Our Feathered Friends

It was a time of war. When is it never? The Americans were fighting the British. The French were fighting the British and then there were the First Americans, fighting everyone and no-one. And in the midst of this troubled land lived a community of Quakers or Friends. They had long cleared an area in the woodland to build their houses. First, the Brits came to tell them to leave, ‘We cannot guarantee your safety, if you stay.’ And the Americans too. ‘There will be trouble, grave trouble. Best leave.’ And some of the families did go but most of them stayed for they were peaceful people, they reckoned…and they’d planted their homes in this woodland. Who would hurt them?

One Sunday morning on a lovely summer’s day, most of the families were gathered together as usual in meeting for worship. The meeting house was made out of timber. With no glass in the windows, just unshuttered and open to the breeze, in flittered a curious bee and two playful butterflies, dancing in the beam of sunlight falling across the centre table. A young girl watched all this with drooping eyelids. On the window ledge, a young robin sang for a few moments before flying through the room and out the opposite window in search of berries and insects.

Holes in the wood let the light in and through them, she could see the greenery outside, the bushes and trees. Three elders sat together on a bench, eyes closed in prayer. Meeting could go on like this for several hours in those days and the little girl, sleepy, leant against her mum, trying to stay awake. It was hard for her. The warm air lifted. Was that a blue flash passing through a bush, left quivering? She listened to the steady, slow breathing of her mother next to her, her warm body rising and falling gently. Through a knothole, she saw a second flash, red this time and rubbed her eyes. And when she peered again, all was quiet and still…

She was just falling asleep when something made her look up. In the open doorway stood a dozen First Americans, arrows drawn in their bows, dircted towards them. She noticed the long knives hanging from their belts and something else too…was that hair..? And now, all the friends in the room watched with eyes wide open and waited.

One of the elders stood and, speaking in French, palms upwards, welcomed the visitors and invited them to join them. One of the First Americans interpreted for the chief, who stared at them. He relaxed and, saying through the interpreter, told them that he and his men also worshipped their spirits in peace and would gladly join with them. They made to come in but the elder raised his hand. ‘Please, your weapons…leave them outside. The men looked at their Chief but when he took off his bow and arrows and knives and placed them by the door, they all followed. The Quakers made space for them on the benches and, together, they fell into a gathered stillness inside the meeting house in the clearing in the wood.

At the end of meeting, the elder shook the hand of the Chief and invited them all to join them for food. And they did. Much later, when they were ready to leave, the Chief took a white feather, he said, as a token of peace, and pinned it above the door to the meeting house. ‘Everyone seeing this  knows you are our friends and will not harm you.’

Or so the story goes…I’ve been in touch with Easton Meeting in New York State. They told me that the old timbered meeting house of that time is long gone, replaced by a new, shiny modern one. But they still hold their summer meetings there. And they told me the First Americans in that area didn’t wear feathers in their head gear. It’s more likely that the Chief cracked an arrow in half and pinned that above the door as a sign of friendship.

Easton South Meeting House

Every September, the friends of Easton South Meeting gather together to retell this story and think about what truth it holds in the world today.

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Goats

20161020_093011.jpgTwo goats lived either side of a bridge over a river. It was too narrow to pass side by side, so each morning one would waive the other across and vice versa. When one reached the other side, they paused a while to ask how things were going. How were their families? And they wished each other a good morning before going on their way. The few times they did find themselves on the bridge together, they leaned this way and that to help each other past, careful to hold their horns out of the way, mindful not to push the other over into the river.

And this went on for a long time. The two goats were firm friends. Then, one morning, one of the goats started to walk across the stones as usual when it looked up and saw the other had also begun crossing. Strange, it thought, but it does happen. As they drew nearer, the look on the other goat’s face was different this time. It didn’t smile. It didn’t say hello. The first goat cried out ‘Good Morning!’ but this was met by silence. It asked what the matter was. ‘I have to get passed. That ok? Will you let me by?’ But the other goat stood its ground, chest out, horns raised in challenge and spoke not a word. So, the first goat advanced a little and tried to go round but, without the help of the other goat, this was impossible. So, the first goat returned to its bank.

