What a sad country we live in

What a sad country we live in, I texted my friend, going home on the bus. He’d seen it two nights previously. Id just watched ‘My Country’, a National Theatre production at the Liverpool Playhouse, which had recorded the stories and voices of over 70 people after the vote to leave the EU. None of them had felt listened to. They distrusted their leaders. If people had seen just the part Britannia played in reading our leaders’ words during the campaign– all lobster and honour and where was Jeremy..? – perhaps, they would have made different decisions. I thought it a shame this exercise, the listening project, had not happened before the referendum. Regardless of the result, we seem such a sad, cruel island, where people feel imperilled, not necessarily by the EU but ground down by life and its rapid change. Our politicians were decried and I thought of Jo Cox and all the other local, national and EU politicians I’ve met who put in such dedicated unsocial hours to help people. And not a single bullet was fired…

I believe there is to be a film made of ‘My Country’. It deserves a wider audience. It stops you. But catch it best in theatre. It’s off to Manchester next. It takes a needle to your stomach and presses. Maybe, it’s the system that needs changing, not the people in power? And it left me wondering what have we done? And if we have more of this, it could be better.

Advertisements

Borg version 2

I am Borg. I live in a cupboard in a big house. And when I smell a child, I come out, unseen by adults but the children sense me…and smell me…and hear me, dragging my folds of drooping flesh along the floor to get them.

Many people come to the big house, where I live. They bring many children. Their families won’t miss one, a juicy tiddler. I have to live after all and I love to suck the marrow out of the inside a long leg bone.

Listen…there’s one now, coming into the room, all alone. And through the keyhole, I spy her, drawing nearer. What is she searching for…most likely her smart phone? ‘I’m bored!’, she says. Not for much longer, little one. I have your phone. Just a few more steps…come on, yes, open the cupboard…open the door…to let me out…Aghh!

Ella turns on her heels and flies screaming out of the room, back along the corridor and down the stairs. Her three friends rush to her, while I trail after. I am slow, I know, but every bit of this big old house is familiar to me and they can hide but I will find them. And when I do, they will become Borg too. That’s just how it is.

Ella points back to the upstairs room, unable to find her words. What can she tell them? And the other children follow her finger. From the top of the banister, my dark red eyes glow fiercely at them. They scramble in wails and leg it. Slowly, savouring the meal which will soon be mine, I follow them, leaving behind a trail of fresh orange flesh scales, rubbed onto the carpet. Something else the children will have to answer for…

As I descend the stairs, all has gone quiet. Adults pass freely by me and through me, without notice. They’re not in the game, not any more. They escaped. Only the children…only the blood and meat of the children keep me going. I raise my snout in the air. They think they are clever, that they can outrun me. What fools they are! No-one escapes Borg. No-one!

I enter the library. At the back, there is a cupboard. All is still but I know they’re here, all four of them, silent, eyes popping out at each other in the darkness.. I hear their hearts bopping, their breath racing. Soon, I will eat one of them.

I crawl to the door of the cupboard and fling it open, belching my rotten breath to numb them. Ella emerges instantly, brushing my side before I can grab her and runs off, shrieking. A grown up, distracted by the noise, comes into the room. I hate these adults. I wish I could eat them too.

While I’m looking back, two more dash past me. They scream too. You are safe…for now…but one day, I will tear you apart and eat your heart.

There is one more. A boy. A boy is in here in the dark inside the cupboard, stacked with chairs. For a moment, I hesitate. Maybe, I’m mistaken. Could the boy have hidden somewhere else?  Just then, he squeezes out and I’m caught unawares. He is too quick for me and rushes past before I can grab him.

Then, they are outside on the grass on a kind of maze, etched onto the lawn. It only has one way in. One way in means…One way out! Go in, go in, my lovely bones. Go in…and I will follow you and make you all Borg.

And they go into the labyrinth.

