Welcome to 2013

My third ‘new year’ since beginning this and already in 2013, two Ffriends have died. I wonder what the rest of the year holds in store?

I’ve heard it will be better than last year but also that for many it will soon become very difficult indeed. Perhaps the revolution is just around the corner. On a more upbeat note, I’m just going to add the text of Helen Drewery’s ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4 New Year’s Eve, to my Peace page here – and hope no-one gets excited about copyright.

Trevor

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Some reflections

The trouble with not posting regularly is that if you do get round to it, the intervening events seem now almost too complicated to report.

Perhaps this should be headed ‘Member at last’.  Last time, I forgot to mention I had applied for membership of the Society (London West Area Meeting) in November – then sort of got cold feet (or ‘wedding nerves’?) and put it on hold for a bit.

After a bit more soul searching (I think mine might be missing) I went ahead with receiving my visitors, one of whom it turned out had been born only a mile from where I was born on the other side of London.  Then, in February, I received the news I had been accepted into membership. (One must be tempted to say here ‘God knows why’ and perhaps he does? Hope this isn’t one of the temptations I should have been delivered from.)

In March I attended the first annual conference/agm of the UK ‘branch’ (not really) of the Non-theist Friends’ Network at Woodbrooke near Birmingham. (My second visit to Woodbrooke).

This was attended by nearly 100 Friends (Quakers) and had as 3 ‘keynote’ speakers, Don Cupitt of ‘The Sea of Faith’, the poet Philip Gross (who is a Friend in Wales) and an American non-theist Friend James Riemermann from St. Paul’s Minnesota whose speech moved me to tears. (Will have to return here and edit later as the laptop battery is about to expire!)

Trevor (in Portugal)

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Old year, New Year

Whilst continuing as a regular attender at Brentford & Isleworth meeting and taking an active part in Woodbrooke’s online ‘Becoming Friends’ course, how and why have I managed to so neglect my personal quaker web space?

It was originally begun to provide me with thinking and reflecting space – a kind of public journal – but also to provide a resource (by way of the links and topic pages) for others who may be interested in quakers or attending meetings or contemplating membership.

I have been struck at times by the potential tensions between ‘christocentric’ and ‘evangelical’ quakers on the one hand and the ‘liberal’, ‘universalist’ and ‘non-theist’ quakers on the other.  The possibility of ‘schism’ as in the past is there; but perhaps the schisms have already happened and the tendency today is for a sort of ‘ecumenical quakerism’ – holding together over what all quaker ‘flavours’ more or less have in common.

(Which amounts to the ‘testimonies’ or ways of living in simplicity, truth and integrity, peace and non-violence, equality and (economic) justice and now increasingly in ‘sustainability’.  Also, I think, quaker practice such as involvement in peace, social justice and sometimes protest.  Some of these things are dealt with under the ‘history’ and ‘testimonies’ tabs above.)

My New Year’s Resolution (foolish?!) is to develop these thoughts further here; to provide richer resources for all who might find them useful; and to pursue my own (is it selfish?) spiritual development by all the paths currently open to me and new ones if they appear.

As a final ‘thought for the day’ (and year) it seems to me that the possible tensions between different ‘flavours’ of quakers is much the same as those between different groups of (so-called?) Christians and between members of different religions and none. If ‘liberal’ quakerism (that is, quakerism which might be Christian – or not – but is not dogmatically ‘christocentric’) has something special to offer the world, it is perhaps that willingness to welcome all spiritual paths and lay no claim to an ‘abolute possession of the truth’.

That thought require some explanation. For many Quakers, and certainly the early quakers in 17th century England, ‘Christ’ was and is the ‘centre’.  But perhaps ‘liberal’ quakers have come to see that that Christ is in the spirit and not in the letter (of the ‘law’ in the Jewish sense); that Christ is the spirit which may be known by many names (perhaps including ‘inner light’, ‘holy ghost’, and all the words used to describe stages of inner realisation of the spirit by Eastern religions and mystics of all persuasions). That Christ or spirit is like the sufi story of the elephant (attributes or manifestations of ‘God’).

This idea is not new to 21st century ‘liberal’ quakers but is found from the beginning, for example in the words of William Penn (in 1693): “The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers.” (QF&P of BYM 19.28)

But Penn could also write (at about the same time):

“O! you young men and women, let it not suffice you, that you are the children of the people of the Lord; you must also be born again, if you will inherit the kingdom of God.

