This is the text of what I said at Area Meeting today10/1/16. Most of it is already on this blog under Q is for Quaker in 2013. But a copy was requested for circulation and it seems as well to post here too while it is, in some way, topical.
I was only asked to speak today at short notice, but yesterday morning, in response to a question, I found myself saying:
What do I know? Not very much:
that I should stayed married to Jim
when I breathe in I know that I am breathing in, when I breathe out I know that I am breathing out
I am alive, which is better than the alternative
God loves me
These things are deeply spiritual and also quite pragmatic. The Quaker way is, I’m increasingly aware, simultaneously mystical and practical. Basically, all I need to do is follow Advices and Queries 1 ‘Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts …’. The rest just follows.
And now, as I said to Ryan, and in true ‘Blue Peter’ style, here’s one I wrote earlier:
Why am I a Quaker?
because it’s where God wants me to be,
because it’s a place I can work out how to follow the teachings of Jesus without the rituals and creeds that troubled me in other churches,
because I feel it’s where I belong,
because it gives me a safe spiritual home from where I can engage with different traditions,
because I feel accepted and challenged,
because together we seek the will of God for us, here and now, and try to follow it,
because Quakers understand that words are inadequate for expressing deep spiritual truths (which is why this is such a hard question to answer!),
because I go to Meeting for Worship and am aware of the Presence.
I discovered I was a Quaker in my late teens/early twenties when searching for an understanding of God, what God wanted of me and what my Guide promise to ‘do my duty to God’ really meant. I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter to me whether God is ‘real’ or a human construct, but that it does matter to me that I believe. Within Quakerism, I have been able to explore my beliefs and deepen my understanding, and experiment with different ways of expressing those beliefs.
How am I a Quaker?
by remembering that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone I meet, be that face to face, by telephone, by email, in online forums, or otherwise (I was LM clerk when I wrote this, so lots of these opportunities arose),
by acting from love, not from anger,
by finding frequent opportunities (alone or with others) to be quiet and reconnect with the Presence,
by pausing to give thanks for food, friends, health, doubts, difficulties, sunshine, rain, everything life offers me,
by heeding the ‘promptings of love and truth’ in my heart,
by expressing gratitude,
by giving time to listen,
by being aware of the present moment, where I am, and who I’m with,
by trying to love my neighbour as myself,
by questioning why I’m doing what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, how I could do things differently,
by asking ‘is this the way it would be in the Kingdom of God / Republic of Heaven / Paradise ?’
by continuing to make changes (however small) to the way I live to make my lifestyle simpler, more peaceful, more honest, better aligned with the will of the Divine.
In practical terms, I do a lot of Quaker stuff: attending Meeting for Worship, serving as elder and registering officer, convening children’s committee, accepting the huge challenge of being on Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations (even saying the title is quite a challenge!).I do a small amount of Buddhist stuff: walking mindfully and trying to follow the five mindfulness trainings.
Outside Quaker structures I do a very ordinary, part-time office job for the NHS, run a Guide unit, serve on the committee of the local interfaith association, grow some fruit and vegetables on my allotment, try to keep up with the housework and support family members. I am blessed with a supportive family and local meeting, good colleagues and friends.
I have a vision that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, in Watford, as elsewhere, and a desire to help other people to perceive that. The way to that end is by many small steps, and mostly not by talking ‘God language’. It is by what I do and how I do it, not by what I say.