Category Archives: Quaker

A breath of wind

It is very pleasant to feel a gentle breeze and hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees. A warm wind from the south is also a joy to most of us. However, the wind is unpredictable. It can be gusting, whirling, whistling. It can become a howling gale, or even a hurricane. The same wind that can fill the sails of a boat can also become a storm blowing it off course. 

These common experiences lie behind the use of wind as a metaphor for the Spirit. In the Bible there is the phrase, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3.8) What are we to understand then about ‘spirit-filled’ people? 

We might expect people of the spirit to be kind and loving, gentle and considerate. And one hopes they are. They can be like the zephyr that brings warming comfort, or like the wind that lifts the wings of the eagle. However, they also have the power to disturb, bring change, inspire revolution. The people who are driven by a spirit of truth and justice can be stubborn, persistent, discomforting, and even as irresistible as a tornado. 

The same word is used for breath, wind and spirit in the early stories of the Bible. It is ‘ruach’. We might prefer the wind/spirit to be like a sweet breath on our cheeks. But where there is corruption or injustice, or violence against people or the planet, the wind/spirit can blow away our complacency and challenge our prejudices. I remember a Bible-study session in the German Kirchentag in Berlin one year, which began with the sound of breathing, and a procession of large leaf filled branches rustling as they moved. But it moved inexorably towards a storm of challenge to violence against women and the planet. 

The celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit has just been celebrated in British churches. It is the feast of Pentecost. This comes as a reminder to Christians that sometimes there is a need to offer a  gentle caress to those who are bruised and vulnerable. But it also prompts the conscience to search out the reasons behind the pain and suffering and to challenge the people and systems that create them. 

People of the spirit can be found in all religious traditions and amongst those who do not identify with any formal faith. Perhaps you recognise someone, young or old, who has shown the spirit to you, either gently or forcefully! Perhaps you feel the spirit within you urging you to love and to care, to act to bring about change and to make peace.  

May the spirit be with you!

About Time

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 ]

Meetings for Worship

We held our first Meeting for Worship together today since March. There were six of us in the pleasant surroundings of the garden, bathed in sunlight and blessed with birdsong. The flowers in the courtyard are wonderful, thanks to Mary.

Having carried out a risk assessment and put in place posters about safety during COVID-19 and provided for hand-washing or sanitiser, and markings for social distancing etc., we are able to resume weekly Meetings for Worship, outdoor for preference, but indoors if the weather is not kind. We will be limited to eight people if we move indoors, so registration with the Clerk is necessary. The kitchen will not be used nor will there be anything that is normally shared, such as books. The cleaning regime for the Meeting House and particularly the toilets will be considered with our cleaner this week. They’re will be a one way system operating when we meet indoors, so please follow the guidance of the welcomers. We are not planning to re-open for any other groups before September at the earliest.

We continue to care for each other and keep in touch by phone and email. Please contact Adela or Jackie our Overseers with any concerns.

Flower display by the south wall
Flowers in the courtyard trough
Flowers by the front corner

Gardening volunteers

A group of six volunteers gathered this last week for a gardening retreat. Organised by Quaker Voluntary Action (QVA), they came from as far away as Glasgow and stayed from Wednesday to Sunday. Some slept in the Meeting House others stayed with local Friends.

They worked extremely hard each morning and most afternoons. They pruned overgrown shrubs and cleared nettles, ivy and other persistent weeds. A new herb bed was planted, a new wildflower area created, a leaf-storage area constructed and a spiral meditation walk created out of cobbles. Perhaps the most demanding job was lifting the gravestones and re-laying them over fabric to suppress the weeds.

Among the new plants were cotoneaster, which will provide ground cover, and Hebe to replace one that has died in the drought last year. They also put in the herb area some lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage.

The volunteers shared in Sunday morning Meeting for Worship before returning home. Our heartfelt thanks for their hard work, which has transformed the garden.