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“Stand Still in The Light”: What Conceptual Metaphor Research Can Tell Us about Quaker Theology

Rachel J. Kirkwood
University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
Religions 2019, 10(1), 41;
Submission received: 21 December 2018 / Revised: 5 January 2019 / Accepted: 7 January 2019 / Published: 10 January 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Interdisciplinary Quaker Studies)


The purpose of this study is to explore how an interdisciplinary approach can benefit Quaker Studies. The paper applies conceptual Metaphor Theory to help explicate aspects of theology in 17th century Quaker writings. It uses a combination of close reading supported by a corpus of related texts to analyse the writing of 4 key figures from the first decade of the movement. Metaphor analysis finds that orientational schemas of UP-DOWN and IN-OUT are essential structural elements in the theological thought of all 4 writers, along with more complex metaphors of BUILDINGS. Quaker writers make novel extensions to and recombinations of Biblical metaphors around Light and Stones, as well as using aspects of the theory of Elements. Such analysis can help explicate nuances of theological meaning-making. The evaluation of DOWN IS GOOD and UP IS BAD—except in specific circumstances—is distinctively Quaker, and embodied metaphors of divine immanence in humans indicate a ‘flipped’ soteriology which is distanced from the Christ event.

1. Introduction

The Light is perhaps the most well known of Quaker metaphors, usually encountered in formulations such as ‘the Light within’ or ‘the inward Light’, and taken to express some idea of an unspecified divine immanence—a lack of precision which could appeal to a broad range of beliefs. Misunderstandings about the way the earliest Quakers talked about the divine presence within them resulted in widespread persecution in the 17th century. In the 21st century, the apparent ambiguity of figurative language may be exactly what appeals to post-modern non-theists. But it seems to me important that we should establish more exactly what the founders of the movement meant, if only to understand how far modern-day liberal Quaker views diverge from this.
Many studies have looked at Quaker theology (Gwyn 1986; Angell and Dandelion 2015; Ward 2017; Bruyneel 2010); others have looked at literary writing style or publication strategy (Wright 1932; Hagglund 2013; O’Malley 1982; Peters 1994). Far fewer have applied linguistic analysis (Cope 1956; Roads 2012). One excellent example of the cross-fertilisation of Linguistics and Theology, however, is Seppänen’s lexical study on ‘the Inner Light’ in the journals of George Fox (Seppänen 1975), the man generally considered to be the founder of Quakerism. Although this work is based on lexis and the meaning of words, the exact phrase “Inner Light” does not appear in Fox’s writing, so it is being taken as a proxy for ‘divine immanence’ without being interrogated in its functioning as a metaphor.
Existing scholarship has tended to focus on what Quakers (and especially Fox) have said about immanence, without really grappling with the task of explaining how these words produce meaning. I argue that conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) can help us unpick some very specific and distinctive aspects of Quaker theology. Coming as it does from embodied approaches to cognition, CMT offers to enrich intellectually based approaches to theology through a body-centred analysis particularly apposite to the religious experience of the Quakers, nicknamed as they were for the shaking, quaking, physical expression of their encounters with divine power.
CMT was first comprehensively formulated in the seminal monograph Metaphors we live by (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) in which it was suggested that metaphors are much more central to human experience than would be expected from a literary trope. ‘Everyday’ or ‘conceptual metaphors’ are pervasive examples of how we seek to conceptualise and reason about important yet abstract concepts (life) in terms of more concrete things (journeys). More recent scholarship has clarified the multilayered nature of conceptual metaphors (Kövecses 2011); for example, the very fundamental level of ‘image schemata’, dynamic mental frameworks like the SOURCE–PATH–GOAL schema (Johnson 1987) which underlie a more ‘complex metaphor’ like A PURPOSEFUL LIFE IS A JOURNEY. It is also suggested that such complex metaphors are derived from combining ‘primary metaphors’ learned from embodied human existence (in this case, PURPOSES ARE DESTINATIONS + ACTIONS ARE MOTIONS) in the way molecules combine to form complex molecular structures (Lakoff and Johnson 1999).
Common to all levels of analysis is the notion of some kind of mental linking, mapping or projection between different areas of subjective experience/knowledge, called variously domains or frames. Conceptual approaches differentiate between on the one hand the underlying metaphor, typically structured in the form TARGET DOMAIN IS SOURCE DOMAIN, and on the other, any linguistic expressions of that mapping—the metaphor which was traditionally taught in schools as a ‘figure of speech’.
The conceptual domains of CMT are also crucial in the complementary theories of mental spaces (Fauconnier 1994) and conceptual blending (Fauconnier and Turner 1998) or conceptual integration networks. Mental spaces may be conceptual domains from the real world or counterfactual scenarios, and the blending of elements from different domains involves mental gymnastics in which the thinker/speaker/listener may combine people and places from different timelines, for example, or elements from both source and target domains, in an “emergent space” (Fauconnier and Turner 1998). Although conceptual blending is claimed to be as ubiquitous as conceptual metaphors, more specifically it “plays a crucial role in religious language, which, by its very nature, generates new meanings and conceptualizations resulting from the religious experiences of believers” (Gomola 2018, pp. 11–12).
There have been various applications of CMT in religious discourse generally (Jäkel 2002; DesCamp and Sweetser 2005; Charteris-Black 2017; Tappenden 2012) but in Quaker studies, so far we have seen very little application—with the significant exception of some excellent work on metaphors in Quaker sermons (Graves 2009). Yet there is much theological content in other genres, such as public declarations and pastoral letters, which would bear linguistic investigation. My own research goes beyond lexical analysis [and encompasses more genres than sermons] to examine words in combination and identify the domains they are taken from, and the structures of concrete source domain for abstract target domain.
In Section 2 of this article, I analyse four significant pieces of writing by early Friends other than Fox, although connections with Foxian thought and writing will be noted. Discussion of these results follows in Section 3, before brief final reflections on interdisciplinary research in Quaker Studies.

