Maragoli Shamanism Marries Quaker Christianity

by S. Chagala Ngesa1

Originally published as Chapter 8 in Cherice Bock and Stephen Potthoff, eds., Quakers, Creation Care, and Sustainability, Volume 6 in the series Quakers and the Disciplines (Philadelphia: Friends Association for Higher Education, 2019), 132-156, available for sale as shown:

Abstract: The author was raised an “orthodox” Christian Quaker in a family that included his maternal great-grandmother, one of the first Kenyan converts to Quakerism. He was also initiated by her, during his teens, as a traditional Maragoli shaman. What she taught, and he learned, was that the Christian and indigenous traditions taught the same ethics, and the same supremacy of the One God, whom the Maragoli call Nyasaye, whom they understand to be gender-free. However, while Christianity additionally taught a gospel of the ever-present Savior Jesus Christ and the ever-availability of the Holy Spirit, the indigenous Maragoli tradition emphasized the immanence of God in everything that is, both living and nonliving. True, an understanding of the immanence of God can be found in Christian tradition, too, from the earliest times, but historically, it has not been universally respected among Christians, or among Quakers.

The author pleads for a panentheist view of God and creation, particularly at this time when the very earth is imperiled by environmental catastrophe. He attributes this growing threat to negligent stewardship and a dominant culture that devalues the creation, excuses war and waste, and glorifies and protects selfish behavior. Quakers and other people of the dominant world religions, he argues, have important lessons to learn from tribal faith traditions if they would fulfill their destiny: to show the world both the bankruptcy of this ethic of selfishness and the all-inclusiveness of the divine love that humanity is called to express—not just to our human neighbors but also to every created being and thing, and creation itself. <133>

I. Introduction

Quaker Christianity and Maragoli shamanism, spiritual traditions from widely divergent origins, have surprisingly “married” harmoniously among my people, the Maragoli of the hill country of western Kenya. For over a century, the Maragoli have walked in simple, peaceable, compassionate ways, teaching their children to treat all creation as sacred and worthy of respect, in a spirit that it would be hard to identify as either “Quaker” or “indigenous Maragoli,” for indeed it is both. Quakerism today upholds many values—integrity, community harmony, nonviolence, truthfulness, sustainability, individual and group discernment—with a view to finding unity with God and one another, and encouraging spiritual equality across divides of gender, age, ethnicity, and class. These were also the values of the Maragoli before the missionaries came among them. More importantly, both traditions hold that God talks—that the Supreme Deity Nyasaye, who is gender free, wants to communicate directly with humans, and in fact does so, if we will but open our hearts, listen, and obey. One of the most important beliefs of modern Friends is that “there is that of God in every one.”2 While Maragoli shamanism agrees with this Quaker claim in principle, it also points out something else: that there is “that of God” in all things, living and nonliving.

This information was given to me when I was still a teenager by my great-grandmother, Dorika Bweyenda (1883?–1983), who was both an initiated Maragoli shaman (umusalisi) and one of the first convinced Friends in Kenya.3 In answer to my question as to the distinction between Maragoli shamanism and Quaker Christianity, she explained to me that our native tradition recognizes the
presence of God in everything that is. Because for the most part ours is an orally <134> transmitted culture, Dorika’s wisdom has never been put into writing before. But having spent the formative years of my life living with her, and being initiated and taught by her as my spiritual teacher, I now feel a great sense of duty and urgency to share her teachings with the world, for no one but me—out of over a hundred of her then-living descendants—carries these memories. She and I would often stay awake all night, talking in the dark, doing without sleep. I felt no need of sleep then, for I experienced her, in Brother Lawrence’s memorable phrase, as if I were at the breasts of God.4

More than 40 years ago, Dorika prophesied that I would one day be among the first from the village to travel overseas (engeleka) to the “land of the ghosts,” avasungu, from which the first Quaker missionaries had come to Kenya, there not only to learn about Quakerism, but also to share our precious Maragoli shamanic wisdom.

Dorika was in the habit of inviting many of her descendants to dine with her, in keeping with our tradition that one should never eat alone. There is always room for one more around any eating circle, and we must always sit down to eat, as standing or walking is considered disrespectful not just to other persons present, but also to the food itself. This is because we believe that all of us humans are walking cemeteries, the graveyards of once-living animals, fish, vegetables, grains, fruits, water, and air. The least we can do is show some respect!

But this night she invited only me. We were speaking in Lulogooli, our local dialect of the Luhya language. That conversation is still vivid in my memory as I write:

It is just past sunset, and already dark, in the Maragoli Hills, which lie right on the equator. Dorika, the mother of my late maternal grandfather Ngeresa and grandmother of my late mother Dinah Happiness Mmbone, is seated facing me in the red glow of her smoldering cooking fire. To my right is the three-stone fireplace near the wall of her hut, her soot-covered clay cooking pot held above the embers by the stones’ points. We have washed our hands in preparation for the food on the earthenware plate set on the green mat between us. The plate, like the cooking pot, is the handiwork of her daughter-in-law, Joyce Kisia Asiaba Kivizi, Ngeresa’s late wife.

<135> We lock gazes as Dorika begins to chant a long prayer that blesses all the elements that made the food: the rain, the sun, the soil, the plants, the worms, the bees, and the water; the fire that cooked it; the people who planted, tended, and harvested the food; the hands that prepared it; and all our human ancestors, both dead and living. Then she blesses me before we begin to eat. It is our everyday meal, but it is ample: gluten free, brown, cornbread-like uvuchima vwa ovolo, made from a mixed flour of locally grown finger millet, millet, and cassava. Uvuchima is bland until covered by our aromatic, tasty sauce of smoked dried tilapia, kivambala, boiled with locally made salt, umunyu mukereka. On a separate plate is umutó, a local dandelion, cooked with mutere, okra.5 It is bitter, but Dorika taught me to love it: “Every bitter herb that is not poisonous, and every thorny plant and fruit that is not poisonous, is medicinal.” We sit on a circular green mat plaited by Joyce from papyrus reeds, laid over the dried green cow dung-smeared mud floor in her round mud hut with a conical thatched roof, which has only one small wooden window and one door, both of which stand ajar, but not enough to fully vent the smoke that stings our eyes.

As we both eat contentedly, Dorika suddenly stops chewing, as if struck, perhaps even jolted, by something important that she must urgently convey. “Listen, my beloved ‘husband,’” she says. “I have something very important to tell you.”

“What is it, my dear Friend?” I answer. These were the pet names we called each other.

Still holding my gaze, she points her right forefinger directly at my left eye. “One day you will go to the country where the ghost Friends came from, to learn about their religion and tell them about ours.” A rush of excitement seizes my body and I break out in goose bumps.

I am awestruck as I imagine hobnobbing with Bruce Lee in Hollywood.

