Tag Archives: John Senior

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 1 April 2021

Trevor (NFN web person): I hope other Friends will contribute to these reflections.
I received an email this morning from Humanists UK which began: ‘Dear Trevor, You and I are not religious’.

I replied to say: ‘ ‘You and I are not religious’ not a reasonable assumption.
There are many religious humanists.
See David Boulton ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist’ at https://qug.org.uk under pamphlets.
Not even reasonable for British Humanists to be so determinably anti-religious!’
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-26/

(Except the spell-checker didn’t like ‘determinably’ and rendered it ‘determinable’ – never mind, I suppose I meant ‘determinedly’.)

Some attending the NFN MfW with creative conversation presentation by William Purser last night commented that they too were in some sense ‘religious humanists’ or that they were uncomfortable with some humanists’ anti-religious activities and that the value (and values?) of religions or religious groups should not be sniffed at.

I suppose that must include ourselves as members of or Friends of ’The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain’ (or elsewhere).

The meeting was well attended with Friends from right across the UK as well as a few from the USA and I think Africa and possibly elsewhere. (Please let us know!).

We thank William for his presentation ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’. I think William intended to be provocative or at least to provoke some thoughts and reflection in the following ‘creative conversation’ which it certainly did. (It’s perhaps not quite ‘worship sharing’ but not ‘discussion’ although some Friends obviously felt the urge to move in that direction – even debate or Q&A!).

Likewise, I intend to be provocative here or, I hope, to provoke further reflections and conversation (by these people, right here, now on this website as Harvey Gillman might have said).

One participant asked ‘what brought us all to this nontheist meeting, which we are not getting from our own local meetings?’ and (another?) ‘unity or what unites us is more important than anything that might divide us’ – religion, politics or economics for example?

It seems that quite a few of us do identify as ‘humanist’ in some sense, some as atheist, some as ’nontheist’ and some as ‘theist’,  while some thought that any differences between theist/nontheist weren’t even worth talking about.

From my own experience of NFN Friends, conferences and the Steering Group over 10 years, I’m sure there is quite a wide range of views or beliefs held but that all take comfort from our practice in Meeting for Worship and Quaker social activism (which includes political matters and ideas about the need for a ’new economics’).

Have I captured some ‘sense of the Meeting’ and have I been sufficiently provocative, at least not to induce yawns or snores??

(I had intended to put in a whole lot of hypertext links but I’ll assume you can all use ‘duck, duck go’ instead). https://duckduckgo.com/

We did this time have a final 20 minutes in breakout rooms after the meeting and it would be interesting to hear of any feedback (respecting privacy) from those groups. In total I believe we had about 95 attending the meeting and about half remained for the final chat in the breakout rooms at the end. My own area meeting (East Cheshire, near Stockport/Manchester) was quite well represented with at least 4 of us attending and there were two of us in my breakout group. At least one person in the main conversation had commented that men had tended to dominate the contributions a bit and that was true at first in our breakout group (I think there were 4 men and 4 women in that group. I didn’t notice what the overall balance was in the main meeting and I hope my binary reference is acceptable).

At the previous meeting with presentation by John Senior on 4 March there was quite a bit of feedback on the ‘Chat’. This time the Chat was disabled because some people apparently thought it was distracting. I on the other hand thought it was a useful additional channel of communication between participants including the organisers and a means of clarifying items not heard well.
What do you think?

Helen Gilbert on the Facebook group (link below) commented:
Tim (Regan), I enjoyed the Zoom meeting and talk, it would have been lovely to have been able to thank people by written message as I am not always able to get a good connection to speak or be seen. I know having ‘chat messages’ running along side a speaker and discussion can be a bit distracting but it can be helpful if your connection is poor (as I use an underpowered Chrome Book or for those using phones). Would it be possible for the message function to be turned on even if it is for 10 mins at the end just so the speaker and yourself can be thanked?

