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Quaker Confessional

I had predicted today was due to be a quiet affair at Meeting for Worship (quieter than usual that is, in terms of ministry) as most of the fellowship had gone on a retreat to Swarthmoor Hall. Last week there had been a question of whether to even open the Meeting House to which a Friend noted that the smaller meetings are often the most powerful. His words turned out to be somewhat prophetic.

I've been having a number of difficulties recently - specifically conflict with other people - and today's meeting answered one of the big questions burning inside of me; How do we fight for justice, a battle borne out of a righteous anger, without turning those we have to struggle against into hated enemies?

The initial ministry given today by a visiting Friend was a reading from Quaker Faith and Practice:

"I am convinced it is a great art to know how to grow old gracefully, and I am determined to practise it... I always thought I should love to grow old, and I find it even more delightful than I thought. It is so delicious to be done with things, and to feel no need any longer to concern myself much about earthly affairs... I am tremendously content to let one activity after another go, and to await quietly and happily the opening of the door at the end of the passage-way, that will let me in to my real abiding place." -- Hannah Whitall Smith, 1903

I reflected on this, primarily what it means to 'grow old gracefully'. It occurred to me that 'growing old' could also be read as 'moving forward in life's journey'. From there, the still small voice - wherever it may spring from - grew louder, asking me to consider moving forward from the conflicts of recent times by letting go, by forgiving. In turn, the images of two much-loved ancestors appeared in my mind's eye, with a focus on how they responded to the conflict they endured - one left permanently wounded due to bitterness over times gone by, the other spending the rest of their days contented having put aside their hurt.

This all felt timely having had the words of William Dewsbury, also from Quaker Faith & Practice, still repeating themselves over and over to me following my chancing upon them at last week's meeting (I had randomly fallen onto this page whilst trying to settle down in the early stage of the meeting). The reading goes as follows:

"At that time did the wars begin in this nation, and the men called ministers cried, 'Curse ye Meroz, because they went not forth to help the Lord against the mighty'. Then I was willing to give my body to death, in obedience to my God, to free my soul from sin, and I joined with that little remnant which said they fought for the gospel, but I found no rest to my soul amongst them. And the word of the Lord came unto me and said, 'Put up thy sword into thy scabbard; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my children fight', which word enlightened my heart and discovered the mystery of iniquity, and that the Kingdom of Christ was within, and the enemies was within, and was spiritual, and my weapons against them must be spiritual, the power of God. Then I could no longer fight with a carnal weapon against a carnal man, and returned to my outward calling, and my will was brought in subjection for the Lord to do with me what his will was."

In particular the phrase, "put up thy sword into thy scabbard," has become a mantra for me this past week - keeping at bay the flames within me from growing any further.

Then, just this weekend, I chanced upon a Taoist poem - part of an inspirational collection by Richard Seymour - which reads:


Men may commit monstrous acts, 
But they are Not monsters. 
They are human 
As are we. 

What exists within them,
Exists within us too.

This is why they are dismissed as 'evil': 
To distance Us from Them. 

This must be understood, 
Before They are understood.
Punishment alone does not prevent.
Understanding must come first.

Again it had a piercing effect, resonating deep within my soul - bringing my attention also to the classic Quaker teaching, delivered by George Fox, of seeking to find that of God within everyone.

As these various pieces of wisdom united, I began to feel what is now becoming a more familiar experience - the quaking sensation felt within my core followed by my mind clicking into resistance mode. I resolved several times not to stand and give ministry there and then, my inner dialogue citing a multitude of reasons not to, even attempting to excuse myself by promising to write my thoughts down here on my return home. But again the still small voice grew louder, answering that to do this would be to behave selfishly, that to take part in Meeting for Worship is to commit to opening yourself to the Spirit and to giving yourself to the fellowship, it is not simply about taking from others.

And so I suddenly stood, and from there I bared my soul. I talked through in detail about the conflicts consuming me, confessing to my sins and sharing my fears.

Following that there was more silence, and my mind attempted to admonish me as a fool, as an exhibitionist - yet there was also a clear sense of being both unburdened and supported, 'held in the light' by the other Friends present, and of giving.

After Meeting for Worship, we briefly joined hands as we usually do but the Friends stood either side of me gripped my hands more tightly. What followed was a lengthier discussion than usual as Friends discussed the ministry given, sharing their thoughts, their experiences, their concerns, their sense of mission.

It was another surprising yet fruitful gathering - strengthening my commitment to the Quaker path as a way of being practically Christian.

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