Collage

The Big Day Out 5.15 alarm comes.

 Radio goes…the Magnificat from Monteverdi’s Vespers.

 

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p r a y e r

 

On the train, a flask of coffee and pieces of toast…seeds in the dough stick to my palette.

Child Spirit wellbeing

 …the ministry of children is worshiping…

 

‘I have always known that at last I would take this road, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.’ Narihara, quoted in ‘Life’s Companion’ by Christina Baldwin, p.3.

I am afoot with my vision….I tramp a perpetual journey. (Walt Whitman, SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD, in Baldwin, p.8)…I wish.

A conscious self is able to experience in full awareness all the distinctly different components of the self, including feelings, needs, drives and values. A conscious self lives consciously. Gershen Kaufman/Lev Raphael, THE DYNAMICS OF POWER, in Baldwin p.8

 “How does one grow up?’ I asked a friend. She answered, “By thinking.”                                   Mary Sarton, JOURNAL OF A SOLITUDE, in Baldwin, p.10

I feel happy to be keeping a journal again. I’ve missed it, missed naming things as they appear, missed the half hour when I push all duties aside and savour the experience of being alive in this beautiful place.                                                                                                                                Mary Sarton, AT SEVENTY, in Baldwin, p. 10.

 Cement works and coal trucks pass by on the railway.

The paths of action and reflection…the walker and the watcher in Baldwin, p.11.

‘My journal is my life’s companion.’ (Baldwin, p.13) spirit companion

 

Life has taught me that it knows better plans than we can imagine, so that I try to submerge my own desires…into a calm willingness to accept what comes, and to make the most of it, then wait again.

Julie Seton, BY A THOUSAND FIRES, in Baldwin, p. 16.

 

Maggie’s ‘Journey in the Spirit’ is published!!

 

Arsenal v Everton in the FA Cup…’I bet you booked this day up ages ago, not thinking you’d get to the quarter final..?!’, I asked an Arsenal fan member of staff.

 

  • 1652 Country Pilgrimage cluster – Lisa , coordinator

Elfrida someone invented it in the 1950s.

From Pendle Hill to…Yealand or Sedburgh; to Firbank Fell, Preston Patrick or Swarthmore; Brigflatts, it’s up to you how you do it.

 Where are all the young people?

 George Fox hadn’t eaten for three days, or drunk much, when he found St Anne’s well on the side of Pendle Hill.

Volunteers – guides, companions, tea makers, drivers, storytellers – all needed. Or by Mountain Goat..? The map, the mist, the view…It can take two hours to drive to Pendle Hill, three hours to walk up and down, and two hours back in the coach. Day trips, linear or circular walks..? AM Gatherings…Walking in the footsteps of Fox.

 Fill in theYellow form if you want to volunteer for QL.

  • Three talks about Quaker Life Cluster work
  • James helping a meeting to explore membership
  •       Gillian supporting  a meeting facing compulsory           purchase
  • Sue, connectedness within meeting including two children’s groups

 

  • Conflict in Meetings Cluster

Reservations about threshing meetings”

“Explorations – feeling listened to and being heard”

“An absence of right ordering might cause the conflict.”

 

We used to have a Peace group,

till we all fell out

 Quaker Life needs a minute from a meeting or possibly a letter from elders and overseers before it can ask QL cluster members for help..

                                Things which cause the most problems within meetings                                   

Chairs, children, property and outreach

 

Text message from grandson to grandmother, ‘How bad can it be in a room full of Quakers?’

 

Conflict is natural. Suppressing or ignoring it leads to difficulties.

How does our meeting cope with conflict?                           Poorly   10000000010    Excellently

 

A meeting for healing? Friends can be very hurt and can hold on to their feelings for a very long time…

                                                                                …a failing meeting?

 

Don’t go on a pilgrimage.

You’ll end up murdering each other.

 

The Jesuit method of choosing between A and B…all argue the case for A, then silence or fasting. Then, all argue the case for B, followed by more silence and fasting…

Friends can always ring Friends House and ask to speak to Michael (Booth) or Oliver (Waterhouse).

4-1…we won..?!! The shake of the head…No, oh, well…

A big hug for a friend who is worried about something.

