Tag Archives: QF&P

What’s ‘appening? – current affairs

I think that after 3 weeks (to the day) another post would be timely.

Our next Meeting for worship and Creative conversation is next Thursday 2nd June at 7pm where we will consider “Humanists and Quakers – How do we differ, and what are the similarities – an interactive evening”.  For full details and registration see here. (Sorry about the old link last 5 days – now correct I hope).

We have established, in addition to the Creative conversations Working Group, 5 further Working Groups that I know of (18 April) according to those who put their names forward. Some are more active than others as I mentioned in the previous post ‘No more NFN Conferences‘.

NFN Newsletter

The NFN ‘Newsletter’ Working Group has 4 names to it: Bryan Osborne, John Senior, Catherine Carr and myself Trevor Bending. This has not been active but may come to life if we try to produce a Newsletter for June as suggested previously. All Friends, NFN members, SG members and other sympathisers are invited to contribute (see that ‘previously’ link) and you may hear further after Britain Yearly Meeting 2022 has finished.

Quaker Faith & Practice revision

The Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG held its first meeting on the 18th May, hosted by Steven Goldblatt (NFN Treasurer) and attended by David Boulton, Chris Thomas, Gisela Creed, Bryan Osborne and myself. It was decided that updates would not be provided from this group until some clarity is discerned about what we hope to achieve. I won’t continue to participate in this group (for other committments) and am not sure if Bryan will for the same reason although he was able to help us off to a good start with a presentation and some insights from a meeting held with the BYM Quaker Faith & Practice revision Group by Cambridge AM. That presentation showed up later in the YM session on QF&P this week. If you want to contribute to the BYM Revision Groups deliberations you can do so in the following ways: Read BDRC reports to Meeting for Sufferings on this page https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/quaker-faith-and-practice/revising-quaker-faith-practice
– see also creative project “Open to new light” on Padlet and other social media links on that page.
Ideas and pieces of writing can be submitted using this online form:
Q f&p: submit ideas for the next revision – QForms
https://forms.quaker.org.uk/qfp-idea/
or contact BDRC committee secretary, Michael Booth, by email to qfp@quaker.org.uk or write to him at Friends House.
(BDRC stands for Book of Discipline Revision Committee).

(Quaker faith & practice can be found online here https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/ (and it is more up-to-date than any printed edition))

Or, you can give your ideas about a nontheist contribution to QF&P revision to the NFN WG here:
nontheistfriend@gmail.com
preferably with ‘NFN Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG’ in the subject line.

Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses

The “Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses” Working Group consists of Tim Regan, Catherine Carr and Chris Thomas. I have heard no more about this since I withdrew on 23 April.

Website Working Group

The Website WG consisting of Chris Thomas, Ella Dorfman, Tim Regan and myself (Trevor) has probably been the most active with I believe at least 4 meetings (and lots of emails and ‘Slack’ messages) so far. I think you will probably hear more about this from Tim next Thursday evening (and/or by email) with an invitation to help by participating in surveys or interviews.

NFN Conference Working Group

This was dealt with in my last post. The Group has only Catherine Carr (from the SG) and myself. I believe at least half a dozen people would be needed to organise a Conference (but see that last post). There was only a limited response to that post and no-one came forward to help organise any kind of Conference. Perhaps, therefore, there will be no further NFN Conferences (some of the most rewarding weekends at Woodbrooke I have been to) until NFN members call for one and come forward to organise it. I’ll keep you in touch!

No more NFN Conferences? – and other matters

I believe 5 additional Working Groups were proposed at the AGM in February and all those who came forward to express an interest were contacted by our clerk Tim Regan on 18 April to take matters forward. So far, only the Website working Group (6) seems to have been particularly active. (the others being QF&P revision (6 or 7), Conference (2), Newsletter (4) and Woodbrooke courses (4) – numbers in brackets names coming forward).

Whereas 6 people (including 3 members of the Steering Group) put their names forward for the Website group, only 2 people (and I was one of them) came forward for the Conference group – which appears to me to be a bizarre sense of priorities.

