Saturday, 5 May 2007

Britain Yearly Meeting Reminisces

I woke up this morning and as usual, first thing I did was to check my emails and feeds. This gives me the buzz that I used to get when waiting for the letter post. Who gets real letters now? The only mail I get are Bank statements and Insurance forms. Neither really get the heart beating except when burgled and then discovering that we have forgot to renew the home insurance cover. It was time for us to remember that ...simplicity is shunning superfluities of...possessions which...obscure us from our vision of reality. Not sure if it has the same ethical and moral kick if the possessions are taken rather then given away.

Anyway, I have been mulling over a couple of blogsphere posts. One was about pluralism and Friends and the other was about are Quakers Christian? I was all fired up to get into an intellectual rant. You name the doctrine and the practice I am the one saying well... To give you a hint, I question most post Nicene Christian doctrines and have a deep fascination with the history and social struggle of the early Church and how its emergence was based on the suppression of a whole host of very different voices. This includes how the Christian canon came into existence. Read Lost Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman or The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman if you want to know where I am coming from.

One reading of George Fox and the early Friends and indeed many of the Radical Christian groups of the day was that they intuitively grasped many of these lost visions and practices hidden away in Biblical descriptions. They moved authority away from the Bible and the Church to the spirit or experiential practice(the source of continual Revelation!) This is why John Wolman could challenge slavery, a practice that very few of early Friends questioned as its in the Bible. They would have, if asked , looked to the treatment of slaves rather then the existence of slavery. See for more background.(Now what has all this to do with Britain Yearly Meeting? Patience Friend I am getting there)

You may be surprised to know that I am not an advocate of the pick and mix from the Supermarket of Religious Traditions. I am rooted in Christianity but as my home not my prison as Lionel Blue (a well known British Rabbi) would say. So I am open to explore and value other faiths. And like any home, its the relatives that you tend to have the most arguments with rather then the neighbours. Read Honest to Jesus by Robert W.Funk to get a feel of the Jesus and Christianity I feel at home with. Or Jesus through the centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan.

As you can imagine, in many Meetings I am not exactly mainstream. Yet in one Meeting a Friend who was well into her 90's and was a very conservative Christian in her theology and language embraced me in the fellowship of Friends. I saw in her the nearest to a "Saint" or someone that burnt with the Light that I have ever seen and experienced. And she saw in me some one that wasn't blowing out the candle but was trying to kindle it brighter. Yet both of us were Friends that you the reader may want to exclude from the Society of Friends.

The BYM blog reminded me of when I went to Yearly meeting(yes got there at last) . I sat in the Gallery of the main hall at the back for one session. The Meeting of several hundred people waiting in silence was one of the most profound I sat in.The minute records what the experience was

Minute 13: A prayerful life: experiencing the inward teacher

‘You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

Within the gathered stillness of an extended period of worship we have shared our experience of living, or trying to live, a prayerful life, a life in which we collaborate with God’s love and can experience the presence of God at any time and place. Prayer is the way we face the world. Prayer is how we are with other human beings, an act of love which can turn the world upside down.
My experience of this was several speakers that gave polished intellectual ministry but which washed over me or to be frank felt smug. Then a old man with painful effort got to his feet, and dragged words out of himself to ask those who were struggling with feeling God's love not to be downcast. He spoke of his own struggles from the heart and not from the head, and it was clearly painful. I burst into tears, and as I type this tears drip down my face. He is the reason that I know Friends are my home. John Punshon who I met at Woodbrooke in the 1970s makes my point for me.

Getting on with those I love is often a business demanding patience, discretion, tact and understanding. It gets complicated sometimes. It also gets strained, occasionally to the breaking point. But without expression it is barren. I show my love in the things I do...
In Britain Yearly meeting today what will make you know that you are at home and enjoying the company of neighbours and relatives?


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, John,
The meeting you describe sounds like it was very rich--particularly as witnessed by the old man whose vocal ministry touched you so deeply.

Not all vocal ministry is "live" of course, and I have a cynical part of me that can easily become distracted by that fact, and waste time judging the Friends around me. But I think its really important not to think that vocal ministry is the main event in waiting worship. There's something more than a lack of sound in the silence of a gathered meeting, and I think a lot of valuable ministry goes on without words, on a deeper level.

Occasionally, of course, vocal ministry rises from that deeper place, and takes me farther and farther into it. Which is great.

But what is really wonderful to me, and helps me to set aside my inner cynic, is to realize the extent to which the experiences that fill me with love and joy during meeting are not my experiences alone. Often I've had the experience of feeling embarrassed to find tears running down my cheeks, or I've struggled to contain them, only to look up and notice that, all around me, many other Friends are also in that very tender place.

That experience of being tendered together is both reassuring (I'm not a freak after all!) and humbling, because I realize that receptivity to Spirit is not some special talent of my own, but a Grace I share with many people.

I love those times I get broken open, and feel my cynicism and self-importance dissolving away...

Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

I too have often wanted to hide my tears when moved by spirit,but better to loose my ego and shyness than lose my soul