What Quakers Believe
What do Quakers Believe?
"Quaker" is a popular name for a member of the Religious Society of Friends, whose members are also known as "Friends".
As Quakers we believe that our religious insights, attitudes and practices together form a way of life. We have the conviction that each of us can have direct experience of the Spirit of God and we seek to respond to that of God in everyone. Quakers also share a commitment to our testimony to peace, truth, equality, and simplicity. Quaker testimony is not just about holding these values to be important; it is about a way of living our lives and of acting in the world.
The bedrock of the Quaker way is the silent meeting for worship. We seek a communal gathered stillness, where all can be open to inspiration from the Spirit of God. During our meetings for worship some may feel moved to speak: this is something anyone can do, as all are considered equal. Meetings at Brant Broughton are held every Sunday at 11am and every third Thursday evening at 7.30pm and are open to all.
The Quaker way has its roots in Christianity and finds inspiration in the life of and teachings of Jesus and in the Bible. Friends also find meaning and value in the teachings of all Faiths and acknowledge that ours is not the only way.
Sharing our experience
Our focus is on experience rather than written statements of belief and our collective experience is shared in the book Quaker Faith and Practice, an anthology of Quaker insights from the founding of the Religious Society of Friends in the seventeenth century to the present day. It is updated every generation, recognising that we are all open to new light and that our understanding of truth moves on.
Our sense of community does not depend on professing identical beliefs, but from worshipping, sharing and working together. Quakers do not have priests, or a hierarchy, as we believe all people can have a direct relationship with God.
Perhaps Quakers are best known for our peace testimony. This derives from our conviction that love is at the heart of existence and all human beings are equal in the eyes of God, and that we must live in a way that reflects this. It has led many Quakers to refuse military service, and to become involved in a wide range of peace activities from practical work in areas affected by violent conflict to the development of alternatives to violence at all levels from personal to international.
Justice, Equality and Community
Quakers recognise the equal worth and unique nature of every person. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice and hinder true community. It also means working with people who are suffering from injustice, such as prisoners and asylum seekers.
Truth and Integrity
Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Integrity is the guiding principle we set for ourselves and expect in public life.
Quakers are concerned about the excesses and unfairness of our consumer society, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. We try to live simply and to give space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God.
Earth and Environment
‘We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.
Advices and Queries 42.
"The truth is out there"
by Chris Rose
‘Facts are such horrid things,’ said Lady Susan, a character in Jane Austen’s short story who manipulated the truth for her own advancement. With false news so much in the news recently it is becoming difficult to know fact from fiction. False news though is nothing new. Those of us who have been watching the recent history series on television will have learnt that Richard 111 was not necessarily the evil hunchback that Shakespeare and the Tudors made him out to be. Likewise, the so called Glorious Revolution of 1668 when William of Orange seized the throne from James 11 was not especially glorious or even a revolution. Certainly 1066 wasn’t the last time England was invaded, as I was taught at school.
But where do we find truth in our modern twenty-first century world? Perhaps one thing we can all do is to listen more. Firstly, to listen to each other, and especially to listen to those who we view as different from ourselves. In listening and talking to each other we can perhaps start to understand some of the concerns and problems faced as individuals and as groups and maybe start to see the common ground that exists between us which can be a bridge to better understanding. However different we may be and despite the labels we give each other; we are all part of God’s creation with the same loves, hopes and fears.
Secondly let us listen to that ‘still small voice’ within us all. Let us examine what we believe to be right and true, to listen to that spirit of truth that is within us all. Then trust in where that spirit takes us. Above all let us attempt to live truthfully to what we believe, trying to be true to that message of love and forgiveness, however difficult, that Jesus taught. In trying to live our own lives truthfully and with integrity we in turn can demand the same from those in authority and positions of power.
To speak ‘truth to power’ is an old American Quaker saying which describes speaking from the deepest insight of one’s faith. In these uncertain times, may we never be afraid to do so.
NO QUIET PLACE
by David Ditcham
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in” John Muir.
People come and go like the waves on the sea. There is no quiet place in our towns and cities.....no place to hear the rustle of a butterflies wings or the unfurling of leaves in the spring.
To feel in the right place with God, a holy moment, when everything feels aligned, occurs for many in our Meeting for Worship, for others, also in different environments. In this overcrowded country wild, remote places still exist and we may go there to escape the rush and noise of urban life. What do we seek there? Can we find what we seek elsewhere?