Why the concern for the website (which seems to be working fine?) and so little for a future Conference when the latter, whether at Woodbrooke, elsewhere or online, has been one of the annual highlights for Nontheist Quaker activity, support and the AGM?

Am I to take it that NFN members and past or potential future Conference attenders have no further interest in such an event whether in person or online?  I do hope very much that this isn’t the case as I have always very much enjoyed NFN Conferences of which I have attended at least 6 at Woodbrooke and one online (2021 in lieu of 2020 cancelled through ‘covid’).

From my experience of being involved with the QUG (Quaker Universalist Group) Conference at Woodbrooke over several years, last year online and especially the ‘blended’ Conference at Woodbrooke and online this year when I was heavily involved with managing the online component (but most of the work being done by the QUG team at Woodbrooke), I know that organising a blended conference is very much more demanding than organising one online or even just in person.

If we can’t assemble a team to organise a blended conference (rather more than half a dozen perhaps) or an in person only conference (still 5 or 6?) then perhaps we could rise to an online only conference organised by as few as 4 people perhaps?

There might be a ‘Conference-lite’ alternative which would be simply to have (in person or online) a ‘meet-up’ for social exchange, sharing ideas and worship and so on – perhaps a ‘nontheist retreat’? – organised by just the participants themselves with only 2 or 3 people taking on some prior planning, bookings etc.  Online this might seem little different from our monthly ‘Quaker Meetings with Creative Conversations’ although it could be over a weekend with more time together. In person would be quite a different experience – and perhaps even that could include the possibility of ‘dropping in’ online.

Does anyone else in NFN feel the need for a Conference (or ‘meet-up’) – or should I go back to bed?

I really would appreciate some feed-back on this – whilst you are preparing your articles for a future newsletter.

Oh, by the way, I mentioned ‘other matters’ – the ‘Conversation’ last night on ‘How do I as a nontheist Quaker relate to deeply Christian Quakers‘ went extremely well with some very interesting contributions, particularly, I thought, those from Jean Wardrop and David Boulton. I will try to return to this later but if anyone else who was there would like to write up something for the website now, that would also be most welcome.

John Richter’s talk – some thoughts on the challenge

John Richter’s talk on Thursday evening did not feature his work as an artist but proved to be a provoking challenge to Quakers today, non-theist or not, to perhaps change the way we approach things if we are not (in terms of membership) to continue in terminal decline.
John’s ideas might have been unconventional after 60 years a Quaker, perhaps still feeling ‘On the Edge of Quakers’, but drew out a lively conversation of different or opposing views amongst those present (about 82 for the talk).
Our own William P(urser) closed the conversation at the very end with this from a somewhat earlier William P(enn):

“True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin”. (QF&P 23.02) William Penn 1682.

One of John’s suggestions (in relation to his own somewhat declining meeting at Wells-next-the-Sea (Norfolk, England)) was, weather permitting, to leave the doors open so anyone might wander in during the meeting and for people to join or leave the meeting at times to suit themselves – a practice also followed by Friends 340 years ago and indeed in the Sikh Gurudwara today. (In both cases much longer ‘meetings for worship’ – perhaps 3-4 hours amongst 17th century Quakers and sunrise to sunset amongst Sikhs).

Meetings often have a copy of the Bible, Quaker Faith and Practice (The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain – the ‘big red book’), Advices and Queries (the ‘little red book’ being Chapter 1 of QF&P) and sometimes other books or leaflets on the table, with a vase of flowers, in the centre of the meeting. Piers thought that visitors or newcomers to a meeting find this off-putting if the Bible and ‘Christian discipline’ have negative associations for them. But, we are the Religious Society of Friends and there were contributions from those who disliked the associations of ‘Spiritual’ whilst others might want to emphasise ’the Society’ (of which you can be a member – ’socio’ in Spanish) at the expense of ‘Religious’. Tom Shakespeare the 2020 Swarthmore Lecturer (https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/research/swarthmore-lectures/) expressed a preference for ‘Religious not Spiritual’, doubtful about those who say they are ’Spiritual not religious’ and the associations of ’Spiritual’ with ‘New Age’ spirituality and perhaps ’Spiritualism’.