Comments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868:
Helen Gilbert
I really enjoyed the second of the Non Theist Network meetings for ‘worship’ tonight with an interesting talk on whether religion is the ‘opium of the people’. It was interesting to consider also any links between Jesus and Marx, in the discussion group afterwards. I find myself thinking that for me the link between them is that they were both motivated by compassion and love for those in need, and the motivation and reputation of both have very debatably been damaged by their ‘followers’. Thanks to the NTN for an interesting talk and debate.

Gabi Clayton
Thanks for today. I look forward to the next one.

(See additional comment from the Facebook group under Comments below).

We all now look forward to the next meeting on 6 May: Philip Gross, The language of poetry, and creative uses of the word ‘God’

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 4 March 2021

As mentioned elsewhere in Comments, and as one of over 85 participants, I thought for a first attempt on zoom it went rather well tonight.  This seems like an excellent place for some ‘fizz’ (or is it ‘phys’, snap, crackle and pop?) on the website.

I would like to invite all present at the meeting tonight to offer their feedback, reflections, queries, suggestions and comments here on the website. (Please comment or ‘Leave a reply’ below – comments will appear within 24 hours or so after moderation).

I would like to set the ball rolling by congratulating John Senior on what I thought was an excellent presentation drawn from mainly familiar sources, for provoking much thought, comment and reflection and for being delightfully short, leaving more time for those contributions from many.

Your comments here might include further reflection, references OR comments and suggestions on technical matters and organisation.

We have already had 3 comments (ahead of the meeting) on timing (answered in the comments). One attendee tonight would have liked to start a little earlier whereas I thought a little later (after the children have gone to bed? – see those comments).

There will never be a perfect timing – always inconvenient for somebody and I’m sure the working group will want to leave that as it is at least for the next 3 months tho’ perhaps that can be looked at in the future.

Some people struggled a bit with zoom but that gets easier with practice and I’d suggest people who want to speak, unmute themselves first, whilst keeping quiet and then be ready to speak when invited.  Not quite in the spirit of ‘worship sharing’ but some people obviously felt confident to say or answer something very briefly by interjecting. (Please don’t do that to hold the floor!).  Otherwise as Mackenzie (University Friends Meeting, USA) advised: For anyone looking for the “Raise Hand” button, you might find it under “Reactions” (new zoom) or under Participants (old zoom). (And once raised an option changes to remove raised hand).

For the same Mackenzie, the website I was referring to for Michael Wright’s article on prayer was of course THIS Website! See under ‘Articles’ and scroll down for several articles by Michael which include ‘Prayer beyond belief‘ where Michael deals with ‘The Bible; God; Jesus; Doctrine; and Prayer’ and the section on prayer is a substantial part of the article although he mentions other points relevant to our conversations tonight.

Another suggestion made in the meeting was to have breakout meetings next time for smaller groups (and giving more people time to say something – 8 supporters) whereas others preferred to keep it as one whole group. In some ways, though it might be a bit of a technical burden on the hosts, it might be possible to combine both, with those who want smaller groups to be allocated to say upto half a dozen breakout rooms at random leaving those who prefer ‘a big session’ together in the main room for the others to rejoin at will.  That would certainly be an experiment but it might work.

I will finish with a few quotes from the chat transcription, including references and John’s texts and then it’s over to YOU to continue the conversation if you will.

