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13/10/2013

One year with the Quakers

I continue to not have enough time to write anything substantial for this blog - it is regrettable but I also think this is part of the natural pattern of life, the ebbs and flows of creative periods and contemplative periods. At the moment I am on a steep learning curve work-wise and I am busy 'going and doing, and simply being' - but there will come a point where the experiences I am having now can be reflected on fully and written about.

However, I have made a point of pausing now - before the memory fades and the thought passes - to note that last Sunday marked a year, there or thereabouts, since I started attending a Quaker meeting on a regular basis.

As it happens, last Sunday (what traditional Quakers would call 'First Day' having eschewed the Julian calendar due to its connections with old times Roman religion and empire) was also 'bring a friend to Quakers day'. I duly participated by bringing along my best friend - my wife! - and the meeting that ensued was not one of complete meditative silence, as had been the case when she last attended, but one flowing with ministry. The ministry focused on what it meant to various members to be part of a Quaker fellowship, as a distinct school of Christianity, as a gathering of people who sensed there was something more to life and were working it out together, through both words and deeds.

I too felt called to speak, recalling the first time I had entered a Quaker meeting in Sheffield and what I could only describe as a 'wave' hitting me as I walked through the door - like the wave of energy one might encounter were a bomb to be exploded in the centre of a room, yet clearly without the sound or the destruction. I recalled that it was at this point I realised that 'something was going on' in Quaker meetings and wanted to find out more - no meeting since has had this in-your-face experience, but certainly this sense of something powerful has continued.

I explained my journey to the Quakers was on the back of a decade of questioning mainstream Christian doctrine. During this decade I explained how I had attended Unitarian & Free Christian churches on an on-off basis, emphasising it is a denomination I continue to hold very dear, one that has matured my outlook and provided a point of stability - a lighthouse amongst choppy waters - when my faith was in turmoil. As it happens, my wife and I visited Dean Row Chapel this morning, a beautiful and distinct Unitarian house of worship in Wilmslow, to meet fellow members of the Unitarian Christian Association - it was admittedly a starkly different experience to where I usually spend my Sundays these days, but nonetheless enriching.

I went on to note that the big questions that had triggered my doubts over whether I could continue to be a Christian - questions around doctrine such as the Trinity, around who and what God is, what God's role in the world is, how historically accurate / literally true the stories around Jesus were and so on - all continue to remain unanswered.

But, through the process of joining a Quaker community, the questions about what it means to be a Christian had in fact changed. I found the stillness of each Sunday to be one where I reflected on my relationships, on my successes and sins, a space to look beyond matters of the self and hold others in focus, a place to contemplate the path ahead - informed by the wisdom of those around me, by the Bible and by the Quaker voices of years gone by.

From there I read aloud the following excerpt from Quaker Faith & Practice, which I felt summed up this change which a year of Quaker practice has wrought:

"Do not look for such great matters to begin with; but be content to be a child, and let the Father proportion out daily to thee what light, what power, what exercises, what straits, what fears, what troubles he sees fit for thee; and do thou bow before him continually in humility of heart... Thou must join in with the beginnings of life, and be exercised with the day of small things, before thou meet with the great things, wherein is the clearness and satisfaction of the soul. The rest is at noonday; but the travels begin at the breakings of day, wherein are but glimmerings or little light, wherein the discovery of good and evil are not so manifest and certain; yet there must the traveller begin and travel; and in his faithful travels ... the light will break in upon him more and more." (19.43)

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