I reach the entrance.  There is a traffic light on red. I wait. It stays on red for a long time. I can hear the children, talking and shouting, then, suddenly, the light changes to green and all I hear are the chill wind at my back and the cry of a solitary crow. I rumble in.

Further along the path,, there is a notice, ‘Think’. A lot of good that does anyone and I press on. I am hungry. It is weeks since I have tasted meat and these four will not escape me again. I am almost at the centre…another notice, ‘Feel’. Who puts this nonsense here?

I reach the opening to the centre of the labyrinth. And there’s the girl, Ella with her friends, huddled together and squealing under a notice, ‘Hold’, when they see me coming. I spit on the floor to slaver my throat and wet my teeth. But suddenly, the lights change at the entrance from green to amber to red and I must wait. I feel as if I can almost reach them. No hurry!

The children are holding something. What is it? It looks like an…anchor? What have they got an anchor for? Where..? And they rise into the air beneath the anchor. The fresh wind blows, helping the four holding onto its long chain to take off. Ella’s foot dangles over me, as they sway and she nearly falls off. I open my slimey jaws to catch her but they pull her back in before I can bite and are gone. Red-Amber-Green – I walk into an empty chamber.

There is nothing for it but to return to my cupboard and lick my toes. I’ll not forget them, Ella and her three silent companions. Borgs live in cupboards for a very long time. I have never seen a dead one, though there may be one in your kitchen cupboard. All I can say is ‘Don’t prod.’

And, in time, I turned into human form and worked as the house manager. Some years pass before Ella and her three friends return to the house. I watch them. I greet them. I know them. I shake hands with each of them in turn and lick my lips. And they know me. ‘Welcome back’, Ella and friends. You are all Borg now and their eyes begin to glow amber red in the gloaming!

‘We are not Borg! My name is Ella and these are my friends.’ Startled, I take half a step back. It is enough to let Ella brush past me and when she turns, her eyes are shining a deep brown. She should be Borg..? She calls out to her friends, ‘Here now, come now…Now!’ And the charm is broken and they burst past me and out into the garden. And I gasp…

Borg

I am Borg. I live in a cupboard in a big house. And when I smell a child, I come out, unseen by adults but the children sense me…and smell me…and hear me, dragging my folds of drooping flesh along the floor to get them.

Many people come to the big house and they bring many children. Their families won’t miss one, a juicy tiddler. I have to live after all and I love to suck on the marrow inside a crisp, long leg.

Listen…there’s one now, coming into the room, all alone. And through the keyhole, I spy her, drawing nearer. What is she searching for…most likely her smart phone? ‘I’m bored!’, she says. Not for much longer, little girl. I have your phone. Just a few more steps…come on, yes, open the cupboard…open the door…and let me out…Aghh!

Ella turns on her heels and flies screaming out of the room, back along the corridor and down the stairs. Her three friends rush to her, while I trail after. I am slow, I know, but every bit of this big old house is familiar to me and they can hide but I will find them. And when I do, they will become Borg too. That’s just how it is. It is The Way.

Ella points back to the upstairs room, unable to find her words. What can she tell them? And the other children follow her finger. From the top of the banister, my dark red eyes glow fiercely at them. They scramble in wails and leg it. Slowly, savouring the meal which will soon be mine, I follow, leaving behind a trail of orange fleshy scales, rubbing into the carpet. Something else the children will answer for…

As I descend the stairs, all has gone quiet. Adults pass freely by me, through me, without notice. They’re not in the game, not any more. They escaped. Only the children…only the blood and meat of the children keep me going. I raise my snout in the air. They think they are clever, that they can outrun me. What fools they are! No-one escapes Borg. No-one. Ever!

I enter the library. At the back, there is a tall wardrobe. All is still but I know they’re here, all four of them, with silent, eyes popping out at each other in the dark.. I hear their hearts bopping, their breath racing. Soon, I will eat one of them.

