Tag Archives: Spirituality

Dinah Livingstone – On Dover Beach

Dinah delivered our third and final talk of the NFN 2021 Conference on 21st July and ’rounded off’ the series very fittingly.

(The many links below generally open in a new window or tab).

Our three speakers spoke quite independently, guided only to deliver their talks based on their idea of spirituality – ‘That’s the spirit! – dimensions of spirituality.’

Nonetheless, the notion (one of George Fox’s ‘windy notions’?) of Spirituality resulted in three talks which, very different as expected, hung together to satisfy and inspire different members of our ‘Quaker Kaleidoscope’.

Dinah is the editor of the Sea of Faith’s magazine ‘Sofia‘ in which role she succeeded the previous editor, NFN’s ‘own’ David Boulton (one of the key founders of the Nontheist Friends Network) in 2004 and changed its name to ‘Sofia‘.  Gill Pennington mentioned David’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997) which I understand is still the most often downloaded booklet from the Quaker Universalist Group’s website. We can see and perhaps ‘feel’ the threads linking Humanism, the Sea of Faith Network and the Nontheist Friends Network.

The Sea of Faith Network takes its name from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, one stanza of which reads:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

You can find the full poem (4 stanzas, 37 lines I think) here:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach

Was it surprising to many of us that Dinah’s talk from a ‘sea of faith perspective’ was so biblical? Both Andrew Copson and Gill Pennington had mentioned biblical stories but Dinah wove an account of what I might call the ‘sea of faith version of religion, humanism and nontheism’ drawn substantially from the bible as if it might be considered the source of these ideas. This is consistent with Dinah’s re-naming of the SoF Journal to ‘Sofia’ – a serendipitous extension of the acronym SoF. (An alternative spelling for ‘Holy Wisdom‘ being Sophia). The wisdom literature of the bible provides this potential biblical basis for Don Cupitt‘s ideas and Dinah’s talk. (SEA OF FAITH NETWORK started in 1984 as a response to Don Cupitt’s book and TV series of the same name.)

At the very top of the Sea of Faith website homepage it states:

“The Network…
Explores the implications of accepting religion as a human creation;
Promotes the validity of creative, human-centred religion;
Affirms the continuing importance of religious thought
and practice as expressions of awe and wonder and
celebrations of spiritual and social values.”

Only slightly less prominently on our NFN website (You have to look under ‘About’ and then ‘Aims of the network’ here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/about/aims-of-the-network/), we state:

“The Network’s aim is to provide a forum and supportive framework for Friends who regard religion as a human creation. We want to ensure that our Religious Society of Friends is an inclusive rather than an exclusive Society. We seek to explore theological and spiritual diversity and their practical implications, in respectful acceptance of different views, experiences and journeys.” (clause 2. of our constitution added the words ‘and attenders’ at our last AGM).

It’s almost as if the Sea of Faith is the Christian branch of the nontheist humanists and the nontheist Friends network is the Quaker branch of the Sea of Faith. (and I’d always thought of us as the nontheist branch of the Quaker Universalist Group). Perhaps we should convene next on Dover Beach?

Joking apart, we can surely feel those threads referred to above linking Humanism, Christian origins, Quaker Universalism, Sea of Faith and the NFN.

Dinah drew from the bible, and Christ’s teaching, its essential humanism or human facing concerns. This is perhaps not so surprising given that ‘Humanism’ has arisen, in the last two centuries, from within the Western Christian tradition. As one wit reported in a recent Quaker meeting ‘God created man in his own image – and man returned the compliment’ (or was it the other way round?). I had better at least mention at this point the Goddess to contrast with God the Father.

This ‘pre-conference reading’ bibliography prepared for the 2020 conference provides links to David Boulton’s and other NFN books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2020/03/01/a-2020-nfn-conference-bibliography/

(Some of the links above are repeated):
https://sofn.org.uk/pages/dinah_livingstone.html
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/don-cupitt.html
https://sofn.org.uk/sofia/index.html – Sofia magazine
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/index.html – useful links
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/spirituality.html – SoF links for Spirituality

Gill Pennington, The very hungry caterpillar and a Möbius strip

Our second 2021 Conference speaker’s talk on 14 July 2021 was from Gill Pennington, former Spirituality tutor at Woodbrooke Quaker Centre, Birmingham.

Gill spoke about spiritual awareness and development and presented a series of slides loosely based on the well-known illustrated children’s book, Eric Carle’s ‘The very hungry caterpillar’.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Very_Hungry_Caterpillar

Just as the caterpillar in the story eats and eats and also eats unsuitable food (unlikely for a caterpillar) until it has indigestion, so, Gill suggests, humans consume and consume, and are absorbed in great busyness, until they also suffer from a mental indigestion and perhaps feel unwell or dissatisfied. Then, as the caterpillar eats a simple green leaf, before pupating and going into its cocoon for a long ‘sleep’, humans (or Quakers at least?), seeking respite from their busyness and ‘indigestion’, simplify or retreat into silent worship which provides rest and spiritual nourishment.