2. Results

2.1. Sarah Jones, This Is Lights Appearance in the Truth to All the Precious Dear Lambs of the Life; Dark Vanished, Light Shines Forth, 1650

The identity of the “S.J.” who signs the 1650 piece is unclear. Garman et al. identify Sarah Jones as “a poor widow who lived in Bristol” (Garman et al. 1996, p. 30) but note that the name is also found in the 1659 Yorkshire petition against tithes. Writing on a Sarah Jones who was a member of the semiseparatist congregation in London, Wright notes a tenuous connection with this S.J., pointing out that if they are the same person then she had “acquired Quaker views earlier than any other known Londoner” (Wright 2004, p. 9). More recently, Hinds has contended that the authorship and date are “almost entirely undecidable” while nonetheless arguing for the theological significance of this piece (Hinds 2018). Noteworthy in this piece, for example, is the typically Quaker epistemological basis “Ah my soul, canst not thou say so by experience?”
In terms of conceptual metaphor, we can see both an UP-DOWN schema and an IN-OUT schema in operation in this piece. Rather than building upwards on temporal words, her readers are to sink down to the “substance”, the word which is outside time, i.e., Christ, clearly understood as the pre-existent Christ or Logos, not simply Jesus of Nazareth. A further contrast is seen between the inward and the outward, being “at home” or “hunt[ing] abroad”. These contrasting themes are woven throughout the piece, but the key image and message is that the creature should be open to the transforming power of the divine, which is expressed through metaphors of sinking down, before building up from the correct foundation.
First, I will look at the linguistic expressions of those metaphors, considering the frequency and co-occurrences of words, before exploring some of the conceptual aspects which can be inferred from this evidence. Jones contrasts the “eternal word” with less reliable (and by implication transitory) “manifestations that proceed from the word”, and she urges her readers not to build upon such manifestations, but rather to “sink down” to “that that manifests”, i.e., the true source of revelation. This metaphorical ‘sinking down’ as a recommended spiritual practice is projected from the physical experience of sinking to one’s knees, down to the ground, or even into the ground—a place with characteristics of solidity and permanence, the “eternal word”. The “word” [not always capitalised] is used as a synonym (or metaphor) for Christ, as Logos. Jones condemns building (implied up) on the wrong foundations (of ‘manifestations’), and the setting up of idols. This is made clearer as she expands the imagery “this is the word that the builder refuses, which is become the head of the corner” in a clear reference1 to (Psalm 118, p. 22), but with an interesting substitution by Jones of ‘word’ for the original ‘stone’. This word-stone adds to the impression of solidity in the sinking metaphor.
‘Word’ is in fact the most frequently used word in this passage, occurring 13 times in just 1152 words. It frequently co-occurs with ‘eternal’, as Jones emphasises the importance of Christ the eternal word over her own or anyone else’s transitory words—vividly described as a “theological invisible ink” (Garman et al. 1996, p. 21). The phrase ‘Sink[s] down’ is used five times in this short text, which represents a normalised frequency of ~439 per 100,000 words; this can be compared to a frequency of just 0.16 observed in all the other texts published in 1650 which are stored in the corpus called EEBOv3 on the CQPweb server (Hardie 2012). Looking at another eleven texts from that year by non-Quakers which include the phrase ‘sink down’, I found that some of their usage is literal, but all the other writers’ metaphorical usage has very negative connotations, being associated with sinking down to despair, death, and hell. One Biblical source, for example, is Psalm 63:9 in the translation in use by the Church of Scotland: “Who seek my soul to spill shall sink down to earth’s lowest room.”
Jones also uses a Biblical illustration from the literature of the Old Testament for an in/out contrast, as she compares the misguided activity of the “gadding, hunting Esau” with the model behaviour of Jacob, living at home (her one example taken from the Old Testament rather than the New). The “falling short” which she fears in her final lines is thus not linked to a lack of striving or effort, which might be the more immediate suggestion of the race image in the letter to the Hebrews. The locus of the desired spiritual goal is to be found within, as is demonstrated by repeated encouragements to “go not out”, to “live at home” like Jacob, “be at home”, for “the eternal word of the Lord” aka Christ (who stands for salvation) is “nigh in your hearts”—a phrase which is found in both the early and late sections of the text.

