A Few Songs Occasioned

by Jon Watts

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In April of 2006, Jon released A Few Songs Occasioned at Guilford College in a gathered worship setting involving 5 other musicians, backup singers, a violin trio and an audience of several hundred. Many left with a deep sense of personal connection to the first generation of Friends. Here is an opportunity to participate in the power of these stories.

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released April 25, 2006

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Jon Watts Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Quaker poet-producer-songsmith in West Philly.

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Track Name: Introduction
"Early Friends believed that they were restoring original Christianity and, in their own experience, there was no need for programming in hymns and rites and rituals and liturgies because they had the very presence of the living God and it had come to them apocalyptically in their own inner selves.

Christ was present. So you don’t need to sing hymns to Christ; Christ was there.

You didn’t have to be baptized into this life. Christ was baptizing you inwardly.

You didn’t have to take communion in remembrance of Jesus, he was there. You could commune directly.

...people coming together in expectant waiting upon the very reality of the presence of Christ and God in their midst and communing with that Spirit. And if that Spirit then leads you to preach, to prophesize, to sing, that’s proper.

They sang songs or hymns out of their own spiritual leading but not out of hymn books, not out of liturgies, not out of masses, not out of rites and rituals.

Instead of depending on other peoples’ experience second-hand, have your experience. And the best way to do that is in the silence and waiting. And if then the Spirit moves you to sing, to burst forth with a psalm or music that the spirit gave you, then that was fine.

They just rejected all forms that had become idols - or impediments, actually - to the real substance that those forms sought to manifest.

In personal life, it was a rejection of the superfluous. It was a rejection of classism.

And in the religious life, with the Quaker emphasis on the direct and immediate experience of God, why would you sing other peoples’ words about their religious experience? You should have that experience yourself."
Track Name: You Are Pulling Down the Pillars of the World, George Fox
i found george fox living in a journal with his life documented.
i found george fox living in a journal that is waiting to be read.
i could sing his song for you; i could sing it for you.
i could sing his song for you; i could sing it for you.

george didn’t find comfort in idolatry or dogma.
he went to the countryside to see what christ jesus would offer.
he found margaret. he found james. he found that truth and light remain
in times of darkness, in times of pain, in times of restlessness he prayed.

he prayed.

george didn’t think god spoke more to educated clergy.
he would never doff his hat. he said that everyone is worthy.
he was laughed at, thrown in jail. he let his inner christ prevail.
he wore plainclothes and he was strong and there were sixty thousand quakers when he was done.

he prayed.
Track Name: Another Naylor Sonnet
James Nayler hadn’t slept for days. He had a letter in his pocket
from George and Margaret Fell. They prayed that he would read in time to stop it.
They eldered him. He would respect them and not Martha Simmons.

It started when James went to London. He had so much success there.
He preached and worked, converting hundreds. No one questioned his welfare.
Then ranters came, interrupting meetings. They said they preferred James’ preaching
to Burrough and Howgill and even George Fox.
Their leader was Martha. James, ask her to stop. They came to the Bull and Mouth Sunday with rocks.
They want to split Quakers with you at the top. Oh god don’t listen to Martha and her flock.

James stopped eating then. He made a decision from an Exeter prison. He would wait for George’s visit.

George came in from the street and James stood three feet below. They spoke in front of people and then George Fox had to go.
And James said –George, let me hug you.-
George said –I’m not bowing down.-
and James said –well, let me kiss you.-
George offered his foot. It was a falling out.

James decided to go on his own
and George went preaching and keeping the meetings afraid of James.

When James came into Bristol he rode upon a horse. The women sang as they went –oh Lord.-
James Nayler hadn’t slept for days, a letter in his pocket from George and Margaret Fell. They prayed, but prayers could not have stopped him.
No Quakers came to see that day James Nayler’s reenactment but Parliament heard otherwise and said that James had blasphemed.
They indicted him, his punishment: three hundred and ten lashes, a red hot iron through James’ tongue and branded B and laughed at.
“God gave me a body and spirit to endure this.”

They tied up his hands. He could barely stand.
Oh james, you’ve gone too far now. Oh james, you’ve fallen down.
You’ve brought our movement with you. You’ve brought the Quakers down.
Track Name: Smithfield Market
So... early Quakers, many of whom were musicians, were faced with a choice. To become a part of the Quaker movement... to become a Quaker meant rejecting these forms of the world. Many of their vain pursuits or creaturely activity as they called them.

Solomon Eccles, who was a noted violinist, an accomplished violinist, when he became a Quaker, burned his violin.

He’s the same one who, after the famous breakup of the Bull and Mouth Meeting, the Quaker Meeting that was held in the old Bull and Mouth tavern there on Aldersgate Street in London, early 1660’s...

When the King’s forces came in and broke up the Meeting because it was illegal according to the Quaker Acts (the ecumenical acts).

They beat up folks so badly that blood flowed in the gutter... one Quaker was killed, many many injured.

The next day, Solomon Eccles stripped down to his altogether and put a basket of burning coals on his head and marched naked through the Smithfield Market in London as a visible sign of the spiritual nakedness of the culture and the fire and brimstone that would come down on such an evil society.
Track Name: Shoes in the Pulpit
shoes in the Pulpit, make shoes in the pulpit, make shoes in the pulpit to prove its not a special place, I jump the pews and make shoes.
Track Name: He Burned All His Instruments
he burned all his instruments and his lovely violin. He said he was listening. He said that God would listen to him. He said that God would listen to him. Christ’s inside of Solomon.
Track Name: Born Episcopalian
born Episcopalian, then Presbyterian, Independent, he studied Baptists then Quakers... and in the silence he found his Truth.
Track Name: Dear Friends
dear friends, dear friends, let me tell you how i feel. you have given me such treasures. i love you so.
Track Name: Conclusion
What happened, as often happens with those enthusiastic movements, those things get formalized and Quakerism becomes a religion of "don'ts" and "thou shalt nots".

When people ask "What do Quakers believe?" you run off this litany of things that we don’t do. "Well, we DON'T baptize, we DON'T do communion, we DON'T take oaths, we DON'T...” and as part of that Quietist Quaker culture, we don't do music, we don't dress the way the world does, we don't worship the way the world does, and that became hardened.

... and it had just hit hard after the Civil War, so you’re already spiritually exhausted from the migration, the battle of the Underground Railroad, the war, the poverty, and in come these holiness revivals. It was just singing and vocal prayer and praising the lord and people's eternal assurance that they had been saved and sanctified. They knew if they died tomorrow, this is where they’d spend eternity.

And you go back to these Meetings and the elders are saying, "Well... you can never be absolutely sure, you know... its too much creaturely activity. It’s too much self will. You have to be - if you think you’ve been saved - your personal salvation... you know, that’s pretty prideful.”

So in order to literally save the Quaker youth for the Friend's Church, the elders, who had no evangelical tendencies themselves, would incorporate some of these, what we call "new measures." Bring in some hymn singing, some vocal prayer, some planned messages out of the silence to add some more spiritual vitality to the meeting. And that evolved from the 1860’s and 70’s into kind of a full blown pastoral protestant form of worship.

It’s the old dilemma: in order to save the village, we had to destroy it... the old Vietnam adage. In order to save Quakerism, they had to essentially destroy the Quakerism they inherited.

But, in retrospect, we probably lost more than we gained. But they had to do it.