After a period in the cocoon, in which it is transformed, the once caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.  In parallel fashion, the worshipper who has sought stillness and silence is transformed into a ‘fully developed’ and beautiful human being.  The caterpillar eats, grows, pupates and is transformed and emerges as the beautiful butterfly.  So the human, to realise their true destiny, must live (and eat and work etc.), grow and develop but then go through a spiritual process of transformation, perhaps through stillness and letting go, in order to reach their spiritual goal.

Gill drew parallels between different forms of Quakerism, from the ‘Godly’ and use of traditional godly language, to the non-theist and cited a number of quotations and books, including David Boulton’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997)

Gill talked of the relationship between the inner (contemplative or silent) life and the outer or active life in the world and how these can seem separate but then illustrated how they might be integrated by showing us the making of a paper ‘mobius strip’ in which the inner (illustrated in white) and the outer (illustrated in a contrasting colour) become continuous or one with each other, the mobius strip magically only having one continuous side through a twist in the paper band. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%B6bius_strip (good-luck!)  In an analogous way, being active in life and having a spiritual practice (for example of silence) can perhaps integrate our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ personalities to become a better ‘whole’.

Before closing with a quote she loves from the dancer Martha Graham from Agnes de Mille’s biography Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
(From this quote), Gill asked us, in our small breakout groups, to consider:
“How can you ‘keep your channel open’ to enable you to enhance your vitality, your life force, your energy and how might you translate this into action and consider possible change?”

The comparisons with the ‘very hungry caterpillar’ made the principles memorable: growth and busyness; ‘indigestion’; spiritual practice and transformation; emerging ‘whole’ (and beautiful) like a butterfly.

I’m not entirely sure whether ” You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.” from the Martha Graham quote could be a description of Quaker worship and ministry.

Our thanks to Gill for a memorable and thought provoking illustrated talk.

We look forward to welcoming you to our next conference speaker Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith magazine) on Wednesday 21st July at 7.20pm.

Full details here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/

Registration here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

 

Andrew Copson (Humanists UK) – what a fantastic talk!

‘What a fantastic talk! That was a great talk, what a thought provoking and affirming start!’ was one response to our first 2021 Conference speaker’s talk (Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK) on Wednesday 7th July.

You can still register for the remaining sessions on 14th and 21st July 2021 here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

Andrew appeared to extemporise, speaking apparently without notes and giving the impression of masterly ad-libbing, suggesting he is fully conversant with a humanist understanding of spirituality and was able to cite illustrative examples without hesitation (I’m tempted to add or ‘repetition or deviation’!)

As the talk took place immediately prior to the European Cup semi-final between England and Denmark and there was some humorous speculation about how many attendees we may have lost, it was perhaps appropriate that one of Andrew’s earliest examples of ‘humanist spirituality’ (ie. non-religious) was the communal passion of a big football match. As he later revealed that he had no personal interest in football whatsoever, perhaps this was a bit tongue in cheek. He did say however, that although this might appear to be a ‘group experience’, he felt, from a humanist and scientific perspective, that the experience(s) were individual – in each individual’s head so that the idea of it being a ‘group experience’ was perhaps an illusion. Some Quakers, and many others, might disagree about the ‘group experience’ being an illusion. However, although we talk of a ‘gathered meeting’, let’s not forget George Fox’s ‘what can’st thou say?’ (individual experience?).
I also have no personal interest in football though I understand from my wife Georgina who (like my sister) is now watching the England-Italy final as I type this, that England has scored a goal within a record 2 minutes of the start.

It was also clear that Andrew had a good understanding of his likely audience and was familiar with Quaker practice and even nontheist Quakers.

Andrew suggested that a humanist spirituality had four key characteristics:

  1. Powerful and Positive experiences – elation, joy, a moment
  2. Personal, individual subjective
  3. Not intellectual, non-rational
  4. Take you outside of yourself – connect – ‘transcendent’?? peak experiences, universal in imagination, bigger than yourself, immersed ‘elsewhere’

This in part equates ‘spiritual experiences’ with Maslow’s ‘peak experiences’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_experience
where Maslow describes these as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”

So this is a psychological kind of explanation for spirituality. I believe Andrew also mentioned the mystical and magical and, somewhat tentatively, the idea of ‘transcendence’. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs#Transcendence_needs in the first of the above articles).

That reminds me of an older, female Friend saying in (I think) an ‘afterwords’ discussion after meeting that ‘good sex is transcendent’ (or was that ministry in meeting?).