II. “That of God in Everyone”

Friends from different strands of Quakerism understand the concept of “that of God in every one” in different ways. Wilmer Cooper says: “Some have held that the Light, Spirit, Seed, Measure, ‘that of God in Everyone,’ and Christ Within had a common meaning for early Friends and therefore can be used interchangeably.”6 But some Friends today have distanced themselves from the early <136> Friends’ identification of the Light with Christ, preferring not to theorize about what “the Light” is. Cooper writes, “There is the Quaker Universalist movement, for example, which regards historic Christ-centered Quakerism as too narrow in
a world where we need to join hands with persons of other religious faiths. They see Quakerism as a bridge to these people, as expressed in the commitment to ‘that of God in every one.’7 Quaker Universalists of this tendency would shy away from saying “Christ, the Light.” But it must be remembered that there are Christian Quakers who are also “universalists” in the sense of believing that God (and Christ!) saves good souls of all religious traditions! Such, in fact, were the first Quakers.

Those who hold a more Christ-centered view are often affiliated with Friends United Meeting (FUM) or Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI), of which the majority today are found in East Africa and Latin America.8 An explicitly Christian faith is also found among Conservative Friends, who are concentrated in the USA, and among the many Christ-centered Friends worldwide who are scattered among Liberal and unaffiliated Friends meetings. A majority of Friends believe in the peace testimony, Cooper says, “because Friends place such emphasis on the dignity and worth of the individual, perhaps best expressed in George Fox’s phrase, ‘that of God in every one.’”9 Violence against any person negates this very principle because everyone, being created in the image of God, has a certain sacredness.

Margery Post Abbott sees the shadow-side of this phrase: “Much of my struggle with ‘that of God in everyone’ lies in the intensity of its optimism about <137> humanity and temptation to over-expectation.”10 In other words, the assertion of “that of God in every one” implies that the default condition of humanity is to will and do only good, as God does. As we all know, this assumption is far removed from the reality of the human condition: human beings often will, and do, what they know to be wrong; this is what most Christians mean by saying that we are all sinners. It often takes great effort of the will on the part of individuals, and divine aid, to do the life-giving thing. Fox was well aware of human fallibility; he had often been painfully victimized by the very people who claimed to represent Jesus Christ. Where was “that of God” in them as they were abusing him? He knew it was there, but it did not guarantee moral goodness when people resisted it. It might merely make them uncomfortable, and they could refuse to heed the discomfort.

III. The Maragoli Context

The Maragoli are a Bantu-speaking people who have long been practicing settled agriculture in the Maragoli Hills of western Kenya, situated on the equator a few miles north of the Kavirondo Gulf of Lake Victoria (lnyanza), the second largest freshwater lake in the world (after Lake Superior) and the source of the River Nile. The Maragoli people believe they have lived in their present location for centuries, after having originally come from Misri, Egypt, by following the Nile upstream.

The Maragoli are also known as the Mulembe people, after the Lolugooli word mulembe, “peace.” By synecdoche, “the Mulembe nation” has now come to refer to the entire Luhya tribe. The Maragoli’s pacific inclinations were well known not only throughout Kenya, but widely throughout East Africa, even before the coming of Quaker missionaries in 1902. As both a fourth-generation Kenyan Quaker and an initiated Maragoli shaman, I have been fascinated by the history of the meeting of these two cultures—my own Maragoli culture and that of the peace-loving American Friends—that amazingly, as if providentially, blended without one erasing the other. Much of the responsibility for this blending may lie with the extraordinary character of the early Quaker convert Dorika Bweyenda, my great-grandmother and my initiator into the Maragoli shamanic tradition.

Dorika Bweyenda was about 19 years old when the missionaries came. Her husband of perhaps four years, Mmboga, was himself the village shaman <138> then, having been trained and initiated by his father, the renowned shaman Votega, after whom “Votega’s stone” in the heights of the Maragoli Hills is named. Dorika became one of the Quakers’ first Kenyan converts. Votega declined to become a Quaker himself, explaining that he carried more power to heal the people, the land, and creation in general than the white newcomers did. Mmboga, at first resistant, was persuaded by Dorika to become a Friend. Long unable to conceive a child, Dorika at last became pregnant, with the help of Votega’s medicine, on the eve of the First World War. Three months into her
pregnancy, Mmboga was conscripted by the occupying British into the King’s African Rifles. Notwithstanding his Maragoli and Quaker pacifist principles, Mmboga, with many other young Maragoli men, was drafted to fight in a war about which he knew nothing. He and the other Maragoli never returned home, and to this day nothing is known about their fate. Had they been British lads killed in action, the Crown would never have allowed their records to be lost; but such was the colonizers’ attitude toward subjugated peoples: they were not seen as fully human.

When Dorika gave birth to her little bouncing bundle of human destiny, my grandfather, in 1914, she named her destiny’s child Ngeresa, “English,” after the British occupiers who had kidnapped her husband. Everyone agreed that her naming her son after the people who had robbed her of her husband and her child of his father was an act of unbelievable forgiveness. That is one of the
reasons village elders proposed that she be made the village’s next shaman. She was initiated by Votega.

Dorika lived to be about 100 years old; I was born when she was about 82. One day I asked her why she had named my grandfather “Ngeresa.” She looked me straight in the eye and answered, “As a shaman, I know that no one can crush a person. I gave your grandfather that name to remind myself of that. They took away Mmboga’s body, but his spirit still lives right here, where we are. His spirit lives in me, and”—she pointed directly at me—“his spirit lives in you.”

IV. Maragoli Reverence for Creation

The Maragoli people’s current literacy is superimposed on a traditional oral culture that has for centuries been passing along our history, culture, spirituality, and values by word of mouth, through deliberate and cherished strategies. This is done through rites of passage such as rituals surrounding childbirth, marriage, death, immigrating to a different land and settling, planting season, harvesting season, and building and occupying a new home. One of the more intense is our rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, different for each gender, which <139> introduce young Maragoli boys and girls into the responsibilities of adulthood.
These take several days, with long-term follow-up, in which elders teach the new initiates (roughly between ages five and ten) what had been passed down to them during their own initiation.

Traditionally, we circumcise boys just before they leave the sacred initiation space, which may be a forest or the side of a river or lake.11 The girls’ initiation is also rigorous, but involves no genital surgery. There are multiple reasons for the removal of the boy’s foreskin, for example hygiene, and as a mark of membership in a distinct age group, but the most important reason for circumcision is to give boys a sense of the pain that the ancestors suffer when we neglect, disrespect, and mistreat them. It teaches us empathy and compassion, enables us to celebrate and remember our traditions, and helps us clarify and affirm our cultural roots. It makes us feel important as little guys, giving us authority to be adults. It is meant to feed our healthy passions without holding back, and to tame our unhealthy ones. All circumcision age groups are given a name relating to current major events. For example, mine was named “Ambrosia,” because that was the year genetically modified white maize/corn seeds were introduced in Maragoli.

The pain we go through enables us to appreciate the pains and joys of life and in our world. We are prepared for this intense pain several days in advance, and advised not to cry, even though in the old days there was no anesthesia and the knife used was deliberately left blunt to make the experience painful.12 Should any of the boys cry because of the extreme pain, all the boys in the circle, who may number up to one hundred, converge around him to assure him that it is understandable for him to cry, but he is not going through the pain alone, but rather with all of us together. Outsiders might consider this cruelty, and unnecessary traumatizing of the innocent, but for us it is a procedure that bestows honor, and we see the pain as a small price to pay for gaining the authority of a community elder at that young age. I was circumcised at age five.13 In fact, immediately upon the removal of the foreskin, we look the circumcising elder straight in the eye and thank him for gifting us with this honor. Becoming an elder is not a matter of age or gender, but rather, of having passed through some <140> kind of initiation ritual that teaches us how to care for our fellow human beings and all creation.

