I've not blogged for a while mainly because I have been so busy with the day job, which as a teacher, inadvertently becomes the 'life job' in that it can come to consume every waking hour. I think this is something that the naysayers about teachers and their working conditions simply don't understand.
Things have also changed spiritually speaking. I have pretty much given up on my local Unitarian church, as thought-provoking as the minister's sermons are and as special as our wedding service was. I've also drifted away from the local Baptist church, although I do still feel called to go back there at some point - mainly because they were so warm and welcoming. Instead I've found myself attending the local Quaker meeting pretty much every Sunday. In doing so, I think I've moved from 'enquirer' to 'attender' status. I call it a change but I think it was something I'd felt deep down for a while, ever since I stepped foot into Sheffield Quakers a year or so ago to be suddenly hit by a wave of 'unspeakable something', ever since I read the biography of George Fox and the writings of Rufus Jones, and ever since I read John 15:15 through Quaker eyes.
I am not at the stage to declare myself a Quaker. I still miss communion (no-frills Baptist style), I still miss hymns (when done properly - and classically) but the silence is calling me right now - I think partly because of the hectic weeks I'm going through. The silence is my sabbath. I have been to modern, guitar-centred churches and find them simply too noisy - I need a space to reflect and reconnect - a space not just for rumination or for some rigourous attempt to negate the self, rather a sanctuary for focused, prompted, affirming contemplation.
But attending the Quakers is not simply a passive process - it's not 'chillaxing' as my students would say. The process of giving ministry can prove to be deeply inspirational, both challenging and affirming.
A few weeks ago a Friend stood up, recalling her journey to the National Memorial Arboretum and an unexpected encounter with 5000 bikers also making a pilgrimage that day. She spoke movingly about the idea of God in everyone, and everything, and how she was challenged to recognise this through this visit.
It made me reflect deeply on the Hebrew names of God. On becoming a Unitarian Christian I used to think El-Echad, 'The One God', was the 'correct and proper' name for God, conveniently ignoring the fact it appears rarely in scripture aside from the Shema, the Jewish declaration of faith. Now I find more power in the names Immanuel, 'God With Us', and Elohim, which can be translated something like 'We Are God' (this has historically created some controversy in that it seems to mean both unity and plurality). I am not fluent in Hebrew or a Biblical scholar, but the idea of Elohim - the God of Many Voices - is something I have rolled over and over in my mind for the past few weeks since the Friend gave her ministry.
Yesterday's meeting also proved significant with reflections given on 'What it means to be a Quaker?', triggered by a badge that is currently being given out amongst Friends which has written on it, "I'm a Quaker, ask me why." The reflections looked at the need for somewhere to meditate, a sanctuary, a community in which we seek meaning both individually and with other people, particularly during tougher times. This got me recalling the 'Life Shape' triangle from the book 'The Passionate Life' by Mike Breen.
It seems to me this offers a pattern and process with which we can re-model our busy lives on, whether we are religious or not. I think it also offers an answer (though I hasten to add, not the answer) to the 40 Days of Prayer for the Future of Friends initiative from Friends United Meeting in the United States.