I creep to the door of the cupboard and fling it open, belching my hot, rotten breath to numb them. Ella emerges instantly, brushing my side before I can grab her.  She runs off, shrieking. A grown up, distracted by the noise, comes into the room. I hate these adults. I wish I could eat them too.

While I’m looking back, two of ybe others dash past me. They scream too. You are safe…for now…but one day, I will tear you apart and eat your heart.

But there is one more, a boy. A boy is in here in the dark inside the wardrobe, stacked with chairs. For a moment, I hesitate. Maybe, I’m mistaken. Could the boy have hidden somewhere else?  Just then, he squeezes out and I am caught unawares. He is too quick for me and rushes past.

Now they are outside on the grass where there is a kind of maze, etched onto the lawn. It only has one way in. One way in…One way out! Go in, go in, my lovely bones. Go in…and I will follow and make you all Borg, like me.

And they entered the labyrinth.

I reach the entrance.  There is a traffic light on red. I wait. It stays on red for a very long time. Further along the pathway, I hear the children, talking and shouting, then, suddenly, the light changes to green and all goes quiet, except for the chill wind at my back and the cry of a solitary crow. I rumble in.

Some way in, there is a notice, ‘Think’. A lot of good that does and I press on. I am hungry. It is weeks since I have fed and these four will not escape me again. I am almost at the centre. There is another notice, ‘Feel’. Who puts this nonsense here?

I reach the opening to the centre of the labyrinth. And there’s the girl, Ella, with her friends, sitting close together. They are squealing under a notice, which says ‘Hold’. I spit on the floor to slaver my throat and wet my teeth. But then the light changes at the entrance to amber and red and I must wait. I feel I can almost reach them. No hurry….

The children are holding something. It looks like an…anchor? Where have they got an anchor from? What..? And they rise into the air beneath the anchor. The fresh wind blows past, helping the four holding onto its long chain to push off. They sway and, for one moment, Ella’s foot dangles in front of me. I open my slimey jaws to catch her but they pull her back before I can strike and they’re gone. Red-Amber-Green – I stare into the empty chamber.

There is nothing for it but to return to my cupboard and lick my toes. I’ll not forget them, Ella and her three silent companions. Borgs live in cupboards for a very long time. I have never seen a dead one, have you…though there may be one inside your cupboard? My advice…don’t prod.

In time, I turn into my human form and work as the house manager. Some years pass before Ella and her three friends return to the house. And I remember them. I watch them. I greet them. I know them. I shake hands with each of them and lick my lips. And they know me. ‘Welcome back’, Ella and friends. You are all Borg now and our eyes darken amber red in the gloaming!

 

Tanglements

“Turned out raining again”, I said to the paper seller in the shop. “We need rain”, he said and that was all. I nodded in agreement. It was raining heavily. Over the weekend, a goodly number of us were gathering to look afresh at our Quaker Testimonies for living today.

Friends (or Quakers) from Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting gathered in the conference room for the first session after dinner – an introduction to our Quaker Testimonies – and I’d like to tell you what went on and I would have done – something about living faithfully today is challenging to authority – had Elizabeth not come up to me during dinner to say Jai had been delayed and would I take the children; do something on storytelling. There were four of them – wild, stone short people with pointed nails and sharp teeth (I was to find out only too ruefully later they also had the power of DAB moves and ‘mannequin’). So, in we went to the Lounge at Glenthorne where one of them started telling a story…

‘There once was a grandma, who, distracted by a team of young and fit professional football players, left her handbag on the train. The sliding door told her it was too late as she realised and watched the train pull away. How then to get to Grasmere without any money or cards? A kind woman gave her a £20 note. Not enough to get to Grasmere but a kind taxi driver said he would take them anyway. The following day, another kind woman drove grandma back to Oxenholme to collect her handbag, returned from Glasgow, with everything still in it.’