2.2. James Nayler, Milk for Babes, and Meat for Strong Men …, 1661 [Published Posthumously]

Fox’s great early partner in leadership, James Nayler, also writes out of deep pastoral concern. His long letter, bearing the full title Milk for babes, and meat for strong men. A feast of fat things, wine well refined on the lees offers a vision of abundance, and is thoroughly inclusive from the title onwards: “O come young men and maidens, old men and babes …”. The very title gives an incarnational view of the Quaker conception of the interface between the human and the divine, as the work is described as being “the breathings of the Spirit through his servant James Naylor”. This is a very embodied and physical image—perhaps Nayler’s echo of 2 Timothy 3:16′s θεοπνευστος in a translation which carries a hint of a symbiotic relationship between God’s spirit and the physical man. The situation of Nayler himself at the time of writing was very far from rich abundance, as he found himself incarcerated after his controversial entry into Bristol and subsequent trial by parliament for blasphemy, having barely survived torturous punishment.
An up-down image schema is fully in evidence from the opening of the letter, and Jones’s ‘sinking down’ movement is also felt here. It is addressed to “you tender hearted ones”, who are then defined as those “who now see more Desireableness and Beauty in Innocency and Meekness than in… self-conceited Exaltations arising from the airy knowledge”. The thing desired is indirectly described as “that which hath given you the sight of this Excellency”, and the addressees are encouraged to “wait low, and diligently hearken thereto, until the thing it self spring up, which naturally hath this Riches in it, which cometh from above, and yet is felt far below all fleshly affections, high thoughts, … so that you cannot come to the Life and Spring of it, but as you deny these… by sinking down through them”. Thus DOWN is associated both with an appropriate attitude of humility and with the starting point for positive (divine) growth; by contrast, up is associated with wrongly motivated ambitions and insubstantial human thoughts.
Like Jones, Nayler presents the same model of construction a little further into the piece, contrasting human high words with divine election, which is conceived as a low, solid foundation which can be built upon: “So with all diligence sink down to feel the Election, not minding that which boasts in high words, before it be tried…”
As well as a building metaphor, Nayler utilises a growth metaphor, involving a seed: the “evil Seed” is contrasted with the “precious Seed”; this analogy is also seen in Fox and has been widely commented on (King 1940). Of those people who have the precious Seed, Nayler writes that “the light is sprung up which leads to the Foundation of God”. This is a particularly interesting phrase which bears analysis on the model of conceptual blending. Elements from the frame of vision are combined with springing up (growing) from the frame of horticulture, giving an emergent structure in the blended mental space of a light which is growing upwards—and yet paradoxically is also leading people down to the foundation.
Another Biblical metaphor used by both writers is stone: believers have been given “a sight of the Stone which the Builders see not”. Whereas in the Jones piece the Stone became the Word which the builders rejected, here they do not even perceive it. The direction of the source of life is very clearly downward: “with the light mind to be led down into that Life that is not of this World”. A characteristic trait of Nayler’s thought is the inevitability of suffering with Christ in order to share his victory (Bittle 1986), and the expectation that an inward crucifixion of the self is likely to be accompanied by outward sufferings too. In this context, it is unsurprising that for him the downward target is not a particularly attractive one: “seek for that which lies under in the sufferings, which calls you down from every high thought. To him come down into the pit…”. Addressing those who “thirst daily after the Heavenly Virtue” (and echoing 1 Peter 2:4–6) he writes
Sink down into its likeness, which is yet in the bonds of death, and hunger with it, and suffer with it, and join to it in all its counsel, so that with it you may be raised; for that is it which is on the foundation of God; and coming to him as a living stone, you will be built on the same Foundation, the same Spirit being your head …
The inferred Biblical conceptual metaphors here are RESURRECTION IS WAKING FROM SLEEP (Tappenden 2016) and A COMMUNITY IS A BUILDING. The stone subsequently appears in a different guise, as both target to aim at and a rock with both destructive and constructive functions: if you bear all with “his perfect power” you will “know the white stone, and that Rock which breaks the Nations, but builds the House of God”.