However, Jesus said: Mark 3.28-9 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (New Revised Standard Version).
And as the Nontheist Friends Network, our online conference in 2021 was entitled ’That’s the Spirit – Dimensions of Spirituality’
(https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/ ) which included an impassioned talk on Humanist (or secular) Spirituality.by Andrew Copson of Humanists UK. See also https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/the-faith-of-a-quaker-humanist/#Spirituality

John posed two questions at the end of his talk for the group to consider:
1 What is the purpose of Quakers?
a John’s 4-word answer was “to explore religion together” and
b He asked us to respond with our four-word answers.
2 To flourish as a society we need to make ourselves meaningful to ourselves and to people who might join. What do we need to change?

Howard answered the first with (5 words perhaps) “to have our answers questioned”. Whilst this was drawn from some Quaker pamphlet or notice and makes a nice ‘sound-bite’, I strongly suspect that many would like their questions answered too – I know I would.

John especially wanted to emphasise the open-ness of Quakers and the open ended search for truth which has evolved from the 17th century when Friends felt they had the ‘Truth’ and while this latter claim might still be true in terms of ‘the spirit within’, the ‘inner light’, the ‘Christ within’ and so on, nonetheless we recognise that there are different kinds of truth (for example scientific truth, historical truth, spiritual truth, ‘the facts’, your truth and my truth – what is true for you is not necessarily true for me, and so on) and Friends ask ‘Are you open to new light , from whatever source it may come?’ (Advices and Queries no. 7) (Some Friends question ‘from whatever source’?).

So we see that your answers may indeed be questioned but our ‘queries’ often constitute implicit ‘advice’. We can question and seek but we can also find, or perhaps that’s ‘discern’ in ‘quakerspeak’. We no longer (as Quakers did in the 17th century) go out of our way to attack or challenge ‘Puritans’ (Evangelicals?) or Papists and indeed many of us now find wisdom from the (Western) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions too, even if we rather specialise in being unorthodox or heretical. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy for a good overview of heresy). The great majority of Quakers in the world, in the Americas and Africa in particular, are members of evangelical or programmed meetings with quite different worship practices and beliefs from most ‘unprogrammed’ Quakers in meetings like BYM. Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC – https://fwcc.world/about-us/) by and large succeeds in uniting all the different sorts of Quakers into one ‘family’ with a common heritage and willingness to see beyond differences and work together to ‘mend the world’.

John had himself suggested some ideas for change in his talk and these included the above-mentioned openness (even open doors) and focussing on being a society of Friends rather than a church (building or meeting) and not making silence our creed – that is to say emphasising the importance of spoken ministry and attentive ‘listening’ to what might come to us during the silence. Other Friends present emphasised the importance of friendship and being meetings of friends – doing things together, socialising together as well as to ‘live better in the world, and be excited in their endeavours to mend it’. Whilst there were disagreements and differences of emphasis, many of these came down to different language: spiritual not religious or v.v, society v. church and meeting v. church. The development of language about ‘God’ – or ‘whatever you call it’ is particularly demanding: God is real or a metaphor, ‘theist’ or ’nontheist’ might be a continuum rather than either/or – see, for example, ‘God, words and us’ – https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/?s=God%2C+words+and+us

Whether you were present at John’s talk or not, please let us have your comments and thoughts below!

 

AGM 9 December 2020 – Second thoughts

We now have a draft minute for the AGM on 9 December, which was sent to current members of NFN by email on our mailing list yesterday (Wednesday 23 December).

The clerk welcomed participants and expressed great pleasure in seeing old and new faces. She introduced the Steering Group. Altogether there were 35 people present. After clarifying some ground rules for the procedure of the AGM, an extract from QF&P was read (26.39, Charles F Carter, 1971).
(For full details, see the minute)

The Meeting appointed Piers Maddox (Clerk), Trevor Bending, Gisela Creed, Tim Regan, Kiera Faber, Steven Goldblatt and Roger Warren-Evans to be the Steering Group for 2021, and asks them to find ways of working with small, open planning groups for specific tasks.

One of these might be a working group consisting of interested members of the Steering Group and others to undertake an evaluation of the website and, if an entirely new website is required, come up with at least a created ‘proof of concept’ site.