I then played a recording of Tué, Tué (Rice Cakes for Sale) on my phone to get everyone moving and tried to interest them in a story I’d written, ‘Kids, Yer Tea’s Ready (Part 1)’ but already they were not interested. Rather, they were itchy, restless, searching, seeking out playful adventures. And that is how they came to meet The Borg for the first time.

The Borg lives inside a cupboard in a big house and loves to chase Short Ones when it smells them coming. And when it captures one, the poor child becomes Borg too, increasing in number the bubbles on its enormous belly by one. Or it will eat them whole or, not hungry, more mischievously, pull an arm off for a juicy snack later, before returning sated to its cupboard. And Long Ones cannot tell the Borg (very few, anyway) and this is probably just as well.

What happened to the four Short Ones is told in a separate tale, not here. As it was the national day of Healing, the Saturday morning saw us in meeting for worship with our friend, Elizabeth, offering touching shoulders and forehead. It felt comforting. Well, it is. A friend commented so many of us live alone and never give or get a hug…

I next ran a session on Quaker Life (QL). It seems most of us have very little idea of the work of QL. (see Quaker Faith and Practice 8.08 for an overview of QL Central Committee). Now, here is a question for you. Which member of our Area Meeting serves on QL Central Committee? Well done, all of you. The answer is, of course, Isobel, of Southport Meeting? And if you read 8.08, you’ll be surprised by the range of support and service QL offers, seemingly,  from birth to death and everything inbetween. And this may be why it seems so nebulous; even why friends may feel in some meetings it feels like an unnecessary encumbrance.

In the afternoon, in spite of the rain, a small party of nine (five Long Ones and four Short) set off for Eskdale Tarn, high above us in the hills. Although we never got there, turned back by the clock as much by the rain and chill and the prospect of cake and hot drinks, and by France v Wales on the tele, we had such a good walk together. ‘Don’t go straight through that puddle…oh, fair enough, go straight through it then…’ Oh well, we were all wet through by this time, anyway, and we sang Ten Green Bottles and The Grand Old Duke of York and, bizarrely, You’ve Got the Cutest Little Baby Face in two-part harmony on the fells. Who says Quakers do not sing in ministry?

Later that evening, our friend, Julia, took us through our testimony to Simplicity. We spoke of the challenges we face, arising from status and peer pressure, particularly on children. Big car, little car, gadgets…’I’m bored!’ one of the children had said early on, as two of the others played games on their devices. I suddenly felt the need for solitude and fresh air. On the path outside, I paused to look at a border of plants and shrubs; each one different, in shape, pattern and colour, yet fitted together beautifully in an overall form. Who was the gardener, I wondered? Each plant was made up of its roots, stem, branches and buds in a simple, repeated pattern. My vista opened up across the valley. These simple patterns were repeated right across. But what about us…have we forgotten that we’re simple too? Striving too hard for individual advancement, what has happened to the idea of working for the general good? This is why our Testimonies to Equality and Peace, Simplicity and Truth are still radical, friends. They challenge us to challenge ourselves and others.

And after that, for all the time we spent there, I never saw any of the children play on a SMART phone again. They were too busy inventing games and playing together, when they weren’t working with Jai, the Children’s Programme Coordinator, or terrified by the sudden appearance of The Borg. So, how do we connect our children and young people in our local meetings and further afield,so that we get to know one another..?

On Sunday morning, following a deeply ‘gathered’ meeting for worship, our friend, Ed, led us to consider our Peace Testimony. Many Quakers are peacemakers, yes. It is what draws some us towards becoming Quaker. For others, it is a barrier. We heard about Conscientious Objectors. We didn’t hear that roughly a third of Quaker men enlisted straight away at the outbreak of the first World War. We are human, after all. And we spoke of working through our own personal conflicts at work or in meeting or elsewhere.  In Quaker meetings…surely not? Quakers are peacemakers, after all. But we don’t have a monopoly on peacebuilding. Other individuals and organisations do it just as well or better.

