“Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thou seest they desire obscured, they affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for an interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather considerate [sic] a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands. For with those hands, howsoever well they may serve thee, thou wouldst never labour so effectively, so perfectly and so securely as now, when God takes they hand and guides thee in the darkness, as though thou wert blind, to an end and by a way which thou knowest not. Nor couldst thou ever hope to travel with the aid of thine own eyes and feet, howsoever good thou be as a walker.’
From ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ by St John of the Cross, extract from handout
“…the voice of the Spirit has its own colour and texture. The slight breath of its wings against my heart, the flutter in my inner ear, and the smoothness of its touch all help me know which way to move my fingers…I choose to follow. I have no choice.”
From ‘To Be Broken and Tender, a Quaker Theology for Today’ by Margery Post Abbott, p91, speaking about writing.
One hundred Friends gathered at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre at Selly Oak in Birmingham. We forewent the usual serious business format this time, I was told, for a refreshing exploration of our spiritual practices or disciplines.
Of the nine workshops available to choose from, it was possible to take three over the weekend. The process of choosing which workshops was interesting to observe in itself. Mine kept changing in the weeks leading up to the rep council. I found myself on ‘Sound and Light meditation’, ‘Instruments of Devotion’ (our bodies in case you hadn’t guessed –well, what else have we got?) and Bible Studies. The latter focused on a tricky entry in Romans 1:14, considering the rules of hospitality and on valuing the person. This was remarkably fresh and contemporary for me. I shared a story about recently being invited to a christening where the food on offer was all meat. As I don’t eat meat, it was a tricky situation. But all was well and I had a thoroughly pleasant time. Do I have Paul to thank for this? It’s enough to ask the question, as I’ve not even read most parts of the Bible for some time. This was partly why I chose it, I think. All the sessions I attended were superb and I look forward to sharing my experiences with anyone who asks.
Details of all the workshops and more are held in a marvellous new resource, published by Quaker Life (QL). Ginny Wall, then Spirituality Tutor at Woodbrooke, has gathered together a series of practices – Appleseed, Bible Study, Body Prayer… – in ‘Deepening the Life of the Spirit’. This is a small booklet but I recommend everyone gets a copy. At £4.00, it’s a snip! QL has sent a copy to each Area and Local Meeting too and I brought a couple of extra copies back, which I’ve put in my Local Meeting library.
During the Sound and Light workshop, we were invited to close our eyes and listen to all the sounds around us, using them as part of a meditation or centring down process. Although I knew I was in a safe place, I noticed to my surprise how vulnerable I felt. It was almost like a prayer. A response came to me in the following workshop. Part of this was first to guide and then be guided by a friend, holding one’s eyes closed. I didn’t want this to end, so at peace did I feel, so completely supported and guided. The sense of trusting and letting go was wonderful.
My Equipping for Ministry (EFM) tutor had suggested I look out for hand and heart language. I found myself becoming conscious of this during the Bible Studies workshop. As the hour passed, I became more and more aware that, unless prompted to read a bible passage, all the women in the group, about half, remained quiet. The men were making all the comments, notwithstanding the best efforts of the tutors (both men) to involve everyone. I recalled my tutor’s ‘watching for head and heart‘ question and mentioned it in the group. Later, one woman took me to task for being, as she saw it, critical of the women present. I was glad she did as I was able to reassure her, to explain that I had become accustomed in the Society of Friends to meeting women who are confident in speaking their minds and had only raised the point because I had felt more and more uncomfortable as only the men were speaking. Mind you, the group did contain both the QL General Secretary and Clerk, so there may have been other influences at work too. And, on the whole, many of us in Quakers can be quite introverted at times, regardless of gender.
And then, a female friend, sitting opposite me over lunch started talking without any previous knowledge of what I’d just experienced about how much she preferred being part of an all-female group. She found that men debated the issues. Whereas, with other women in a group, she felt better able to express her own deeper thoughts and feelings. Yet one more thing for me to ponder on my EFM journey. How much of an issue is this in our own meetings, I wondered?
There were so many highlights. I met two of the Kindlers. Simply walking round the beautiful gardens in the sunshine was a real pleasure. I’m sure some of us made use of their new meditation skills to walk the labyrinth on the lawn. The two speakers were inspiring. The second one, a man, spoke to my condition as he told his story about his spiritual practices and journey. Both speeches are to be published in ‘Quaker Voices’. There is also a report of the weekend in Quaker News. A particular pleasure for me was finding at very short notice I was called on to tell a story (from the Arabian Nights) in front of 80 friends, gathered for an evening of entertainment on the Saturday evening. As someone who is still fearful on occasion of getting up and speaking in public, I felt real satisfaction in letting it happen. Great fun if only for me.
From the subsequent email correspondence, I’m aware that the weekend has also been inspirational for many others present there. I hope that as many of you will take the opportunity to look at ‘Deepening the Life of the Spirit’ for yourself or as part of a group. I also brought back a copy for the library of ‘God just is. Approaches to silent worship’ by Curt Gardner. There is a lot more to Quaker Life that I’m only just beginning to find out about, as there is to Quakers in general for that matter. If you wish, you can find out more on the website, http://www.quaker.org.uk. I would also encourage you to join in the QL Network. We want more members!
Quaker Life Representative Council
13-15 April 2012
At Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham
Report to Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting
6th day 5th month 2012