When the circumcision is done near a river, our blood flows into the river. When it is done in a forest, the blood shed onto the dry land eventually percolates into the groundwater and thence into the plants, animals, and human beings who drink the water. At this point, our elders tell us that our blood is carried by the water downstream to Lake Victoria, where some of the water will
evaporate into the sky and be dispersed throughout the cosmos, while the remainder, released into the River Nile, will begin its long journey into Misri and the Mediterranean Sea, and thence to all the oceans of the world. (Girls are taught to bury their menstruation blood, and their placentas after giving birth. Therefore, women’s blood makes a similar journey through the soil and into all living things.) Our life-blood has thus been shared with the whole universe through our circumcision. It is as if we boys have now had our first sexual intercourse, a very painful one, with all creation as our partner.

During initiation, each child must name his or her totemic animal, plant, number, and spiritual teacher. The animal or plant is one that the initiate is committed to protect. If a boy’s special number happens to be seven, then every time the boy sees seven of a certain thing, he knows to be on the alert: he is being given a message. A child may choose anyone who has been initiated as their spiritual teacher. I chose Dorika.

Another strategy for continuing and communicating our cultural traditions is the sharing of dreams during the bonfire circle, which occurs nightly except when it is raining. Dreams are recognized as an important part of life, and the sharing of them is an important part of the life of the community, which up to this day has lacked the distractions of radio and television, except that a few have acquired these in recent years. In this circle, we share our hopes for the future and the dreams experienced during the previous night. Everyone around the circle is welcome to give an interpretation of another’s dream, though only the person holding the talking stick is permitted to speak. The discipline of the talking stick trains every Maragoli to be a good listener. The talking stick, which is considered a member of the circle in its own right and a respected citizen, represents the non-human creation as a whole. As soon as one is given the talking stick, one stands and greets the others in the circle before saying anything else; greetings, in the form of courteous inquiries to which one expects answers, are known to take up to an hour. A speaker may ask each other person how the members of their household are doing, how their domestic animals are, their plants, their soil, the water, what they ate and drank today, inquire whether they slept well and what they dreamed about last night, and so on and so forth, and <141> the next speaker will be asked the same questions all around the circle. The same protocol applies whenever two neighbors meet on the road or elsewhere.

We believe that our dreams are important because Nyasaye, and our ancestors, speak to us through dreams, and we believe that no dream is without significance: there are no trivial dreams. People we know, our animals, plants, birds, insects, water, fire, air, wind, rainbow, rain, and lightning can all be communicating with us through our dreams.

When we say that our ancestors speak with us through dreams, we do not confine the meaning of “ancestors” merely to past blood relatives. Rather, we are taught that our ancestors include Nyasaye, our own bodies, our blood, the plants, the soil, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, the valleys, trees, animals, creeping things, the Sun, the Moon, air, fire, wind, rain, our brothers and sisters,
our parents and grandparents, and so on. It is made clear to us that all these are our ancestors because without them, we could not exist. We are, because these ancestors are; and because these ancestors are, therefore we are. We are taught to be thankful, and to honor, respect, and protect and care for all of these ancestors, because they look to us, and also because by being thankful for their lives, we are valuing, honoring, and being thankful for our own lives.

We are taught to honor and respect the animals that give us food by slaughtering them quickly, with a minimum of suffering. When we have to slaughter a chicken, a goat, or a cow for food, we face them in humility and tell the animal that we honor and respect them for giving up their lives for our sustenance, because killing should only be life giving. The same reverence is called for when we harvest vegetables and fruits: the kale and tomato that we harvest from the garden give up their lives so that we can have life ourselves. While I fully understand why some people are vegetarians for reasons of health, I am always surprised when I hear people say that they are vegetarians because vegetables have no blood. To our mind, vegetables have as much life as animals, and their own kind of life-blood, which is their sap. They are therefore respected and honored in the same way animals are thanked, not only for relieving our hunger, but also for giving us life. For this reason, whenever I am at a place where food is served and people start eating before giving thanks for the meal, as I have often witnessed in the United States, I stop them and insist on saying a prayer of thanksgiving to honor the food, the soil, the sunlight, the water, the God who gave it, and the people that planted, harvested, transported, cooked, and served the food. The wastage of food that I see here in the USA breaks my heart, especially as I know there are millions of people all over the world who go to sleep on empty bellies. I can never wrap my head around seeing many people fill up their plates with food, only to dump it all in the garbage bin after eating a small <142> portion of it. I wonder why they had to fill up their plate when they knew they did not need that much food.

V. What is Maragoli Shamanism?

When the Maragoli speak about shamanism, they refer to particular people set aside by the whole community to perform certain functions that involve healing not only the body, but also the mind and the spirit. Maragoli shamanism also involves healing of the natural world. Maragoli shamanism is life giving. It has no evil intentions and does not involve casting spells against anyone. For example, when there is no rain in the village for an extended period of time, the village shaman is called upon to intervene by offering prayers and animal sacrifices, such as a cow or a goat, to Nyasaye. To the happy surprise of every villager, the rains
come down in torrents after the shaman has performed the sacrificial rituals at a designated sacred place, which the village has a hand in choosing. Here we honor our happy and supportive ancestors, and appease whatever ancestors may have been troubled, through various specific rituals. A similar procedure is followed when we have unexplained epidemics or other calamities in the village.

The shaman is always someone from the village that he or she serves. Since time immemorial that person had to be male, but during Dorika’s lifetime, this requirement was waived to allow her to become the first female shaman.14 After the shaman’s consecration comes the consecration of a specific hut in a forest, in an elevated place, or by a body of water, for the chosen one to occupy— both as a recognition of the powers conferred on them, and also as a place for seekers of healing to access their services, or pay homage, during specified times of the day or the night. The shaman can also decide where exactly the hut can be built.

For one to be chosen as shaman, a number of criteria must be met. One has to show integrity and interest in becoming a shaman by understudying a shaman. This means clinging to them, seeking to be trained in the arts of local medicine and divination, and studying the elements of how to conduct the rituals. <143> Another criterion of shamanship is natural giftedness with extraordinary powers, such as foreknowledge of such events as the birth of a child born with extraordinary powers, the outbreak of war, a plague of locusts, or the death of a person or animal. One type of shamanic giftedness is the ability to use bodily fluids for healing, such as by spitting saliva into an ailing individual’s mouth in the wee hours of the morning, before the shaman has eaten, drunk, or cleansed their mouth. My great-great-grandfather Votega, Dorika’s father-in-law, carried all the above gifts, which were in high demand and which he put to good use, earning him a reputation for greatness that endures to this day. Finally, one must be chosen for initiation as a shaman by the previous shaman, and willing to undergo the initiation. Once made a shaman, one may not cease to be a shaman except by death.

A key gift is moral wisdom, and the ability to forgive what most people would find unforgivable. This gift was carried by Dorika, along with her remarkable gifts of intuitive herbal medicine, community organizing, philanthropy, clarity of mind, compassion, and revolutionary and prophetic foresight. Her community recognized her moral wisdom after she named her son “English,” Ngeresa. Everyone agreed that to name her son after her husband’s kidnappers was an act of unbelievable forgiveness. That is why she was proposed by some elders (in addition to Votega) to succeed her husband as the village shaman in 1915.

