Recently, I have had the occasion to re-read one of my all-time favorite books, A Testament of Devotion, by Thomas Kelly. This Quaker classic was published originally in 1941 right in the midst of a raging world war. Clearly, Kelly had been affected by the atrocity of another world war. Kelly had spent time in pre-war Germany. He spoke German. He had many German friends. Surely, his heart broke when the potential of peace and good will was displaced by the actuality of bullets and bombs.
From the perspective of the twenty first century, we know that humankind still has not learned to live in peace. There are still conflicts raging in too many different parts of our world. Sadly, these are not the only conflicts. There are also countless inner conflicts raging inside people all around our globe. Perhaps there are inner conflicts at war inside your best friend…or even inside of you. These conflicts will not make the six o’clock news. In fact, many of us are condemned to fight them alone.
This reality is what has made Kelly’s book a classic. In some ways Kelly himself had struggled with his own inner conflicts. But somehow he had been addressed. At some juncture he had heard a Divine Voice speak to him in ways that were healings. He had been given a Vision of peace and joy. Gradually a world that was confusing and complex began to focus and a simplicity emerged that was a gift. But that gift called him to be a giver. In one sense the book is Kelly’s gift.
I am always fascinated by how books end. The last chapter of Kelly’s book is entitled, “The Simplification of Life.” In a way it is his antidote to the confusion and complexity of life. And if he felt that in the early 1940s, imagine what it is like now in the twenty-first century!
One of Kelly’s favorite synonyms for God is “Center.” God is our Center. We find God in our center. To do that, we need to “center down,” as all my life I have heard Quakers put it. This is what Kelly has in mind as he finishes his book.
“Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant…We need not get frantic…when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.” For all is well. I love that phrase---that reassurance. It reminds me of the classic words of Julian of Norwich, that 14th century English mystic. Julian had promised us that all will be well.
But I noticed Kelly’s verb tense. He says all IS well---present tense. When we live from the Center---when we abide in God’s Presence---all is well. All is already well. To live in this “place” is to be simple. Life can be simplified. It is known by the peace, power, serenity, and amazing grace that is bestowed.
I have had hints of this. I have had little stretches of life when I think I was living from the Center. But too often, I grab the steering wheel of my life and go careening into my future creating all the chaos, confusion and complexity that typically are unnecessary. Why do I do this? I know better!
That is precisely why I need Kelly’s reassuring words. I need to read them again and again. I need to hear them repeatedly. Slow down. Center down. Simplify. And then I will discover that all is well. You can, too!