Wherefore, O ye young men and women, look to the rock of your fathers: there is no other God but him, no other Light but his, no other grace but his, nor Spirit but his, to convince you, quicken, and comfort you; to lead, guide, and preserve you to God’s everlasting kingdom. So will you be possessors as well as professors of the truth, embracing it, not only by education, but judgment and conviction; from a sense begotten in your souls, through the operation of the eternal Spirit and power of God in your hearts … that, as I said before, a generation you may be to God, holding up the profession of the blessed truth in the life and power of it.” (QF&P of BYM 19.59)  This last sounds like a true ‘born again’ Christian and echoes words of Jesus but He also said (it is claimed):  31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

    32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32 NIV UK version).  And this sounds to me rather like Jesus saying ‘devout souls are everywhere of one religion‘ like Penn 1700 years later.  In some versions (of the Bible in English) ‘speak against’ is rendered ‘deny’ or ‘blaspheme (against)’.  This saying of Jesus is also found in Mark (3:28-29) and possibly elsewhere and seems to suggest that whilst you might be forgiven for denying the God of Israel (by whatever name) or Jesus (by whatever name or denomination) you should not deny the Holy Spirit (by whatever name). Hence the point is to be ‘a devout soul‘ – of whatever religion and the essential (but not unique) message or teaching of Jesus is Love – ‘love one another’, not ‘argue about belief and fight one another’.

If it’s not too late, Happy Christmas and an enlightening New Year!

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Bin Laden, Obama, smiles and tears and the Holy Ghost

More than one member of my meeting expressed some disquiet at the manner of Osama Bin Laden’s death.  Creditably, this doubt has been reflected too in Question Time on the BBC (most notably by the ‘ex-SBSPaddy Ashdown) and in some quarters in America.

The ways of the Lord (and the world-wide web) may indeed be curious.  Following links from news items about Bin Laden led to this which at least made my eyes water.  The trail began with this – that photograph with Obama and Hilary Clinton watching Bin Laden’s demise (we assume) discussed in an interesting way by CNN.  I’d further tend to assume that Clinton’s story about ‘stifling a cough’ is an embarassed lie to cover her horror at events of which she might rather be proud (of the horror more than the event).  That story linked to this – about Bin Laden’s theology – which is slightly encouraging for its Muslim contributors comments, and that led to the “Holy Ghost” in the ‘black church’ story above which prompted me to add this first post to my quaker blog in over 3 months!

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New Year Resolution?

With a further two weeks in Spain in December; and Christmas, New Year, 21st and 65th birthdays to celebrate and a further 10 days in Spain/Portugal in January, it is perhaps hardly surprising I haven’t kept uptodate with this blog/website.

I have attended meeting in January but went instead to the Richmond Unitarian Church service on 2nd January (or was it the 9th?) to see how that works.  “I hope you’re not leaving us for that lot!  they’re just like Quakers with hymns”.  Somebody might recognise that quote but I won’t attribute it here!  Actually, although some Unitarian beliefs and practices would seem to be very close to Quakers, I felt (based on one service conducted by an American Baptist minister following guidance given by the absent American Unitarian minister – 2nd Jan. still on vacation in New York! ) that they were more like (very liberal?) Anglicans who don’t believe what most Anglicans believe. (Unitarian versus Trinitarian, hence Jesus was one of us – and not God – hence illegal blasphemers until 1813)

As a matter of personal taste, I would rather sit in silence for an hour than participate in the half-hearted singing of tedious Victorian hymns.  There was a time for silent prayer (about 5-10 minutes) followed by sharing of prayer thoughts. One member of the congregation felt this was too long! So, not much like Quaker practice really. I did however find their information pack they sent me illuminating and expressing beliefs close to Quakers (who don’t have any as a body? – this is a tease as obviously Quakers believe things but they don’t have a creed and sometimes seem to imply you can believe what you like or that he way to God has nothing to do with belief or notions) and my own.

For more information about Unitarianism in Britain see the Essex Church Kensington website.

Well, I resolve to keep up the good work. I have just now signed up for the Becoming Quaker online course, so we’ll see where that leads. I’m also trying to follow up the Experiment with Light workshop by finding a local group and will probably go to some further Quaker Quest meetings – especially the new additional topics.

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Experiment with Light – part 2

The rest of the weekend passed off peaceably in true quakerly fashion with no blows exchanged .

After 24 hours at home in London (the journey home by car took 6 hours in very heavy traffic on the M6/A40), I can reflect a little on what took place.
A ‘google’ search for ‘Glenthorne Experiment with Light’ now finds the following links:
Quakerpedia entry for Epistle from Glenthorne (2004)
http://www.charlieblackfield.com/light/ (one address for the Experiment for light website)
http://www.leedsquakers.org.uk/resources/qw-10-2.pdf (A large pdf of Leeds Quakers’ ‘A Quiet Word’ for April 2010 with an advert for Glenthorne and an article about Experiment with Light from the Quaker Universalists Group with Rex Ambler at Woodbrooke)
and this very blogpage!