And then two bars of chocolate and a new copy of fairy tales and conflict and I was away. Well, almost. Met a young friend, Jenny, in the bookshop and told her about pilgrimage to 1652 country volunteer opportunities. Young friends may be interested. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell them.’ conflict

 

Time for cake. I’m back on the train…and I recall a conversation I had with a friend, sitting on the terrace in the fresh air at coffee break. She asked, ‘Have you ever been to Friends’ House and not come away feeling slightly depressed?’ I thought, ‘ … when I’ve been to the bookshop..?’

But, maybe, that’s because it deals with all the shite, turns  our shite into compost?

There’s a thought!

big day out

Being Present

Start with ’Getting Ready’, Chris said, ‘and then I think you’ll be able to make more sense of some of your ideas and discover what you’re looking for in the forest.’ I puzzled over this. What did he mean? I thought back to our meeting the October before, down at Friends House in London, when I found myself offering to write an edition of Journeys in the Spirit, a resource for children’s meetings, on the topic of  Equipping for Ministry (EfM) for children. I had two more months of the adult version to go. Only on the train heading home did I start to think this could be quite tricky. What could ministry mean for children, aged between five and twelve?  I tried not to notice a rising sense that I really had no idea. But then, maybe, nobody else had either?

Over the next couple of months, I started looking around my own Local Meeting, wondering how this project might come to life. By coincidence, I was also becoming interested in fairy tales, particularly some of the original 52 stories, collected by the Brothers Grimm. Would they be able to show me anything about our children, when in meeting? And what, if anything, might they say about us adults?

In our local meeting, usually, there can be four to six children, who come to children’s meeting once a month on the third Sunday. Before Christmas, the children had created a lovely display for the wall inside the main entrance, a colourful greeting of ‘Joy and Peace’ to all who entered our meeting house. They had divided up the letters between them and created this marvellous tableau in their own homes with a little help from their parents or carers, of course. But when I remembered to take my camera, early in the New Year, the greeting had been taken down and the letters placed in a filing cabinet drawer on the third floor.

And outside the main meeting room, I found myself moving the two or three coat stands, which kept being placed in front of the children’s notice board. And I’d heard that the two members of the children’s committee, two mums, felt unsupported by our meeting. It is hard to get people to take children’s meeting. And yet, if children’s meeting was happening as well as meeting for worship, wasn’t that just the way it was?

I know the feeling. When my own children were little, I was convenor or co-convenor of children’s committee  for about five and a half years. As soon as they outgrew the biscuits – what they remember most about Quaker meetings now – they stopped wanting to come. And it always felt to me, rightly or wrongly, that the adults in meeting tolerated the younger ones, never as a meeting, accepting or embracing them. Get to know them? Where are the opportunities in our meeting now for us to connect? When do we come together?

I caught the eye of a mum, going into the Quiet room one third Sunday morning with her children. She seemed on her own.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that we needed to make more time and spaces for the children to explore and discover their gifts. And that this is also a way for the adults to join with them, even if simply upholding the children’s meeting for worship, on a similar path. In ministry with the children, the adults might themselves come to grow spiritually, planting deeper Quaker roots. So many of us come to Quakers from other places and it takes time to share our stories together.

I thought what can I do to help bring more opportunities about? By writing an edition of Journeys in the Spirit, came back the instant reply? And what does this have to do the forest?  I spoke to Anna, children’s committee convenor, just after New Year. ‘I’d like to take the children this month and March as well, if that’s possible and, maybe, February too but can we leave that for now? Would that be ok?’ She said that would be fine. It gave me a couple of weeks to prepare. What could I do with them for half-an-hour? Where to start? Where would I find out about the children’s ministry? It occurred to me that I could ask them.

I start the January meeting for worship for children with 30 seconds of stillness. I invite them to imagine we are sitting in a cottage by the edge of a forest. We are sitting round the same table that serves the Thursday mid-week meeting for worship. We do a go round of ‘My name is… and my favourite animal is a …’. Next, I invite them to go play in the forest and press play. Greig’s Morning suite from Peer Gynt fills the room. They hesitate, unsure of whether to stay or go, till the owl, one of the mum’s who’s with me, swoops on them and chases us out. We run and catch and return for a storytelling, ‘Thumbling’, about growing up in the forest. Each time, I read or tell this story, something else pops up for me that I hadn’t seen before. It could be about relationships between partners or children or both; about growing points and strains, not unlike we have in our meetings for worship. I ask them, ‘What was the favourite bit of the story for you?’  And Isaac said, ‘The best bit for me was when it ended.’ Humbling…umm, maybe spread the stories out more..? I ask them to gather their thoughts together quietly in readiness for going back to the main meeting for worship. I give them a hand-out on centring down to take home to read with their families at the end. Some of them have read it before we leave the room.

