|21.27||A sudden concentration of attention on a rainy August morning. Clusters of bright red berries, some wrinkled, some blemished, others perfect, hanging among green leaves. The experience could not have lasted more than a few seconds, but that was a moment out of time. I was caught up in what I saw: I became a part of it: the berries, the leaves, the raindrops and I, we were all of a piece. A moment of beauty and harmony and meaning. A moment of understanding.Ralph Hetherington, 1975|
More about the outdoor Meeting for worship team later…
A very autumnal day brought winds, rolling rey skies and showers though another mini heatwave (heatwave by Brit standards that is) is due in the week ahead.
Meeting was well attended and we welcomed our two Friends from Milton Keynes who also contributed a short harmonica piece during Meeting.
Another friend read Quaker Faith & Practice 29.01
How can we walk with a smile into the dark? We must learn to put our trust in God and the leadings of the Spirit. How many of us are truly led by the Spirit throughout our daily lives? I have turned to God when I have had a difficult decision to make or when I have sought strength to endure the pain in dark times. But I am only slowly learning to dwell in the place where leadings come from. That is a place of love and joy and peace, even in the midst of pain. The more I dwell in that place, the easier it is to smile, because I am no longer afraid.
If we dwell in the presence of God, we shall be led by the spirit. We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led. We need to be willing to be led into the dark as well as through green pastures and by still waters. We do not need to be afraid of the dark, because God is there. The future of this earth need not be in the hands of the world’s ‘leaders’. The world is in God’s hands if we are led by God. Let us be led by the Spirit. Let us walk with a smile into the dark.
Gordon Matthews, 1987
After Meeting we shared drinks and biscuits.
It’s here that we rally must express our thanks and appreciation to our Milton Keynes Friends who join us when they can. They have magically added music and more to our small Meeting and of their own accord have formed the so-called ‘Outdoor Meeting for Worship’ where they pick up any litter around the Meeting House. It’s hard not to smile and appreciate their uniqueness and very welcome contribution to the life of the Meeting.
A summer’s day. Doors open at Meeting including an open door to the wild meadow area out the back. the white noise of wind through the trees, distant voices and sounds of the urban town.
We were well attended today. Welcome faces.
A Friend read from the end of the introduction Quaker Faith & Practice. They said this passage looked at the whole of QF&P really and that they felt it placed an emphasis on the richness of Quaker heritage as well as elsewhere in other traditions and other ways of understanding, It also emphasised that we need to rediscover the truth in every generation and that there is perhaps no final truth. That we are all seekers.
“We are seekers but we are also the holders of a precious heritage of discoveries. We, like every generation, must find the Light and Life again for ourselves. Only what we have valued and truly made our own, not by assertion but by lives of faithful commitment, can we hand on to the future. Even then, we must humbly acknowledge that our vision of the truth will, again and again, be amended.
In the Religious Society of Friends we commit ourselves not to words but to a way”.
Later during Meeting our Milton Keynes Friend contributed a short musical offering introduced as a “Greeting from Bedford Hospital Quakers”.
After Meeting we had a wonderful shared lunch with as much food sourced ethically, locally and conscientiously.
We also provided items for donation to LAMP a local charity helping young homeless people.
This bank holiday Sunday showed us a glimpse of Autumn. We gathered at Meeting and sat and waited. It was a silent gathering save for a few minutes when we were treated to a short piece of acoustic guitar and voice. The one writing this (hello folks) was deeply moved as music comes from and speaks to the soul.
After Meeting we shared, chatted and cupped a warm drink in our hands.
Next week will be a slightly shorter Meeting due to PM.
Overnight rain had dampened the ground. The Sunday morning had a cool air with still a hangover of humidity which was promising afternoon showers. We gathered for Meeting.
A Friend read from Quaker Faith Practice 21.27
“A sudden concentration of attention on a rainy August morning. Clusters of bright red berries, some wrinkled, some blemished, others perfect, hanging among green leaves. The experience could not have lasted more than a few seconds, but that was a moment out of time. I was caught up in what I saw: I became a part of it: the berries, the leaves, the raindrops and I, we were all of a piece. A moment of beauty and harmony and meaning. A moment of understanding”.
Ralph Hetherington, 1975
Later in the Meeting one half of our Friends from Milton Keynes played the recorder. As is often the case music can speak as much, if not more than words.