And some Quakers are not good at all at peacemaking, avoiding raising difficult issues. Indeed, a wise friend once told a story about some friends not dealing with a situation in their meetings, because it meant stirring up strong emotions…so better left unsaid…perhaps, it will sort itself out in time…and sometimes this can go on for years. Or tensions can arise over who has ‘Power’; not wanting to let go. “How bumpy are our carpets, friends?” she asked.

 I mentioned avpb, a charity, which runs workshops enabling us to talk more freely about difficult subjects in a healthier way. And yes, we are peacemakers too.

Our friend, Ed, had gone for a walk up the valley on the first morning and had seen two red squirrels, a heron and a hawk. I felt envious. Glad to say, on my own walk on Sunday afternoon, I ‘bumped’ into a plump red squirrel, stuffed with nuts on a garden feeder. So used to walkers passing by, it simply moved round the trunk of the tree and vanished. I cautiously moved back and forwards to try and see where it was. And then it was there, with unmistakeably fluffy red tufts, straight out of Beatrix Potter. It ignored me completely but let me admire it from a respectful distance.

I was retelling this story the next day to a couple from Coventry at breakfast when a red squirrel danced delightfully across the lawn towards a bare, reddish bush. We turned to face out of the window, looking and smiling. Another friend walked slowly down the path towards the bush, carrying a breakfast tray to his wife, who had a poorly sprained ankle. Would he notice the squirrel in the bushes..?  He hesitated and turned towards us, gesturing towards the bush…and we all replied with thumbs up in an excited and slightly crazy manner that only seeing a red squirrel can induce. It felt we were suddenly joined together, friends, by the invisible strings of our ‘tanglements’…for good and for ill, for light and for shade. Let us believe and take heart in the goodness inside all of us and continue working for a better life for you, for yours, for mine and ours, and for theirs; especially for theirs, while our portions grow so unequally.

Book review of Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nichols

close-eyes-1of2You have 15 minutes to write a review of Sally Nicholl’s book, ‘Close Your Pretty Eyes’.

What?! I can’t do that. I can’t do it. It’s impossible. How do you do justice to such a cracking read in 15 minutes?

Under 15 now. Get on with it.

I love Sally Nicholl’s books. This is the third I’ve read. On Equipping for Ministry at Woodbrooke, I was looking for something I thought a little lighter from Swarthmore lectures and the rest. My eyes lit on her first book, ‘Ways to Live Forever’ and I loved every word of it, despite it dealing with the death of a child with cancer. She does wring your heart out with her words. ‘So, not that easy a read, then?’ They’re page turners. What I like is that I quickly read 50 pages at a sitting. I never do that these days.

‘Close Your Pretty Eyes’ is a ghost story. It deals with domestic abuse of children, neglect, the attempt of the social services to support the child, the efforts and dedication of social workers, the different experiences of foster carers. It’s quite a mountain to climb. The central character is Olivia, a small child, who develops ways to survive, which are not helpful to building relationships. Liz, her social worker and a constant, is a support. You ask yourself, what would I do? How would I cope? If I were in Olivia’s shoes. In the foster carer’s and their family’s shoes?

By the time I finished this book, my eyes were fully open. God bless, Olivia, wherever you are today. I hope you made it. And God bless all those carers too. And I look forward to my next Sally Nicholl’s book (all of which I’ve donated after reading to our Local Meeting library), whenever it falls into my lap. They’re that kind of book. She’s that kind of author.

‘Time up!’ No, two minutes to spare…close-eyes-2of-2

‘Time up now!’

Snugs, songs and tearooms

Elspeth stood up after choir practice the other night to announce it would be her birthday20170212_140827.jpg shortly and she would like to invite everyone to come on a walk and sing around Sefton Park in two Sunday’s time.

So, I did. I made a good start on the way as a kingfisher sped past me along the stream, stopping to perch on a branch overhanging the bank, twenty feet away. I bid it good morning before it darted off back and, further on, a second kingfisher, resting in a bush, watched me curiously – peep – and, not long after that, a robin nodded in my direction.