John Senior Llanidloes to Everyone : Texts quoted:
A&Q 1 & 3
F&P 19.04, George Fox, 1648
F&P 19.07, George Fox, 1652
*George Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Claypole, 1658
F&P 21.65, James Nayler
*William Penn in ‘No Cross, no Crown’, 1682
F&P 26.12, Geoffrey Hubbard, 1974
F&P 20.06 Philip Rack, 1979
*These items should be available online
*Here is the extract from Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Catchpole (Oliver Cromwell’s second daughter) in 1658 quoted in part by John: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/fox_g/autobio.xvii.html#fnf_xvii-p17.1
Elizabeth died later the same year aged 29 and her father died later the same year.
*Here is William Penn’s ‘No Cross, no Crown’:
https://www.gospeltruth.net/Penn/nocrossnocrownIndex.htm
I don’t know if John might provide the quote he used?
John has now provided the text of his presentation and it is available here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/news/john-senior/

From Mackenzie (she/her) University Friends Meeting, USA to Everyone : From North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s F&P (3rd Ed, p.19 – p32 of pdf a 303 page 6Mb document) on nontheist Friends: A number of Friends in NPYM do not believe in the existence of a deity. This perspective cannot be described fully in a few words. Many nontheist Friends live in awe and wonder of the world, feel deep and mysterious connection to people and nature, and are convinced of the infinite sanctity of life. Nontheist Friends share strong callings to service, to the mystery and power of the gathered meeting, and to the importance of community in spiritual growth. Nontheists are warmly welcomed and valued as members of our Friends meetings. (see also http://www.nontheistfriends.org/ our Friends in the USA)

From Michael Boulton in BC Canada to Everyone : For me Quaker Worship is an act of Listening, being open to promptings wherever it comes. It is not noise of profession, but is of active listening, silencing all noise from inside and the external world.

From Enna to Everyone : Can I ask, do you feel comfortable using the phrase: “holding you in the light” instead of “praying for you”
And if so, how does what was said earlier about the light being a luminosity experienced during our stillness, relate to this phrase? or is it a different meaning.

From Gisela Creed to Everyone : I just say: thinking of you with all my heart.

From Pat Blackheath SELAM to Everyone : A good question. Are we humanists? or ?  (David Boulton a principal founder of NFN who was with us tonight wrote for the Quaker Universalist Group in 1997 ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘)

From Helen to Everyone : I hope we have not let go of the possibility of mystical experiences in the silence from whatever the source or attribution it is given either internal or external, for me listening in the silence is the experience that matters, but even though I identify as non-theist I have felt great feeling so love and joy in the silence that felt mystical. I do not know how to pray or hold others in the light except to feel love for them or send love to them in my thoughts so I hope that suffices!

From Paul to Everyone : Jesus lived 2000 years ago and the Buddha lived 2,500 years ago or so and we find their ideas helpful so George Fox is fairly recent in comparison.

I have included above a selection of chat comments with names and hope that is acceptable. I could put the whole transcript (as I got it) on the website for those who didn’t save it but that would involve having everyone (who contributed)’s names there so it might be better to email the clerk if you didn’t and would like a copy.

Now it’s my bedtime too and it really is over to you to continue with any appropriate comments below. (If there are a lot, I won’t respond to all, but you too can help by responding too – Creative Conversations!)

NFN Monthly Meeting reminder

Don’t forget the first of these monthly meetings with Creative conversations is tomorrow night Thursday 4th March 2021 at 7.30pm UK time (UTC). You can see all the details in the previous post and on the relevant (new) page, which is currently set as our home (landing) page under ‘Events’.

We have now added two further confirmed dates/speakers, so John Senior and William Purser will be followed by Philip Gross on Thursday 6th May and Kiera Faber on Thur. 3rd June.

We look forward to seeing you there and if you haven’t registered yet, please email as shown to do so.

New NFN monthly Meeting for Worship and Creative Conversation

At the NFN gathering on Zoom on 27th January a working group was proposed to consider further meetings as Meetings for Worship with Creative Conversations hosted by NFN on Zoom. This working group has now initiated such meetings on a monthly basis as follows:
(Note the additional dates below!)

Nontheist Friends Network (QRB) invites you to a monthly Meeting for Worship followed by Creative Conversation. Each meeting hopes to offer a different topic, shaking the Quaker kaleidoscope and perhaps shining a light on different ways of looking at our (more) traditional ideas.

