Last year, I read “Breakthrough To Unity” by Roswitha Jarman in a small “book club” with two Quaker friends of mine. The book helped me on my journey with the Quaker tradition of mysticism, discernment, and living out my beliefs and I think it is a great introduction to reading mystic thought and learning more about the Quaker mystic tradition, its history and its key authors/thinkers. When I first learned about Quakerism, mysticism was very mysterious – hehe – to me and I had problems navigating what I was reading and figuring out where to start to understand this better. I am so glad I stumbled on this book, because this was exactly what I needed at the time.
I read the book in German with the title “Einswerden mit dem Göttlichen – Die Quäker und die Tradition der Mystik“. The English version of the book is called “Breakthrough To Unity – The Quaker Way held within the mystic traditions”, which is a book in the booklet series of the Kindlers (“The Kindlers are an experimental group focused on Quaker spirituality. They work to rekindle the power of Quaker worship by renewing and deepening Quaker spiritual practices. They do this by holding workshops to deepen the spiritual life of Quaker meetings and publishing associated material.” source). This is the link to the Quaker book shop listing for the book: Quaker Bookshop. Breakthrough to Unity: The Quaker Way held within the mystic traditions and it is available in German here.
The description of the book from the Quaker bookshop:
“The Quaker Way of worship has always been a mystic way. Seekers broke away from liturgy, dogma and creed to discover that worship may be centred on direct communion with the divine Spirit. This power lies at the heart of everyone. To be in silent resonance with it is essentially experiential. ‘This I knew experimentally’, witnessed George Fox to his spiritual ‘openings’ that kindled a new faith. He proved to be a mystic who ranks with the great Catholic medieval mystics. Like them he followed the path of the historical Jesus. For 350 years that way has nourished generations of Quakers. It is a spiritual path that speaks to the deep needs of our time. Breakthrough to Unity aims to induct seekers into the mystical tradition through understanding and practice. It shows how mysticism is the raw material of all religions; looks at early and contemporary mystics; examines the parts played by surrender, love, authority and the priesthood of all; and introduces the celebrated mystic, Meister Eckhart. This booklet is for practical use, alone at home or worshipping in a community; it will also make for lively group discussion.”
I would describe the book as a slim but rich introduction book for anyone who has not read anything else on the topic yet. It is a great little book for anyone who is interested to learn more about the tradition of mysticism, contemplation and discernment, the key people who wrote about mysticism, and mystic practice. It is a short but intense read which makes a great basis for discussion in a small group (the queries at the end of each chapter help, too). The book inspires to go more in-depth with further reading afterwards, especially reading Meister Eckhart, Martin Buber, George Fox, and Thich Nhat Hanh, whose thoughts are featured throughout the book. I found that those authors, when read alone, are quite intimidating and hard to grasp, and this book helped with that.
At times, reading the book was a bit of a challenge for me, because I am not used to reading deep, sometimes abstract, mystical and theological texts. But it was a good challenge and encouraged me to read more books of this sort. I read in a review on Goodreads that someone found the book
My only criticism is that sometimes the author jumped a little in the chapters and some topics were suddenly changed. It is also obviously Roswitha Jarman’s perspective on mysticism and its thinkers and not a universal understanding or interpretation. I highly recommend to read this in a small group because I noticed that in our group (a group of three, which was the perfect size), everyone read and understood the texts a little bit differently and it was very enriching to share our thoughts and discuss.
Some topics, ideas, practices I got from this book which stayed with me in some way (in my own words):
- mysticism can be a real piece of connection between faiths with its rich and very long history
- how to look at spiritual texts in different ways and read texts which use a language or concepts which are far from mine with an open heart and mind
- “being in the now” is crucial to connect with the divine
- doing the “right thing” itself is just the start; the motivation – why we do what we do – matters
- the concept of “the inner and the outer – the eternal and the temporal”
- ideas of the ego, giving up the ego and submitting to the leadings of the inner Light
If you also read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts on it and what you decided to read next! And if you did not read this book yet: what are you reading currently?