V is for … Vulnerability

I am like a seed. I have a hard outer coat that must be cracked open, making me vulnerable, if I am to grow.


A Friend shared with me recently how, after years of feeling that in his meeting he was not really known and did not know others ‘in the things that are eternal’, this metaphor had helped him to realise that the problem lay in himself, rather than in the things the meeting was or was not doing. He has been a Friend for sixty plus years, belonging to several meetings during that time and in the current one for more than ten. He was delighted to share that he had been able, this year, to invite a group of attenders to his home. Using ‘Becoming Friends’ as a basis, the group had begun to know one another in the way he had hoped for. In doing this he had opened himself and his home, both making himself vulnerable and creating a safe space to do that in, and thereby opening the possibility for others.

In worship too we need to be prepared to be vulnerable. To let the Spirit move through us, to be a channel for the Love of God, we have to be open and that leaves us vulnerable. We need the support of others to do this.

Some among us have a particular gift for vulnerability.

A few weeks ago a Friend in my meeting sat and sobbed quietly throughout meeting for worship. Few in the room would have heard her, but I went and thanked her afterwards for her ministry. It had opened up awareness and compassion in myself.

Most of us who worship regularly in expectant waiting silence will have experienced the hesitant stumbling words of the Friend called to minister from the heart. Their words may be hard to understand in any intellectual sense, but they release something in others by their willingness to be vulnerable and to be used by the Spirit. Such ministry often leads to other spoken contributions, but also move something non-verbal within others who hear it.

May we all be a little more willing to crack open our hard outer seed coat and let the Love of God move in us and through us, so that we grow in the Spirit and help others to grow too. Let us also support those who offer us their vulnerability. We might offer time to listen, a cup of tea or a clean handkerchief. It will not be easy, it will be distressing and painful at times, but let us give thanks for the distress and pain too, knowing that it is helping us to grow together and to become more fully who God wants us to be.


U is for … Upside-down

Upside down 2

Rhiannon tackled this topic last week, but what I wanted to say is an addition not a duplication so I’m going ahead anyway.

The parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) has been much in my mind this year. Early in the year everyone in our meeting was struggling somewhat with a regular attender who is persistently late and tends to arrive noisily. We know that he has mental health problems and over a long period we had, mostly, come to accept him. It still came as a revelation to me when I realised that this was one meaning of the parable that in the Kingdom of Heaven everyone is valued equally, however late they arrive for meeting, So, if I believe, as I say I do, in the Kingdom being here and now, I am called upon to love the latecomer equally with the rest of my meeting. ‘Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’ (Matthew 20:16)

Interestingly, when this persistent latecomer was absent for a couple of weeks he was much missed, and everyone was asking after him. There was no response to phone calls and eventually we found out that he had been admitted to hospital. We plan to visit when his social worker says that he is well enough to cope with visitors (his family are not in contact with him).

More recently I was reading ‘God’s Hotel’ by David Wood (a collection of articles previously published in ‘Egremont Today’ as a column titled ‘Godspot’). David’s column for September 1998 included a retelling of this parable, placed in a Cumbria that some of his readers would have heard of from their parents or grandparents. He observes that “Those who had been left hanging around all day were those nobody wanted – the sickly, the disabled, the weaklings, those with learning difficulties – the ‘poor’ specimens’. Always the strong, the vigorous, the well-favoured, would get chosen first. Real community is a bit of heaven, where no-one is excluded, where all are equally favoured and a place is found for them with all the others. Their place. Their unique and equal place.”

I’d not actually thought about who these late-comers to the vineyard were, this opened my eyes again. It has implications for our meetings, and for wider society. To bring the Kingdom of Heaven into its full glory here and now we need to value everyone equally. We need to do this individually, in our churches, mosques, meetings, schools, workplaces, hospitals, neighbourhoods, countries and all over the world. We can start locally, but also need to influence the government – ‘the sickly, the disabled, the weaklings, those with learning difficulties’ need enough money to live on as much as ‘the strong, the vigorous, the well-favoured’ do, surely a statement that we need a minimum wage for all, that is, a minimum allowance per day (something like a citizen’s income but for everyone) rather than a minimum payment per hour. We need to turn our ways of organising society upside-down if the Kingdom is to be realised in truth.