Inside the hotel function room, around thirty of Elspeth’s friends were gathered. We quickly got to the warm up work – all tongues and tums; a lot of up- and down-reach, which always makes people laugh, especially when in a collective. We sang ‘Happy Birthday…Ha, ha…ppy birthday!’ and all got there in the end.

Members of Liverpool Voice and Liverpool Socialist Singers choirs and from none had come together to practise – This Land is Your Land, Rolling Hills, Down to the Greenwood and others…a special programme put together to honour the park by Elspeth and her husband, Martin. When we were all confident of our words, rhythm and parts, we set off into the chill, dry parkland, once the home of roaming deer, the hunting targets of royalty and their friends.

20170212_115308.jpgWe paused by a cave to sing ‘This Land is Your Land’. At the bandstand, we sang ‘Building Bridges’ and ‘Hey ho to the Greenwood’ and a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ in as many languages and tunes as we could muster. Impromptu dancing and smiles broke out on the floor to celebrate our friend’s birthday as well as to keep warm. Hot grog was dispensed and no injuries, thankfully, were reported.

On the way, I fell in to walking with Elspeth, telling her what a good idea I thought singing and walking was. ‘You know, I was talking with my GP last week (she’s also interested in singing, though too busy at the minute to join a choir) and told her how, over Christmas, I had felt a real sense of wellbeing, which stood out from previous ones. I even cooked Christmas dinner for four people for the first time ever and enjoyed it! I asked myself what had changed and the only thing new I could think of was singing in a choir. With concerts, rehearsals and listening to music all the time around Christmas, I was filled with music and singing.’

20170212_115320.jpgIn turn, Elspeth told me about her singing and cycling holidays.  And she and Martin had been on a singing holiday along the Settle to Carlisle railway. Much of this involved singing rounds of song, repeated, in carriages, tea rooms, and pubs. Another seed planted, then, I thought, to go with our wildflower seed bombs, lovingly assembled by Ingrid and her friends.

We arrived out of the cold at The Palm House and the relief of toilets! Here, we sang ‘Rolling Home’ and ‘Keep You in Peace’ rather beautifully for ‘two choirs and none’ who had never performed together before and for whom some of the songs had been completely new just an hour earlier.  We even had an appreciative audience.

Chatting with a friend while eating vegan scouse later, I told her about a Facebook posting I’d read about learning music. It explained a lot about why I had been having difficulties in the choir at the start. My usual way of learning was to take the long view and practise and keep going till it comes together, making mistakes along the way and learning from them or not. But with a carol concert just round the corner, you don’t have the luxury of time. And it was forcing me to learn in ways I only used when I had to, using concentrated bursts of thought and energy. The posting spoke of how scientific studies show we use different parts of our brain, areas which are often underused, while learning music. I certainly felt this as my head was often hurting leaving our weekly practices. Still, it is doing me good, yes..? And yes, it’s getting better. Hope so!

20170212_131241.jpgOur last stop before returning to the hotel was at the Meadows, where we belted out ‘We all love the Meadows’ along with spontaneous outbursts of ‘Turn Your Partner’!

Another friend at our table spoke of having her enthusiasm for singing rekindled by today but she was nervous. She’d not studied music for many years. ‘Ah,’ I told her, ‘not everybody reads music in our choir. Quite a few record the songs in the room. But, once you know which line you’re singing for which part (alto, tenor and so on), then, as long as you’re given the first note, you can learn to follow the notes; sing higher when they go up, lower when they go down and on the level when they’re flat. And you begin to learn the rhythm, to count the number of beats in time too. And you can usually find the song with the arranger on youtube and listen to that as well as downloading midi-files for the different parts; often a backing track with a keyboard playing your part. I’ve found this very helpful,’ I told her. ‘Maybe, I will come along then,’ she said.