2.3. Margaret Fell, a Testimony of the Touch-Stone, for All … of Whatever Sort, to Try Their Ground and Foundation by, 1656

Different kinds of stone feature prominently in this next piece of writing. Frequently titled the ‘mother of Quakerism’, Margaret Fell converted in 1652 along with many of her household and quickly became a driving force in the movement. Her extensive written output spans the years 1652 to 1700 (in her late 80s) and covers many letters and tracts (Bruyneel 2010). Although she is often remembered as being George Fox’s wife, she spent most of her long life not being married to him.
Although the metaphor in the title of this piece is that of Christ as touchstone, a stone against which the value of precious metals could be assayed, she prefaces her writing with a series of four quotations from the Bible which use the cornerstone metaphor. Christ is cornerstone, part of a construction metaphor, the ‘church’ i.e., the group identity of Christians is a building, whose foundation is Christ—which gives us the metaphor community is a building. However, the first of these quotations, from Isaiah 28:16, does provide a link between the two stone metaphors, as the prophet describes the foundation as not simply a lump of rock but a stone that is itself “tryed” and “precious”.
Interestingly, the Bible translators of the time had not used the word touchstone very much. The Great Bible (1540), The Matthew Bible (1549), and the Geneva Bible (1587) all have in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus the figure of Wisdom as a ‘fine touchstone’. The Rheims-Douai (1582–1610) has an occurrence in the introductory rubric to Romans 16, where the original doctrine Paul taught them is described as a ‘touchstone to knovv Seducers’. There are further uses of ‘touch-stone’ only in the contemporary editorial matter to this translation, not the main text—so Fell is quite innovative in her figurative use of ‘touchstone’ in relation to Christ the Light. She then blends it with ‘cornerstone’ to further reason about the activities and qualities of the immanent Christ.
In her opening paragraph, Fell declares that she is addressing “the Light of all the Nations … which now shines in your consciences”, using a complex of three interwoven images for Christ:
  • Christ as the light in everyone’s conscience;
  • This light as a touchstone to try an individual’s basis/foundation for life;
  • Christ as that very foundation or cornerstone.
These images point up some significant aspects of Quaker theology, namely universal accessibility of the Light, a divine functioning of the Light within the human conscience as an enhanced awareness/evaluation of one’s own behaviour, and that the Light manifests Christ Jesus ‘within’ the individual. Familiar Biblical imagery is combined with more distinctively Quaker conceptions: the solid stone foundation for life is contrasted with a “rotten and sandy” foundation used by “foolish builders … building in your imaginations, Babel in the Air”—a wonderfully evocative image of inchoate thought associated with the metaphorical entailments of air being weightless and insubstantial.
After setting out some of the functions and characteristics of the Light, and berating the “professors” who rely on external, second-hand knowledge of a God or Christ “afar off”, i.e., based purely on what can be read in the Bible rather than their own personal experience, Fell’s main drive is to encourage people to “turn into the measure of the light”. There is a clear process identified, which echoes Fox’s 1652 Epistle X: turn to the Light, wait in the Light, then walk in the Light.
Once again, the significant metaphor is an extended one of buildings and structures. ‘The church’—as opposed to ‘a church’—stands for the entire group of people who self-identify as Christians, and is built on the foundation of Christ. Using conventional Biblical imagery, Christ is described as the cornerstone; however, Fell appropriates Jesus’ description of Peter (or Cephas) as ‘the rock upon which he would build the church’ and applies it to Jesus himself. Individual Christians are conceptualised as building their lives upon either a rock or sandy foundations. In proclaiming Jesus Christ as “the light and Rock of ages”, Fell is using the language of two different source domains, one of construction materials and building, with its metaphorical entailments of groundedness and solidity, and one of light, with its properties of illumination, seeing and revealing. The light of Christ within humans, the light in their consciences, functions as a touchstone for their life foundations as well as being the cornerstone which should form their foundations. Since light particularly enables better sight, we can say that UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING is the conceptual metaphor which underpins the expression ‘the light in your consciences’. In theological terms, this might be defined as a special type of understanding which is about a realisation of moral or religious sensibilities.
What does Fell state that the Light is? A series of ‘light is’ statements (either ‘the light’ or ‘thy light’) are all characterised by contrasts: between light and darkness, salvation (implicit) and condemnation (explicit). She assigns a number of roles to the Light, and also describes three main characteristics: 1. Its nature is unchanging; 2. Its source is variously the ‘father of light’, the ‘fountain of light’ and ‘Christ Jesus’; and 3. Its location is internal to humans (signifying immanence). Light is made equivalent to the “pure measure of God in your inward parts”. This term ‘measure’ was a significant one for early Friends, as we will see with Burrough (below).