Later in his talk, Andrew added three ‘facts’ about humanistic spiritual experience he felt were also essential:
Humanist interpretation: – product of human brain – identical feelings – different interpretation – is it ‘God’? or ‘divine’?
3 facts:

  1. Humans not the pinnacle – product of evolution cf. the unitarian hymn ‘blue boat home’
  2. ‘Connective’ (to oneself), integrated (human being), know yourself – personal development – in this life – a Friend to yourself – humans give meaning to experience
  3. Connection with others – eg. one other; but also imagined connections – importance of fiction, novels (ex. Middlemarch), connection with art, fictional individuals; being part of the human story (history and ancestors). Future gazing, reaching out, awe and wonder, peak experiences

So, whilst Andrew sees these as ‘individual experience’, it is clearly possible to consider a connection with others as being a ‘group experience’. (whether this supposes a belief in a Universal Mind, I’m not sure). (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_mind) and see Jung on Spirituality:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung#Spirituality

Many Friends present will have felt that Andrew’s explanation of humanist spirituality ‘spoke to their condition’ (apologies for the Quaker speak: http://quakerjane.com/index.php?fuseaction=spirituality.glossary#speak) and closely matched their own understanding; some may have a few caveats and it would be interesting to hear from you in the comments (Leave a reply below or by clicking on Comments at top).

Our thanks to Andrew Copson and Humanists UK.

We look forward to welcoming you to our next conference speaker on 14th July Gill Pennington, former Spirituality Tutor, Woodbrooke and final speaker Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith)on 21st July.

Full details here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/
Registration here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

That’s the Spirit! – registration

That’s the spirit! – Registration details

The Nontheist Friends Network (A Quaker Recognised Body) invites you to an adventurous exploration of spiritual diversity, from the holy spirit to the wholly human spirit, engaging with keynote guest speakers on three successive Wednesdays in July.

  7th: Andrew Copson, Executive Director, Humanists UK

14th: Gill Pennington, former Spirituality Tutor, Woodbrooke

21st: Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith)

By Zoom, 7.30 to 9pm. The presentations will be followed by creative discussion. All are welcome.

More details on https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/

Register at clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk   (Just a simple email requesting registration for the Conference) Entry limited to 100. Book early!

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!)

Living with absurdity

Not all, perhaps not many nontheist Quakers would describe themselves as existentialists (and surely not nihilists) but I thought this delightful post on ‘Canadian Atheist’ by 87 years old James Haught, editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper,  deserved sharing amongst Friends.

Most of us probably wouldn’t share all the sentiments expressed (anyone for Trump?) and some of which might be very unwelcome to many Quakers in the world, but it moved me to smile (tickled my fancy?) so I hope Friends find it interesting too!

Living With Absurdity

Careful Discernment or Spiritual Timidity

Friends might like to read this from Friends Journal:

https://www.friendsjournal.org/careful-discernment-or-spiritual-timidity/

(Friends Journal, the major publication of Friends Publishing Corporation, is the consolidation of two previous Quaker publications and corporations, Friends Intelligencer (Hicksite) and The Friend (Orthodox), at the time of reunification of the two yearly meetings in Philadelphia.)

Your views!

Piers Maddox is compiling a new NFN newsletter for October and sent this request for the website:

Do you have anything to share with the group? Thoughts? A book review? After a period of newsletter inactivity Piers has committed to produce a few. Please send contributions to him at piersmaddox@gmail.com. 400 words maximum please. Deadline for next issue is Monday 5 October. Thanks!

That’s 13 days to go.  I’m sure Piers will welcome any items of general interest to Quakers and perhaps how you have been faring with your meetings during the present pandemic.  Please turn your thoughts to this this coming weekend and I wonder if there are any reflections on ‘Nontheism and Spiritual practice in the time of the coronavirus’?  I have just completed a rather lengthy survey by the University of Coimbra on my feelings and experiences during this awful time.

Some Friends seem to have quite enjoyed the ‘lockdown’ but that is clearly not true for most people and I lost one very good friend to the virus in May.  Your thoughts, reviews of books read during this period or any other reflections on Quakerism, NFN or these times will be most welcome.

The Steering Group is actively considering what to do next; will convene an SG meeting by Zoom shortly I believe and we will be discussing whether and how to hold a conference and AGM at least partly by video link (probably Zoom) at that meeting, so your thoughts on that possibility too will be welcome.

Piers awaits your contributions with bated breath.

Quakers and nontheism

Reflecting on Loulou Williams’ comment on our Nontheism page today, I thought it might be worth repeating the following extract from Paul Bates talk of 2013:

Nontheists tend to agree with the liberal understanding of Jesus of Nazareth as a teacher from antiquity who taught a very human sort of religion based on love, tolerance, forgiveness and peace. The doctrines of incarnation, resurrection and ascension are seen as attempts by the early church to raise the human Jesus to the level of a mythical God.

The nontheist sees the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart more in terms of the spontaneous, natural inner working of the human psyche in which we meditate upon and respond to life as we presently experience it. The nontheist sees God in terms of ‘an inner light’ that is found in every human being. It is ‘that of God in everyone’.

The nontheist sees this life as the only life we will ever experience and is focussed on the living ofthis life to the full, now, and in accordance with those human principles that make for happiness and dignity for all.