Whilst the Experiment with Light Meditation itself has not immediately changed my state of awareness (as far as I am aware!), the weekend as a whole has struck a powerful chord for me with the ‘Gospel of Thomas’ translated and explained by the Quaker Hugh McGregor Ross, who had clearly been writing at Glenthorne himself last year, which I have been reading even today.

At the end of the weekend I bought the three related texts available, two of them by Rex Ambler who originated the ‘Experiment with Light’. That specifically about his experiment, ‘Light to Live By’, is a full explanation of his own experiences and the process itself.

But it was the other book by him, ‘Truth of the Heart – an anthology of George Fox’, which appeared to be the most significant for me. In essence, it seems to me, Ambler is claiming to have re-discovered the process of Fox’s ‘experiment’ by which Fox himself found the ‘living Christ’ within himself and then ‘taught’ to others.  A process which McGregor Ross appears to imply, in his explication of ‘Thomas’, Jesus himself went through and taught to his disciples. (Essentially “Be still and know that I am/you are God’?).  ‘Truth of the Heart’, in ‘explaining’ Fox in modern terms, is therefore perhaps a book which should be ‘burnt, banned or celebrated’ – take your pick. Whilst Jesus was crucified, Fox was only persecuted but other early Quakers were killed for their heresy.

I feel, for myself, that there is now much to explore and I hope to do some of that here on this blog.  But probably I will continue the ‘Experiment’ for myself – first on the ‘agenda’ being my partners’ sick dog which I currently feel so angry about. (The ‘big question’ – ‘why am I here?’ – can wait for a while!).

Glenthorne
The house and grounds are in a truly spectacular location and this was highlighted in the early morning snow on Saturday. The photos below certainly don’t convey that very well.

The food was excellent – I’m 4 pounds heavier than last week! – but I wonder if for the purpose of this particular course we should have had a much more basic diet? (Perhaps not just dry bread and water though). There was a great sense of silence and peace in the venue, even when there was noise from the nearby roadworks. I couldn’t really decide whether this silence which I felt I could almost ‘hear’ (the music of the spheres?) was a characteristic of the location and general quiet; a result of the course and meditation; or a problem with my ears! In any event it was both palpable and agreeable.

Possibly my first visit to the Lake District in 51 years (when I was camping with the 4th Seven Kings Sea Scouts just over the hill (Helvelyn!) at Glenridding on Ullswater), I hope I will return much sooner and maybe try and stay at Glenthorne, perhaps on another course?, for a weekend next year – though it is a long way to travel. It is certainly very convenient for Grasmere (10 minutes walk into the village), Ambleside and Windermere. It is obviously very popular with walkers and the very centre of the ‘Wordsworth industry’. Even part of the house (Annexe) was apparently used as a stable by Wordsworth.

The course:

As indicated above, the Experiment with Light course and meditation did not immediately change my life but I feel it will have longer term relevance for my continued exploration of Quakerism.  It was a very enjoyable weekend and gave new insight into current, past and maybe future Quaker practice.  As usual, the other participants and leaders were an interesting bunch with a wide range of interests and differing viewpoints although not too much of this was revealed as the nature of the course was quite demanding with a full timetable.  The Saturday evening DIY entertainment (each of us ‘doing a turn’) did reveal a variety of talents and the performance reading of Jackie Kay‘s poem about Ma Bruin (Maw Broon visits a Therapist was particularly memorable.)

(Pictures  – see also the previous post below):

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Glenthorne Experiment with Light

Arrived at Glenthorne Quaker Centre late afternoon after driving from Humberside in just over 3 hours in sunshine all the way – quite the opposite of expectations.

Have had an excellent evening meal with tea and cakes before that.  Started on the course with some introductory items so still don’t know what to expect in the ‘main event’. Very surprised to find I have internet access here and can put this up just before going to bed.

There are three course leaders and 8 participants – divided into 2 groups of 4 – I’m the only male participant.

Continuing at lunchtime on Saturday, we have been introduced to a Quaker Meditation. There has been a couple of inches of snow overnight. The course leaders are Catherine King-Ambler, Allan Holmes and KayT Turner.

Here are pictures of Catherine, the group and of the snow covered hills:

Catherine King-Ambler

Fells above Glenthorne House

The group (one missing) with leaders

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