The Australian aborigine tells us of dreamtimes and the Inuit greets the first rays of the New Year’s sun with a gusto unknown to peoples of the south. To experience the changing mists on the mountainside which flees before the blazing morning sun or to be part of the ripples which cross the placid waters of the lake are incredible feelings.
Sometimes when out in the wild and remote parts of this beautiful planet it is possible to experience feelings of deep harmony with one’s surroundings. Illogical, even ridiculous, the idea that everything in nature can be within me as well as outside of me, is one way of describing this harmony.
Is this what Chuang-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher meant in the fourth century BC when he commented that “I and all things in the Universe are one”?
While camping in a remote valley in the Hurrungane in Norway with my daughter, she asked with childlike innocence “Dad, can you hear the silence?”................and I could.
On another occasion I glided in my canoe into the space between the overhanging branches of a willow tree and the banks of a river to avoid an oncoming motor boat. My companion, without making a noise, drew my attention to a kingfisher with a fish in its mouth perched just above us. Who was more surprised him or us? Another golden moment.
All this fits in with my interpretation of the Quaker testimonies to Silence, Peace and Simplicity and why I have devoted much of my life taking young people into the great outdoors to try and give them some sense of this experience.
REFUGEES: THEN & NOW
by Cynthia Howell
Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. In our times refugees are fleeing to Europe from Syria and neighbouring countries. They are abandoning their homes, businesses, farms because of the threats of hunger – terror – war and death. They may have sold all their property so to pay for the journey to Europe, where they hope to start a new life and be safe.
We Europeans however are not always as welcoming and hospitable as we might expect. Doubtless if we saw a family begging in the street, we might give them some money towards their next meal, and we would hope – optimistically – that our government might help on a larger scale. But the problem is the scale of the situation. How many hundreds of thousands of people can a country absorb without straining the housing system, schools and hospital care to breaking point?
There is no doubt most of the refugees’ needs are genuine. We read of people walking all the way from France to England through the Eurotunnel. We see pictures on TV of refugees, young and old, running and walking for miles before national borders are closed against them. Babies are drowned at sea; we are moved to help – but how on this vast scale? In the Bible we only hear of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt, but presumably there were other Jewish families trying to save their infant sons. How did Egypt cope? What systems were in place to deal with a sudden increase in population?
We in Europe are among the richest people in the world, but we are arguing about which country should do most. As refugees reach southern Europe they come ashore in Greece and Italy, countries already struggling economically. The problems are increased by the lack of boundary controls under the Schengen agreement. Here in Great Britain we have benefited over many years by having a natural boundary with the English Channel. In the 1930s and 1940s we welcomed those at risk from Hitler’s Nazis. But the current movement of refugees is on an altogether more massive scale.
May God give our leaders insight and generosity to help those fleeing from violence in their own land. In the words of Edmund Burke: All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
by Cynthia Fleming
I came to Quakers a couple of years ago after many years of avoiding any sort of church. I felt that organized religion was not for me. However, I had always felt there was “something” larger than myself. The words we use as humans are inadequate to describe this feeling. I also felt that there could be no place where my rather nebulous feelings about what some call Spirit could be accepted by others and not condemned as heresy or fancy as they had been in my past.
So why Quakers? Curiosity. I discovered after a 20-year search that some of my early American ancestors were Quakers and, as I knew nothing whatsoever about it, I thought I would find out about modern Quakers to see if the seeds planted in the family past might have eventually boiled down to help create me in the here and now.
I looked on the internet for my nearest Quaker Meeting and found the group in Brant Broughton who meet in one of the oldest Meeting Houses in the country. Nothing prepared me for what I found therein.
We live with so much noise. Most of the folks I know feel the need to have something noisy going on in the background all the time. It is almost as if they fear what they may find in the quiet. I also know others who have said to me that they long for peace and quiet but wouldn’t have any idea where to find it.
I feel I have found my peace and quiet in the Quaker Meeting.
What on Earth do Quakers do in Meeting? They sit in the quiet. They allow time and space for what they call “that of God” which they see in everyone to speak to them and, sometimes, inspire them to speak to the assembled company. There is something intangible that happens when they meet to be together to sit in the silence and wait. It is something akin to food as it feeds a hungry place in the soul.
Quakers are more than just this though. They live their beliefs values in the work they do, in the way they treat others, in just the way they live their lives. It’s as if they are quietly determined to try and leave the world a better place than when they found it and that’s a challenge!