20170212_140833.jpgIt had been a memorable morning; a great sing and hearing new songs and old. Doing something different was amazing. We really made a thunder under the greenwood trees! And what did the birds and the park visitors make of us? Hard to say with grown-ups but their children gave us their smiles and the ‘thumbs up’!

Just remains for me to say thank you and ‘Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-ppy Birthday, Elspeth!’…and wonder when and where we are going to go walking and singing next time?

20170212_173328.jpg

Answering that of God in everyone

20161014_143707.jpgAt the beginning of his talk, Alex Wildewood asked us two questions: ‘What might be the Quaker contribution to the evolutionary shift of consciousness that many prophetic voices believe we are called to in this time?’ and ‘What gifts, skills and talents can I personally bring to the transition to a just and sustainable future for all beings?’

We met in a Quaker context, he said, but these questions relate to everyone. And responses flowed. At the end, one friend asked how would she take all that she’d learned back to her Area Meeting (AM). What about all the hand-outs? Who would she give them to? Well, they’re sent to directly to all AM clerks, so that answers that point. Would anyone else read them? Her companion asked her simply. ‘What brings you joy, friend?’ A strange question, ay! ‘Discover that and then take that back to your meeting.’ ‘It’s such a daunting subject’, she went on. ‘Listen, you don’t have to give answers. Sit with the question, whatever that is. Wait for the question in the garden and answers will come.’ ‘Really? Can I do that? Is it that simple?’ ‘Yes,’ her friend smiled, ‘I know this from my own experience’.

Funny the things you pick up on at Woodbrooke. I had arrived there with a troubled mind. ‘I’m only really here for the singing’, I told friends cheerfully and truthfully. ‘Oh, and the fellowship…’ Actually, the subject matter explored during the weekend at Rep Council takes you to a deep place. It is genuinely challenging and also provides you with tools and ways for leaving with a lighter step, hopefully. It’s not true for everyone and not always for me either.

The reason I was troubled had been my perceived lack of involvement in planning campaigns at my local meeting. On the one hand, I looked at my way of life now and I have taken many steps to live more simply and sustainably. On the other hand, I could play a more active role, planning and supporting initiatives in my meeting, such as Buy Nothing Day and actions against the militarisation of schools. But I want to play guitars with my two friends on Tuesday nights and sing in my local community choir on Thursdays. Had I grown accustomed to being me, valuing my own identity above that of the group? If that were so, how then did I find my way into adult education, into active trade unionism and become a facilitator for avpbritain, not to mention bringing up a family? Life is complex, isn’t it, friends? Many different questions and responses pop up for us at different stages of our lives. And the more I sit with this question, I wonder how do we use all our proven methods, such as meeting for worship for business, for clearness and threshing meetings to discern our way forward as a community?

20161014_143707.jpgDuring my Equipping for Ministry course at Woodbrooke a helpful phrase was given to me. ‘By being born, you have already changed the world.’ So, while I do worry about all kinds of things, I needn’t ‘worry’. And my ministry turned out to be quite unexpected. It is to tell stories. Not much more than that, really, though some say ‘blessed are the storytellers’, don’t they? Don’t they? So, I write a story for my AM report, for Hardshaw and Mann, which pays quite a lot of money for me to be here. I rarely attend AM for worship for business, not because I don’t want to. I value greatly the connection with friends in the wider AM. I’m afraid, life’s events or just tiredness after a long week prevent me too often from going. Yet, I always hope I’ll be there. Anyway, I write a story as my report just for one person. I just don’t know who that is. And it’s for God, of course. And that’s ok, I hope. Till someone tells me otherwise but, by then, I will have written enough stories on Rep Council and it will be time for another friend to share their gifts with our AM.

