B is for Being Friends Together

I notice a request in the Quaker Life Network email that regularly lists opportunities for service that Friends can express an interest in. They are looking for Friends who are interested in visiting meetings to help the meeting discern the appropriate learning route for them.

‘I could do that’ says the voice in my head.

‘No, you couldn’t. You’re far too busy already’ I admonish myself.

art room

The request is repeated in the next QLN email.

‘I could do that, maybe I should contact them.’

I send an email. I hear nothing.

‘Quaker News’ comes out. There is an article about this new project from Quaker Life and Woodbrooke – ‘Being Friends Together’. They are still looking for potential volunteers.

‘Maybe I should follow that up’

I email again. I hear nothing. But I note the training date in my diary.

It’s January. My diary is full. I feel busy. I could just drop this ‘Being Friends Together’ business.

I don’t. I ring Friends House. Repeatedly. I email again.

Eventually I get a reply. Yes, there is still a place. Yes, I can come. Just fill in the form.

The form needs Friends to support my application. ‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that’, and there’s only a few days to go.

I email two of my fellow elders about it. ‘Of course we’ll support you’ they say. They don’t say ‘Aren’t you too busy already?’

I send the form in.


On the appointed day I go to Friends House, despite engineering works on the underground. A lovely crisp bright morning makes it a pleasure to walk along the Euston Road instead. We are only eight, although fourteen were expected.

I’m glad to be there. Simon Best, Alistair Fuller and Oliver Waterhouse are welcoming and calm, but full of enthusiasm for this project.

We’ve looked at the online resource beforehand, but they help us explore further and understand the aims. They explain the model they have in mind for meeting visitors. We ask questions. For some there are answers, for others the issues need thinking through. It’s good to have raised them.

When we share out impressions of the day we are mostly a mixture of excited and slightly scared. Excited at the potential, slightly anxious at what we might find when visiting a meeting.

I came away with enthusiasm for this project and looking forward to the possibility of helping a meeting into using it. And with an unexpected message in my mind: ‘take Jesus with you’.

Canterbury view

‘Being Friends Together’ is an online learning resource for Quaker meetings. It brings together the best of many learning resources that have been developed for meetings over many years and groups them into themes and pathways. Meetings may identify one off learning opportunities, or courses of study, resources for a study group or a discussion after a shared lunch or a weekend away. It can be used in many ways. Do take a look. I particularly liked the ‘topical activity’. One session that you can download and use straight away – just what is needed when the speaker for shared lunch can’t come at the last minute! You can browse for free, but for full access to download the resources a modest (£35) annual subscription is requested. For one subscription, the whole meeting has access.

For those who have members shared of the internet, be aware that this is an online resource, a library, it is not online learning. A few people in your meeting will need internet access, but the intention is that meetings will download the resources and use them in the ways we are used to (though some may use e-readers instead of paper copies).

A is for Accepting

‘May God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change

the courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Reinhold Niebuhr


I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of accepting recently (ie over the last year or so), especially in the context of accepting my physical limitations and what I can no longer commit to do.

I get a lot of practice at accepting that some days I just can’t. Just can’t get out to work. Just can’t cook a meal. Just can’t tidy up. Fortunately others days I just can. So when I can’t. I don’t. If I accept that and rest I get back to being able much sooner than if I fight it. Whether the cause is MS, or ME, or a infection, it isn’t particularly worth finding out. Accepting the situation as it is, and resting, is key.

What is much harder is accepting that there are activities that my increasing disability (particularly walking) means that I have to refuse to do. Some days I walk better than others. With my ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) I can walk quite briskly and for quite long distances (a mile or more). What is not so apparent to an observer is that the extent to which I have to concentrate on what I’m doing ie walking. So I usually can’t manage a conversation while I walk and I certainly can’t supervise youngsters (ie Guides). Uneven ground is a challenge and for steps I require a handrail, a stick or an assistant.

So recently I’ve had to say that my days of taking the guides to camp are over. It’s hard to accept, I love to be at camp with the girls and I could easily manage the organisational part, but I can’t cope ‘on the ground’ any more. But to write an email to my fellow guiders saying that was really difficult.