I could say many more things about what I have found with the Quakers but some things are much better left to be discovered. I was warmly welcomed and allowed to find my way.
I sometimes tell my Quaker Friends that I wish we could do more to share what we have with this restless world that sorely needs what they have found. It is probably wise that they say that people come to Quakers when the time is right for them. I know that I am quietly thrilled to have come to a place that I call “home”.
Seeing the person
A Friend who lives on the south coast recently related this true story: An old friend Bill had been in hospital for ten weeks. The hospital was far from his home. He had spent his birthday in hospital and it looked like he would spend Christmas there as well. There had been tests, examinations and consultations and yet more tests. His wife who was far from well was finding visiting difficult. His scattered family could only get in the evening when Bill was tired. The other men on the ward were gravely ill so there was none of the chat and banter that can go on when patients are recovering. “Our old friend who was normally always cheerful and optimistic was becoming dispirited and down in the dumps.”
Then one day into the next bed came Tom, who had been sent from a hostel for homeless men. He was thin and gaunt but his smile lit up his face as he shook hands with Bill and started to chat. Within a short time, they discovered a love of motorcycles and the sixty-year-old age gap melted away.
When Bill’s family next visited they couldn’t believe the change in him. In turn Tom having lost touch with his own family long ago was intrigued by Bill’s large family. When Christmas came Tom had cards and presents from Bill’s family. Instead of being ‘one of the homeless’, this man had a name. He was a person.
In this fast-talking world of ours how easy and convenient it is to lump people together; the homeless, the ‘disabled’, ‘the mentally ill’, the ‘deaf’ or ‘immigrants’, to give them labels and forget that we are all individuals with the same cares, loves, concerns and potential. In the well-loved gospel story of Zacchaeus, he being a small man, climbed a tree to get a better look at the itinerant preacher everyone was talking about. He was one of the despised tax-gatherers. What a stir it must have caused in the crowd when Jesus called to him by name. he had become a person.
Sadly, Bill is no longer with us, but when his family look back with gratitude to the expertise and kindness of the hospital staff they also remember Tom, one of the homeless who, for a short time, shone a light in the darkness.
Peace and War
No doubt many of the readers of the Advertiser will remember watching the BBCs new adaptation of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I remember reading it many years ago and like many was amazed that the BBC managed to whittle a book of over half a million words down to a mere six episodes. War and Peace was of course based in Russia around the time of the Napoleonic Wars back in the nineteenth century. Tolstoy its author was a devout Christian and was both a thorn in the side of organised religion (he managed to get himself excommunicated in 1901) and a vigorous opponent of the Tsarist state not that you would automatically know it from the television presentation with its glamorous actresses, actors and lavish sets.
Tolstoy’s Christianity was radical. He believed that ‘as a theory of life’ the Sermon on the Mount where we are called to love our enemies could not be bettered. He placed non-violence at the absolute core of the gospel and his writings directly influenced both Ghandi (with whom he corresponded) and Martin Luther King.
So we must not just think of War and Peace as a Russian version of Downton Abbey. Both the journeys of Tolstoy and Count Pierre Bezuhov (who is a thinly veiled self portrait of Tolstoy) are littered with mistakes and wrong turns. Both begin their spiritual journeys in a dissolute life then move on to a simple inner commitment to the spirit of God. Their faith had one overriding commandment; love God and love each other.
Tolstoy believed that what was needed was a return to the core teachings of the gospel, based on Jesus’s teachings of love, justice and forgiveness. He had a strong belief in the equality of all the Earths people and wrote that a simpler lifestyle and a rejection of violence as a means of solving our differences offered a way forward. He wrote:
‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Love is life’.
‘All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God.’
by Chris Rose
This February I was able to spend a week on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. Not perhaps the obvious location for a winter break but we were blessed with warm sunshine and blue skies. Iona is to many a special place, the centre of the early Celtic Christian church and still today a place of pilgrimage. It is also the centre of the ecumenical Iona community founded by George MacLeod who described the island as “a thin place”, with only “a tissue paper separating heaven and earth.” Certainly it has a feel about it. Walking one afternoon to Port Beul at the far south west of the island I managed to get as far from the modern world as is easily possible in our crowded land. The silence there was almost deafening, the stillness moving and the solitude embracing. Yet there was a wholeness, a reassuring something that my inadequate words fail to describe, but there nonetheless. Philip Newell of the Iona community likens it as to listening to the heartbeat of God. This was a place which once visited is never left.
