K is for Know

Quakers are generally very hesitant to say ‘I believe …’ but there are times when we will say quite clearly ‘I know …’. This may seem quite inconsistent, but the ‘knowing’ is generally something that comes from personal experience, so that we are saying, as George Fox said ‘And this I knew experimentally’

The word ‘know’ appears several times in Advices and Queries: 3 ‘Seek to know an inward stillness, …’ and ‘… knowing that all are cherished by God.’ and 18 ‘Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, …’. The ‘knowing’ here is experiential not academic, it is ‘heart-learning’ not ‘head-learning’. We could, perhaps, replace the word ‘know’ with the word ‘experience’: seek to experience an inward stillness; experiencing that all are cherished by God; seek to experience one another in the things which are eternal. This gives a flavour of what I understand the phrases to mean. The last is a bit odd, but I think what it is saying is that we can experience together the things which are eternal (the things which are of God), with an awareness that we are doing so communally, that we are gathered together to do it, and, in the context of A&Q18, that this is how we can build our community, our sangha. (I borrow a Buddhist word that seems to encapsulate the fuller meaning of the supportive, spiritual community.)

Another use of the word ‘know’ that I have found particularly helpful, is to write down, from time to time (perhaps every few years), my current answer to the question1: what have I actually come to know regarding my spiritual life? Today I know that my spiritual life is vitally important to me and that it is nourished by sharing experiences with people from other faiths (both listening to their accounts and practising together), by challenging questions, by listening to enquirers and newcomers to Quaker ways and by attending meeting for worship regularly and frequently.

1‘The Pure Principle’ Jim Pym p61

Sunbrick stone circle

And then there is one of my favourite mantras for settling into the silence of meeting for worship (psalm 46:10 for those who like to know the sources):

‘Be still and know that I am God’

which is even better when shortened at each repetition, perhaps taking a repetition with each in-breath:

‘Be still and know that I am God’

‘Be still and know that I am’

‘Be still and know that I’

‘Be still and know that’

‘Be still and know’

‘Be still and’

‘Be still’




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