Quaker school

“Threads, sprints and collaborations…” ‘Oh, yeah, what are they?’ ‘I’ll tell you later.’ ‘Later? Why can’t you tell me now?’ ‘…because I’m feeling sad, that’s why… I’ve just finished Quaker Life Rep Council after six years and it feels like leaving school. I’ll not see me mates again. That’s why I’m feeling sad.’ ‘Right, well, what are you going to do with all the things you’ve learned at Quaker School for grown-ups…not saying, you’re a grown up, like! Do they give you a certificate?’ ‘Not exactly, but I have got a blue hoodie and I am growing younger! You know, I have got a few ideas of things l’d like to do.

For one, I’d quite like to visit some of the other local meetings in my area, talk to people, find out how they’re doing. Haven’t done that for ages. And I’d like to go to a few more regional events, meet more Quakers…possibly even a bit of Quaker Camp in the summer months…anything involving outdoor worship, singing and telling stories ‘round camp fires and owls has to be good, yeah?’ ‘…Singing…in a Quaker meeting…that doesn’t happen, does it?’ ‘Well, why not? There’s no law against it.’ ‘Are you sure?’  ‘Yes, I am. Anyway, I’m wondering about Quaker chaplaincy work but need to know more. There’s a course on at Woodbrooke in September…and I might do some visits in prison or hospital to see if I really want to do it…something worth thinking about, anyway.’‘You know, that Quaker school sounds good. How come I’ve never heard of it…and who’s going now?’ ‘Don’t know…not sure they’ve got anyone. And they need two people, a first named Rep and a deputy. I think Area Meeting nominations are on to it but I haven’t heard anything.’ ‘Well, I’d be interested…’

‘Really, shine of me..?’ 

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HOLTDAYS

We were well into our training course, Facilitation for Change when I found myself looking at a poster on the notice board, expressing ‘HOLTDAYS‘. It just happened to be in the room of the community centre we were working in.  I wondered what on earth were HOLTDAYS? I’d also started thinking about what had brought me there, to this course with the strangely sounding name, Facilitation for Change?  What needed changing? Or was it me..?

Certainly people were talking about the big issues, such as global capitalism and climate change, artificial intelligence and our common beliefs and values. I realised one of the reasons I was there was to take stock of the many changes in my organisation after restructuring. We discussed how much power we had as individuals and groups to influence change as well as expanding our focus to seeing how positive and negative changes in society have come about through collective action, for example, the National Health Service (NHS), free school education and fascism. 

It also helped to focus on the personal too. We were asked to consider a time when we’d acted positively to challenge something. And I recalled an intervention I’d made in the care home for my elderly mum with dementia when her care fell below an acceptable standard. For many of us, this was enlightening, believinging it was a time when we had spoken ‘truth to power’.  And we felt energised by this greater self-awareness.

When we completed a process task on the state of Britain today, in stages, analysing what it looked like, how we had got here and gazing into the future, it looked a gloomy picture. It’s fair to say the group consisted of liberal and left-leaning in outlook, though I did try to lift the mood by performing pop-up Tory adverts, often describing an optimistic vision of a vibrant, robust Britain, emerging from austerity, standing proudly, a soon once again to be an independent state in the world with, moreover, nearly full employment. And there are not many countries that can say that! And I popped down again. I’m not sure I convinced anyone. 

But look, we still have much to be grateful for – nature, the countryside and seas, our parks, if we’re lucky; legislation, such as the Equality Act. And we have learning, I argued, providing space for people to discuss and grow.  And I thought it would help if we smile a bit more. Actually, we were doing a lot of smiling amid the intense focus of small group work.

How would this go down as a training exercise in the boardroom, one of us asked? I’d read once that many managers nowadays at middling level aren’t required to think to do their jobs these days. Their plans are pretty much set and their job is to get people to perform them. 

So, bringing people together to think creatively in ways they may find a little challenging is a good way, surely, to help build a team and invite create solutions from everyone, not just from the more vocal? So I thought. Yes, so long as people can see the purpose behind the exercise and how it fits into the overall day…as we had come to think creatively about changing, becoming re-energised.