By Zoom on the first Thursday of the month at 7:30pm UK time, starting on Thursday 4 March, 2021.  (7.00pm from 1 April). All are welcome.

Please email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk to register.

Presenters:

4 March: John Senior, ‘Seeking the Light – is Fox still relevant?’

Please note the new time (6.45 for 7.00pm UK time from 1 April)
1 April: William Purser, ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’

6 May: Philip Gross, The language of poetry, and creative uses of the word ‘God’

3 June: David Parlett, A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest

Date to be confirmed: Kiera Faber, Drawing Silence in Art

Date to be confirmed: David Boulton, Taking Leave of God in the Quaker Tradition

Interested in presenting a ‘Creative Conversation’? All are welcome to share their ideas with the MfW Working group: Gisela Creed, John Senior, William Purser, and Kiera Faber. Email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk.

Format: (New Format from 1 April)

  • Meeting for Worship: approximately 20 minutes for quietly gathering ourselves and connecting.
  • Creative Conversation: up to 20 minutes for presentation or raising a question.
  • Open discussion: up to 30 minutes for creative exchanges, expressions, and reactions; hopefully fostering community and fellowship.
  • Conclusion: ending with a few moments gathered in silence.
  • Duration: 60-90 minutes, depending upon the natural flow of conversation.

Like all Quaker Meetings for Worship, these are open to everyone: Quaker or not, ‘theist’ or ‘nontheist’, ‘religious’ or not.  So we look forward to seeing you there.

The Soul

We have talked about ‘Spirit’ before (use the search box to see) but I thought this post on Through the flaming sword on the soul was interesting about this and quaker nontheism.

Craig Barnett’s blog (Transition Quaker) also has a couple of interesting posts on Rex Ambler’s talk (to Lancashire AM) on ‘God, words and us‘.

Both of these follow on quite nicely from our previous post by John Senior.

Spirituality without Supernaturalism

A guest post from John Senior (mid-Wales Area Meeting):

Finding Inner Stillness – Spirituality without Supernaturalism

John Senior                                                                                                                 June 2019

On a sunny Thursday in late May, nine Friends gathered at remote and tranquil Dolobran Meeting House in mid-Wales for a day of ‘Finding Inner Stillness – an Experiential Exploration following leads given in Advices & Queries 1 & 3’.

This was the culmination of thoughts I first expressed in a short article ‘Words killeth’ published in the Friend, 8th June 2018, and subsequently developed into a 20 minute talk ‘Quaker spiritual practice – Advice and Queries 1 and 3 shorn of supernaturalism’ given at the NFN Conference in March this year. I had become frustrated that all the discussion about the meaning of words used in Quaker Faith and Practice had become a distraction from our mystical experiential roots. There are however, in Advices and Queries at the very beginning of Quaker Faith and Practice, four clear pointers:

‘All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength.  Seek to know an inward stillness…

…even amid the activities of daily life’. (A&Q3)

‘Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts.  Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life’. (A&Q 1)

‘Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God’. (A&Q 3)

Sadly, nowhere in Faith and Practice is there guidance on putting these four instructions into practice.

The response to my article was not encouraging – just a pedantic observation that ‘Words killeth’ is bad English: it should be ‘Words kill’ or ‘The word killeth’.

Undaunted, I set about the task of uncovering practices behind these four instructions, starting by rewriting them shorn of their unhelpful veil of supernaturalism:

All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness…

…even amid the activities of daily life.

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

Hold yourself and others in the Light.

Putting these directions into practice formed the structure of the day at Dolobran.

Geoffrey Hubbard (QF&P 26.12, 1974) states that ‘…one approaches…by efforts which call for the deepest resources of one’s being…to the condition of true silence…not just of sitting still…but of a wide awake, fully aware non-thinking. The thinking me has vanished, and with it vanishes the sense of separation, of unique identity…one is conscious of being a participant in the whole of existence, not limited to the body or the moment… It is in this condition that one understands the nature of divine power, its essential identity with love, in the widest sense of that much misused word’.