Between 1902 and the 1930s, a number Quaker missionaries came to Kaimosi and Maragoli. Among the first Quakers who arrived in Maragoli territory were the “orthodox” Midwesterners Arthur Chilson, Edgar Hole, Willis Hotchkiss, and Emory Rees. They translated the Bible into Lulogooli with the help of Joel Litu, an early Maragoli Friend, and understood their mission as the establishment of a “self-supporting, self-propagating native church.”15 After traveling by ship from New York to Mombasa in 1895, they waited until the new railroad was laid from the coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. When they arrived among the Maragoli, they quickly learned the local language and were able to explain to the local people the most important tenets of their religion. They said that they followed a Teacher called Jesus Christ who walks in the Light, lives the Light, shares the Light, and in fact is the Light. They believed in pacifism, simplicity, justice, human perfectibility, and their commission by Christ to spread
the word of God and to serve, feed, and heal people. They also taught that there is that of Nyasaye in everyone. <144>

After listening to this, Dorika said to herself, “This sounds like our own shamanism. I see Jesus Christ as our Ancestor.” She successfully persuaded her husband to join her in adopting Quakerism; but his father Votega declined to join, recognizing that his own powers to heal people and nature exceeded that of the missionaries. Dorika, however, respected the Quakers’ moral wisdom, particularly in regard to truth telling. She remembered once having greeted Bwana Lisi (Luloogoli rendering of Rees) and after shaking his soft hand with her hardened rough palm, for days she did not wish to wash off that feeling.16

But she knew something important that the missionaries were not saying. She agreed that there is that of God in everyone, but she also knew, from shamanic tradition, that there is also that of God in everything living and nonliving, and that God feels the feelings of every creature capable and incapable of feeling. With her adoption of Quakerism and Christianity, Dorika Bweyenda let
Jesus Christ bless the Maragoli with the way of peace and universal forgiveness, and at the same time, she led her people into a Christian Quakerism enriched by the reverent panentheism of her inherited shamanic tradition.

Among Dorika’s remarkable gifts was her memory for what she had heard. She had no formal education, and never learned to read; however, after the Bible had been translated into Lulogooli, in the 1930s, she memorized it in its entirety, and, if someone cited a chapter and verse from it, she could recite it without hesitation. She also knew the entire hymnal by heart. Her record of church attendance was exemplary: rain or shine, she never missed a Sunday service, and on Thursdays, when the women’s group that she led met, she attended from 8 am to 1 pm.

Having become a convinced Friend, she donated her own land as a site for the first Friends church building in her village, Lyavugulu, and mobilized the other villagers and their resources to build it on a hilltop where it could be seen from all directions.17 The church building stood until 2012, when Brian Young, then pastor of Berkeley (CA) Friends Church (and now pastor of West Richmond Friends Church in Richmond, Indiana), attending the Sixth World Conference of Friends held at Kabarak University near Nakuru, Kenya, visited Lyavugulu and, finding the old building in disrepair, reported its need for replacement back to his home church. The church’s treasurer, Giuseppe Rensi, promptly raised the funds that built the new Lyavugulu Friends Church of brick and corrugated iron sheets that stands today.

One day, I hope to build a solar powered library and a community center for my village on this acreage to honor Dorika’s wishes for the community.19 Solar panels there might provide electricity for the village, which suffered a catastrophic loss of firewood, the traditional energy source, when the forest was razed after Dorika’s death. I hope, at the same time, to replant the Maragoli Hills
with native trees and underbrush, hoping to invite back the rain, the birds, and the other wildlife. When the forest returns, our traditional religious life—our rites of passage and our healing ceremonies—may resume. This is exactly what Dorika would have wished her successor shaman to do. It is to be remembered that the shaman is not a chief or a political leader, but a servant: of God, of the people, and of the creation, which means if the creation and the people are injured, it is the shaman’s duty to see to their repair.20 This is my role in my community, in all creation, and in the world at large.

One of Dorika’s major legacies is that she mobilized the villagers, just after World War II, to plant additional trees in Maragoli Forest. But then this magnificent, mature forest, whose rich underbrush provided fuel and medicine for the villagers and habitat for birds and other wildlife, whose canopy drew the precious rain for our drinking and irrigation, and whose deep roots held fertile
soil, was clear-cut in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A profiteering Vihiga District Commissioner, an appointed representative of the President of Kenya, brought in lumber companies to enrich himself and his cronies, leaving the villagers without cooking fuel or adequate rainwater, and the Maragoli Hills denuded of topsoil. This devastation of our land went on in spite of extensive, prolonged, and ultimately fruitless protests, which were suppressed by Administration Police, who answered to the District Commissioner. When it was over, villagers grieved individually and together in their evening circles. The Maragoli Forest, once our sacred space for initiations and other holy rituals even as recently as my own childhood, is now gone, its place taken by what are now disparagingly called the Maragoli Stone Hills. I am afraid that the same fate now threatens the only remaining equatorial forest in Kenya, Kakamega Forest, and its neighbor across the Uganda border, Mabira Forest. I am afraid, but I remain hopeful and prayerful that all humanity will come together and do all it takes to save these lungs of the world.

VI. Panentheism Within Christian Tradition

With that history and hope in mind, I feel it important to find places of connection within Christianity and Quakerism with the Maragoli understanding of that <147> of God in all creation. A belief in the omnipresence of God is to be found in Christian tradition since its very beginnings—although, significantly, there is suggestive evidence that many other Christians have regarded nature as though it were neither inhabited by God nor much cared about by God. This ambivalence among Christians about the status of nature led Dorika to conclude that Christians did not recognize “that of God” in non-human things.

The word “panentheism” was not coined until 1809, but the idea that the Divine is present everywhere in creation, though self-existent and not identical with the creation, has been present in Christian thought since biblical times.21 Psalm 139:7–10 marvels at God’s ubiquity. In Matthew 5:34–35, Jesus calls heaven God’s throne, and the earth, God’s footstool; Paul preaches to the
Athenians that God cannot be confined in “shrines made with human hands…. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:24, 28).22 Orthodox Christianity, unlike the more ambivalent Catholic and Protestant traditions, has tended to preserve this panentheistic understanding.

But there has also been an ancient tendency among Christians, in part brought in from Greek philosophy and the mystery-schools of the Hellenistic era, which scorned the “material” and exalted the “spiritual,” to regard the earth as too impure or “unclean” to house its Creator. In Genesis 3:17 this Creator pronounces the ground “cursed” because of Adam’s transgression, and in Genesis 6:7 is “sorry” for making the creatures. The Christians’ “Old Testament” ends with God’s threat to “strike the land with a curse” (Mal 4:6). Indeed, in the Book of Revelation, God bombs the earth with a star called Wormwood, pelts it with 100-pound hailstones, and replaces it with a new and better earth (Rev 8:11, 16:21, 21:1). Can the transcendent God love earth, or nature, enough to clothe Godself in it and be its immanent God also? Does God live within and through the creatures, or are they too “dirty”? This is not merely an abstract theological question. Does God feel the feelings of creatures? When Jesus suffered pain, did
God feel it, or did God merely infer it? Every believer must wonder: does God feel my pain? If not, how can God know me?23

<148> Christian tradition, especially in the West, preserves a persistent dissensus between these two views of nature, each of which can find support in scripture. The first regards nature solely as a kind of disposable stage for the drama of God’s salvation of certain “elect” individuals, while the rest of the individuals—“anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life” (Rev 20:15)—along with animals, plants, and the earth itself, are destroyed by fire (2 Pet 3:10) or made to vanish with the rest of the “old” creation (Rev 21:1). Paul snorts: “Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” (1 Cor 9:9). In this view, subhuman nature has no intrinsic worth in God’s eyes, and the feelings of oxen and sinners are of no concern to God.