Well, was I feeling re-energised? We’d just been through a massive restructuring at work which has left us all, I think, not a little shaken. For me, this training was just the tonic I needed to reconnect to what I feel is vital for the health of a good society, namely, learning. Our beliefs and values are being shaped to a large extent by careful news management, polarising people roo wasily into opposite camps. Learning may help us hear each other more clearly, if we are to make progress in society.

And suddenly I noticed I had been reading HOLTDAYS all wrong. Suddenly, it jumped out at me. How had I not seen it? It wasn’t  HOLTDAYS, it was HOLIDAYS and I smiled, feeling re-energised, more self-aware and grateful to be part of this group, knowing that, together, we formed a small part of the chain, which both held society together and was the agent if its transformation.

 

For more ideas and information…

This training was organised by Liverpool World Centre.

The training was delivered by Partners Organisation Dublin, skilled in facilitation work over many years. For WEA tutors, the participatory learning resources and ideas are saved on WEAVE.

Robert Chambers, Participatory Workshops, a sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas and activities, earthscan, ISBN 978-1-85383-863-7

The Barefoot Guide Connection

Community Development Resource Association

 

Despair

I’ve started a sustainable life, by which I mean on an online Woodbrooke course, run by Doug Gwynne, with contributions from two other American friends, Brian Drayton and Marcelle Martins, among others. But do you not have a sustainable life already? Well, how do I know? What does one look like, anyway? I have a life, of course, but is it sustainable? What would it look like? What would your sustainable life look like? Hopefully, over the next ten weeks, I’ll gain some answers to a few of these questions and probably many more questions. I almost prefer the questions to the answers now.

During the introductory session last week, we started to get to know one another. And yes, questions came up. How does one live an integrated life? We often think of sustainability to be about climate change and resources. But what if it’s also about equality and housing and neighbourliness? You can be overwhelmed and paralysed by the enormity of the problems facing the planet. I thought of my small, active meeting. Not many people really but a growing number of small clusters of friends who are interested in particular areas, including Peacework, Quaker Life, Children and Young People, Young Adult Friends, many, more than one, and who all contribute to the rich life of the meeting. Their activities and prayers connect us together in tangible and intangible ways. It feels like a community and it’s also part of a wider Quaker one and  society in general. How on earth do we all get on? ‘That’s a question.’ ‘So, give me an answer!’

Then, last evening, Brian Drayton talked through his article, Why climate change is a spiritual challenge, written in 2011.  He said it came out of a conference of botanists, who all spoke of their despair for the future of humanity on the planet. His response was to turn towards the light and wait…for God’s guidance. There are four stages to the response, if it is to be sustaining and effective.

Firstly, be watchful and wait for an inkling or a push. It may not be the most obvious or what you are expecting. It may be something very small, at least to begin with. Doug Gwynne reminded us of ‘the day of small things’, the quote by Isaac Penington. I remembered first writing about organising a street party because I lacked the courage to do so, to finding myself on a street committee two years later planning a marvellous event.

Secondly, when it calls, act promptly, so as not to let the spark go out. And be prepared to suffer – not in the way early friends suffered by being tortured and thrown into prison, though some friends today do end up in prison. Mostly, your friends and colleagues and people you meet will find you odd or quirky. It is more a social strain on your relationships. You will feel growth pains as you change…and grow.

And finally, tell people about what you’re called to do in every way you can. For shy and quiet Quakers, this can be a problem. ‘But if it’s spirit-led, then it’s meant to be shared, yes?’ ‘I think so.’

Put all together, this was the Lamb’s war that James Naylor wrote about to build the kingdom of God on earth today in a peaceful way. I hadn’t made this connection before. How living simply was part of this and why it takes time to do ‘what is enough’. We need to be ready. As William Penn wrote of early friends: ‘They were changed men (and women) in those days, before they went about to change others.’

To be desolate is to stand alone – solus – and we’re not alone. This is heartening. I had grown up in a loving, caring community and have spent my whole life trying to get back to it again. I feel I have that in my meeting, though we are vulnerable to change. And I moved not long ago not only into a lovely place to live in but also into a ready-made community, near to a Quaker Burial Ground, cared for by gardeners from the area.