2.4. Edward Burrough, Generall Epistle, 1657

Burrough converted young to Quakerism after hearing Fox preaching when he was 17. He became a very active pioneer in the movement, travelling widely and writing numerous letters and controversial tracts. The Dictionary of National Biography notes that “What he had to say is both more concisely stated and more thoughtful than was usually the case with early Quaker authors”. After Nayler’s disastrous actions of 1656 (a re-enaction at Bristol of Christ’s entry to Jerusalem), which meant he lost his premier position as the Quaker movement’s most prominent theologian, Burrough took on that mantle (Moore 2000).
Characteristic of the writing in the first section is the way Burrough makes frequent reference to God (not just Christ) being Light. So while the Johannine gospel’s ‘Light which [en]lightens everyone who enters the world’ is also present in the writing, there is a great influence also of the first letter of John:
This then is the message which we haue heard of him, and declare vnto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkenesse at all.
If we say that we haue felowship with him, and walke in darkenesse, we lie, and doe not the trueth.
But if wee walke in the light, as he is in the light, wee haue fellowship one with another, and the blood of Iesus Christ his Sonne clenseth vs from all sinne (1 John 1:5–7).
Burrough’s wish for the ‘Children of Light’ is that “the God of Light and Life be multiplyed in you all”. The vocabulary is taken from the frame of reproduction or family life, and these metaphors convey a strong sense of physical, genetic connection between the divine and the human. The “God who is light” is not solely portrayed as a loving father, however; rather, the imagery is of warlike and judgmental power: with frequent explicit references to ‘power’ he states “this is he who kills and makes alive, even the God who is light, who brings down one, and sets up another”. It has been noted that in different Christian traditions a fundamental contrast can be seen in the fatherhood imagery, which may be one of ‘strict father’ or ‘nurturant parent’ (Lakoff 2002). Also in this frame is the marital imagery of the Biblical conceit of the Church as the ‘Bride of Christ’, referenced by Burrough when he reassures Friends that they “are in that which reconcileth and joyneth unto Christ Jesus (the husband)”.
Other New Testament-influenced characteristics of God are highlighted, such as Burrough’s use of the mysteriously poetic snippet ‘nor shadow of turning’ to describe the changeless God, derived from James 1:17: Euery good gift, and euery perfect gift is from aboue, & commeth downe from the Father of lights, with whom is no variablenesse, neither shadow of turning.
This verse gives us the origin of the phrase ‘Father of Light’, as used by Fell (above). Also in the human family frame we find the complementary phrase ‘Children of Light’, as many early Quakers liked to call themselves.2
Burrough’s phrase ‘covenant of Light’ does not appear to have a Biblical basis in this linguistic form, however, although Malachi 2:5 speaks of a ‘covenant of life and peace’, and light is often equated with life. It is interesting to reflect that Malachi is ostensibly referring to the ‘old’ covenant between God and the priestly House of Levi, whereas Quakers placed enormous emphasis on the ‘new covenant’ (or contract, terms of relationship) which became available with the coming of Christ.
All of the above sets up Burrough for an extraordinarily clear statement of the Quaker understanding of salvation and atonement. He urges the Children of Light to remain faithful, in order to
… witness God with you, the Emanuel, the Saviour, God with us; and this is the whole salvation, and there is no other to be expected or witnessed then this, That God dwells in us, and walks in us, according to his promise …
Here we have a very direct statement expressing the Quaker conceptualisation of a divinity that is inwardly present in the human, expressed through the thoroughly embodied, physical metaphor of God walking in us. This unusual figure contrasts with the much more frequently seen metaphor of humans walking in the Light.
For Quakers it was not just walking in the right way that was encouraged, but the prerequisite for this was first to wait, in stillness. Burrough goes on to exhort his readers to “… wait patiently in the way of the Lord, and in his Judgements to receive this, and to possess it within you …” [my emphasis].
Furthermore, Friends are to “minde the life of God in you all” and to “dwell in it, and walk in it, and be not shaken out of it, nor removed from it”. These are all metaphors based on an in-out schema of containment. “Lying spirits” may “go forth from the light” … “having the form, but not the power, having left the power, and gone from the light”.
Further use of marital imagery and the UNION metaphor (Kövecses 2011) is seen in frequent references to believers “joining” themselves with powers which are not the Light—usually the reference is a warning or prohibition “[do] not joyne to any thing which is out of union, and contrary to the life of God”. The adultery imagery is drawn directly from the recurrent Old Testament imagery around the unfaithfulness of God’s ‘chosen people’. In this situation—if anyone should “turn from the Light of Christ”—the Light becomes rather more menacing: “the Light of the world is your condemnation for evermore if you turn from it”.
As with Fell’s Testimonie, Burrough warns against those who “speak high words in the airy mind”, a criticism which pits human intellectual endeavours against a spirit-guided approach to life, in a framework which is in accordance with the Quaker positive evaluation of downward orientation noted in the writing of Sarah Jones. Similarly he speaks against “that spirit … which is not … meek … but heady and high” and likewise against “that spirit … which preaches not from the measure of God received … but speaks above the measure”. This important concept of measure is sometimes used to qualify another noun, as in the phrase ‘measure of Light’, and sometimes as a noun in its own right, standing metonymically for light or God’s enlightenment in a human being. Non-Quaker writers also use the phrase ‘measure of light’, but for Friends the addition of ‘in every man’ indicates their distinctive belief in the possibility of universal immanence. The title of George Fox’s work Testimony of the true Light of the world also equates the two, as the subtitle goes on to explain how it is also a testimony of the true measure of the gift of God, given to everyone to profit withal.