Afterwards, I email the children’s committee, wondering if it isn’t time for us to look again at when and for how long the children are part of the main meeting?

Oh, thank you, John Lampen, for writing ‘The Worship Kit’. Ella, a young friend at meeting, told me how good she still found it. ‘It’s just as good for adults’, she told me. Yes, worship is, just is. So, kids and adults unite in worship? So, we need to practise worship? Children’s meeting in my eyes became meeting for worship for children; a big difference and such a small step. When February’s children’s meeting comes round, I have put a copy of the red book, Quaker Faith and Practice, on the table, next to my tatty copy of Advices and Queries. I welcome the children back to the cottage again.

We start with one minute’s stillness. I read aloud the section from The Worship Kit on centring down with the red books on the table. We gather together for a round of ‘My name is…and I like to…listen to music.’ This gives rise to much chatter, hands raising to get my attention, like at school. I said, ‘No, not school…’ and Ben told us how his mum gets them to hold something, if they want to speak. And he picks up the copy of Advices and Queries, so we agree to use this.

I remind the meeting that silent ministry is just as important as spoken in a Quaker meeting for worship; and, very important, it is ok to ‘pass’ during a round, if you want. Once agreed, the children have no difficulty in maintaining our discipline.

‘What happens in meeting for worship?’ I ask them, looking at the postcard of the Peter Peri sculpture. This shows a group of friends sitting in a circle during a meeting for worship. Words pop up, like toast. Next, I read Phillip Gross’s poem, ‘Quakers of Pompeii’, about the same sculpture. It is a difficult poem, especially on first reading. ‘Just listen for a word or phrase that speaks to you,’ I encourage them. ‘Would anyone like to read it when we go downstairs?’ I ask. Lisa, a mum with me, picks up the book and reads aloud again, emphasising certain words. Then, Ben picks it up and starts reading, again out loud.

I want us to move onto doing something practical with our hands and plasticine. Can we make our own model of a meeting for worship out of clay? Well, yes, we can. I hope it might be like an Appleseed activity, working quietly, supporting one another. Ben wants to tell us what he’s made but I ask him not to. ‘Later,’ I tell him. ‘There’ll be time later. Better to leave some mystery.’ I remember the words of a friend.

There aren’t any right answers or perfect shapes. Just what comes. One of the children struggles with this and can’t get started. Pick your favourite colour and see what comes. And she does.

It also occurs to me how much simpler it is to prepare for two , three meetings than for a single one. Next month, I hope we will explore further what ministry means. One Sunday before Christmas, I had asked for help one time in the notices after meeting in working out what equipping for ministry for children meant. I hadn’t expected any response and I wasn’t disappointed…till after last Sunday’s meeting for worship when one friend asked me if I’d like some of her hand-outs on Mindfulness. Anna had also said earlier how helpful she found John Lampen’s book, particularly, the pages on centring down. ‘If only I’d come across it ten years ago!’, she told me. The same was true for me too. I’ve only discovered my own way of centring down during EfM. There must be so many like us. What if we put on a meeting for learning on centring down for adults and children? We can practise and spend more  meaningful time together?

So, was Chris right? Have I started to see what equipping for ministry for children means? Yes, the children are learning things that will influence them when they are adults. The adults may spend time unlearning. What a lot we have to learn from each other! I’m sure one edition of Journeys in the Spirit cannot cover the whole sweep of this topic but it’s a beginning.

By asking the children questions about ministry, I feel my own understanding of Quakerism deepening. I ask myself the same questions…and there aren’t any right answers. It’s not like school. We can discuss, ask a question,look at it from different sides… both children and adults welcome more of this, I feel.

In the notices after meeting for worship, Ben read aloud Phillip Gross’s poem to meeting…ending with ‘Love the fidgets, love the aches.’ And Rosa stood up to read Advices and Queries 19, ‘Rejoice in the presence of children and young people in your meeting and recognise the gifts they bring…’

Later, I looked at the form on the notice board, showing the number of adults and children at meeting for worship. Eighteen adults and five children. But the doorkeeper had written a dash, indicating no one had read from A&Q. I pointed this out to him. ‘Oh, if someone read one out during the first 15 minutes, I missed it. I wasn’t there.’ ‘But someone did read one out…and it was after meeting…in the notices… He looked blankly till he remembered. ‘Rosa.’ ‘Oh, sorry, yes, I forgot!’ I’ll write it on straight away and he went and wrote 19 in the A&Q column.