I thought Brian’s talk left  us dangling on one big question Did he envisage a day of revelation when all the community, business and political groups we spoke of aligned together to create the world we want to live in? A sustainable world, no less! Assuming he lives in a large, Quaker community, would this influence his thinking? My own Quaker community in Britain is tiny. Most people I meet aren’t Quakers…but we connect well.

‘There’s work to be done, then?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘That’s another question.’ At least, it all starts with watchfulness and waiting. So, let us wait.

Earworms

The worm of an idea for this wriggled out some years before the writing. It tells of the author’s interest in sound and its effects on people  – real and imagined – when turned into a weapon by a secretive, rogue government department, which the lead character, Philip Fry, sorry, Dr Philip Fry unwittingly joins.

A Quaker, Dr Fry finds himself falling deeper and deeper into more serious trouble while his wife, kept apart, attempts to find out what’s happening to her new husband.

The writing uses lots of different fonts to mimic various sound effects and their impact on individuals and groups. I found myself wanting to rush straight back into the story inbetween work to find out what had gone on.

The text is peppered with unexpected Quaker references in a seemingly farfetched story and yet stranger things are happening in the world. And towards the ending, we witness a silent vigil, carried out with constancy and patient humour.

I was sorry it finished so soon but I expect Dr Fry will have had enough of working in secret government establishments. It’s just that, as the door is ever so slightly ajar, we’re left wondering have they had enough of him, our adventurous Quaker scientist?

By Jonathan Doering, published by the Wolfian Press, 2016

the first quaker..?

I stood at a crossroads…literally…outside Costa at Warwick Uni campus, having just arrived at YMG. It was Thursday and I had come for respite and recuperation ‘among friends’. YMG had been weighing up questions and paths about how we live our lives in the world today all week. And while I was standing there, my friend, Debbie, appeared and gave me a hug. Then, another friend, Mervyn, walked towards me without noticing and I made towards him and greeted him, smiling. As we caught up, Richard appeared out of the doorway, both a real friend and a friend on facebook. ‘It’s not the same as meeting in person, is it?’, he asked. And we hugged too. I waved to someone else, and noticed still another dear friend across the plaza. Seemingly, all I had to do was stand still and I would meet all my friends. ‘Yes, great, isn’t it…like family…’

But I still wanted to take part in some of the serious and fun things on offer at YMG, so that’s how I found myself singing…especially for two friends who could not be here this time and for whom we offered dear 20 second hugs and this song, if you have time to listen…’we hold you in our circle’.

Thirty years ago (was it really that long…yes, 1987), I found myself in my first and up to then only Turning the Tide workshop, which I thought was brilliant. TtT raise awareness and train people in non-violent direct action campaigning…and I’ve done absolutely nothing, well, very little since, as a result of that workshop. ‘It’s the group thing’, I told Maureen. I joined avpb (alternatives to violence Britain) as a facilitator as it’s more one-to-one or small groups. Large crowds have often made me feel anxious, a legacy perhaps of supporting Everton in the 1970s and ‘80s. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be great if avpb and TtT could work more closely together..? Being here made me ask what had I done with my life..? I stopped myself quickly and reminded myself that because I had been born, I had already changed the world, so just needed to get on with stuff, which I had. I breathed again.

And YMG was exploring faith and action through head, heart, hands and feet motifs. And I had arrived at the feet. We explored the campaign to abolish the Slave Trade in its stages over a significant period of time (decades). How it begins, who picks it up, supporters and opponents, successes and set backs…and ongoing support? We were asked to commit to one act of social action. I chose to replace my plastic drinking flask with a sustainable metal one, taking care it doesn’t end up in landfill or worse in the sea, and explain why to people.

I wish I could join in great marches and campaigning more. Still, just the other day, a young stranger asked me as we drank coffee at a pavement café, do you mind if I smoke? When I wasn’t sure, she decided to smoke a little distance away and when she returned, we started to discuss our mutual interest in education, as it turned out. She asked me if I’d heard of ‘subtle activism’? ‘It’s about making individual choices to help bring about positive change for the good.’. ‘That’s me! I’m a subtle activist!’ What a relief! Finally, I had my label.