The second Christian view of nature remembers that the Creator pronounced the entire creation “very good” on completing it (Gen 1:31). Psalms celebrate God’s kindness to wild creatures (Pss 104:10–30; 145:15–16); God sports with the monster Behemoth (Job 40:15) and calls each of the stars by name (Ps 147:4). A Christian holding this view may see in the Fourth Gospel that nothing was made that was outside the confines of Christ, the Word of God (as both John Scotus Eriugena in the ninth century, and George MacDonald in the nineteenth, read John 1:3).24 Gregory Palamas in the East, and Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme in the West, express panentheistic views.25 The intended end of all created things is not to be trashed in an apocalyptic lake of fire (Rev
20:10–15) but to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (Col 1:20).

<149> Christian poets, on the whole, have done a better job than the theologians of celebrating the omnipresence of God in the non-human creation. Francis of Assisi’s Cantico di Frate Sole praises the Lord for His manifestations in “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” “Mother Earth,” Fire, Water, and even “Our sister Bodily Death.”26 Peter Abelard sings,

Now to the King Eternal
Be praise eternally,
From whom are all things, by whom
And in whom all things be.27

The English metaphysical poet George Herbert sees created things as windows into Heaven, hailing this way of seeing as “The Elixir,” another name for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone:

A man that looks on glasse,
On it stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.

This is that famous stone
That turneth all to gold,
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for lesse be told.28

“Everything that lives is holy,”29 cries William Blake, who also quips in “Auguries of Innocence”:

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.30

<150> And Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnet “God’s Grandeur” begins:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.31

In addition to the poets, panentheist philosophers such as Hegel and Whitehead, and translators of panentheist Hindu classics such as the Bhagavad Gita have influenced Christian thought in more modern times. A watershed moment may have occurred on Easter Sunday 1955, when the Jesuit priest and eminent paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin died of a sudden heart attack. He had been forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church since 1941 to publish his crowning work, Le phénomène humain, but his death allowed its posthumous publication in the same year, followed four years later by its appearance in English translation as The Phenomenon of Man. In Teilhard’s foreword, he writes, “[Humanity], the centre of perspective, is at the same time the centre of construction of the universe.”32 In its concluding pages he writes, “Christ invests himself organically with the very majesty of his creation.”33

A survey of panentheistic thought within Christian tradition would not be complete without mention of what has recently been called Celtic spirituality. J. Philip Newell, one of its foremost contemporary exponents, credits it with “a passion for finding God at the heart of all life.”34 Among its exemplars he lists the ninth-century Irish expatriate John Scotus Eriugena, mentioned above, who taught at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald. Eriugena’s sermon on the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1–17), Vox Aquilae (“the Voice of the Eagle”), argues that in the creation, everything that came to be, came to be within the boundaries of the Creative Word of God—a teaching preserved in the Greek text of the gospel, but lost in the Latin-speaking West, which <151> had only Jerome’s translation, the Vulgate, for scripture.35 To paraphrase Eriugena, all creation abides forever within a Creator who has given us both a book of scripture and a book of nature by which to teach us divine truths.36 This suggests that God might not only experience through such “inanimate” creatures as rocks and water, but also communicate with people through them.

Unfortunately, the eye that can see all things as in God and God as in all things cannot ordinarily be given to one whose will is opposed to receiving it. One with an emotional investment in seeing nature as “dead” will not welcome a revelation that all nature is alive with God’s life: the earth, for such a person, is not Mother Earth but real estate, ready to be claimed as property and done with as the owner pleases. This seems to have been the attitude of the Vihiga District Commissioner who ordered the razing of the Maragoli Forest. The danger is that Christians and other people of faith who lack a sense of the creation’s livingness, or holiness to God, may unwittingly ally themselves with such persons.

VII. Panentheism within Quakerism?

In 1648, George Fox had his celebrated epiphany: “Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” Fox made no further attempt to explain this new “smell,” but his mystical ascent “into the paradise of God” clearly altered his perception of the creation, “opening” to him “the nature and virtues of the creatures.”37 There is no evidence that his ascent made him a panentheist, however. Rather, he came to see that Christ would teach his followers “the right use of the creatures,” both animate <152> and inanimate, and bestow a wisdom “with which… [humanity] must order, and use the creatures, and order the Creation to the glory of God.”38 To retain that wisdom, Fox insisted, one must abide in the Light of Christ: “[W]ait in the light, from him to receive power, which brings out of the world’s lusts and defilements, …but you will come to know the right use of the creatures, waiting in the light.”39

The twelfth and thirteenth maxims from William Penn’s Some Fruits of Solitude express a clearly panentheistic view of creation, though this author has found no evidence that panentheism was ever articulated as a conscious doctrine in the writings of early Friends:

  1. And it would go a great Way to caution and direct People in their Use of the World, that they were better studied and knowing in the Creation of it.
  2. For how could [People] find the Confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator look them in the Face, in all and every Part thereof?40

I suggest that Fox’s reverent attitude toward “the creatures” for the sake of God to whom they belong is the functional equivalent of panentheism, which is reverent toward the creatures for the sake of God who dwells in them. In either case there is respect for creation because of its relation to God, and a wholesome fear of offending God by abusing creatures, whether God is seen as the creatures’ Owner or as their Inhabitor. This natural sympathy between the two views is important to consider when we acknowledge that panentheism never gained a firm foothold in Quaker thought—until Quakerism came to Kenya. It is my observation that Kenyan Quakers today, of whatever ethnic origin, will respect the word of a shaman if he tells them, “Respect this forest,” or, “Don’t defile this lake.” All traditional Kenyans are attuned to the indwelling life of created things. <153> The Maragoli have a saying: “Talk to a stone. Even though a stone will not reply to you, when you talk to it, it hears you.”

Almost a century after Fox, the Quaker John Woolman famously avoided using dyed clothing because of the damage done to both the human workers and the environment by the dyeing process, just as he avoided using postal and other services that abused horses. He did not theorize that there was “that of God” in the horses, but he was as compassionate to them as if he felt “that of God” in them. Similar compassion led Quaker abolitionists from Woolman onward to avoid trafficking in goods produced by enslaved labor. Numerous other Quaker witnesses have arisen from Quakers’ tender-hearted refusal to misuse creatures, from the creation of humane mental hospitals and the Underground Railroad to the witness against the internment camps of World War II.

