. But then I realized that this isn’t a collection of essays nor is it a reference book. I have no doubt that Drayton could write either of these, but each letter was written in service to a specific group of people gathered at a particular place and time. Each is designed with that intent. Even so, the principles that he depends on are unchanging and some of the ministry offered will speak to a broader audience.
This is not a large book and might even be read in a single sitting, but don’t. Each message deserves to be considered by itself. I gave each one its own day—in the case of some longer messages, more than one day—and I recommend that to you. Read one and then sit with it as you go about your daily affairs. Give each a chance to sink into your mind and your soul. It will bring you spiritual refreshment.
Paul Buckley has recently returned to Richmond, Ind., where he worships with Clear Creek Meeting. Paul is the author of numerous articles and books on Quaker history, faith, and practice. When possible, he travels in the ministry urging spiritual renewal among Friends. His most recent book is Primitive Quakerism Revived: Living as Friends in the Twenty-First Century.