And it was three days spent without ‘WiFi’, as I couldn’t automatically connect and couldn’t follow the guest instructions, so found myself making do with following swans in right ordering and geese, definitely or is that defiantly not so; marvelling at trees and a pin while also finding time for visiting Anna and her family to see how they were and receive their bounty without so many words needing saying. Gosh, it is hard to be without WiFi for three days!

I also attended a reunion of my Equipping for Ministry group. While Jan tried to interest us in a game (we played along…), each of us spoke in turn and without hurry of the stories in our lives now in a way and with such love and feeling that comes with prolonged, shared companionship. We spoke about the politics of the middle east and witness, speaking truth to power, of being an Agony Aunt in a journal, of writing another novel, of teachings and publications about the labyrinth, on simply being a Quaker, keeping our meetings; of prison chaplaincy and trusteeship and holding a wake for laying down a concern on ‘dying and death’ now that it has been incorporated into Quaker Life. Wow, do you think I can claim a vicarious connection with all of these gifts, lovingly given? And we chatted in the Woodbrooke tent, appropriately, drinking fizzy soft drinks and munching on stoned dates. I look forward to the next time we meet, dear friends, and don’t forget to share your news and good works…like this gift from Jan…

Praise song for Epping Forest

This I can affirm: I am not owner of my soul

but am part of that great garden of which Gaia holds the whole:

and in nurturing the Spirit, I did, and weed, and sow,

I garden – and am gardened, to help the Spirit grow:

I garden and am gardened, and I help the Spirit grow.

 

In the glory of the forest, trees breathe out – and I breathe in;

The seed burrs on my jacket show the places I have been.

I travel – and am travelled; the seeds will drop and grow;

the squirrel plants an acorn for a future I won’t know.

The squirrel plants an acorn for the future. That, I know.

 

It takes a million years to form this pebble on the path;

It takes a month, or three, before a baby learns to laugh.

The pebble and the laughter, the people and the tree,

the breath within the forest – a holy harmony:

the breath within the forest, a holy harmony.

Jan Sellars, Wanstead Quaker Meeting – within Epping Forest

While sharing together in the Woodbrooke tent, I noticed that the poet, Jill Slee Blackadder was sitting at the next table, so I started reading her moving poem, The Rainbow, out loud (I’d taken a photograph of it to take with me to YMG as my gift). And, do you know what..? She joined in, turn-taking. I read half a line and she spoke the other from memory and we read aloud together to everyone’s delight, especially mine.

‘I’m knackered already’, I told Keith, heading towards the Quaky Duck for fish and chips and a pint for tea. What next..? Keith was going to see the drama performance by Three Acres and a Cow, so named because this is all we need to live well on the planet, apparently. They retold hundreds of years of Quaker and English history, setting it in context to music and text. And I nearly missed it. It was brilliant, starting with John Ball, I noticed. After each contribution, they pegged an A4 sheet onto a washing line, strung across the stage. As I left to go to epilogue, it was the 1880s.

Epilogue is a quiet 15 minute space at the end of the day where people meet to listen to a story or song or silence and think about the day. At the previous epilogue the night before, my friend, as she became, Thuli, had shared a story about an young woman accusing her mother. You have taken everything and left us with nothing. And the mother looked at her daughter before replying, ‘Yes, you are right. When we were young, we had so much. We played out all day, running and climbing and eating fishpaste butties for lunch, running back to our friends and walking for miles… We were very lucky. We had everything.’ And so it goes…

At the last epilogue, the elder read out a poem, ‘Do not be dismayed… , which led to ministry from a young teenager. He had received some bad news earlier in the week about his leukaemia. In hospital, he’d experienced the silence of being all alone and afraid. But here, he felt the gathered stillness and felt held and supported by everyone in the silence. I returned to Three Acres and a Cow in the 1950s.