In North American Quaker thought there are now more direct panentheistic glimmerings. Douglas Gwyn writes:

When God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” who does God address? In the story thus far, only God and the cosmos have appeared. Can it be that God speaks to the entire creation, inviting that stupendous panoply to collaborate in creating humans? We indeed bear the image of the universe in our bodies. We are literally “stardust,” formed from the elemental wreckage of a star that died billions of years ago. Adam, literally “dust,” is the child of the universe. We bear witness in our bodies to the laws of thermodynamics. The genetic inheritance of life on earth is encoded in us. Yet we also bear the image of a divine origin and destiny. The image of God is manifest in our sense of a reality beyond ourselves, beyond everything we know, and in our longing for it. We yearn toward God as a plant leans to the light. The image of God is “that of God,” the light that is life itself in all men and women (John 1:4, 9). Thus, to live with integrity and universal love is to honor both our mother and our father (see Exod. 20:12), the divine and the cosmos. It is to live gently upon the earth, peacefully with our fellow humans, and faithfully to the knowledge of God in us. 41

Within the past 40 years, Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) emerged in the United States. Though Fox’s language about “right use of the creatures” is no longer in use, the idea of it remains alive in QEW. However, Fox’s sense of <154> connection between the “right use of the creatures” and the “mind of Christ” or “light of Christ” is not evident on QEW’s website; this is an age when activists tend to keep their theology to themselves. Many may have panentheistic views, but the spiritual source of Quaker activists’ activity may be more often felt in the heart than named by the mind.

I hope, in any case, that the wisdom of Christianized Maragoli shamanism, along with the wisdom of other earth-revering tribal peoples’ traditions, will strengthen the spiritual anchoring of Quaker and other religiously-based earthcare witnesses in the trying times to come, as the day grows ever closer “that shall burn as an oven” (Mal 4:1). If we come to see that God actually inhabits the
creation, we may become more wary of abusing or destroying it. And if we know that Christ is leading us in our struggle, we may move forward with both humility and confidence. Weighty Friend, minister, teacher, and writer, Douglas Gwyn, has hailed the Maragoli synthesis of native panentheism with Quaker Christianity as “one that can contribute to Friends and other Christians finding the earth as part of God’s redemptive purposes.”42

VIII. Conclusion

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” goes a Maragoli saying. “Where there’s fire, something is cooking. Where something is cooking, there is food for thought.” We humans are now cooking the life out of the earth.

In spite of the peril to all life presented by the environmental crisis and climate injustice of our time, and in spite of the human ignorance, greed and selfishness that have brought this about, it is possible that God is using the crisis for God’s own life-giving goals. This would not exonerate those responsible for the war, waste, and destruction that have wrought such toxic conditions on earth—the destabilization of ecosystems with runaway species extinctions, the desertification of arable land, mass murders of the innocent, the acidification and the defiling with plastic of the oceans—but God may be meaning to bring a great good out of this great evil. How? Perhaps by letting conditions get to such a crisis-point that no one can survive unless the world’s political and economic institutions agree to put the common good ahead of the selfish interests of nations, corporations, and individuals. But perhaps this agreement, which would include the abolition of war and a widespread consensus to sacrifice self-will to the goodwill of the Beloved Community, cannot be reached and put into practice <155> without a general metamorphosis of human consciousness—which can only come as a gift from God.

Tribal peoples’ traditions must come to be explored with respect by the peoples of the world’s dominant cultures. The Abrahamic religions agree that only the Creator is worthy of worship, and that any reverence shown to normally invisible creatures (such as the “gods,” “angels,” or “spirits” of elements and localities) would constitute idolatry, a forbidden sin. In their zeal to suppress the
supposed idolatries of “paganism,” they have taught that these normally invisible creatures are either nonexistent or diabolical, and today the ruling consensus in the industrialized world is that they simply don’t exist at all. And yet, Christians, Jews, and Muslims would agree that one should never dump trash on a human neighbor’s property!

What tribal peoples like the Maragoli have to teach the industrialized world is that the tutelary spirits of water and wind—call them “gods,” “angels,” or “spirits”—are real neighbors, ancestors, bearing a kind of consciousness that is as capable of being offended by trash-dumping as human neighbors would be. Perhaps the Water God cries to the Supreme Creator for justice, and the Creator hears its prayer! If the Creator were to call us human beings to repentance for our offenses against the other creatures in nature, could we hear the Creator’s rebuke? Not if we’re trained to categorically disbelieve in invisible entities bearing messages! Then we can hear neither the Water God nor the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, neither the Angel of El Niño nor the voice of Allah. But God is not mocked, as the Scriptures say (Gal 6:7). Nature becomes ever more disorderly as human beings grow ever more persistent in our disrespect, and as it does, drought-afflicted Iowa farmers may grow ever more ready to call on
Lakota shamans to conduct a rain dance.43

But I am looking forward filled with hope to a time when the majority of humanity might affirm the all-inclusiveness of the Divine love humanity is called to express—not just to our human neighbors, but also to every created being and thing. There is life in all things that we can be trained to be aware of, and it is one with the life of our Creator. How would the world change if the Abrahamic religions—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—could embrace that of God in nature and all creation, animate and inanimate? <156>


I am very grateful to the still-living spirit of Dorika Bweyenda for her gift of Christ’s light, which I have been privileged to bring to the wider world, along with the Maragoli culture and spirituality of which she taught me to be a spokesperson. I am grateful for her deeply grounding me in those wisdoms, and for teaching me such skill in my mother tongue, and in my history, tradition, and aspirations. I embody her prophecy, her spirituality, and her soul, which teach me compassion, openness, accountability, hope, and love. In my own humble way, by the grace of God, I have attempted to do what she sent me out into the world to do. I now hope to return to my village, in keeping with her request, with the gift of a solar-powered library and a community center, which will bring together all peoples of the world. I intend to name this space in her honor, and to renew the forest from which the Maragoli have always drawn life. In her spirit, I invite Friends of all branches of Quakerism, and indeed all people of good will from around the world, to join me in making this dream a reality.


I am grateful to Earlham School of Religion (ESR) for the scholarship that is allowing me two years of postgraduate study in Quaker Studies. According to Matthew Hisrich, the Dean of ESR, far fewer women have applied than men, and those that have, have often been denied visas to come.44 I strongly urge the many capable East African Quaker women leaders and pastors, like the gifted Judith Ngoya, minister at Friends International Center in Nairobi, to consider applying for admission to any of ESR’s excellent postgraduate programs to share your gifts with the world.


1 I would like to thank John Jeremiah Edminster for working as my editor and advisor on this project.

2 Wilmer Cooper, A Living Faith (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1990), 12. Lewis Benson writes: “The phrase ‘that of God in every man’ has been widely used in the twentieth century as an expression which signifies the central truth of the Quaker message. Many present-day Quakers, when asked what the Quakers believe, are likely to reply: ‘They believe that there is that of God in every man,’” although Benson then cautions that “[George] Fox does not use the declarative sentence, ‘There is that of God in every man,’ and he never makes it the central theme of any of his sermons or writings” (Benson, 2). Benson notes, “Between 1700 and 1900 ‘that of God in every man’ virtually disappeared from the Quaker vocabulary, but early in the present [twentieth] century it came back into use” (Benson, 17). Benson attributes its revival to Rufus Jones who, in an “Introduction” to his 1903 abridged version of Fox’s Journal, explains Fox’s that-of-God concept in a way that, Benson claims, seriously distorted Fox’s meaning (Benson, 17). The modern-day usage tends to downplay Fox’s understanding that “that of God” in people is often engaged in reproving selfish and wicked behaviors so as to correct them. Lewis Benson, “‘That of God in Every Man’—What Did George Fox Mean by it?,” Quaker Religious Thought 24 (1970): 2–25.

