I have assumed a name today for my religious principles – Quaker-Catholicism – having direct spiritual teaching for its distinctive dogma, yet recognising the high worth of all other forms of Faith: a system, in the sense of inclusion, not exclusion; an appreciation of the universal and the various teachings of the Spirit, through the faculties given to us, or independent of them.
Caroline Fox, 1846
Later another Friend spoke of watching a programme on TV about buying a property in the country. A person in this episode had very limited eyesight and would often say “give me a minute” as he put all the little pieces together to comprehend the whole picture.
It made them think how true this was of life, whether understanding something or picking up the pieces that had fallen. Picking them up and putting them back together and appreciating and accepting the time it takes to, perhaps make a new picture.
During bridging time another Friend was thankful for the gift of the readings ,music and ministry as well as being with us all.
Meeting was held on a muggy drizzly spring day. The wild area out back continues to encourage wildlife and we sat in a mostly silent Meeting save for a reading of Quaker, Faith & Practice 26.61:
There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names; it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren.
John Woolman, 1762
After Meeting we shared refreshment and chat mostly about the potential referendum on the EU.
After a week filled with pure concentrated drizzle it was heartening to be at Meeting enhanced by a genuine spring day. The developing wild meadow out back had grown much since last week, no doubt thanks to the spring rain.
A Friend contributed a short Melodica tune a while into Meeting which often says more than words.
During Meeting too a Friend spoke of attending Yearly meeting last weekend. They told us that the theme this year was Quaker action in the world today. They spoke of those that were called to great service, a strong sense of calling, backed by a discernment of Friends as the right action to pursue. Despite often feeling inadequate in the face of hearing of the work of many called individuals they said they were reminded of the writing of St Paul who spoke about the what he called the fruits of the spirit:
Fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
For them that seemed to be at the heart of everything at this year’s Meeting.
Later another friend spoke. They said they were struck at Yearly Meeting by the utter beauty of the Quaker vision. Its moral strength, its sense that we are all part of the world connected with people, animals, the whole planet. The way we are here to to connect with and serve others and rejoice in their lives.
They cited the continuing passage in Corinthians 13.4 that concerns itself with St Paul’s vision of universal love and they read the later passage:
Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things , believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends….
And now faith hope and love abide. Of these three, the greatest of these is love.
This week was a largely silent Meeting though due to the warmer weather we had the door to the garden open so the sounds of nature tumbled in from small birds, the breeze in the trees and distant sounds of the urban environment but a stone’s throw from the Meeting House garden.
During bridging time a Friend spoke of witnessing a multi-faith swearing-in service of new London Mayor elect Sadiq Khan. They said that the multi-faith aspect was an uplifting thing for them to witness. A good sign in a world that so often has less than good news.
A week of chilly weather interspersed with sunshine and showers gave way today to a passable impression of a spring day. We’re back in the main room as of the past few weeks though the sun as yet is not travelling at an angle that illuminates the room. So light spreads from the window overlooking the garden like a soft torch light that doesn’t quite reach the far walls.
“Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold. In the silence ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship. Try to find a spiritual wholeness which encompasses suffering as well as thankfulness and joy. Prayer, springing from a deep place in the heart, may bring healing and unity as nothing else can. Let meeting for worship nourish your whole life.”
After Meeting we shared chat and refreshments and then there was PM, the Quaker Business Meeting.
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 sunlight is more yellow than winter-blue now but there’s still a chill in the air that gets to the hands and face that makes you want to linger by a warm radiator or any passing hot bath.
Meeting was silent but a Friend spoke during bridging time to reflect on the recent Area Meeting in Harpenden that was looking at a possible future revision of Quaker Faith & Practice.
They said that they were moved by the intensity of the feeling that Friends had for wrongs and cruelty in the world. They cited continuing instances of slavery and the recognition that this was not wholly abolished from the world. They said that at the Area Meeting there was great concern too regarding torture. In conclusion they also said there was a sample passage considered for future revision of Quaker Faith & Practice regarding death and the possibility of an afterlife.
After Meeting we shared chat and refreshments.
It was decided to delay the next PM until after the next Area Meeting.
The next Quaker Study is on Tuesday (see calendar).
We’re a comparatively small group so meeting in the library in winter times to minimise heating and also promote sustainability rather than cranking up the heating in the large main room is a good move. The library is a lovely intimate room and gets more natural light in the winter time so less need to turn artificial lights on too. Today we happily filled the library with very welcome extra faces. It was lovely to see known faces from Harpenden Meeting and a new face too.
In worship we have our neighbours to right and left, before and behind, yet the Eternal Presence is over all and beneath all. Worship does not consist in achieving a mental state of concentrated isolation from one’s fellows. But in the depth of common worship it is as if we found our separate lives were all one life, within whom we live and move and have our being.
Thomas R Kelly, 1938
After Meeting we shared chat and refreshments as usual.