Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.



This morning, instead of my usual trip down the road to the Quaker meeting I know and love, I instead headed northwards. Dutifully following the directions announced by the mobile phone, I found myself venturing up and down dale, along  remote winding country roads. I am sure there was a more direct route, for the destination was a relatively nearby settlement, the village of Gee Cross. The reason for the re-routing of my Sunday morning was to attend a service at Hyde Chapel, a Unitarian and Free Christian congregation located within the heart of Gee Cross that serves for all intents and purposes as the local church. 

Despite attending Quaker meetings on most Sundays for around three years now, at this point in the year - as the nation comes together to remember its war dead - I have always tended to gravitate towards Remembrance Day services rather than the meeting house. This is not because I am pro-war, I am in fact pretty much a pacifist like my Quaker brethren. However, I do feel the 'Peace Testimony' of the Quakers is something, whilst admirably upheld in a militarised society, that ends up being quite dogmatically enforced, and in turn, the ministry around it can at times feel quite formulaic. It is for this reason I tend to go to a local war memorial or village church for Remembrance Sunday, where the perspectives and sentiments are far more mixed and free-flowing.

This is the first and foremost reason for heading north. But there are other more complicated reasons, which I will most likely explore further in future journal entries if and when I have established the clarity and conviction with which to express them. Put simply, these reasons are based on a growing uncertainty over whether I belong with the Quakers as a pluralistic, increasingly 'non-theistic' movement and a decision made this week to explore other churches.

The service at Hyde Chapel struck a fitting tone, one of remembrance and thanksgiving alongside a powerful sermon or testimony, delivered by an elderly member of the congregation, to the destruction wrought by World War One. I found the recitation of Archibald MacLeish's poem, 'The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak', to be deeply moving:

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died.
Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could 
but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave. 

They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours, 
they will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for 
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

And so it was I left, having been greatly enriched and rooted by the service, having briefly met a few friendly, down-to-earth people who made me most welcome; resolving to return again.

For the remainder of the afternoon I spent the now limited hours of daylight on a short walk with my wife taking in the late Autumn air, spurred on in part by the BBC weatherman who had warned this would likely be the last day of still blue skies with unrelenting heavy rain and gales forecast for the coming week. Walking alongside the canals admiring the colourful montage of narrowboats, some of which filled the air with the raw primitive smell of smouldering wood and coal, and then on down by a pattering brook and up across quiet fields, we both remarked on how blessed we are to live amongst such readily available peace. On our way back home, we stopped off at the war memorial to observe our own impromptu moment of silence as we read the names upon names of the fallen from the village we now call our own; neighbours who went off to faraway lands and never returned. The frequent occurrence of various forenames sharing the same surnames reminded us that, for many families, the devastation of World War One was sweeping and without mercy. This echoed the words of the lady from the morning's service, recounting as she did the loss of three uncles on the battlefields and the further loss of another uncle to catastrophic post-traumatic stress which left him permanently hospitalised, trapped in a different no-man's land - a total of four out of six brothers who never returned. 

It is surely a crying shame we have continued to add names to our war memorials over the past century, decades scarcely passing by without British involvement in violent conflict abroad.

Tonight I took it upon myself to visit our local Anglican church, set just behind the war memorial, which alternates its Sunday evening slot every other week between a Celtic Eucharist service and a Taizé service. As I mention above, I am questioning whether the Quaker movement is where I can continue to be and to grow as a Christian - yet I understand that contemplative methods of worship are, for want of a more apt way of putting it, that which I am most at synch with and find most uplifting. And it is for this reason I have tonight visited a house of worship belonging to a denomination I was baptised into as a child but have for so long felt miles apart from. As it turned out, the Celtic Eucharist service was not as contemplative as I had anticipated, yet it did provide opportunity for prayer and inspiration - I took part in the act of communion in good faith as I have always done, despite my Quaker leanings, recommitting myself to the Christian life, to discipleship in both the practical and the mystical sense.

On the short walk home again, I felt a strong sense of Christ with me. Again, I was appreciative for the peace so readily available.

No comments: