The last part of Thomas R. Kelly’s life included another spell back in Germany and about this time he wrote in a letter to a friend about the fellowship he had found in that which is eternal, speaking of those whom he had met who know the ‘depths of the Divine Presence, the peace and creative power that you know, and through no grace of my own, I know also. Such consecration of life is amazing.’ He later wrote more about this inward fellowship that he felt in the last years of his life: ‘when we are drowned in the overwhelming seas of the love of God, we find ourselves in a new and particular relation to a few of our fellows.’ And: ‘It is wonderful. I have been literally melted down by the love of God.’
He told several of his student friends later of the specific experience that he had had on his knees in Cologne Cathedral where he seemed to feel God laying the whole congealed suffering of humanity upon his heart – a burden too terrible to be born – but yet with his help bearable. Back in the US Kelly continued close spiritual fellowships with a small number of people where he felt the need to be grounded in seeking God and the meaning of life and he experienced great changes – more inner horizons breaking. A colleague wrote of visiting Kelly in the autumn of 1940: ‘he almost startled me, and he shocked some of us who were still walking in the ways of logic and science and the flesh, by the high areas of being he had penetrated. He had returned to old symbols like the blood of Christ that were shocking to a few of his old colleagues who had not grown and lived as he had. But he brought new meaning to all symbols, and he was to me and to some others a prophet whose tongue had been touched by coals of fire.’
For Kelly the central thing was devotion to what he called dedication of the will to God. He wrote ‘where the will to will God’s will is present, there is a child of God.’ He was also busy with Quaker concerns and writing and teaching but died very suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 47.
One person moved by his devotional writing commented: ‘I notice an outward lost to us – though even directly we may gain more than we lose by their joining the more active side of the communion of saints – but I keep on feeling what it must be for a man as good as he to be able to push aside this fussy veil of the body and look unblinkingly at the Light, never again, maybe, to be distracted, unintentional, unaware, always concentrated.’
As Kelly himself wrote: ‘Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.’
In the next post I explore the psychological cost of the spiritual wisdom that Kelly gained in his ‘adequate life’.