I is for Interfaith

What is your motivation for interfaith work? we were asked at the beginning of a conference for Quakers involved in Interfaith both nationally and in their own localities.

Mine is rooted in Advices and Queries:

5. Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. and ‘6. Do you work gladly with other religious groups in the pursuit of common goals? While remaining faithful to Quaker insights, try to enter imaginatively into the life and witness of other communities of faith, creating together the bonds of friendship. and ultimately ‘1. 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.

And then we were asked – how will we judge which groups we can work with, what is acceptable and what must we challenge?

To me the answer is:¬†‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,¬†gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

My mother is a Universalist and has been since her teens, believing firmly that all faiths have some insight into the Truth. I grew up with this idea and so, essentially, have always been a universalist (though only later a Quaker Universalist). This was in a context of being in a predominately Christian setting in terms of teaching at School and Sunday School, but always having some contact with children from Jewish families, and, as I grew up, an increasingly diverse community.

In recent years I have had an increasing number of opportunities for Interfaith contact. I have also become involved, particularly through Watford Interfaith Association, in helping to create those opportunities for others. Particularly valuable have been ‘Sacred Space’ at Watford Celebration, and the Interfaith Pilgrimage.

Sacred Space

‘Sacred Space’ is a safe ‘corner’ within a large community event, where people can share aspects of their faith and discuss topics where views are quite divergent. There has been good participation from major faith groups and smaller ones.

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The Interfaith Pilgrimage in Watford has run for several years during National Interfaith Week, visiting the synagogue, central mosque, a couple of churches and the gurdwara, which are all within walking distance of each other.

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Welcoming visitors to one’s place of worship is akin to welcoming people into one’s home. Over the years both hosts and visitors have become more comfortable and relaxed about it.

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Sharing food at the beginning and end of the pilgrimage helps to make people feel welcome. Walking together through the town centre also makes a statement.

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Learning about other people’s faiths, and being gently challenged to explain my own to those who know little or nothing about it, has served to strengthen as well as broaden my own beliefs.

H is for … Healing

Bible Study group, Watford, April 7th 2013. Matthew 9:35 – 10:15

 

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. ... ‘ King James Version

Person 1: “So – he went about teaching, preaching and healing.”

Person 2: “It’s the healing that’s the problem.”

We’ve been working our way through Matthew’s gospel since somewhen in the middle of last year, a small chunk at a time, twice a month before Meeting for Worship on Sunday morning. Every time we come to a story about healing (and there sure are a lot of them) we have much the same discussion. How can we believe them, should we even try, are they meant to be true, or metaphorical, or was it just what a prophet was expected to do, what does modern medical knowledge tell us, how does this relate to our experience?

I struggle again with the gap between my intellect and my actions. I learnt, as a child, at Sunday school, to doubt the literal truth, to believe that science could now explain it all. As an adult with an illness (myalgic encephalomyelitis) for which there is no medical treatment I had complementary therapies of several kinds. This helped me cope, and sometimes eased my pain a lot. I became increasingly interested, and, somewhat later, received a Reiki attunement. If asked, I will lay my hands on someone and expect healing energy to flow through me to them. And it apparently does. My head still has some doubts, my hands don’t hesitate.

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‘Are you open to the healing power of God’s love?’ asks the second of the advices and queries. I hope so. In the sense that healing means becoming whole, perhaps even becoming holy, rather than necessarily the healing of physical ills. How much healing am I willing or able to accept? How open am I to God’s love?

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A few years ago the bible study group was reading Mark’s gospel. We read Mark 1: 29-31:

‘On leaving the synagogue, he (Jesus) went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.’

Having sat with this for a while, with my thoughts and anxieties about healing and about what was left unsaid, trying to relate my personal experience to a character in the story, I eventually wrote:

Another Mary?

They burst into the house, all talking at once. Something had happened to excite them. The noise of their voices was agony in my head, I wished they’d gone some place else. I was so hot, so tired, I ached everywhere and the least sound felt like a giant bell in my head.

Then he came into my room, took my hand, and said ‘Get up Mary, all is well’.

And all was well with me, the pain was gone, the fever was gone, the exhaustion was gone.

I rose from my bed, washed my face and hands, pulled on a clean shift and went to find them food and drink.

H is for Heaven

my idea of Heaven

 

Heaven is not in the hereafter.

Heaven is in the here and now.

Right Here. Right Now.

 

if i walk mindfully, i can glimpse Heaven.

if i peel the potatoes knowing the Presence of God, i can glimpse Heaven.

if i wash up, just wash up, i can touch Heaven.

 

when i sit with my friend and we truly listen to one another, together we take a small step into the Kingdom of God.

if i can sit with my enemy and we can truly listen to one another, together we can take a great leap into Heaven.

 

Heaven is a place of inward stillness, where the Presence of God is known, where all are aware of the Love of God.

It is not a quiet place, It is not an empty place, and It is definitely not a lonely place. Everyone is there, even if many of them don’t know it yet.

if i can reach out to anyone and everyone i meet and show God’s Love for them, together we can take a small step towards Heaven.

 

G is for Gaol

Early Quakers spent quite a lot of time in gaol. George Fox was imprisoned many times, and so were many others. Sometimes conditions were, apparently, reasonable. At other times they were very difficult. We have accounts of Fox in Derby gaol in 1651 and his refusal of a captaincy in the army, following which he was moved from relatively comfortable imprisonment to the dungeons.

The gaol at Lancaster castle, were many Quakers were imprisoned, can still be visited. The tour guide may agree to shut you in a cell for a minute. It is dark and crowded and unpleasant, even when you are locked in, as I was, with some of your best friends and a prison chaplain.

Quakers were imprisoned for a variety of reasons including: refusal to pay tithes; refusal to swear oaths (an imprisonable offence at the time and one they all committed when brought before the court, making imprisonment inevitable if they came to court); meeting together in groups exceeding five (a law having been passed that expressly forbade such gatherings except in church).

A famous story tells how the children of Reading meeting kept the Meeting for Worship when all the adults had been imprisoned for meeting together. An account of a similar incident in Bristol tells how the children were beaten by the local officers of the law for doing likewise.

I have been interested to learn of some Quakers at the same period who were held in slavery in Algiers. Despite being held in slavery they were allowed to keep their meetings, at a time when Friends in England were being locked up for worshipping together. Quaker slaves were apparently popular with they owners being hard-working and sober. Some were Quakers before being seized by pirates and sold into slavery, but others became Quakers during their enslavement.

The sufferings of those in prison and the need that was felt to record this and to do what was possible to relieve the suffering led to the formation of ‘Meeting for Sufferings’ initially for this purpose. Meeting for Sufferings continues to meet regularly, acting on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting between Yearly Meeting sessions. Occasionally it still has to record Friends imprisoned for acting in faith, often for non-violent direct action against weapons on mass destruction.

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This ongoing contact with prisons seems to be one of the factors that has led Quakers to work for prison reform. Elizabeth Fry’s work with women prisoners is well known, but there were many others. In the present day we have Quaker chaplains in many prisons and Quakers who are prison visitors. Meetings for Worship are held regularly in prisons across the country. Another recent piece of work has been ‘Circles of support and Accountability’, a scheme for released sex offenders aimed at reducing re-offending rates. It has been acknowledged a success by the Home Office and is now an independent charity ‘Circles’. Also valuable is the work of Bob Johnson, Consultant Psychiatrist in the Special Unit in Parkhurst Prison, Isle of Wight, UK, from 1991 to 1996, who has shown how effective more humane treatment of prisoners is in reducing re-offending. Unfortunately the authorities have not been convinced to follow this pattern.