The next day, it tried again. Setting off across the bridge, the other goat started too. They met in the middle and the first goat tried to go by but was stopped by the other. The first started to push harder. The other harder back, their hooves clattering on the stone slabs. After too long like this, the first goat retreated, still without knowing why its friend had turned on it. The third day, the goat really had to get across to the other side. It set off determined, moving faster, blood pumping and eyes wide. And as they met in the middle, it looked like it was seeing into a mirror. They clashed head on, locking horns and banging heads. Neither gave an inch. Both pushed and pulled. It went on for ages till they both fell into the water.

The next day the same happened and the next and the next after that. To my knowledge, they are still pushing and shoving and shouting. Neither will let the other across the bridge and they always end up in the river. I can’t help wondering what on earth happened in the first place. Something must have. And, I wonder, is there any chance they can restore their friendship? Where do you start?

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Wasted

20160330_205442.jpgIt’s Tuesday night

And the bandnight’s on.

Three friends gather

Two guitars, bass, no drum.

Tuning up takes us a while

Catching up on what’s makes us smile.

What to play?

Something out of the canon

From our youth,

Up to the present.

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Five years, is this all we’ve got?

Five years, adds up to this jot.

Five years, wasted playing with this clot.

Wasted five years, all gone to pot.

 

Wasted five years, I once played in a band.

Wasted five years, we toured ‘cross the land.

Wasted five years, has it all come to this?

Wasted five years of static and hiss.

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Five years on, I’ve learned quite a lot.

Five years on, Satchmo to hotchpotch.

Five years on, I still play root notes

Five years on, rhythm being coaxed.

Five years on, I must practise more.

Five years on, life interferes, becomes a chore.

Five years on, then out pops a cork.

Five years on, saluting fans in New York.

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Five years, I close my eyes.

Wasted five years wanting legato, not sighs.

Five years of raising eye brows.

Wasted five years of letting me down.

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Five years on, here’s where I am.

Five years on, I play bass and bam.

Five years on, feels great when we roam.

Five years on, entering the zone.

20160330_205657.jpgFive years, it could be worse.

Five years of playing, not a curse.

Five years of Sultans of Swing,

Five years of times when we ping.

Five years of moidering this song.

Five years of singing along.

Five years, my picking is great.

Five years of it’s not too late.

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It’s Tuesday night

And the bandnight’s on.

Three friends gather

Two guitars, bass, no drum.

We’re still playing

After all this time.

Three friends together

Hot water, beer and wine.

Close your eyes,

Listen with your thumb.

Reach for the prize.

Pick, hammer or strum.

And Tuesday night

Doesn’t fade away.

We still meet,

Older, more foolish and grey.

The mishit notes.

Our play jars a lot.

Yet when we connect,

That’s when we’re hot!

 

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Wasted five years of playing with this clot.

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Five years on being put on the spot.

20160330_205657.jpgFive years of lyrical  flight,

Five years, of giving us life.

 

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Wasted five years of not being heard.

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Five years on, of music and word.

20160330_205657.jpgFive years, well, here’s where we are.

Five years, have we come far ?

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It’s Tuesday night

And the bandnight’s on.

Three friends gather,

Two guitars, bass, no drum.

It’s Tuesday night

And the bandnight’s on.

Three friends gather,

Two guitars, bass, no drum.

It’s Tuesday night

And the bandnight is on.

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A three-cornered conversation

Reflections on an Equipping for Ministry course and more stuff

And yes, I did raise a number of questions which came up for me. Why was that? Because the changes I think I’m making in my life to do with acceptance of God and of me…well, these changes challenged me. I felt I was being tested. Have I really made genuine changes or how much of it is pretence?

Or was that it..? I felt in the comment I wrote in my notebook, ‘I’m still here’ that I was embracing everything the tutors were telling us without feeling the need to push anything away. Love. Love of a mother. Precious. It is raining now at Woodbrooke, pouring on the flat roof of the garden room. I like the sound of falling rain … So, it was a good thing, yeah? Actually, your feelings of love have been strengthened. Tested and strengthened. Do you know that..?