3. Discussion

3.1. Novel Extensions to Biblical Language

The language of all four writers is thoroughly infused with Biblical imagery for the divine, for divine-human relations, and for interhuman relations. They also make creative and novel extensions to established metaphors.
I found a range of uses of light as a metaphor, many of which had a strongly Christological sense, although sometimes the aspect of God the Father was foregrounded. We saw that Fell variously described the source or origin of the Light in terms of ‘father of light’ and ‘fountain of light’ and as ‘Christ Jesus’, which implies that the Light both is Christ, comes from Christ Jesus (God the Son), and comes from God the father. This would seem to signify a broad conception of the divine in this piece; further analysis would be required to examine evidence for Trinitarian, or even Quaternitarian (Moore 2000) theology in her writings.
Fell takes the Biblical image of divine light and goes on to blend it with two kinds of stone: the Biblical cornerstone and the non-Biblical touchstone. She then also enlists the philosophical concept of the element air. In this way, she draws from different discourses and different source domains in novel combinations.
Jones takes two separate Biblical images—stone and word—but in her own writing makes them interchangeable. Her most frequently used image for the Divine was “word” which we can readily interpret as corresponding to the Biblical Logos. But she occasionally substituted “word” for “stone” in her image sequence of building. Stones were in fact common to all four writers, often in the frame of construction, suggestive of an underlying metaphor LIFE IS A BUILDING (Kövecses 2005), particularly in view of the metaphorical entailment of a structurally solid building needing a firm foundation.
I suggest that the reason Quakers extended the use of metaphorical expressions for Christ in this manner was to depersonalise, weaken the link between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the eternal Christ present (in different measures) in all people. Collocation analysis revealing the frequent co-occurrence of Word + eternal invites this theological interpretation.
All writers made considerable use of Biblical imagery, but combined language in different ways. Fell in particular was quite innovative in her choice of lexis. We saw that many Quaker writers combine imagery that might be seen as contradictory, yet CMT allows us to tease out individual chunks of meaning-making, and understand how in a mosaic-like fashion these contribute to a conceptualisation of the divine and a way of reasoning about human/divine relations. In contrast to the apophatic resignation of saying only negative things, this can be interpreted as an energetic determination to use all linguistics tools at their disposal to say something positive about the divine.