There was a ceilidh still to go to. I love ceilidhs but they are not always easy to get into, especially if you arrive in full swing, as this one was. I’d experienced the misery at Canterbury YMG of not being able to join in, feeling like ‘Billy No Mates’. I tried to breathe. Standing by the door at the far end of the packed room watching 70, 80 or more Quakers , young and old, whirling round the floor, I thought ‘I’m not going to get in. Oh, well, it has been a great day and I’m ready for bed anyway.’ There were two ways I could leave the room. Straight out of the nearest door and along the corridor, avoiding most people. I went that way last time. The other was to go along inside the room…and I chose this way and what a difference it made!

‘Do you want to dance..?’ I was asked almost straightaway, but then two men came and joined the group. ‘Never mind, I’ll find another set’ but I didn’t. I got to the far door and paused next to Rachel. Just one last look, I thought. Everyone is having such a good time! Rachel said, ‘You off? Not stopping for a dance?’ ‘I can’t get in, Rachel. I’d like to but I can’t get in. I don’t know how.’ ‘It’s easy. You just put you hand up and people come and join you. Look!’ And I could see, funny how I’d never noticed it before, people with their arms in the air, indicating they needed dancers. ‘I can’t do that, Rachel. I’d like to but I can’t.’ ‘I can,’ she said. ‘Come with me. We’ll dance with Roger. He knows what he’s doing.’ And we did. And we danced all night to the fiddle and the banjo…

Quakers joke about 10pm being ‘Quaker midnight’. Everyone is usually in bed by then at Woodbrooke and other places. But when I turned the lights out to go to sleep, it was actually midnight. And the words of the ‘Young Owl’ (early teenagers), at her first YMG returned to me, ‘I hope that every person in this room feels loved.’ Ah, that’s nice, I thought.

And then it was time to go home. Well, I was ready to. I shared a coffee with my good friend, Maureen, outside in the fresh air. You know, she told me, John Ball was the first Quaker.’ ‘Really..?’ How do you know that?’ ‘Because of the song, you know the one Three Acres and a Cow sang last night…do you know it?’ ‘Something snagged at me but I could only think of John Bull and that that couldn’t be right, surely?’ ‘I’ll sing it to you.’ And she did and I knew it instantly…one of my favourite songs…and while she sang the verses, I joined in, my eyes closed, with the chorus.

And we brought Thuli back to Liverpool to visit our meeting to say thank you for the financial support we have given to The Cape Town Peace Centre work for many years.

In meeting for worship that Sunday, the clerk read out the epistle from YMG. And it seemed it would be a quiet meeting after that. Till I thought I should sing the chorus from John Ball. Why not..? Why so..? Absolutely not, no way, am I singing. My voice is terrible. I’ve had a cold. I’ll forget the words. I waited three times for the feeling to go away. It had gone or so I thought. Suddenly, I had an image of Barbara Whitehead, who used to sing all the time in ministry well into her 80s. She stood before me…I was on my feet and singing…

Sing John Ball

And tell it to them all.

Long be the day that is dawning.

You crow like a cock and carol like a lark

For the light that’s coming in the morning…

For the light that is coming in the morning…

…for the light that’s coming…

Phew, thank goodness it is three more years till the next YMG. I think I will just go for the day next time..!

Our community

One of the unexpected things I have learnt in my life as a Quaker is that religion is basically about relationships between people. This was an unexpected discovery, because I had been brought up to believe that religion was essentially about our relationship with God.

If we are sensitive, we find that everything that happens to us, good or bad, can help us to build a vision of the meaning of life. We can be helped to be sensitive by reading the Bible and being open to experience of nature, music, books, painting, sport or whatever our particular interest may be. It is in and through all things that we hear God speaking to us. But I do not think I am alone in my certainty that it’s in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.

George Gorman, 1982, Quaker Faith and Practice 20.10

 

The White Snake

One time, not in my time, and not in your time but in someone’s time, there lived a young man with clear eyes, a quiet mind and a gentle heart. And because of those qualities, so remarkable yet so little valued, he came to work as a servant for the king. The king treated him like a …servant but came to depend on his judgement and hard work, to the extent that over time, the young man rose to be head of the royal household.