After Meeting and during bridging time a returning attender who is still coping with various health issues felt moved to speak. They said that like many they’d had cause, over the past few months, to wonder where many people found the strength and courage needed to go on during times of life’s challenges and the adversity it sometimes brings. They mentioned that Quakers often talk about the light within whereas some Buddhist schools define religion as a reconnection to source.
They spoke of being a child of popular culture and in their younger days a pop song that made the charts contained words that resonated with them. At the time it spoke specifically of the then ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland but the words exist outside of that historical reference point. The song was called Invisible Sun and contained the words;
“There has to be an invisible sun, that gives its heat to everyone, there has to be an invisible sun, that gives us hope when the whole day’s done”.
Our other Friend from Milton Keynes spoke of opening the Bible at random to see what appeared and that they read a passage that concerned Paul teaching the word of Jesus, travelling from town to town. One town took a particular disliking to this and decided that Paul was to be punished by flogging. He was taken to prison where he faced a possible death. He continued to praise Jesus despite his predicament and thanked God. The gaolers took pity on him, cleaned up his wounds and decided not to punish him which all seemed to emerge purely out of Paul being thankful.
Our readings today were from Quaker faith and practice:
“At the World Conference of Friends in 1991, Val Ferguson asked:
Does anything unite this diverse group beyond our common love and humanity? Does anything make us distinctively Quaker? I say yes. Each of us has different emphases and special insights, but wherever Friends are affirming each other’s authentic experience of God, rather than demanding credal statements, we are being God’s faithful Quakers. Wherever we are seeking God’s will rather than human wisdom, especially when conflict might arise, we are being faithful Quakers. Wherever we are affirming the total equality of men and women,
we are being God’s faithful Quakers. Wherever there is no division between our words and our actions, we are being faithful. Whenever we affirm that no one – priest, pastor, clerk, elder – stands between us and the glorious and mystical experience of God in our lives, we are faithful Friends. Whether we sing or whether we wait in silence, as long as we are listening with the whole of our being and seeking the baptism and communion of living water, we will be one in the Spirit.” 29.16
“Therefore, dear Friends, wait in the Light, that the Word of the Lord may dwell plentifully in you.”
William Dewsbury, 1675. 29.19
One Friend played a piece on a recorder, the marvellous Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Another Friend recalled that Beethoven composed this supreme expression of elation after he had become deaf, suggesting the intensity and wonder of mystical experience even out of difficulty and distress.
We heard updates on the life situations of some Friends after meeting for worship. There was also the job of clearing the grounds of the Meeting House of rubbish, much of it apparently left by a rough sleeper.
Again we were few in numbers but felt blessed to be together as Friends.
Our reading today was Advices and Queries number 7:
“Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you
approach new ideas with discernment?”
One Friend spoke of the sense of spiritual insight that came when gazing at the stars in the night sky and played a piece on a recorder that related to this.
Another Friend spoke of the beautiful inner spiritual music in the world that we may, at times, be alive to. Perhaps what we normally think of as “music” points us towards this.
We reflected further, including in wide-ranging discussion that flowed seamlessly from meeting for worship itself.
Bank holidays mean unsettled weather and lower numbers as families get together. We welcomed a new enquirer to Luton Meeting. Always good to see a new face.
A Luton Friend read from Quaker Faith and & Practice 24.11 which concerned the peace testimony.
Speaking Up For Peace
A Harpenden Friend was prompted to speak with thoughts relating to the peace testimony. They said that from the peace testimony of the Society of Friends stemmed , pretty much our approach to life and other people as a whole.
They spoke of being of the generation that was called for national service and having to stand before a county court judge to explain why they felt they could not participate. At the tender age of seventeen and a half they rested their case on the only unequivocal command that Jesus gave which was thou shalt not kill which was accepted. They said they could recall the whole experience very clearly and the very personal and probing questions that were asked. The reason this has been remembered is that three Friends had been pondering how they could approach the general election from the standpoint of the society of Friends.
They had approached it from the viewpoint of the economy and equality. Justice, fairness and the effects on other countries of our actions which were considered but again and again they found themselves coming back to the peace testimony.
Our Friend said that if only we could all realise that what we have in our hands is perhaps the most potent ‘weapon’ in the peace testimony. They felt is was an aggressive and not a passive thing. They said that they felt our testimony had been equated with passivity and pacifism and that it seemed to them that it is not. It is another approach of an entirely practical form and an absolute and clear message that only we can give and one that they wished we would do so more strongly particularly at this time of dire and terrible things happening.