Back home in Newark How busy we all are. Doing this and that and trying to live fulfilling lives.
And in the process busyness can displace friendship, schedules displace compassion, and the time for others, which make life rich, is stolen.
We cannot all escape to islands and have to live in the world, but we all need places, moments when we can stop. For me it is at our Quaker meetings in Brant Broughton and Newark, others too will have their services and meetings, or places and personnel mountain tops where they can take stock for we are all on a journey of spiritual discover from whatever different places we start. To quote from Diana Ross in the pop song ….’Stop in the name of love,’ …..stop and be still for a while and listen. Listen to that heartbeat!
Message from Pluto
How amazing it was to see the first ever pictures of Pluto. The pictures served only to increase our awe at the sheer beauty and wonder of creation and to remind us that despite all our progress we actually know so little. The vastness of space and the immensity of it all can at times seem totally overwhelming and our own planet Earth is if anything even more of a miracle; incredibly beautiful and the source of all life.
Despite all our pretensions, our sophistications and our many accomplishments, we all owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. Yet we seem to have developed a way of life which seems to increasingly disregard God’s creation and threatens the right of future generations to a healthy environment and a fair share of the Earth’s resources. Greed and the rush for further economic growth have become ever more dominant while large sections of our planet’s population remain in poverty. As stewards of God’s creation we have a responsibility to manage our planet both sustainably and fairly for all the world’s people and for the generations to come.
In his recent encyclical on climate change Pope Francis wrote that our need for awe and stillness in front of nature is as profound as any other human need and that the care of nature and of each other are inextricably linked. He said our concerns about our environment stem from the ways we behave and the respect we show for each other and for the planet on which we live. He called on humanity to trust scientific reason -and faith- in a sweeping call to combat climate change and correct global inequality. He described his concern and for the poor casting blame on the indifference of the powerful in the face of evidence that humanity is at risk.
Surely it cannot be right to leave the world poorer than we found it in beauty or in the rich diversity of life forms or to consume recklessly in the knowledge that our actions are bound to lead to a depleted future.
We need to look to a society which is mindful of life and the needs of future generations, which limits its use of natural resources to what is sustainable, is content with sufficiency rather than excess and where we live in partnership with the needs of our planet and all the Earths people.
The Quaker book Advices and Queries contains the following :
‘We do not own the world and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of our world… Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.’
by David Taylor
The Shell Drivers Club’s e-mailed newsletter tells ‘it’s the little things which matter’- this gave me the opening lines I needed to sum up my thoughts. Life is made up of these little things. Think of the ‘jubilation’ of starlings, made up of individual birds, yet making a magnificent spectacle. Surely a lovely example of how little things conspire to make beauty.
Quakers live out the fact that it’s what we do, not what we say that matters. We avoid dogma and look for doing God’s will- however we see that. It’s how we individually lead our lives, --how we share our common humanity marking us and our fellow Christians, as followers of Jesus and his so-relevant teachings for today.
We need to open our minds to the hidden Love surrounding us. We all assume so much, yet everything around us is a miracle. We all need to look for the beauty, goodness and grace in everything making up our lives.
George Fox, the founder of Quakers asked his followers to ”walk cheerfully over the earth”, to ”Let actions speak” and to recognise that we are all God’s children, ( he spoke of “that of God in everyone”—including the difficult folk).
Those actions give an infinity of opportunity -to many it is the living out of our lives day by day, and not in grand enterprise. Wordsworth speaks of “the little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love”
Each of us has that divine spark, and, looking at ourselves, we inevitably realise how flawed and fragile we as individuals are. We have “followed the devices and desires of our hearts” rather than listening to the inner self-“that of God”, the conscience- which is always with us, whether we like it or not.
In our little ways we all need to help make the world, our communities and ourselves better. How do we relate to anyone we meet, how do we live in a truly loving spirit?- Starting with ourselves.
Why not, today, do an un-provoked kindness--- something you’d not have done yesterday.
And, as we look around, the evidence of God’s love is shouting to us, if only we’d listen. We are surrounded by Love, beauty, wisdom, justice, service and much, much more, all expressions of God’s love in our world and lives. We just need to develop the capacity to listen. We are God’s hands in our world.
