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Hughes and Baldwin / Winter and Fire

Hughes letter
November 2016

Hello from Pendle Hill, where winter is setting in and our many beautiful leaves are giving way to bare branches. As the days have shortened recently, I have been drawn to being indoors and reading. Specifically, history has been revealing plentiful inspiration and guidance that “speaks to my condition” – the more I read and learn, the more I look forward with clarity and assurance.

Last week, for example, a Friend named Jan visited Pendle Hill. He was here to look through archived materials, hoping to bring back something to his 97 year old neighbor, David, in England. David is the son of the second Director of Pendle Hill, John Hughes, who served here in the early 1930s. (What a time in the U.S. and in the world.) Jan made copies of various documents and kindly let me look through them them before he left. As I read the handwritten pages from 85 years ago, I saw some similarity between the times and mood on campus then and now. Here is a clip of what I read in the notes of John’s Swarthmore lecture:

“We have passed and are passing through a period of fiery trial the end of which no one can prophecy. Who then shall answer the fires that have broken out in Europe and the world today? Be sure it will not be the lukewarm or the half-hearted, but only those in whom there is this moral energy which has been at the back of all great endeavor. It will be fire that answers fire. Hope centers on the soul inspired by celestial fire… The little light transfuses the world; the impossible becomes the actual; the gospel is on foot again; and truth is on the march. The horizon lifts and promise of the morning is seen.”

Reading these words, I felt a sense of uplift. Then, coincidentally, I found a passage from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time on my desk the same day, referring to fire again and saying that free people have the responsibility:

“To trust and to celebrate what is constant—birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so—and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths—change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not—safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope—the entire possibility—of freedom disappears. And by destruction I mean precisely the abdication by Americans of any effort really to be free.”

Jennifer Karsten, Executive DirectorI hope that these words from the past spark something in you as they did for me. As winter comes to Pennsylvania, Pendle Hill welcomes you here whether your soul is full of celestial fire, or your “pilot light” is low or out. We welcome you (and everyone) who wants to renew, who wants to be in the spiritual “fiery trial” together, who wants to be part of truth on the march, and who wants to be together in a real effort (for all) to be free. You are welcome to co-create community here with us when it’s dark, and when the promise of morning is unseen. We are Friends, welcoming all, for learning, retreat and community. Our upcoming offerings shine light where there is dark and offer togetherness for the journey toward Spring. Join us when you wish; we’ll be here.

In Peace,