An adequate life 2

Thomas R. Kelly was born in June 1893 on a farm in Ohio, USA to Quaker parents. His father died when he was four and his mother worked the farm and later moved to a town so her children could get to school and later to a Quaker college. Kelly studied physical sciences primarily studying chemistry, but at Haverford College he was taught by Rufus Jones and was inspired by philosophy and a search for truth. Rufus Jones recalled Kelly’s arrival describing how Kelly came: ‘to my house deeply moved by his first-day stirring events. He sat down in front of me, his face lighted up with radiance and he said suddenly, “I am just going to make my life a miracle!”’

What Douglas V. Steere calls hunger for life, for an adequate life made Kelly open to religious commitment but he also volunteered as a Quaker during World War I working with German prisoners. After the war he married Lael Macy and then moved on to study philosophy before returning to Germany between the wars to work in a Quaker Centre in Berlin. On their return to the US he more or less pursued an academic career becoming interested in the Far East:

‘I have had a desire to be acquainted with the philosophical thought of the whole world, not merely with the thought of the Western world. To live solely within one’s own cultural traditions…impresses me as a provincialism not warranted by the spirit of philosophy itself.’

In another letter back to Rufus Jones he writes: ‘the horizons I have wanted to have broken, have been breaking and showing new and wonderful vistas.’ There was a health price to pay for all this searching and hunger for new horizons and Kelly suffered a long period of nervous exhaustion with various other physical health problems. Once recovered, he began to give a number of public speeches, and the response was much appreciation of what was felt as his authenticity. He wrote and spoke with what has been described as experimental authority, not so much as one possessed of ‘knowledge about’ and more as one who had had unmistakable ‘acquaintance with’. This is an example:

‘To you in this room who are seekers, to you, young and old who have toiled all night and caught nothing, but who want to launch out into the deeps and let down your nets for a draught, I want to speak as simply, as tenderly, as clearly as I can. For God can be found. There is a last rock for your souls, a resting place of absolute peace and joy and power and radiance and security. There is a Divine Centre into which your life can slip, a new and absolute orientation in God, a Centre where you live with Him and out of which you see all of life, through new and radiant vision, tinged with new sorrows and pangs, new joys unspeakable and full of glory.’