Walking home a few days later, I realised that this is the only time in nearly 25 years of attending meetings for worship that I have ever heard a child read from A&Qs. So, it leads me on to ask where do we hear our children’s voices in our meeting? And how do we listen to each other? If they only come for the biscuits, how soon will it be before they too stop coming?

References

John Lampen, The Worship Kit

Editors, R Bailey and S Krayer, A Speaking Silence, an anthology of Quaker Poetry

Quaker Faith and Practice

Advices and Queries

Peter Peri sculpture – postcard from Woodbrooke

The day we went to Salford

Lowry street in winter sceneI walked past an army recruiting stand on Williamson Square as I made my way to my meeting house one Saturday morning in January. ‘Go over and speak with them, ‘ nipped a small voice inside my head, ‘See what they’re here for.’ But I didn’t, not brave enough. I carried on walking. We were going to Salford to see an exhibition by contemporary war artists at the Imperial War Museum.

It was cold and wet and windy. I noticed there was a guided tour of the exhibition in the afternoon. ‘That’ll do me,’ I thought and made my way across the bridge to the Lowry.

I went up to the desk, ‘Excuse me, I feel a little silly asking this but are there any Lowry paintings here?’ It had occurred to me that, maybe, they had just named the building after him but I got a reassuring answer and a smile. ‘Oh, yes, there’s lots. They’re all in a room upstairs…and it’s free.’ ‘Even better, ta very much!’

All I knew about Lowry was that he drew ‘matchstick cats and dogs’. Was there more to him? From first glimpse, I thought there might be. The curator’s choice showed two paintings – a factory scene and a carriage. A hearse, I thought.  I have attended two funerals recently, so death was on my mind…and life too. There was a lot of death around, living death, I would discover in Lowry’s paintings, of the type I remembered so well from my childhood, visiting my nan. Everyone wore black, coughed a lot and seemed old at 55 and then you were nearly dead people, just hanging on.

Some TV films of the time showed older men and women, unemployed, possibly past working age, holding their worldly possessions close to them on park benches in the 1980s. Life is better now.

Let’s see round the corner. Smoke, smoke, smoke pouring out of tall chimney stacks, surrounded by tightly packed 2up, 2downs in narrow streets, thronging with streams of people. Leaning, people leaning into the wind, blowing through the gaps to get somewhere:  work, home, the football match, the market. Caps, scarves, heads down, bracing, better get there before the whistle blows or they’ll dock your pay. The crowds surged towards the factory doors and parted, like waves in a dark sea.

And then, we were in Llandudno, looking at real sea. Lowry adored the sea and the horizon. Endless sea and waves and sky. I love the sea too and I couldn’t recall anyone painting it better, even Turner. It was so arresting, calming. I didn’t expect to find this. And that wasn’t all.

There were lighter moods. He painted the portrait of a lovely girl, Ann, in the 1970s, very fetching, I can see why he painted her. And another of a neatly kept house, much appreciated in the making by his housekeeper, Mrs Swindell. He gave it to her as a gift.

A picture of a kind man was emerging, a generous man with both his time and money. He agonised over a self-portrait when a young man. Well dressed in a fawn gabardine overcoat and matching cap, shirt and tie, he looked out at you from the canvas, slightly missing your eye. But you looked straight at him. Or in him? Perhaps, that’s why he found it so painful and never did so again. Except he did, if the guide is right. There are two paintings, said to be of Lowry. One shows him as a man staring wildly with red, frightened eyes. A man who has nothing left to give? And the other is of a young boy in yellow with the same worried eyes. Life is a bit like this at times, isn’t it? For some of us, it may be like this most of the time. Things are better now.

And then there are always match days at Burnden Park, home to his beloved Bolton Wanderers, where thousands of men and boys and dogs – all men and boys and dogs in those days – streamed to the ground. And Sunday visits to Peel Park to sit and observe and sketch. He went there a lot, once saying looking across at the bandstand, ‘I have been very fond of this view’. I got this. Numerous of his paintings showed hundreds of couples dancing around the bandstand, while hundreds more watched on, waiting to be asked.