One day, the queen reported her golden ring stolen and because the steward had access to the privy chambers, they accused him of stealing it. ‘Return it by morning or die’, the king told him. But as he hadn’t taken it and had no idea where it was, he sighed, tidied his affairs, such as they were, and went out for one last walk in the forest.

He’d not been walking for long when he came to a sunlit glade, with beautiful purple-headed fritillaries spreading out before him. Suddenly, across and along the path in front of him moved a white snake towards him. Now, snakes being snakes, most people are afraid of them and would lift up a stick and to bash it on its head. But the young man simply looked at the snake and smiled. The snake’s golden eyes stared back, its long green tongue flickering out towards him. Suddenly, it smiled before shimmering into the long grass.

Strange, thought the young man and stranger still, for when the nightingale started singing overhead, he could understand every word. And when he returned to the palace, he could hear the sparrows giggling, talking about the queen who dropped her ring carelessly out of the window, only for the white duck to swallow it. The young man had the duck arrested  and squeezed it hard until it to give up its prize.

The next morning, the king was so happy with the young man who had gotten the ring back, perhaps also feeling a little sheepish, though not enough to say sorry, that he offered the young man the pick of the palace jobs for life. But the young man with the clear eyes, the quiet mind and warm heart had decided it was time to move on. And he asked the king for a horse, some food and a little money. The king resisted at first till, reluctantly, he agreed to the request and so off set the young man along the track and into the forest on a great adventure.

The light shone dimly through the dense oak and lime trees, which lined the forest trail. With night falling, he tethered his horse and climbed up into the branches of a tall tree to sleep for safety’s sake. He marvelled at the wisdom of bats, the exploits of owls, the endless sexual problems of nightjars and the homely tales of the hundreds of insects, sharing their home that night.

The next morning, he travelled on and soon the trail descended through alders and willows towards the lake. He heard splashing and wailing coming from within the reed bed. Three young salmon were thrashing about amid the reeds in the shallow water, stuck. The young man took pity on them and picked them up one by one and threw them into the deeper waters. The salmon raised their heads out of the water and called out, ‘We thank you. We thank you. We salmon remember the river our mothers swam in, the very gravel where we were spawned and we will not forget your bright eyes, your gentle heart and kindly mind. One day, we will repay you.’

He travelled on uphill through scrubwood forest of rowan and pine. The ground grew sandier till he was suddenly shook from his reverie on horseback. He could hear a shrill, sharp voice coming from the top of an anthill in the middle of the track. The ant queen was commanding her army of ants beneath, berating him for coming too close to her nest. The man dismounted and bowed before the queen, apologising for his inattention. Next, he spent a good hour reworking the path so that it wound round the anthill. Afterwards, the queen of the ants called out to him, ‘Thank you, thank you. We ants remember. We solve complex problems by ingenuity and team work and we will not forget your bright eyes, your courteous heart and your kindly mind. One day, we will repay you.’

He travelled on, higher into the upper reaches of the forest where birches and scrubby juniper grew out of craggy rocks. There was a commotion up above and three black shapes flopped downwards, bumping onto the mossy floor ahead. The parents of these three young ravens had dumped their dementing offspring out of the nest to fend for themselves. They would die for lack of food, they complained and the young man, perhaps, remembering his own treatment by the king, jumped off his horse and hacked off the horse’s head. The ravens fell straight away on the big fleshy eyes and, after gorging themselves, called out to the young man, ‘Thank you, thank you. We ravens remember. We apply intelligence and strength and travel long distances and we will not forget your bright eyes, your generous mind and your warm heart. One day, we will repay you.’

He travelled on on foot till he came to a luscious, green valley, where woods of oaks and holly stretched ahead on either side, passed through orchards plump with apples and cherries and on through pastures filled with fat cattle, knee high in the long grass, resting from the sun under elms and ash. The path brought him to a great city, where the noise of the people and traffic and chaos drowned out all the sounds of the birds and wildlife. He could barely hear himself think but it was here that he fell in love with the Princess.

You think he would have had enough of royalty but he saw the Princess’s loveliness and loneliness through the shield of indifference she protected herself by. He took her pride and haughtiness, her snobbery as a guard against the exceeding flattery of suitors and indulgence of the king. And it was here he decided to go a’courting in the springtime to seek her hand in marriage, even though it may cost him dear, his life. For the Princess set each suitor a challenge and if they failed, they died the next day.