The flip side of this is learning to ask for and accept help. I’m quite good at asking for lifts. I’ve never driven, so that’s something I’ve always done and people are very willing to help. Accepting that at times I need to be in a wheelchair is a lot harder. But it’s much better to go in a wheelchair that be left out! Last winter we hired a wheelchair from the Red Cross for a couple of months when I was really unwell and it was good to practise with it. Recently I was offered one that someone else no longer required and was able to accept fairly easily (and hopefully graciously).

Having a fiercely independent streak is an asset in keeping me active and a liability in making it very difficult to ask for and accept help. Getting the right balance is an ongoing challenge.

A is for Actual Practice

Advices and Queries 3: Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? 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. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.

It has taken me years to find ways into stillness that I actually do on a daily basis. Over time I have found some that work so well for me that I find myself doing them without effort. Others I like, but still take effort. Still others, while appealing, just don’t appear in my regular routine.

As a child I tried earnestly to pray every evening at bedtime – but it never lasted more than two or three days. Though at junior school we did have prayer time in assembly and at the end of the school day plus I went to Sunday school about 50 weeks out of 52. I do remember taking those seriously and enjoying Sunday school.

As a student I tried various things – stopping for a silent grace at meal times was one I managed fairly consistently, even in the public arena of hall of residence dining room (much helped by having other friends who did it too).meditation 1

So what do I actually do? Quakers, in particular, often talk about setting aside times of quiet but are reluctant to go into detail.

Every morning when I first wake up, often before I fully wake up, I practice Reiki. I do both distant healing and self-treatment. The distant healing gets very mixed with simple intercessory prayer, holding in the Light and metta meditation (because I can’t really tell the difference). I send it to difficult situations in the world and to leaders in those situations (currently leaders in Israel and Palestine, ISIS, the military government in Burma) and to people I know who are ill or having difficulties at present. I sometimes also think of, uphold, send light to, other people or groups of people that I know eg my meeting, my guides, my difficult next door neighbour. Quite often I fall asleep again, but I just continue when I wake up again. It usually takes about half an hour. On completing the self-treatment, which I do second and actually do laying on of hands on the parts of my body that seem to need it, I give thanks for everything and get up.

greet the morning

If I’m at home, I then usually go to the window, look out through a small gap in the curtains (my spouse usually still being asleep) and bow to the new day and to all the beautiful buddhas out there whom I may meet in the course of the day. If I’m in a different place I usually forget this.

At breakfast, I’m usually alone and my habit is to recite the five contemplations. When we take meals together at home (often lunch and almost always the evening meal) we observe a period of silence during which we may just breathe, we may give thanks, we may recall the last supper or other stories. My spouse is very consistent in this particular practice and it is definitely part of our family life.

leave the house

Now I sound very good, but at this point it peters out rather rapidly! On work days I usually pause on leaving the house and remind myself to walk mindfully. Sometimes I remind myself again part way to work – and sometimes I just forget.. In the last few months I have managed to walk mindfully down the corridor (it’s long, straight, boring, and goes from the area I work in to the staff toilets) most days. I have a few ‘bells of mindfulness’ in the workplace in the form of computer passwords that use key words that remind me to be mindful and some postcards on my desk. By the time I go home for lunch I just go home. I may remember to prepare the vegetables mindfully if it’s my turn to cook, then again, I might not.


That’s the private daily practice, but the shared practice is essential. I go to meeting for worship as often as is reasonably possible. That is every Sunday (unless really prevented) and most Wednesdays. If I’m at Woodbrooke or somewhere else where there are more opportunities (such as Yearly Meeting Gathering) I will take most or all of them (ie early mornings, but not late nights). I also go to Buddhist mornings of mindfulness about monthly and that is becoming part of my core practice. Some days I practice sitting meditation at home, but not as often as I intend to. Though when I do, it requires as much discipline to stop as to find the time. I will also take happily the opportunity to worship or meditate with other groups if suitable opportunities occur.

This sounds like a lot, but I enjoy it, it doesn’t generally feel like an effort.desk

I also remember the advice, read on a poster on a friend’s wall many years ago: ‘everyone should sit for half an hour a day in silence, unless he is too busy, in which case he should sit for an hour’.

Time set aside for silence, for inward stillness, is time well used and never time wasted.