We spent most of the morning trying out a range of methods for bringing the mind to stillness – methods widely used in the East, but less familiar to non-monastics in the West – to find one that worked best for each of us. First finding a good posture and relaxing any tension in the body, scanning from scalp to toe (or toe to scalp). Then observing the breath, or looking at a pebble, or chanting a mantra – a short repeated word or phrase such as Maranatha (Aramaic: Our Lord comes) – under the breath with or without meditation beads, or practising slow walking meditation taking a step forward on each breath. All are methods for focusing the mind so as to prevent wondering thoughts. Finally, once the mind had settled, watching thoughts as they arise and just letting them be: ‘Let through (into awareness), let be (without elaborating), let go’, or, perhaps more memorable, ‘Let unexpected visitors in through the open front door, let them out by the open back door, but don’t give them any biscuits!

Of course, this is of little value unless we can maintain a degree of inner stillness ‘even amid the activities of daily life’. Although the discipline of a regular practice helps us respond to daily events in a non-judgemental manner rather than reacting on impulse, we need to be on the alert for loss of equanimity. Reflecting on this was helped by reading two ancient stories (see http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/zen.html ). One, Taoist, compares the calm way in which an old farmer, unlike his neighbours, reacts when his horse escapes; returns with three wild horses; one of which throws the farmer’s son, breaking his leg; saving him from conscription. The other, Buddhist, compares the reactions of two monks when one helps a young woman by carrying her across a river: the other monk worries about the unseemly action of the first monk, who replies ‘I set her down on the other side, but you are still carrying her’.

Following a quiet lunch, the only distraction being a pair of redstarts feeding their young in their nest under the gable end, we took heed of the statement in A&Q 1 that ‘Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life’. For this we are fortunate in having the guided meditation ‘Experiment with Light’: theologian Rex Ambler’s carefully researched reconstruction, based on detailed study of early Quaker texts, of a practice referred to, for example, by James Nayler (QF&P 21.65), and in more detail in George Fox’s letter of 1658 to Lady Elizabeth Claypole, and 24 years later in William Penn’s ‘No Cross, No Crown’. The meditation is presented by Rex in the format ‘Mind the Light, Open to the Truth, Wait in the Light, Submit to the Truth’ – giving the acronym MOWS. After the 40 minute guided meditation we took advantage of the sunshine to spend half an hour alone in the garden absorbing what had arisen, and expressing it in words or drawing if inspired to do so, before gathering for a sharing session based on the guidance given in QF&P 12.21.

Experiment with Light is a deep practice, best practised in a group that meets on a regular basis: for texts and guidance, and your nearest group, see www.experiment-with-light.org.uk

To complete the final admonition to ‘Hold yourself and others in the Light’ we first wrote the names of those, including ourselves, whom we wished to hold in the Light on a small piece of paper which we folded and placed in a container – in our case a Tibetan ‘singing’ bowl. We lit a candle, and after declaring ‘We dedicate this time and space to the healing of all those who are named so that they may benefit from the Light’ we sat for half an hour in the manner of Meeting. During the sit any other names that came to mind could be mentioned. The session and the day was brought to a close by declaring ‘We wish all merits deriving now or in the future from these our practices to be distributed everywhere for the good of all’, shaking hands, and extinguishing the candle.

Thus we each found a PRACTICE for finding ‘an inner stillness’, considered our EQUANIMITY ‘even amid the activities of daily life’, engaged in EXPERIMENT WITH LIGHT to experience the ‘Light (that) shows us our darkness and brings us to new life’, and held ourselves and others in the LIGHT – giving the acronym PEEL. I hope that this will be of some assistance to all of us who are seeking to peel away outer delusions to find, and give life and expression to, the inward source of our strength – the Light within.

 

John Senior                                                                                                                 June 2019