I have got used to using God language. It feels like something I put on. Is that why Jesus unsettles you so? It is a lot to take on. Do you have to take it on? It feels like being stretched a bit too far. That could be growth. It certainly is challenge.I wonder if I do have a smorgasbord approach to being a Quaker? Maybe, I am wishy-washy? Am I? I have to start answering some of these questions now. But not all of them straightaway.

What do I believe in? How do I live my life or try to? Want to live my life..? I know what I want to say. Or think I do. I’m open to God or feel I am. I imagine writing to angels. God and angels are something you feel, experience. I hear a ‘still, small voice’ inside me, guiding me, helping me live my life. It is honest and doesn’t judge me. It holds me with love, accepts my failings and encourages me.

‘Judgement’, the use of the word for me has connotations of having to be something, to strive towards… And it’s high, probably unreachable?

I think I have found a way of living which has helped ground me. My grounding can and will be shaken, like nuts falling from a tree in the wind. And that feels like a good thing.

So, the word ‘judgement’ uncovers layers from your past? Not just to do with religion or faith but also class, even being part of a group – membership? I’m ok spending time on my own. Have to for my sanity’s sake. But feeling part of…that’s something I’ve always found hard to judge. I’m learning to just be, sink in the moment and wait. Be held and trust that you will be guided. It’s not a heavy thing. Don’t make it so. Practise.

So, the word ‘judgement’ evokes lots of underlying feelings around group membership, friendship, introversion, quiet, lonely…STOP!!! Actually, you did feel lonely at times amid the throng of people. But less so. And you practised being gentle with women friends. Well done! More practice needed.

Is so much introspection necessary? As much as you need. How else can you grow?

Sometimes, my membership and friendships seem so fragile. The ground I walk on suddenly feels shaky. A tutor speaks of ‘justice’ and ‘judgement’. It’s all in relationships, isn’t it – personal, community, society? For me, this means trying to lead my life in the best way I can.

During meeting for worship in the Cadbury room, a friend ministers,

Submit to God.

Submit your whole self to God.

Let yourself be held lightly by God

and prepare to be amazed.

Part of me feels I’m heading along these lines, like a stream. I seem to always qualify my statements. Could I not have some wholehearted commitment? Except I’m still learning. I don’t think I know the answers. There’s some pride creeping in there. Is there? But feeling held and loved by God as a loving father is massive change for me. It gives me the question.

The stuff about God’s ‘eternal power’ feels at odds with my personal experience of God’s power and powerlessness. Aren’t they both the same thing? I think what detracts for me is the notion of ‘power over’. Then, glad you did those leadership workshops on the residential now, aren’t you?

And, I think, afraid. I can be dogmatic and self-righteous, judging the life journeys of others. It is an aspect of my character which I feel is the…ego? EfM has been a journey of letting go of the ego. That’s why it’s hard. It can feel like a default position. I need to practise healthier forms of relationships.

And you can do this through your ministry, yes? Singing, storytelling, fooling, writing..? Yes, I can. I hope so. By being here, I have already changed the world, I remember writing. Ha! So, do what you’re called to do. Do it as well as you can. Tell the stories. All the stories. I’ve always been a storyteller, it seems. I can’t shut up. Remember that…

Where is Jesus in all this for you? I haven’t the foggiest. And that’s ok. If that’s wishy-washy, then wishy-washy is ok. Because it’s a place but it’s not the only place. I have a richer underpinning of works and words, which help me stay grounded. And your ministry is your spring? I hope so.

Does that answer your questions? I think it does. For now anyway. There’ll always be questions. And that’s a good thing. Are you a nihilist or a universalist? Good question…or is it? I am me. This will do. In fact, coming to know who I am is a real gift. Time to leave this here, for now? Yes, I think so. I think that’s plenty.

Good. Coffee and a biscuit..?

Sounds good to me.