It is indeed “the little things which matter”.
by David Ditcham
At the start of any new year our minds are naturally guided towards both reflections on what we have done the previous twelve months and possible plans for the future year. Modern life contains many distractions and it is easy to forget to pause and take stock. Quiet personal reflection is surprisingly rewarding, perhaps discovering greater spiritual depth to our lives. New Year resolutions and planning holidays.....ever thought of going on a pilgrimage? There’s plenty of choice of destinations at home or abroad: Iona, Lindesfarne, Lincoln, Walsingham, Canterbury, Lourdes, Santiago de Compestella, Rome, Jerusalem, Istanbul – the choice is limitless. It’s not such an outlandish idea and forms part of every major faith. Hindus have many pilgrimage sites and Moslems have their Hadj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. So what is involved? Certainly an epic journey, a memorable adventure and excitement can all be involved but it is simply a journey away from home in search of spiritual well being.
In Medieval times people didn’t travel very far from their own village and they believed a journey of endurance, suffering and sacrifice to a holy site would earn them a place in heaven. Imagine walking from Collingham to Lincoln on unmade roads and tracks and arriving at the beautiful and majestic cathedral, then the tallest building in the medieval world. Until the Reformation catering for the needs of pilgrims was a growth industry. Going on a pilgrimage was one of the very few ways an individual could escape the monotony and drudgery of village life and discover what lay beyond the horizon.
The modern era of tourism was started in the late nineteenth century by a religious Victorian gentleman from Leicester. Thomas Cook’s original tour of the Holy Land was inspired by a feeling of Christian duty ....but it was only for the rich.
A few years ago I walked St. Cuthbert’s Way, a route from Melrose Abbey in the Southern Uplands to Lindesfarne, the Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland. Was this a pilgrimage? It was a long walk by daily standards and we met interesting people and stayed in some memorable places. The final trek across the sands at low tide along the age-old pilgrimage track left you with a feeling of achievement. Looking back now the exercise and fellowship were important but the times I was alone with my own thoughts, emotions, aspirations and hopes were perhaps more important.
The outward pilgrimage is a sign of the inner journey which is so significant in the search for the heart of God. The exploration exceeds the value of the arrival.
So many difficulties, wars, conflicts and abuses fill our news it is sometimes difficult to look at how we can move forward.
We have many examples though of how, even after the most awful of events people have found the courage to try and forgive and move on. In South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Desmond Tutu brought together victims and perpetrators of awful events from the years of Apartheid, in Northern Ireland politicians from across the sectarian divide now govern together. I recently watched the film ‘The Railway Man’ which told about the reconciliation between an ex POW and his Japanese interrogator in World War Two.
We have the true story from America of how a group of Amish girls were gunned down outside their school by a lone gunman. The response of the Amish was not only to announce they forgave the gunman but to attend his funeral and to invite the gunman’s family to the funeral of the murdered Amish children. They also insisted that any monies made in an appeal for the bereaved families be shared with the family of the gunman. Inspiring and yet very daunting, but surely it is only if we can get to know and understand the minds of our perceived enemies that we will ever get a hold on the events that take place.
Jesus spoke a lot about the importance of forgiveness, perhaps the most difficult of all things to put into practice, but essential if we are not to keep repeating the past. We are told to love our enemies, to do good to those that hate us and we often forget how challenging this demand is. So if we are to avoid the mistakes of history happening again we must face up to the past and look to the future. We may have to look for new and alternative ways of solving our problems, be it in our own lives or as nations. This demands an honesty and truthfulness that brings us face to face with the uncomfortable of which forgiveness is an essential part. It demands a belief in the goodness of humanity, a belief in ‘that of that of God in everyone’, both friend and enemy.
Maya Angelou the American author who herself had an abusive childhood wrote:
‘History despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’
Silence is Golden
'I never get a moment to myself, I never get a minutes peace and quiet, never a moment to stand still' will be phrases many of us remember hearing from busy parents. Today however the demand for a time of peace and quiet is all the more needed as silence is rare in a hectic world filled with sounds.
Back in 1915 long before the invention of smart phones and 'selfies' Charlie Chaplin was arguably the most famous person in the world. His name conjurers up an unmistakable image of silent films featuring a man with a bowler hat and comic moustache. When talkies were introduced in the 1920’s, Chaplin despaired as he vastly preferred the medium of silence. He even considered leaving the industry such was his dislike of the change. To him the art of film without words preserved something purer and better.