3 Like most Maragoli of her generation, Dorika did not know her date of birth. I am dating it by circumstantial evidence.

4 Lawrence’s exact words are mamelles de Dieu: “Ma maniere la plus ordinaire, est cette simple attention, & amoureux en Dieu; où je me sense souvent attaché avec des douceurs & des satisfactions plus grandes que celles que goûte un enfant attaché aux mamelles de sa nourrice, aussi si j’osois me servir de cet terme, j’appellerois volontiers cet état mamelles de Dieu, pour les douceurs inexprimables que j’y goûte & dont j’y fais l’experience.” Laurent de la Résurrection, Maximes spirituelles fort utiles aux âmes pieuses, pour acqerir la presence de Dieu (Paris, 1692), 136–137,

5 I have all these ingredients in my house here in Richmond, IN, and I am always happy to invite and welcome locals and travelers from afar to come and share a meal with me. I enjoy cooking.

6 Cooper, A Living Faith, 18.

7 Cooper, A Living Faith, 152. In 1656, Fox writes, “I was moved to give forth the following exhortation to Friends in the ministry: … ‘In the power of life and wisdom, and dread of the Lord God of life…dwell, that in the wisdom of God over all ye may be preserved, and be a terror to all the adversaries of God, and a dread, answering that of God in them all…. [B]e patterns, be examples…wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, an#swering that of God in every one.” George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls, revised edition (Philadelphia: Religious Society of Friends, 1997), 263. This “exhortation” contains what are perhaps Fox’s best-known uses of the phrase “that of God.” See its use in Margery Post Abbott, To Be Broken and Tender (Friends Bulletin Corporation, 2010), 47.

8 Kelly Kellum, the current General Secretary of FUM, remarks that for the first time since Quakers arrived in Kenya, an FUM Triennial gathering is to be held there in July 2020. Part of the reasoning behind this is that FUM-affiliated Quakers’ numbers are dwindling in the US, but growing in Kenya, and US Quakers report being both encouraged by this numerical growth and inspired by the celebratory enthusiasm of Kenyan Quakers’ worship (personal conversation with Kelly Kellum, February 22, 2019). In general, US Quakers can more easily travel to Kenya than Kenyan Quakers to the US, being both richer (on the average) and more certain to get the necessary visas.

9 Cooper, A Living Faith, 107.

10 Abbott, To Be Broken and Tender, 46. It might be said that for Fox, “that of God” functioned primarily as an inward rebuke of sinners, but for modern Friends it was primarily an inward sanctifier of “fundamentally good” human beings.

11 The urbanized tend to have the procedure done in hospital, which means the boys miss out on learning the cultural, historical and spiritual significance of the rite of passage. The same fate has befallen the Luloogoli language, as most of the educated speak and pass on to their offspring only Kiswahili and English in their households because they are convinced the latter has high status compared to Luloogoli.

12 Due to HIV/AIDS concerns, nowadays the family of a child brings the knife to be used.

13 All circumcision age groups are given a name relating to current major events. For example, mine was named “Ambrosia,” because that was the year white maize/corn seeds were introduced in Maragoli.

14 Dorika had both the shamanic gifts and the shamanic knowledge, passed on to her by her father-in-law, Votega, who cured her infertility and taught her all she knew about herbal medicine. He perhaps foresaw that Mmboga would not come back from the war and that she would have to be the successor to his knowledge. She was not recognized as the village shaman until it was clear that Mmboga must have died and would not return. While the presence of other Quaker converts in the village must have made it easier for the village as a whole to accept a female shaman, Quakers would still have been a small minority in the village then. The real deciding influence for accepting Dorika as a shaman would have been Votega, who had initiated her as a shaman before she became a Quaker, and who told the villagers they must accept her as their shaman.

15 Stephen W. Angell, “Quaker Women in Kenya and Human Rights Issues,” in Freedom’s Distant Shores: American Protestants and Post-Colonial Alliances with Africa, ed. R. Drew Smith (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006), 111–130, at 114. Here, “orthodox” refers to the branch of Friends that emerged from the Hicksite-Orthodox split in the 1820s.

16 “Bwana” is a Kiswahili word meaning master, and is used as an honorific before the name of a respected individual. It is used alone as a form of polite address, similar to the use of the word “sir” or “mister” in English. At the time the Friends missionaries arrived in East Africa, this term was used for all white men.

17 Before Dorika gave land and mobilized villagers to build the first Lyavugulu Friends Church, all the new convinced Friends used to walk for 20 kilometers (almost 12.5 miles) to and from Friends Church Kaimosi to attend Sunday worship. The Friends from Lyavugulu village would wake to their “alarm clock,” the first crow of the rooster, between 3 and 4 am. They would arrive at 8am in time for the worship service and then walk back in the afternoon. The villagers from Lyavugulu would often share tea with Bwana Lisi when in Kaimosi. While they used large silver mugs (lisuvila), Rees drank out of a small white china teacup. Dorika noticed that although they filled theirs to the brim as a mark of fullness or fullbodiedness, he only filled his small cup three quarters full. This disturbed the locals, as this was a sign that he was not fully grown up. But Dorika wondered if he didn’t fill up his cup to the brim because he feared his long nose would drink the tea before his mouth.

18 Upon her visit to the village about five years ago, I initiated my daughter, Ema Makungu, as my shamanic successor. My other two daughters are Sarah Adiero and Victoria Mmbone. Ema is the mother of my three grandchildren, Faith, Naomi, and Isaiah.

19 To decide what to do with the land that would meet the needs of the community, I held a clearness committee in the village. This project of a community center and library was unanimously affirmed.

20 My late grandfather, Buyusi, father of my late father Jafether, as well as my maternal grandfather Ngeresa, were both volunteer community leaders (amagutu) for different periods and villages. In my early twenties, opinion leaders in the village asked my permission to forward my name to the District Commissioner to be hired as a paid chief (umwami). I politely declined, preferring my work as an itinerant minister. Asked why I was rejecting such an honorable and lucrative civil service position, I labored and used all the humility I could muster to say that I considered myself a global citizen of the cosmos who, although passionately believing in acting locally to have impact globally, would only accept a call to global civil service to help bring about peace in the world.

21 Philip Clayton points out: “Historians generally claim that the word ‘panentheism’ was first coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1829. This is actually incorrect; the term ‘Pan+en+theismus’ occurs already in 1809 in the famous Essay on Freedom by Friedrich Schelling. The word literally means ‘all in God.’ The etymology is a bit misleading, however, since in most cases the ‘in’ actually has at least two meanings: all things are in God, and God is in all things.” Philip Clayton, “Panentheisms East and West,” Sophia 49, no. 2 (2010): 183–191, at 183.