Principles Vs Pragmnatism
Another Harpenden Friend stood to reflect on watching a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German theologian and pastor who had opposed the rise of Nazism, helped many Jews to escape from Germany and was eventually drawn into a plot and conspiracy to kill Hitler. As we know this plot failed and he paid for this with his life.
They said the film portrayed Dietrich as agonising over joining the conspiracy and whether doing so was consistent with his principles. Our Friend thought we could share that dilemma.A similar dilemma, they felt, faces our government today in that we’ve been appalled by events in the Middle East. we’ve sent aid,arms and now face further military involvement. They said they felt that it was a tempting proposition. People are suffering so what can we do to help? They said that if we are to resist the temptation to send arms do we do so on principle or on pragmatic grounds? They said they themselves were a pragmatist and that we all knew that escalating the supply of arms makes a bad situation even worse.
Perhaps, they felt, the spirit tool consequence is one to be weighed as well. That the relationships between peoples that are destroyed by war and conflict which just makes it more likely that the conflict will erupt again at a later date. They felt our message must be that we must take action to build that connection between peoples and that it may involve being more adventurous than we have yet been.
A Harpenden Friend spoke of coming across a paragraph in Quaker Faith & Practice which was written in 1917 in the midst of great conflict. The section is under the chapter unity and diversity and can be read here: Quaker Faith & Practice 27.23.
Our Friend wondered whether this notion of acceptance of diversity could be extended not just to Christians but to all religions at this time of religious conflict.
During Meeting we were aware of the weather outside. Nature had a minor hissyfit of rain, and gusting winds for a while before calming down and moving on.
The Weather Makes Itself Heard
During bringing time (sometimes called afterword in some Meetings) a Harpenden Friend spoke of how, looking out on the garden area it had looked still but grey and when the wind and rain hit and the trees swayed, jostled by these winds they were reminded of the words: be still and know that I am God.
Another Harpenden Friend reflected on the ministry during Meeting which had touched on the relations between different faiths and how during Yearly Meeting Quakers were thinking of membership and the basis of Quakerism. On the free day Wednesday they had visited Bath and viewed a tapestry in the Abbey Church. At the end were a few panels from the Quaker tapestry. They also saw beautiful calligraphies depicting the life of Christ. Alongside each quotation was a piece of embroidery Christ was represented by a shining circle of white silky fabric. This was an abstract. A way of saying that this is the light.
A Luton Friend said the ministry had caused them to think of the relation between religions in Luton. They hoped that perhaps Luton council of faiths could arrange a statement or a hand holding vigil to demonstrate cross-faith unity at this time.
A Harpenden Friend spoke of the continuing preparations for war, talk of sending arms to various countries in conflict against the background of renewed intervention in Iraq etc. they felt that such moves only increase suffering. They hoped that gestures of unity such as had been suggested would encourage people to find connections with each other that were more tangible.
After Meeting, chat and cuppas we briefly heard from a Friend who had returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo and spoke of her work with the Quaker Congo Partnership.
As those who attended Britain Yearly Meeting returned home after a week together in Bath the weather here finally broke as Sunday faced a decidedly autumnal drenching of rain.
Quaker Faith & Practice 20.20 was read early on in the Meeting:
icon-quote-left For a Quaker, religion is not an external activity, concerning a special ‘holy’ part of the self. It is an openness to the world in the here and now with the whole of the self. If this is not simply a pious commonplace, it must take into account the whole of our humanity: our attitudes to other human beings in our most intimate as well as social and political relationships. It must also take account of our life in the world around us, the way we live, the way we treat animals and the environment. In short, to put it in traditional language, there is no part of ourselves and of our relationships where God is not present. icon-quote-right
Harvey Gillman, 1988
Towards the end of the Meeting a Luton Friend stood to mention the Britain Yearly Meeting Epistle and reflected on whether we could all become positive beacons for change. They spoke too of their concern over statistics from the Fuel Poverty Action campaign and the high death rates attributed to such poverty.
Another Luton Friend who had spent the week at YMG spoke about the experience and that they felt it was one of a great sense of belonging and sharing and that this feeling was greater, they felt than at any previous Yearly Meeting they had attended. They said though that the challenge was, of course to return to our respected Meetings and ask what is the life in our Meetings and how can we nurture that. How can we get to know each other on a deeper level. On an individual level. They spoke of one of the exercises at YMG which was to look at each other in the face and that they felt that was a challenge for all of us in our local Meetings.
The full text of the Yearly Meeting Epistle was read for everyone to hear.
After Meeting we shared chat,tea and coffee and the young people of Harpenden Meeting showed the shell art they had made.