During one session in our home group, we spent time discussing whether we now need a fifth testimony of Sustainability. Many friends say it is already covered by our testimony to Simplicity?  One friend spoke powerfully and truthfully that she had come to the view that they were not the same. She felt it was important that we sustain ourselves first and that this was not the same as living simply. The problems of the world were overwhelming for one person or even one group. We can easily be lost. We cried a little. She went on ‘We need compassion for ourselves. Only then can we look out further.’ And who else is out there? Do we know what they’re doing? And is there a role for you, for us to play? Might you even initiate something, if you feel called, if you have a concern with your meeting? I thought of Liverpool Storytellers and my involvement in its early days.

20161014_143707.jpgStill, wagging fingers point straight at me. ‘You’re not doing enough. The planet is grieving. The earth is crying. It is breaking and you sit here singing in the garden!’

One response came to me on the labyrinth, helping to facilitate two consecutive groups on the Saturday afternoon. There were about eight in the first one in, plus three facilitators, and more in the second, perhaps a dozen. With the first group, I hung back till most had entered before walking in. I was mainly aware of my own thoughts, of my own journey on the way to the centre. On the way back, however, I became more aware of the others walking with me, around me, sometimes beside me or coming towards me. We seemed far apart at times and I needed those gaps (well, I am a Quaker, after all. Don’t we all! Perhaps, it was the gaps that drew me and which keep me here?) On the labyrinth and reflecting afterwards, I realise how important it was to make my journey but that also, by being part of it, I was connecting with others in a very deep way. We were all on a journey.

I wanted to observe this more carefully on the second walk. I went in early this time and was surprised by what gently happened. I brought myself back at times to observe but mostly I was given to the labyrinth. It was a joyful experience to walk the labyrinth with a group, united by having spent time together over food as well as discussions in the home group; by tears… The labyrinth at Woodbrooke is a wonderful gift and I had spoken briefly beforehand to the groups about its spiritual qualities for me. ‘It helps me settle, to see a way forward when all roads look blocked.’ One friend commented afterwards that it felt like being in meeting for worship.

20161014_143707.jpgWe gathered the threads together on the final morning of the weekend. What I bring back with me is not only the singing but also the warmth and fellowship, the love of over 100 friends present from all the AMs in Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM). I do not feel personally responsible for the whole burden of how we care for our earth. I have taken time through Equipping for Ministry and life’s experiences and opportunities to discern that the path I am on is the right one for me and, as best I can, to practise my gifts. Doubts perturb me from time to time and this is a good thing. At the best of times, I know why I’m here, friends. And it is liberating.

I will also take back with me the image of a tiny sapling breaking through the tarmac, and of my bare feet walking on the grass, planted on the ground as well as a sense of feeling ‘like a box that can burst’. As Joanna Macy writes, ‘The heart that breaks is the heart that contains the world.’

And during the final meeting for worship, just before we parted, I felt moved to minister and tell the story of the eagle that hatched with the chicks and thought all of its life it was one …adding that some of the chickens left the hen house and hid in the forest, where their wing feathers grew  and one day they all flew high into the sky, like an eagle flies.

And a friend sang in ministry, ‘Here comes the Sun…’, not a bad way for an ending or a beginning. So, with no little fear, yet with great heart, I hope, I go back into the world and return to my Quaker community to offer this story. I hope it is enough, friends. I can give no more right now.

flower-concreteFurther Reading:

Joe Farrow and Alex Wildwood – Universe as Revelation, an ecomystical theology for Friends

Quaker Faith and Practice (QF&P 26.30)     What is love? What shall I say of it, or how shall I in words express its nature? It is the sweetness of life; it is the sweet, tender, melting nature of God, flowing up through his seed of life into the creature, and of all things making the creature most like unto himself, both in nature and operation. It fulfils the law, it fulfils the gospel; it wraps up all in one, and brings forth all in the oneness. It excludes all evil out of the heart, it perfects all good in the heart. A touch of love doth this in measure; perfect love doth this in fullness.

Isaac Penington, 1663

Advices and Queries 42 We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.