The clerk (Gisela Creed 2017-2020) thanked the retiring members of the steering group for their work and especially David Boulton whose initiative started the group. She thanked everyone for attending, and ended with a quote by David Boulton from his introduction to ‘Godless for God’s sake, the collection of essays on Nontheism in contemporary Quakerism which David edited in 2006:
There is so much to do. So much in our divided, warring world, our atavistic religion, our polluted politics, our unexamined ways of thinking that we need to SUBVERT! Where shall we find the society of rebels, agitators, and outsiders, the partisan recruits to the underground army of subversion whose loyalty is pledged to the republic of heaven on earth? Who will choose to be Godless- for God’s sake?

The Steering Group page of the website has been updated with the new details, as has the Constitution amended by the AGM:
(a) In section 1, we agree to replace the words ‘listed informal group’ with the words ‘Quaker Recognised Body’ in accordance with changes in the Britain Yearly Meeting regulations.
(b) In section 2, we agree to add the words ‘and attenders’ after the word ‘Friends’ to reflect the open nature of our group.

One Friend at the AGM said that he found the name ‘Steering Group’ off-putting. This came about because a ‘planning group’, considering the setting up of the NFN (which didn’t then have a name) in 2011, eventually decided on the terms ‘nontheist’ (about which arguments have continued to the present day), Nontheist Friends Network and Steering Group (a temporary sort of name?) and that’s the way it’s been ever since our first full ‘annual’ conference at Woodbrooke in 2012. We never got round to changing the SG to ‘Committee’ – but it is not in any way exclusive, is appointed annually by the AGM (I think that means for one year) but, in accordance with normal Quaker practice and our Constitution ‘The appointments of Clerk and Steering Committee will normally be for three years’. Steering Group members may choose to stay as long as required or ask to be released at any time and especially at the AGM which in normal circumstances usually takes place after one year – but in this exceptional year (not to mention the ‘C’ word, well maybe, Coronavirus) took place on ‘Zoom’ after 20 months.

Whilst ‘membership (of NFN) is open to all who sympathise with the aims’,  to be a member of the Steering Group, in accordance with our status as a ‘Quaker Recognised Body’, you should be a member or regular attender at a recognised Quaker meeting being part of a recognised ‘Yearly Meeting’ such as Britain Yearly Meeting. (BYM also stands for Baltimore Yearly Meeting and there are many Quaker Yearly Meetings around the world – see FWCC website for details!)

Wholly Human Experience

Our NFN Clerk, Gisela, wrote to The Friend in response to a letter by Martyn Poole in April 2020, entitled”Faith and Practice”. Her letter was published in the 19 June issue but I thought it worth reproducing here. It read (edited by The Friend) as follows:

Stirrings of the heart
Why be so concerned and negative about Quakers with diverse conceptions of ‘God’ airing their views? Where does the idea come from that nontheists (granted it is a bit of an unfortunate name) wish for the Society of Friends to change their practice?

Personally, as a nontheistic Quaker, I respect our Christian roots and the history of Quakerism and the insights that has given us. Like most Quakers, I too feel challenged to look deeply into my heart for the promptings of love and truth, for compassion, wonder, thankfulness and, most of all, honesty to live usefully and responsibly in this wonderful world together with all people and creatures.

For me, this is a wholly human experience to do with my feelings, where God language, used by others, is often like beautiful poetry to describe the stirrings of the heart.

Gisela Creed

Quaker ‘Advices and Queries’ for Nontheists.

Quaker ‘Advices and Queries’ for Nontheists.
A ‘thought for the day’ from Trevor Bending, member of NFN Steering Group and NFN website editor.
(Most of the hypertext links in this piece do NOT open in a new tab or window. Therefore use the browser back button to return to this page).

I thought very carefully about the title of this post and decided it would be ‘Advices and Queries’ (from Quakers) for all (including nontheists) expressed as above. ‘All’ approaching nearly 8 billion of us and counting.

