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26/10/2014

Opened and Cut

This Friday just gone I was sat at my work desk, first thing in the morning, muttering and sighing, when a close colleague made the slightly teasing, slightly concerned observation that I had seemed 'a bit grumpy' during the week. I retorted, with the dry wit I am apparently known for, that I was in fact 'in a spiritual desert'. The colleague laughed, 'how dramatic!' she cried.

It was a passing conversation but there was truth in it, for I have felt caught up in the busyness of the world these past few weeks. I have had a hugely creative, productive and enriching past two months yet I readily admit such an intense focus on work can leave me irritable, restless and hard to live with. The way I often describe this state of being, in my inner dialogue, is that my heart gradually becomes encased in a stone-like casing as my mind increasingly tangles itself up in a web of machinations.

This is why, as much as I continue to attend and feel inspired by more traditional 'programmed' worship services, it is the uniquely Quaker 'Meeting for Worship' that I feel I depend upon.

George Fox spoke of experiencing 'openings' through silent contemplation, moments of pure clarity and connection with God, with Christ - whilst his loyal supporter and eventual wife, Margaret Fell, described the first ministry she heard from George Fox, a product of such 'openings', as cutting her to the heart. This for me describes in a nutshell the great potential - and the continuing draw - of Quaker worship.

We have been previously asked by elders to begin reflecting on the future direction of our fellowship. This, as I understand it, is borne out of two concerns; firstly, the question - posed by Ben Pink Dandelion, speaking at the 2014 Swarthmore Lecture - of whether the foundations of Quakerism are being slowly eroded away alongside, secondly, a more pragmatic question particular to our meeting of how a decentralised, collaborative church can sustain itself as some of its most active members become too old to shoulder practical responsibilities whilst younger members find their commitment  constrained by their working lives.

As I sat in the silence today, it was this issue that frequently entered into my consciousness - to the point I felt I was perhaps being prompted to minister on it. However, I remained silent and was, in due course, deeply thankful for restraint. A Friend who I had never heard speak before in ministry rose at around 11:25, nearly halfway through our hour of silent prayer, opening and cutting me with his words.

He began by recalling how, in the last moments of Corporal Nathan Cirillo's life - victim of the Ottawa terrorist attacks - a good samaritan Barbara Winters crossed the road (at the risk of being shot herself) to cradle and assure him, "You are loved."

The Friend then went on to reflect that to know we are loved is to know God, and vice versa, for God is love - and we each must concern ourselves with clearly showing love to one another, this is our essential purpose. This was followed by the famous reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Tears welled up in my eyes, I bowed and held my head in my hands for a time, for I recognised starkly my sin over the past week or so - yet I also was reminded too that for all my transgression of love I was still loved and capable of loving.

There was further ministry in the remaining half-hour and some commentary during 'Afterwords', mainly focused on whether Paul's portrayal of childhood as negative was correct. On this occasion, and though I too contributed to the subsequent discussions, I privately felt the initial ministry should ideally have been left to stand alone in the silence - for 'the letter killeth'.

Perhaps in all of this we were handed the spark not just for personal return and growth but for the wider return and growth of our little fellowship.

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