If you recognise Karl Marx ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ (German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!) in this, that’s fine by me – my spouse was just saying last night that Marx should be considered to stand in the line of the old testament prophets.

Upside down

U is for Universalist

I’ve probably always been a Universalist, though I wouldn’t always have recognised the term. My mother is a Universalist, though she may not use that word, and has been since a teacher, reluctant to teach conventional RE, taught ‘comparative religion’ and instilled a respect for all faiths in at least one of her pupils.


I’d better clarify what I mean by ‘Universalist’, since there are different understandings of the term. I go along with the Quaker Universalist Group  in saying:

‘… our understanding [is] that spiritual awareness is accessible to everyone of any religion and none and that no one person and no one faith has the final revelation or monopoly of truth. We acknowledge that such awareness may be expressed in many different ways. We delight in this diversity …’


I always felt that this was self-evident from a Quaker perspective, especially given the ‘Advices and Queries‘ which say such things as ‘Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God.’ and ‘Are you open to new light, from whatever source it my come?’


I was a bit surprised to discover, about five years ago, quite how threatened Christo-centric Friends felt by Universalist Friends. I have, as I say, always been a Universalist, but much of the time I would also have identified as Christian – while being increasingly wary of the different ways that term can be understood. I still struggle to actually understand, in other than a theoretical way, how being Christian conflicts with being Universalist. When people ask me ‘How can you be a Buddhist AND a Quaker?’ I can see where the question is coming from. And, to be fair, I ask myself the same question sometimes. Though it is the rituals that I encounter as a Buddhist that trouble me more than the apparent atheism. I suppose that to Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is ‘THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life’ John 14:6 there is a conflict. I’ve always gone more with ‘in my Father’s house there are many mansions’ John 14:2.


Over the years I have had a few experiences that confirmed, for me, that ‘ spiritual awareness is accessible to everyone of any religion’. Chanting at a sufi gathering, chanting with Nichiren Buddhists, singing traditional Jewish melodies, I have experienced that same stillness that I find in meeting for worship, that same sense of Presence. Listening to Thich Nhat Hahn, studying Jewish texts, reading Rumi’s poetry, I sometimes have those moments of insight that also come to me through spoken ministry.

shop window

The God(dess) I believe in loves everybody and would not exclude anybody just because they had never read a particular holy book, learnt about a particular teacher, followed a particular guru, or participated in a particular ritual.


My (Quaker) understanding is that everybody, yes everybody, can, if they wish, have direct access to that love, and direct communication with that God, whether they perceive that Divinity to be within themselves and others, or something external, or both, and whatever they may or may not name that unnameable Love.




T is for Talents

We don’t like to own up to our talents, boasting is not approved of – at least, it wasn’t in my upbringing. But if we don’t acknowledge our gifts it is hard to use them fully for the benefit of ourselves, others, our community.

So I’ve been trying to identify mine and I’m going to record them here, in no particular order. Some of them may prompt you to recognise your own and some of yours will be very different, but just as valuable.

pin boardI have an aptitude for organising things, especially events and activities eg a series of study groups, a meeting, a holiday, a guide camp. I enjoy the challenge of bringing all the strands together – finding out what people want; arranging accommodation, food, transport; organising the finances and so on.

I have a natural talent to attending to detail and enjoy record-keeping. I am happy to do simple accounts, medical records, agendas and minutes.

I’m good at speaking loudly and clearly, excellent for reading notices!

my father's eyes

I can express myself clearly in words, written or spoken, which is useful for clerking, secretarial duties and writing blog posts.

I enjoy listening to people, especially when we can share deeply and am willing to set aside time to do this. This ‘listening’ may be face-to-face, but can also be online via the written word.

I have a desire to learn and a willingness to share the skills I have – especially the practical, hands on ones.

I have an awareness of the spiritual dimension of life and, increasingly, feel able to talk about this and to encourage others to do so.

gunnera reflected

I enjoy practical activities such as cooking, sewing, gardening and am good at some of them.

I am generally optimistic and calm, or as we used to say at guides ‘cheerful in all difficulties’.

zen stones

Of course, you can just say I’m bossy, loud, unrealistic and boastful, and that’s true too.