What is the ground and foundation of a gathered meeting?
- Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold. In the silence ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship. Try to find a spiritual wholeness which encompasses suffering as well as thankfulness and joy. Prayer, springing from a deep place in the heart may bring healing and unity as nothing else can. Let meeting for worship nourish your whole life.
Advices and queries
I headed off to Rep Council with a heavy heart. There was an unresolved family issue, concerning the health of my eldest son. I’d planned to be away for the weekend but so was my ex-wife, with whom he lived. Thankfully, his brother was able to come back. This was the dark cloud hanging over me when I arrived at Woodbrooke. I didn’t feel fully present for most of the weekend. It was a strain and I haven’t got a deputy. Better ask for one, preferably someone from a different Local Meeting, I thought; someone to work with and who can take over as Rep when my triennium ends.
‘I’ve never been to Liverpool. I will do one day, ‘ said a friend. ‘Well, don’t rush it. It’s still there. Take your time. It’s like going to Ithaca. Take a whole life time to reach there.’ And I don’t know why but I told this woman the whole story about my ‘stepping off the carousel’ at work. A few years ago now, it was a very low time for me. Being threatened with capability for failing to meet targets, ones, which grew ever higher each year, wasn’t pleasant. Well, if I couldn’t do this work well, what would happen if I just stopped? What if I just stopped and started to breathe, taking ‘five minute’s peace’ at work when my brain became frazzled with too much stuff, waiting quietly? Be still – watching, listening, noticing. So, I did. And it has led to me enjoying my work and exploring ways of communicating in all my relationships.
I reached out. Being a Quaker is a huge part of who I am. I assume people know this. It is difficult to put this over to people in words, especially as it’s taken me years to understand this far. In meeting for worship, everything looks so ordered, doesn’t it, sitting there quietly in the stillness in the circle.
It’s where I meet with God. But it’s not the only place. In fact, in my breathing and movement exercises, during my daily ‘20 minute morning prayer’, when walking to work or even chopping my vegetables for the evening meal, I feel I am opening to God’s presence. It’s practice. And there are times when I do find it.
‘How is your meeting, friend?’ ‘I’d say we are a happy meeting and we’re a small crew.’ For some reason, I thought back to when, long ago, a friend, Elaine, welcomed me to my meeting. ‘I’m sorry we’re not a friendly meeting’, she’d say. Now that she’s getting older and trying to cope with Alzheimers, I tell her when I see her how friendly we are now and how grateful I am to her.
Just a few weeks ago, I opened up the meeting house and welcomed a young man attending for the first time. He’d once met a Quaker, called Barbara, when he was a kid. ‘She used to come round and visit me mum. She made a mac out of old crisp packets.’ She did! I remember her wearing it to meeting and thinking…oh, well, you can imagine. But I saw her face. I pictured her singing in ministry, which she did often. She recited poetry by heart as ministry too. I didn’t know it then but she was one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met.
Barbara, along with another friend, Julia, who’s still very much part of our local meeting, were the first people I ever heard singing during meeting for worship. ‘So, you can do that, then? People sing? And that’s ministry too..?
I recall absent friends.
A little later, I was walking around the building at Woodbrooke, when I came upon a notice board, put there to aid communication and provide information to questioners. I found it there to my great surprise and delight. Now, I make time to talk about what’s on it with new friends and the not so new, if asked. In our groups, we spoke of the importance of spending time with people, getting to know one another; of the centrality of meeting for worship; of the unexpected joys of ministry, both giving and receiving, and of creativity; mindful that we are all vulnerable to the unannounced real or perceived hurt.
Rumi says before you get involved, ask yourself three questions. First, is it needed? Secondly, is it fair? And, lastly, is it kind? If the answer to one of these is no, then don’t. Being someone, who is a Quaker, is challenging. But God has no other hands but ours.
Sometimes I wonder if there is too much communication happening with fewer people listening?
We spoke of the deep joy, arising from the children’s ministry. ‘What’s your name?’ a small boy was looking up at me. We’d been singing together in the choir that morning. ‘Ernie,’ I told him. ‘And what’s yours?’ ‘Bert’, he said. ‘Will you play with me on the labyrinth and the swing?’
How tired I felt! There’d been so much talking, so many people listening…and yet, I heard, isn’t it a gift to have time to play with a young boy? I was once a small boy myself. You forget. I checked with his mum. ‘Would that be ok..?’ ‘Yes, of course. Thank you, Ernie.’ As she joined her husband, me and Bert flew outside into the garden and raced towards the labyrinth. We spiralled on swings and laughed like geese.
I received a text from my son.
During the main sessions, in the Cadbury room, we heard about the work that Quaker Life (QL), most of whom are volunteers i.e. us, does:
- The work of Quaker Life Central Committee and the part worship sharing plays at the start of each meeting
- The soon to be undertaken strategic review of Area Meetings
- Quakers in Britain – the future – http://old.quaker.org.uk/future
- Spirituality (Being Friends Together (BFT), the library, publications, community and outreach in world cafes. The Area Meeting is now subscribed to Being Friends Together – http://together.woodbrooke.org.uk/welcome.php
And after, there was information about:
Some of us avoided facing up to conflict in our meetings, likening it, as one friend said, to some long marriages, where everything is fine but concealing ‘forty years of seething resentment’.
A few of us stayed on for an extra night after Rep Council. I’m glad I did because we learned and practised the twenty second hug from a young visitor, Stefan, who appeared on Sunday evening. I dare you to try it out yourself. Turn to the person on your left/right and invite them to have a twenty second hug. It feels like far longer.
The following morning during meeting for worship in the Quiet room, our friend, Pamela, offered all of us the ‘twenty second hug’ as she walked slowly twice round the room. Her footsteps tapped out the seconds on the wooden floor. It was powerful, moving ministry, during which the whole room felt held in Light and Love.
So, I ask you, friend, what does it take to have ‘a grounded Quaker meeting’? Could it be meeting for worship and our spoken and silent ministry? Or is it in the gaps, those places and situations, where we feel most vulnerable, are afraid to go and hope we are upheld by friends and by God? I made it through this weekend at Woodbrooke, feeling upheld by friends, some of whom I hardly knew.
We only have God’s hands, friends. God only has ours.
On the train back home, there was an email from my ex-wife, telling me that my eldest son had had a seizure during Friday night. His younger brother had been glad he’d been there to help and that he coped well.
*Ithaca by C P Cavafy – http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?cat=1&id=74
Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
And, if you wish, listen to it in Greek. It’s superb – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aFTuH1lwjM