22 All biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), unless otherwise noted.

23 The Council of Nicaea condemned the idea that God the Father could have suffered the pain that the Son suffered on the cross, declaring “patripassianism” a heresy. But this would limit God’s omniscience, allowing the Creator to see, hear, smell, and experience all other actual and possible senses except the feeling of pain. If the Father could not feel the Son’s pain, of course, then neither could the Father feel the pain of any other creatures: human, ox, tree. If this is true, the only way to preserve God’s omniscience would be to declare pain illusory and without any real existence, as the currently popular A Course in Miracles seems to do.

24 The Greek original of John 1:3 reads καì χωρìς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν, “and outside of him not one thing came into being,” which the Vulgate (though permissibly) renders et sine ipso factum est nihil, “and without him nothing was made,” i.e., without his agency. Eriugena puts a period to end the sentence here—the original manuscripts, of course, having no punctuation—and reads the following words ὅ γέγονεν as properly belonging with John 1:4, making it read “What came to be in him was life.” The twenty-fifth of George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons, “The Creation of Christ,” also argues for this division of sentences. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Series I, II, and III, Complete and Unabridged, Classics Reprint Series (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016).

25 While these figures were “accused of pantheism by their contemporaries, their systems can be identified as panentheistic because they understood God in various ways as including the world rather than being the world….” John Culp, “Panentheism,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, December 4, 2008, last updated June 3, 2017, accessed February 2019,

26 Francis of Assisi, Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The Essential Writings, ed. Jon M. Sweeney (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013), 88.

27 Helen Waddell, translator, included in Betty Radice, translator, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (New York: Viking Penguin, 1974), 293.

28 George Herbert, “The Elixir,” in The Poems of George Herbert, edited by Helen Gardner (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 175–176.

29 From the last line of William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Boston: John W. Luce & Co., 1906), 47, accessed February 2019,

30 William Blake, The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, revised edition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982), 490.

31 Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Major Works, including all the poems and selected prose, Oxford World’s Classics series, ed. Catherine Phillips (London: Oxford University Press, 2002), 128.

32 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Row,1959), 33.

33 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 297.

34 J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1997), 2. But Power critiques many of the claims made for the “Celtic Spirituality” tradition: “one of the weaknesses of the movement [is] that people may find what they seek, and possibly what they want, rather than what actually existed.” Rosemary Power, The Celtic Quest: A Contemporary Spirituality (Blackrock, Ireland: The Columba Press, 2010), 18.

35 Eriugena’s Vox Aquilae is translated in Christopher Bamford, The Voice of the Eagle: The Heart of Celtic Christianity, new edition (Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2000), 69–114; Eriugena’s exegesis of John 1:3 is on 82–83. Eriugena continues: “All things, therefore, that were made by the Word, live in him unchangeably and are life…. [A]ll are one in him, above all times and places, and subsist in him eternally” (86).

36 Bamford (2000), 198–200. Newell (1997), 34, writes, “Eriugena taught that Christ moves among us in two shoes, as it were, one shoe being that of creation, the other that of the Scriptures.” Deirdre Carabine, in John Scottus Eriugena (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 25, identifies “the central idea” of Eriugena’s Periphyseon as “that creation is the manifestation of God and, therefore, is sanctified.” In that work Eriugena writes of the “ineffable descent of the Supreme Goodness, which is Unity and Trinity, into the things that are so as to make them to be, indeed so as itself to be.” Carabine (2000), 49, citing Periphyseon, Book III, 678D. The pagination is that used in the Patrologia Latina, vol. 122 (Paris, 1853), as Carabine notes, 114, footnote 12.

37 Fox, Journal, 27.

38 Fox, “To the Parliament and Protector of England,” 10, Digital Quaker Collection, In Fox’s Epistle No. 128 (Works, vol. 7, 121) he uses virtually identical language, adding a caution about “covetousness” and what we would today call utilitarian thinking about the creatures. George Fox, The Works of George Fox, 8 volumes, reprint of the 1831 American edition (State College, PA: George Fox Fund, 1990), Digital Quaker Collection,

39 Fox, “Christ’s Light,” Works, vol. 4, 305.

40 William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude, in Reflections and Maxims, Relating to the Conduct of Humane Life, in Collection of the Works of William Penn, vol. 1 (London: J. Sowle, 1726), 821.

41 Douglas Gwyn, A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation (Philadelphia: FGC Quaker Press, 2014), xviii.

42 Douglas Gwyn, personal communication, February 9, 2019.

43 The success of such a rain dance is recorded in the thought-provoking Eliot Cowan, Plant Spirit Medicine (Newberg, OR: Swan•Raven & Co., 1995), 98–99.

44 Matthew Hisrich, personal conversation, February 25, 2019.


Abbott, Margery Post. To Be Broken and Tender. n.p., Friends Bulletin Corporation, 2010.

Angell, Stephen W. “Quaker Women in Kenya and Human Rights Issues.” In Freedom’s Distant Shores: American Protestants and Post-Colonial Alliances with Africa, ed. R. Drew Smith, 111–130. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006.

Bamford, Christopher. The Voice of the Eagle: The Heart of Celtic Christianity, New edition. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2000.

Benson, Lewis. “‘That of God in Every Man’—What Did George Fox Mean by it?” Quaker Religious Thought 24 (1970): 2–25.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Boston: John W. Luce & Co., 1906.

———. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman. Revised edition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982.

Boehme, Jacob. The Signature of All Things, transl. John Sparrow [?]. London: James Clarke, 1969.

Carabine, Deirdre. John Scottus Eriugena. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Clayton, Philip. “Panentheisms East and West.” Sophia 49, no. 2 (2010): 183–191.

Cooper, Wilmer. A Living Faith. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1990.

Cowan, Eliot. Plant Spirit Medicine. Newberg, OR: Swan•Raven & Co., 1995.

Culp, John. “Panentheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Summer 2017 edition. December 4, 2008. Last updated June 3,

Fox, George. The Journal of George Fox, ed. John L. Nickalls. Revised edition. Philadelphia: Religious Society of Friends, 1997.

———. To the Parliament and Protector of England. In the Digital Quaker Collection:

———. Works, in eight volumes. State College, PA: George Fox Fund, 1990. Reprint of the 1831 American edition, Digital Quaker Collection:

Francis of Assisi. Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The Essential Writings, ed. Jon M. Sweeney. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013.

Gwyn, Douglas. A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation. Philadelphia: FGC Quaker Press, 2014.

Herbert, George. The Poems of George Herbert, ed. Helen Gardner. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. The Major Works, including all the poems and selected prose, ed. Catherine Phillips. Oxford World’s Classics series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

MacDonald, George. Unspoken Sermons: Series I, II, and III, Complete and Unabridged. Classics Reprint Series. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

Newell, J. Philip. Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist, 1997.

Palmer, G. E. H., Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, eds. and transls. The Philokalia: The Complete Text, compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber, 1995.

Penn, William. Some Fruits of Solitude, in Reflections and Maxims, Relating to the Conduct of Humane Life. In Collection of the works of William Penn, vol. 1. London: J. Sowle, 1726. In the Digital Quaker Collection.

Power, Rosemary. The Celtic Quest: A Contemporary Spirituality. Blackrock, Ireland: The Columba Press, 2010.

Radice, Betty, transl. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. New York: Viking Penguin, 1974.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Phenomenon of Man, transl. Bernard Wall. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.


%d bloggers like this: