The library where we gather for Meeting has a new outlook due to the fitting of new double glazing. Charmingly our indoor ladybird contingent were still intact and exploring the new glass backyard. Light now seemed to pour into the room.
Perhaps more wonderful still is the way in which beauty breaks through. It breaks through not only at a few highly organised points, it breaks through almost everywhere. Even the minutest things reveal it as well as do the sublimest things, like the stars. Whatever one sees through the microscope, a bit of mould for example, is charged with beauty. Everything from a dewdrop to Mount Shasta is the bearer of beauty. And yet beauty has no function, no utility. Its value is intrinsic, not extrinsic. It is its own excuse for being. It greases no wheels, it bakes no puddings. It is a gift of sheer grace, a gratuitous largesse. It must imply behind things a Spirit that enjoys beauty for its own sake and that floods the world everywhere with it. Wherever it can break through, it does break through, and our joy in it shows that we are in some sense kindred to the giver and revealer of it.
Rufus Jones, 1920
Later we hear a brief musical contribution on melodica.
The weather is almost spring-like with one national newspaper predicting both an imminent heatwave and a minus ten icy blast on the same day. From the library where we sit during winter time we could see the early activities of a promised spring. Blue tits, robins and other birds flitted from tree to tree gathering what they needed. Our over-wintering ladybirds that hibernate in a found corner indoors had awoken and moved from their one spot.
People and their dogs wandered across the scene outside the window.
In wishing for simplicity
A Friend stood to reflect and share. They said that in wishing that life was more simple than it appears to be , they thought it was easy to slip into a mindset that, in days gone by, life was simple. But that fear of the elements, invasion, plague have always been there even before the invention of democracy. They thought we needed to relish the simple things; a spring flower, a sunrise, a happy moment, a bird in flight. They were sure that we could make our own list of such things.
This is a marvellous world, full of beauty and splendour; it is also an unrelenting and savage world, and we are not the only living things prone to dominate if given the chance. In our fumbling, chaotic way, we do also make gardens, irrigate the desert, fly to the moon and compose symphonies. Some of us are trying to save species other than ourselves…
We have no reason to be either arrogant or complacent: one look at the stars or through a microscope is sufficient to quell such notions. But we have to accept our position in the world with as much grace, responsibility and fortitude as we can muster, and try to grow up to our mission of love in this tangle of prospects and torments.
Pamela Umbima, 1992
Sustaining and connections
Later during Meeting another Friend reflected on a recent short break away. They shared that they’d just returned from time away on the Norfolk coast and that, for them, it was a marvellous experience and they knew they were so fortunate to be able to experience it. They recounted huge,wild open mudflats, the variety of wild birds. It made them realise that the spirit, the ground of being, is in everything, in nature, in ourselves as well as inanimate things too. They thought that what is sustaining is being able to see and keep those connections. An awareness that everything is connected. Making connections with that and other people is what is sustaining, they thought.
From torment to love and inspiration
Another Friend stood and reflected on the earlier reading that mentioned torment. They said they had met somebody who no doubt dealt with torment in that they were somebody who worked in victim support. They said they imagined that this woman would often feel overwhelmed by what she faced shared with her. Our Friend said that she spoke with huge love, intensity and inspiration about her work as if she could do nothing else in her life. The Friend said they felt so moved by that and the connection this woman clearly had with those that she helped.
After Meeting we shared our usual refreshments though many had to dash off after a short time to area Meeting in St Albans.
I think I have wasted a great deal of my life waiting to be called to some great mission which would change the world. I have looked for important social movements. I have wanted to make a big and important contribution to the causes I believe in. I think I have been too ready to reject the genuine leadings I have been given as being matters of little consequence. It has taken me a long time to learn that obedience means doing what we are called to do even if it seems pointless or unimportant or even silly. The great social movements of our time may well be part of our calling. The ideals of peace and justice and equality which are part of our religious tradition are often the focus of debate. But we cannot simply immerse ourselves in these activities. We need to develop our own unique social witness, in obedience to God. We need to listen to the gentle whispers which will tell us how we can bring our lives into greater harmony with heaven.
Deborah Haines, 1978
There was also a short but lovely musical offering via recorder. Sometimes music speaks more than any words
During bridging time another friend shared that they had heard advice some time ago that they and others should think less with their head and more with their heart, which they felt was good advice.
The first day of British Summer Time did not magically bring spring temperatures but squally showers and gusts that drove rain noisily onto window panes to remind us that the seasons are seldom observers of strict dates.
One of our longer established members was missing and we felt their absence keenly and reflected on it during Meeting.
A Friend from read Quaker Faith & Practice under the chapter that is titled Caring for one another:
“Caring can take many forms. Some help will be beyond the resources of the local meeting, but it should not be beyond our resources to see when it is needed and to see that it is provided. Often it is what we are rather than anything we do which is of help to others. We should be wary of giving advice: a sympathetic ear, whilst a person finds their own way forward, will usually do more lasting good. Some people may not want to be helped, seeing our concern as an intrusion. Great sensitivity is called for”.
Spring is here in all but temperature. Today had sun but chilled air whilst budding trees and shrubs encourage the season to get going and remind us that lighter nights are but a week away.
During the powerful silence of the Meeting a Friend stood to read Quaker Faith & Practice 23.23 which spoke of homelessness and the problem of housing.
