Monday, April 09, 2012

"Let us then try what love will do."

A recent trip to Philadelphia and a deepening interest in Quaker history has left me intrigued by an aphorism from William Penn (1644 – 1718).

In his book “The Fruits of Solitude,” Penn, an early Quaker and the founder of colonial Pennsylvania, wrote:

Let us then try what love will do.

In these times of strife of all kinds (economic, political, military), Penn’s suggestion about “trying” love speaks to our condition as much as it did to the turbulent state of Penn’s world.

The word at the core of the quote is, of course, “love,” but for me, it's “then” that is most telling.

Let us ... then ... try what love will do.

It suggests that because we have tried everything else and failed, let’s “then” give love a last-gasp chance. (John Lennon invoked similar words regarding peace. “All we are saying is give peace a chance”).

Penn’s insertion of “then” is also more understandable when the aphorism is placed in context. Here’s where the sentence appears in “The Fruits of Solitude.”

“We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by Love and Information. And yet we could hurt no Man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: For if Men did once see we Love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains....”

The next time you watch a political ad, or hear news from Syria or the West Bank, or witness poverty and strife here, consider Penn’s words:

Let us then try what love will do.

A final note: Penn’s Philadelphia was named, and the city today remains known as, “The City of Brotherly Love.” The name is derived from the Greek words for love and brother.

The story of love’s successes and failures in Philadelphia is a parable worth studying.

The photos here are of the Quaker Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia.

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