3.2. The Importance of UP-DOWN

The extreme concentration of the phrase ‘sink down’ I found in the Jones piece as compared to other writings from the same year suggests that it was something of really pressing importance that she wanted to convey. Whereas contemporary texts using this expression often talk about drowning and watery dissolution, for Jones the sinking down is “to the substance”, a movement towards grounding and solidity. My finding that all other metaphorical usage of this expression in other 1650 texts is consistently negative suggests that Quaker writers had a very distinctive conceptualisation as the route to the divine being in a downward direction.
By contrast, we saw Quakers use the discourse of the elements, with the frequent critical comments about thoughts and words which are “airy” and “high”, associating human intellectual activity with weightlessness and lack of grounding, and locating them in an UP schema. Such activity is consistently negatively evaluated: I posit this should be interpreted as reversing the previously established, positive-evaluated UP is good (Kövecses 2002) into a Quaker conceptual metaphor of down is good, UP is bad.
This needs to be qualified, however. We saw that in Nayler’s writing much use was made of UP-DOWN throughout. He goes further than Jones saying ‘don’t build on temporal words’ to actually visualise and criticise what might result, i.e., “self-conceited Exaltations arising from the airy knowledge”, making it more clear that up is negative. And yet, as well as the construction metaphor (for human activity) he also uses a horticultural metaphor of upward growth to express divine activity. It seems that positive UP is conditional upon the correct temporal sequence: the Seed can only “spring up” if the person will first “sink down” and “wait low”.

3.3. Quaker Model of CONTAINMENT

Schemas of IN-OUT and CONTAINMENT are important in these writings, and can help explicate Quaker concepts of divine immanence in humans. The inward tradition of spirituality is of course a well-established one, which is nicely illustrated by Jones calling up the example of Jacob and Esau, and by the very frequent occurrence of the expression ‘the Light within’ (or variants) across much Quaker writing. However, it is not sufficient just to posit a Quaker conceptual metaphor DIVINE IMMANENCE IS LIGHT WITHIN A PERSON, since the model of containment appears to be a variable one. This is particularly clear in Burrough’s writing. The “life of God” is “in you all” and yet Friends are to “dwell in it”. Friends are to walk in the Light, but the Light is within them. Burrough holds the two models in tension. His extraordinary statement that salvation consists in the fact that “God dwells in us, and walks in us” suggests a ‘flipped soteriology’, dependent not so much on human behaviour, or the significance of the historical Christ event or doctrine of atonement, as on the presence of the divine contained within a human in the here and now.

4. Concluding Reflections on Interdisciplinary Methods in Quaker Studies

Early Quaker theological thinking was very far from homogenous. The combination of close reading techniques from English studies with ‘distant reading’ of concordancing software, built on the underlying theoretical basis of CMT, can be fruitful in exploring the paradoxes of Quaker writing. The scholarly conversation need not be restricted to dialogue stretching back over time into previous publications in the same discipline, but can extend sideways to other disciplines, as the work of the multidisciplinary community at the British Centre for Research in Quaker Studies vividly demonstrates.


This research was part-funded by the University of Manchester Library and an Adult Education Grant from Britain Yearly Meeting.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.


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“The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.“ The psalm is quoted in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts.
See Ephesian 5:8 and 1 Thessalonians 5:5 for ‘children of light’.

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Kirkwood, R.J. “Stand Still in The Light”: What Conceptual Metaphor Research Can Tell Us about Quaker Theology. Religions 2019, 10, 41.

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Kirkwood RJ. “Stand Still in The Light”: What Conceptual Metaphor Research Can Tell Us about Quaker Theology. Religions. 2019; 10(1):41.

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Kirkwood, Rachel J. 2019. "“Stand Still in The Light”: What Conceptual Metaphor Research Can Tell Us about Quaker Theology" Religions 10, no. 1: 41.

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