Lowry captured life. Two men fighting outside a doss house. Cripples in the workhouse. The prim and proper, well dressed housewives shopping at the Flat Iron market. The frames teem with lives and conversations. And he could also paint stillness with the minimum of brush strokes. One of my favourites is called ‘Houses on a hill’. It shows a short row of houses, painted in black silhouette on the brow of a hill, drawn by a single, curved black line on a white background. And that’s it. So simple, it spoke to me. Why? Because of the questions it asked of me. Who lived there? How did they get there? Where did they go to…and time passes? I checked my watch. I had a contemporary war artists’ exhibition to see too.

I’d thought of Lowry as a black and white artist but he did colour well. There is a painting of a street scene, a crossroads on the rise of the hill. It feels like the way Sunday used to feel. Everyone is wearing their best clothes. After church, on the way home for dinner or later…out for a stroll in the winter sun? It’s cold. You can tell by the overcoats the adults are wearing, the hats and scarves. But the children are playing out in their shirt sleeves. One holds what looks like a tennis racket while others chase, weaving in and out of the grown-ups, standing together in pairs or small clusters – skipping, playing tick. And there’s colour. Lots of it. It shows in the clothes – pinks, reds, turquoise, blues…You can tell it’s winter. Two trees stand bare, jagged and leafless.

And I saw time and again the same figure peering out of so many of his paintings. I call her the ‘ghost woman’. She stands side-on, neatly dressed in a bonnet and coat, looking at you out of sunken, dark eyes set in her pale face. She’s smiling at you, like death.

I didn’t know much about LS Lowry beforehand and I do now. He is fantastic.

I imagined the conversation I might have had at the recruiting stand, standing around the automatic weapon on show. ‘Why are you here?’, I ask. ‘No, really, why are you here? What purpose are you serving here?’ ‘Peacekeeping, training…there are some nasty people, places out there.’ ‘Yes, I know and can you tell me why Britain is always at war with someone, often it seems allied with America lately? Can you explain that to me? And why are you recruiting sixteen year olds and at the same time making experienced service personnel redundant? And what happens to them when they leave…?’ It is easier to have this sort of conversation in your head.

The tour had already started. I caught up with the guide as she pointed to a desert scene in Afghanistan, which showed an extensive area, pockmarked by giant mole heaps. ‘Landmines,’ she told us. ‘Don’t go any further…ill advised…for your own safety. The effects of landmining hang around for decades, longer even. And this one over here is the ‘Selfie’. Tony Blair photographing himself in front of Iraqi burning oilfields. Photoshopped, of course, and copyright free.’

I watched an old woman ‘dancing’, just using her facial expressions, her eyes, slowly fading into the darkness, reappearing. Next to her, snow fell on fields by a forest. The installation is called ‘Oswitch’. I watched her as her lined face turned towards the camera, then gently away again in a graceful arc before disappearing completely into the night. Images of the dance alternated with others of snow falling over farm fields and woods. They could be anywhere. At Oswitch, she had been a young woman when the guards ordered her to dance for their entertainment. When she said no, they made her stand outside all night in her thin dress with the snow falling. If she survived, she vowed to dedicate her life to Dance.

Next, I entered a video game, taking me on a tour of Bin Laden’s house. After a couple of minutes, it was no good. I had to stop. The jerky motions on screen, moving the game stick, made me feel sick. I had to leave. The nausea stayed with me.

A sock belonging to an amputated leg. A hat put away in a loft in a box. The latter belonged to someone’s husband, the artist’s grandmother, who wouldn’t need it any more. Discover what happened to the last Soviet, left alone in space, as the Soviet Union collapsed. Did those leaves really come from earth?

Towards the end, pull out a drawer, each one holding a sheet of stamps. There were so many of them. Each stamp displayed the smiling face of a dead serviceman or woman. It filled me with profound sadness. Why? No more. Stop, please. Not in our name…I thought of the army stand on Williamson Square; the young men wearing smart uniforms, surrounded by eye catching images and kit. I recalled the delighted faces of soldiers in the crowd jubilantly celebrating the end of the rugby international between England and Ireland. They seem well satisfied with life. Maybe, I will go and speak with them next time and not be afraid to ask why they are here, knowing that they also will have questions.