After 370 years there are about 377,557 Quakers in the world (less than 0.016% of all Christians), most of them in (more or less) Evangelical Friends’ Churches or ‘programmed’ meetings in Africa and the Americas. Of the world total about 21,500 are members of or attending ‘unprogrammed’ (often largely silent 1 hour) meetings for worship in Britain (excluding Ireland where there may be another 2000). There are 129 followers of this NFN website whilst our number of paid-up members of the Network for this year to date are too embarrassingly few to mention. So, what can we say?

The NFN Steering Group (SG) have previously discussed a ‘nontheist’ version of Advices and Queries prepared by an ‘old Friend’ and member of NFN which manages to remove the word ‘God’ altogether. But it was decided that we would not want to be seen (mistakenly) as ‘proselytising’ for ‘nontheism’ (which we are not) and that for this and other reasons (including ‘something missing’ – traditional language or God perhaps?) we would not wish to publish that document, interesting though it is.

A Friend, Stephen Feltham, has asked ‘Why have Quakers stopped referring to God’ and more generally laments the loss of spirituality amongst Friends or its submergence by political and social activism, losing God. (But see QF&P 20.14).

Seeking to hear where Stephen’s words come from, his heartfelt plea certainly strikes a chord with this ‘nontheist’ (whatever ‘nontheist’ might mean). But it is not the intent of NFN to remove God (either in person or the ‘Word’) or religion or spirituality from the Religious Society of Friends. In fact our conference next year is to be titled ‘That’s the Spirit! – Dimensions of spirituality’ and is now planned to take place at Friends’ House, Euston, from 28-29 March 2020.

Stephen’s last paragraph in the piece above reads:
‘Is it fair to question if we are really justified in calling ourselves a religious society anymore? Have we become so politically ‘on message’ with justice, equality, inclusivity, diversity, the planet and gender issues that we have no more time for the love of God and so we may just as well call ourselves a social activist association?

On the home page of the Quaker Spirit website, under the heading ‘A clarification – Quaker Spirit is for all’, Stephen writes ‘ALL are welcome. We want to develop our spirituality and avoid great busyness.

I think it would be fair to comment that many, especially younger, Friends may feel that ‘activism’ for justice, equality, inclusivity etc. by Quakers is dependent on spirituality and not separate from it. Whereas our A&Q 28 advises ‘Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness’ it is clear that this is in the context of advancing age and the need to ‘relinquish responsibilities’ (and make way for others?) and not a recommendation to ‘avoid great busyness’ altogether. Indeed, early Friends (at least in the 17th century) were hugely concerned with ‘with justice, equality, inclusivity, diversity, the planet and gender issues’ (the latter in consideration of the role of women in ministry and in (the) society). It was only later in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that Friends in Britain became ‘quietist’ and somewhat inward looking (not in the best sense of that term).

In the 21st century, Friends in Britain have become more outward looking again (as they have perhaps been for the last 150 years) and social (including political) concerns and activism have again come to the fore.  At the same time there has been an increasing concern for ‘re-kindling’ and ‘vibrancy’ in meetings which certainly depends on developing greater spiritual ‘inwardness’.

In a previous post and in response to a piece by Neil Morgan in The Friend of 9 August, a member of the NFN Steering Group writes:

I am a member of the Network who does actually believe in God. But what I believe in is not the existence of God but the presence of God, and for me that difference is vital. …. cont.: .. I feel that to speak of God as ‘existing’ is to categorise God as part of the universe, bound by space and time, whereas the presence of God is not an objective reality but a subjective human experience. People may claim they don’t see God as a bearded old man in the sky, yet many still speak as if they do. If God ‘exists’ anywhere, it is in the human heart, not ‘out there’. A literal belief in the externally ‘real’ existence of God seems dangerous and demeaning. The NFN provides me with a respectful and non-judgmental forum enabling me to explore my theology more thoroughly than in most other areas of Quaker life.

(for the full response and many others from members of NFN on Discernment see here).

Elsewhere on Quaker Spirit, in Squeezing out the Spirit, Stephen writes: ‘I am inexorably being driven to resigning altogether from Quakers one of whose fasting growing special interest groups does not, it seems to me, believe in God!’