Today silence has become out of fashion. Just as film developed the ability to have synchronised audio, technology has given us a soundtrack for our every waking moment. Earphones plugged in, we can avoid the quiet with our plethora of music, movies and games. Wherever we go there is always noise, whether it be background music while shopping or eating out or having to listen on the phone to a stream of piped music while waiting to be put through to those we want to talk to.
Silence though can act as medicine for our digital disjointedness. Moments of stillness can reconnect us to our deeper self, In the quiet, we can become aware of a deep and powerful spirit of love and truth, transcending our ordinary, day-to-day experience and reminding us who we are and what truly matters.
The Quaker William Penn back in 1699 described it saying, ‘True silence … is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment’,
So lets try and find some silent spaces in our lives where we can stop and be still and listen; listen to that still small voice within us.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
by Sylvia Campbell
Silence, is a luxury -a neglected luxury- that is easy to lose in the hurly burly of life around us. We are surrounded in layers of words and images, from the moment we wake each day to the moment we fall asleep each night. We are constantly processing and digesting music, images and words – our world is a cacophony of sound.
Where can we find a moment of peace and introspection in our lives, a moment where our mind is not filled with the task of digesting yet more information? And what happens in these rare, peaceful moments when we set aside the barrage of ‘input’? Are those the moments when our innermost selves, the peace and love of God can envelop us?
Granted, God does not always require silence to speak to our hearts and minds, we often discover the profound or meaningful in words or music. But more often than not the sounds we hear are distracting, diverting us from our thoughts, feelings – distancing us from our very selves, insulating us in many layers against silence, that very space in which ideas, dreams and memories rest. Silence offers that rare opportunity to wait quietly for the direct communion with ourselves and God, without the distraction or influence of others.
The gentle companionable silence of the Quaker meeting, that hour of respite, is an opportunity for me to take stock, reflect, hope, dream and pray. This short hour offers the space for me to reach out to God, to allow the silence to grow into thoughts that feed the soul, into nourishment to take on the week ahead. Sitting in the white washed simple room of the Quaker meeting house, looking at the lovingly arranged garden flowers on the centre table, is my moment of peace, my moment of opening up to my own hopes, thoughts and fears – and yes, opening myself to God.
That quiet, un-judgemental all embracing environment allows me to stop. So what happens in this quiet space, once the mind has ceased racing and you’ve remembered all the things forgotten and undone? When the day, the week, the year starts to fall away and quietly the awareness of silence gently washes in? It is like a deep breath exhaled, an embrace, a tension falling away.
William Penn, one of the Quaker Founding Fathers of Pennsylvania, described it in 1699 as ‘True silence … is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment’, for me this is an eternal truth. Surprise yourself, give yourself some silence. Now stop reading – just for moment – what do you hear? Listen…
A STILL, SMALL VOICE
by John Parkin
The past several months seem to have brought the world more than its normal share of natural disasters, most recently the dreadful earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and before that the Australian floods, which Queensland's state treasurer called 'a disaster of Biblical proportions'. The Old Testament is indeed something of a compendium of fire, flood, pestilence, storm and earthquake; and its writers commonly interpret these as the judgment or even wrath of God. Modern science provides more convincing explanations, but the enormous power of nature can still leave us feeling helpless and insignificant.
To think that God might be like that - vast and terrifying and unapproachable - would be comfortless in the extreme. So there is much consolation in the story of Elijah on the mountain, waiting upon the Lord: 'behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains...; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.' (1 Kings 19:11-12) It was in this quiet voice that God spoke to Elijah.
The American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier drew on this passage for his much-loved hymn, 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind', which ends with the appeal, 'Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, / O still, small voice of calm.' Human beings have always, understandably, feared that a god of earthquakes, storms and fires might simply overwhelm them. A small, calm voice is obviously to be preferred as the less scary option, but there is a real danger that such a voice might not be heard at all. We need to listen, and for this reason Quakers meet in silence, to hear the still, small voice which can speak to any one of us, and which is the authentic expression of the divine.
Of course, the natural world is by no means the only source of impersonal and overwhelming power which can leave us apparently helpless, alone and fearful. Vast military might, vast industrial and financial corporations, vast economic and political movements, are all forces which we seem powerless to withstand. Here too the Quaker experience offers hope: Quakers have a long tradition of ‘speaking truth to power’; of quietly but steadfastly speaking out about cruelty and injustice until finally change comes. We all need to find some silent spaces in our lives to hear the still, small voice of truth; and we must speak the truth as we find it, quietly but firmly, to whoever needs to hear.