The following morning, the Princess took him to the sea shore and threw a golden ring into the sea.   Well, he knew he had no chance of finding it, so he smiled to himself, sat down on his haunches but then heard three voices in unison. He looked up and there were three full grown red salmon, surfing towards him on a big blue wave. The middle one dropped a white clam at his foot, just as the retreating wave carried them back to the sea. The young man opened the clam and inside lay the ring. He laughed happily and gave it to the young Princess.

But she didn’t want to marry a servant and so demanded another challenge, a second proof. She took him into the palace orchard and opened the contents of ten sacks of millet seed, spraying them all over the ground. ‘Pick up every single one and put them back in the sacks.’

The young man sighed, looking around him, then up at the fluffy clouds shifting across the blue sky. What could he do? Then, there was a ruffle in the grass. It grew like whisperings and there he saw the elegant ant queen riding at the head of her army. She gave orders to her ants and, by morning, they had filled all ten sacks.

Still, the Princess was not satisfied. She did not want to marry a servant and so demanded another task, a third proof. ‘Bring me back an apple from the Tree of Life’, she demanded. How, what…where..? The young man had no idea where to find the Tree of Life and realised he would die the next day. So, he tidied up his affairs, paid up his small bills and wandered into the forest one last time, till he came to a green linden tree and sat down under its canopy for a rest. The bright sun dazzled his eyes but he could just make out three dark shapes flying in the sky, diving and soaring, dipping on the warm breeze. Then, one of them let an object fall out of the sky. The young man with the clear eyes, the calm mind and the caring heart held out his palm and caught the apple from the Tree of Life. He laughed and ran back to the city.

He cut the apple in two and gave one half to the Princess and ate the other himself. She fell in love with him at once with his clear eyes, his quiet mind and kind heart and they lived happily ever after.

 

Things may not always be what they seem. This story starts with a snake and ends with an apple and yet paradise is not lost. It is found. And for many people, salmon are cold and slippery; ants destroy everything in their path and ravens come as messengers of 

death and doom. They say that a young man with clear eyes, a calm mind and a warm heart can win no fair lady. But it need not be so…

Never underestimate the joy that a man or woman can gain if they have clear eyes, a quiet mind and a gentle heart.

 

 

With thanks to The Brothers Grimm and, particularly, to Sara Maitland for her retelling of the story of The White Snake in her wonderful book, Gossip from the Forest.

The Dull Door Story

It was a lovely warm late afternoon in June. I was visiting the local Quaker Meeting House to observe a new tutor, teaching her second course for the WEA on ‘Overthinking’. I thought I saw someone go into the building, as I approached, but when I pressed the ‘Push Me to Open’ button, nothing happened. Through the glass door, I could see Lisa, the assistant warden, eating pasta out of a bowl. One time, the warden used to lock the doors between 5 and 6pm to get a break but I didn’t think they still did this. They double staff the sessions now. And there was Ella next to Lisa, tucking into her pasta dish too. I smiled at them, pressing the button again and still nothing happened.

Lisa started waving her fork about and mouthing words at me from behind the reception desk. It seemed to me she was saying, ‘Sling yer hook, mate! We’re having our dinner.’ Charming, I thought. Definitely, the Bad Quaker welcome I’d heard of! Still, make the best of it and I smiled back at them, mouthing, ‘It’s ok. I’ll use the side door. I’ve me fob.’ I’m a sometimes Openupper on Sundays, you see. And in I went.

Ella met me in the corridor. ‘I didn’t know you were a warden!’ ‘Oh, yeah, been a few months now.’ ‘Good stuff!’ And then we got to Lisa at the front desk. ‘I was trying to say, “Pull the door. The button’s broke but you can still get in, if you pull the door.”’

Oh, how we laughed!

And this is how I came into Quakers, through the side door.

This conjectural map covers several Historical Periods to illustrate “A popular excursion through Ancient Leverpoole.” Joseph P. Pearce