After meeting recently I was asked about my doctoral work, in particular about the term ‘Quaker time’. My thesis is titled: The Temporal Collage: how British Quakers make choices about time at the beginning of the twenty first century. In her work with Quakers about moral choices Jackie Leach Scully describes decision making as building a collage because:
1. People often had to make decisions on partial information without certainty of what the outcome might be.
2. Collage is a creative working of the elements involved.
3. Collage is flexible and can be imaginative and fluid.
So it is with time. When we commit to Quaker work, for instance, we do not know how we will be changed by what we do. Many Friends I spoke to had wonderful experiences and most made friends through their work, but for others involvement was less positive. Thankfully for those Friends, Britain Yearly Meeting has many opportunities to live out a Quaker life, and disappointed Friends largely found a place for themselves elsewhere.
Quaker time is one of several components of the individual collages of those I interviewed. Ben Pink Dandelion used the term in his 1996 thesis to distinguish the time Friends spend in Meeting for Worship, participating in the structure of the Society, in special interest groups and Quaker learning opportunities. In 1859 Quaker requirements of endogamy, plain dress and speech (the peculiarities) ended which meant that life beyond the meeting became privatised, that is, beyond the reach of elders. During the so called ‘quiet period’ the influences on individual Friends decision making was limited to those within the Society, whereas now they are many and often complex. Nevertheless, my research showed that Friends regard much of what they do to be influenced by their faith, and embraced by their spiritual selves.
Of the elements that comprise the collages Friends build, one is Holy Busyness, the time given out of faith, for instance the love given in time shared with family, or as volunteers within the wider community and sometimes in paid work, but not specifically with Quakers. In this way collages are built of polychronic time, shaped into a design that suits us as we move through life. Polychronic time is not the same as multi tasking, that is doing several things at once. By contrast, polychronic time is woven flexibly into our lives. There are rigid, unavoidable elements such as clock time, the time of deadlines, calendars, and priorities which sit alongside the interwoven elements of relationships and interconnectedness with the wider world.
As we come out of lockdown in 2021, I am reviewing my collage. I need to consider what has to be in there, what I can keep and what I might discard to stay safe and well, and how I keep it bound by my spirituality.
[These blogs are the views of individual Friends and do not necessarily represent the views of other Quaker or Britain Yearly Meeting. For agreed statements please visit the Quakeers in. Ritalin website. Www.quakers.org.uk ]