Later and after we’d had time to ponder those words another Friend stood to say they were struggling to deal with the passage read and its implications especially considering that it was written twenty three years ago and that things had clearly got worse since then rather than better.They asked how we as a decent rich society could not have affordable homes for everyone and mused also on the nature of ‘home’ and how Quakerism is sometimes described as like ‘coming home’ for many.
They spoke too of this planet being our only home and continued to ask why houses and homes have to be expressions of money and the whole thing distorted. They felt this was a wickedness and perversion that we as a society should do something about.
After Meeting there were powerful and heartfelt views expressed on Ministry and the state of it and Quakerism and whether it was time to move Meeting back into the main room now that spring was almost upon us.
We shared tea and coffee and welcomed a previously local Friend who had travelled to be with us and who we were always glad to see.
Recent authentic spring-like weather managed to take a break to return to the chill of winter with charcoal grey skies as we gathered for Meeting.
Although nobody felt moved to speak during Meeting there were some thoughts during bridging time.
Our clerk spoke of the joy of visiting other Quaker Meetings. They said they were at Wanstead Meeting in East London on Saturday and also said they were thinking of our Friend who recently moved back nearer and was trying out various Quaker Meetings now closer to them and their experiences. They spoke of how it was a joy to be back in Luton Meeting having missed a few and hence their experiences of visiting other Meetings.
Another Friend spoke of how a small Meeting like ours means that everyone is so important. They noted that sometimes some of us read privately during Meeting which can give the feeling of a reading room. But today was a very different feeling and that we had all contributed to the Meeting and for them that was very important.
After Meeting, notices, tea and coffee and chat we had a small shared lunch.
“Do you uphold those who are acting under concern, even if their way is not yours? Can you lay aside your own wishes and prejudices while seeking with others to find God’s will for them?”
After Meeting a Friend shared some fairtrade chocolate with us all as we chatted over tea and coffees. Chat was shorter than usual, as indeed was Meeting for woship as PM (Preparative Meeting) followed not long afterwards.
It was a joy and an inspiration to be part of the Climate March People’s– in central Birmingham, if not in Luton or London. The Economics, Sustainability and Peace subcommittee of QPSW that I am a member of met at Woodbrooke from Friday to Sunday.
During an ultra-intense weekend residential, we took important decisions on General Election briefings for Quakers, opposing Fracking and TTIP, support for the new Energy Bill of Rights (a campaign by Fuel Poverty Action), writing a vision of the New Economy shaped by our Quaker Testimonies, and Quaker policy stance on climate change, amongst other weighty matters.
It had been very frustrating for us that we could not be present at the London People’s Climate March on Sunday, attended by up to 40,000 people, we gather, and part of an event extending all round the globe – calling on world leaders meeting at the UN at the bidding of Ban-Ki-Moon to take desperately urgent and much overdue action on catastrophic climate change.
However, on this International Day of Peace about 30 members of QPWS formed a heart shape and held a short vigil in the beautiful grounds of Woodbrooke, bathed in early sunshine. After another session of committee work, Economics, Sustainability and Peace folk decamped to Chamberlain Square in the heart of Birmingham to join around 200 activists.
Some 35 Quakers held another vigil in the square, mostly in silence but with a reading of the world prayer for climate justice composed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Others present joined us and the vigil grew to include up to 80 people: Quakers and non-Quakers. A petition was handed in to a key member of Birmingham City Council, demanding a carbon-free Birmingham and specifically for the council to withdraw all investments in fossil fuel companies.
The night before, Epilogue at Woodbrooke had included a reading sensitively chosen by the Friend in Residence:
“We can be encouraged that many people from a diversity of traditions are nourishing this same vision, this same ecological mindfulness. Many lines of development, both technical and spiritual, are now converging toward ecological reformation. I am hopeful that before long something like a quantum leap towards environmental sanity will surprise us.” Canadian Quaker Keith Helmuth in his pamphlet If John Woolman Were Among Us (but way back in 1987).
God is revealed to individuals through models suited to their temperaments and abilities; to communities through models suited to their culture. Nor will the interpretation of these models always be the same. Each one is only a guide to the truth that is greater than them all yet accessible in the nearest and simplest way… As our experience widens we are brought closer to aspects of God which we did not understand before. But we are compelled to respect the experience and response of others. If there is no one model of the truth and if no model is essential then there is no basis for authoritarianism or heresy-hunts. Our own vision is widened by the vision of others.
A warm spring weekend was ongoing as we sat in Meeting for worship. Ladybirds were many in number in and around the library winder (we helped many of them back outside after Meeting).
The above passage from Quaker Faith & Practice was read during Meeting. During bridging time a Friend reflected on what a good choice this passage was and guarding against authoritarianism regarding viewpoints was always desirable whilst pointing out that sadly authoritarianism did frequently occur out there in the world.
Another Friend expressed their appreciation of the piece highlighted on the website recently re militarisation by QPSW and went on to be pleased with the ongoing coverage re the South Asian ladies attendance of recent Luton Town football matches.
We also talked about possible images for use as a larger mounted or framed image to greet us and visitors in the entrance to the Meeting house. Watch this space. Or watch that space.
A slightly colder day today as we gathered for Meeting. Nearby work on the mysterious inner ring road construction continues.
During bridging time a Friend reflected on words on the wall facing them and that they were grateful that Quakerism put less emphasis on words and that it was indeed as a way of life rather than a creed.
Another equally long standing Friend also reflected that despite the nearby roadworks the silence was a valuable and uniting experience as for them Quakerism was so much less about what’s said and that our silent worship was a source of strength.