I wrote in response on the site’s Forum: I would like to re-assure you that NFN is not fast growing! (I think we have about 100 members at most and a conference attendance – not all members – of 40-50.) As to not believing in God, some do, some don’t. One of our Steering Group believes in the ‘presence of God’ but not in the ‘existence of God’. (see above). Others have varied beliefs’.

I’m a little doubtful though, whether Stephen would want to add NFN to his list of other Quaker groups, but then consider some of the points made above and that in a sense NFN ‘budded off’ from the Quaker Universalist Group, itself regarded somewhat askance by many Friends when it first formed some 40 years ago.

Perhaps then we can agree on inclusivity and in the future join together in celebrating, and practising, Quaker spirituality.

Meanwhile, we can turn to Young Friends for a new take on Advices and Queries.

In ‘Living our beliefs’ a book which deserves to be much better known, produced by Young Quakers in 2015, edited by Graham Ralph, young Friends have made a book that ‘tackles similar topics to Quaker Faith and Practice but .. (is) .. shorter, more accessible and more concise.’

An online version of this book (pdf) and a range of videos and music tracks and talks associated with it can be found at http://www.yqspace.org.uk/living-our-beliefs One of the 17 or so chapters is ‘Advices and queries as compiled by young Quakers’ (p79-81) created at junior yearly meeting in 2015.

This version reduces 42 Advices and Queries (some 12 pages) to 42 simple statements (2 pages). One breathtaking example is A&Q4 which is reduced to just 4 words ‘Remember our Christian heritage’, compared with the original – 73 words with 5 references to Jesus and two to God.

These 42 contain one reference to (the word) God compared to some 37 in the original. The one reference to God is in A&Q 17 (original 117 words, 2 references to God) which becomes:

‘Everyone thinks of God differently; don’t be judgemental’.

(The original ends with ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’.)

Another view, by Laurence Hall, can be found in the Young Quaker, Sketches of a Godless Quakerism (to read online pages 8-9).

What all this boils down to is that it is not whether you believe in the existence of God, or the presence of God, or not but what kind of God, what do you mean by ‘God’, what do you mean by belief. In the end it is all words (theology? Or ‘windy notions’ as early Friends might have called them) and it is our practice, both spiritually and actively, that counts.

If Christianity (and perhaps Judaism?) can be reduced to Jesus’ (fictional??) story of the ‘Good Samaritan – now go and do likewise’ then these ‘simplifications’ (of complex issues) by young Quakers might serve us well.

One of the video passages in ‘living our beliefs’ online is this from Quaker Faith and Practice on ‘Believing in God’. (The text of which is here.)

I became convinced this morning that whilst ‘Quakerism’ (Quaker meeting for worship, Quaker Faith and Practice) might not be for everyone, it is right for me and is ‘the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth’ – but this Truth includes uncertainty and mystery and not knowing what we don’t know and I can’t impose it on anyone else and I must ‘think it possible that I may be mistaken’ although I must accept that others may try to impose their Truth on me.

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

The Quakers are right. We don’t need God.

An article in The Guardian (online) by Simon Jenkins under this title, dated 4 May 2018, has brought many more visitors to our NFN site – in fact linking to an article by David Boulton which references a 2013 survey cited by Ben Pink Dandelion. Perhaps we should return the compliment and put a link to the Guardian article here!

Some Friends, including ‘non-theists’, might think this title is a travesty of the Quaker position and Yearly Meeting decision to revise Quaker Faith and Practice. (Link edited at 22.00 Central European Time to be more useful on a mobile device!)

Simon Jenkins writes ‘I am not a Quaker or religious, but I have been to Quaker meetings, usually marriages or funerals, and found them deeply moving’.  As this member and attender for 8 years (Trevor Bending) has so far been to only one Quaker marriage (my  own) and no Quaker funerals (yet), we must assume that Simon has a considerable number of Quaker friends or contacts.  In any event, his article is much more interesting than the provocative title and well worth reading.

I think some further consideration or re-consideration of what we might mean by ‘non-theism’ is now due in the light of the YM decision and the publication of ‘God, Words and Us‘.

It would be wonderfully appreciated if some of our NFN members, Followers, and Friends were to append their comments here!